Henry made just 1700 repeating rifles for federal troops in the Civil War. As the RIA dudes point out, all of them saw service. Scouts, marauders and raiders used the rimfire .44 Henrys to great effect. But the Henrys weren’t appropriate for the strategic development that arose during The War Between the States: trench warfare. It’s hard to work a lever gun when you’re slithering around in the muck on your belly. Still, the Henrys were the precursor to the Winchester Model 1866. As such, they are endlessly desirable and perfectly collectible.

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18 Responses to Obscure Object of Desire: Civil War Henry Repeating Rifle

      • All above very true.
        However the real reason for so few Henry rifles was that Brig. James Ripley, chief of union ordnance, didn’t want to spend the money for all the cartridges the repeaters would use. He figured, correctly as we know, that the war could be won with the rifled muskets.

        • Logistics certainly was a major factor in the Army’s decision to stick with the 1861 Springfield Minie Rifle but don’t discount command and control issues that would have arisen with the use of breechloading and repeating firearms. The big advantage of breechloaders is the ability to put own effective fire while disperesed from cover and concealment. Without some form of radio or telephone communicatioin it becomes very hard to give, recieve and acknowledge orders. This problem wasn’t solved until portable radios were intoduced during the Second World War .

          The inability to excercise command and control once troops left the trenches is an overlooked factor that gave the defense such an advantage during the First World War. Once troops left the trenches there was no way to communicate a change in plans or to notify higher headquarters of an exploitable breakthrough. The defense had far fewer C2 problems and commanders were ability to organize effective counterattacks and close breaches in the line.

  1. The term is abused to the point of absurdity, but the Henry truly was a game-changer. Putting a loading gate on it with the ’66 finalized a template that is unchanged today, 150 years later.

    The Turks used the ’66 to cut the Russians to ribbons at the Siege of Plevna.

  2. There were a lot more Henry rifles that were used in the Civil War than those the government bought. Many union soldiers bought them privately and even some officers flipped the bill to equip their men with the rifle. A few Henrys found their way to the Confederate side. Even Jefferson Davis’ body guards had them.

    As nice as it was the Spencer saw more widespread use and had a more powerful cartridge. The Spencer also had Presidential approval, Lincoln urging his generals to adopt the repeater which they did, many reluctantly. 11 years after the Civil War the troops on the Little Big Horn were equipped again with single shot rifles. Military thinking.

    There is a beautiful Henry in a gun store near here. It is engraved with the battles it was in. If you want an original Henry get ready to pay and pay big!

    • I believe there were on the order of 90-100 thousand spencers bought by the government to supply the troops. Mostly they were the shorter lighter carbine model for the mounted troops but there were full length infantry rifles purchased as well.

      I believe the Henry was simply too expensive an arm for most pockets and mass production of it’s more complicated design was hard to bring on line during the war. The simpler spencer won out in that regard.

      If memory serves, Spencer designed and manufactored one of the first pump action shotguns. At a time when the best winchester could manage was the lever action 1887 shotgun.

  3. Robert, my state was not at war, it is either the War of the Rebellion, the War for Southern Independence or the Civil War…… wouldn’t think you’d fall for an early PC re write of history……

    • A civil war is one where two or more factions are contesting for control of the central government. The Confederates were fighting for independence. So there was never an “American Civil War”.

      The ” War of Northern Aggression” is really a more correct term.

      • Since the Union prevailed, and was preserved, it is considered to be an insurrection within the Union, as the victor does not recognize any change of its boundaries.

        Civil War is an oversimplification, and War of Aggression doesn’t really cut it either. The phrase War Between the States has been in use fore a long time, but there were a few which abstained, so that’s no good, either. The War between Some States…?

        Living in territory frequented to its detriment by Quantrill during the “phony war,” I could say a few things about aggression – both by whom and when.

        How about the War of Reunification? That’s accurate enough, methinks.

        Just goes to show that the can can only be kicked so far before something goes boom.

  4. There is a story in my family that my great-great-great-great-Grandfather was killed by a Henry wielding Yankee.

    I wonder if it is true, but it wouldn’t stop me from owning one of those nice rifles if funds permitted.

  5. I have an Italian made replica. Incredibly fun to shoot. Flipping up the ladder sight and ringing steel at 300 to 400 yards can’t be beat.

    • Do you find the “Henry Hop” annoying?

      (That’s what I’ve heard called the shift in grip when the mag follower touches your support hand.)

      • Yes, shooting timed events is where it becomes an annoying issue. I use it for long range shoots usually. The model 92 or 73 are preferred on the clock.

  6. Anything that old, that cool and fairly rare is of course going to be collectible, even if it is as safe as a thirteen year old driver.

    No safety, and if uncocked then the striker is sitting on the cartridge rim – not precisely bump safe.

    Beautiful machines, though.

    On a flip note, the Fergusson Rifle – at that time a design ninty years of age – would’ve done just fine in trench warfare, had it ever caught on.

  7. Is it just me, or should it be “Object of Obscure Desire”? After all, there’s nothing especially obscure about a Henry rifle.

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