The 1860 Henry rifle is one of the most important rifles of all time. It helped changed a nation, and the very notion of what a rifleman was capable of.
If you’re going to call your company Henry, and you make the 1860 Henry…well you’d better make it right.
They did. The Henry Repeating Arms New Original Henry is the finest 1860 Henry rifle made in over 150 years.
In some ways, the 1860 Henry Rifle was much like the AR15 of a century later. The Henry wasn’t meant to replace any particular firearm. It was meant to replace an entire concept of combat.
Although the round from the .44 Henry Rimfire cartridge was not as large as the 1855 Springfield’s .58 caliber ball most of the regular US Army was used to, more rounds could be carried in the Henry rifle (anything more than one would be an improvement) and on the person. A single soldier with a Henry rifle would equal the “firepower” of many traditionally armed men. Sound familiar? It should. It was the exact same argument used to justify the .223 Remington over the .308 Winchester.
Unlike the US Army of the Vietnam era, the US Army of the Civil War era just didn’t see the value in all that firepower. They also couldn’t overlook the delicate nature of the Henry. The original version was certainly more fragile than the modern New Original Henry version, but it wasn’t to be handled with white gloves either. Of course, compared to the muskets of the time, which were powerful clubs, spears (with bayonet attached) and passable canoe oars, I imagine everything else seems a bit flimsy.
No, the big Army didn’t buy many of the guns. Direct purchases by the US Army were measured in the hundreds, at a time when the entire nation was at war. Oliver Winchester almost went broke (as did both Benjamin Tyler Henry and Smith & Wesson’s Volcanic Arms division before him) trying to build and sell the Henry.
At one point, in 1862, Mr. Winchester wrote a letter to E.B. Martin, one the company’s primary stockholders, expressing his frustration and noting that he has offered to give up his shares to the stockholders, just to get out from under the failing company. Nobody took him up on the offer. Much the better for America, and financially, for Winchester.
What saved Winchester wasn’t a War Department contract, but individual, often civilian interest (good people at Remington and Colt, please take note). You see, the whole time Winchester was trying in vain to convince the US Army to outfit their troops with a repeating firearm, a few Winchester salesmen were out selling anywhere from a single to a few dozen rifles at a time.
These salesmen, some great and some not so great, intentionally sought people of note, including members of the media (yes, there were “gun writers” in 1861) to shoot and comment on the guns. The reviews were five stars all the way around.
While the US Army ordered a few hundred of the Henrys, it was this word of mouth that really kept the interest going. Eventually, soldiers were saving up three months of their pay to afford a Henry. When that happened, the Henrys tended to multiply rapidly within a unit.
The greatest example of this is the 66th Illinois Infantry, the famous Birge’s Western Sharpshooters. The elite unit, founded in 1861, is well worth reading up on. You won’t have any trouble finding information on them. By the end of the war, the vast majority of one of the most storied units of the Civil War would be outfitted with Henry rifles, and a great number of them privately purchased.
By the time of the reconsolidated nation’s western expansion, “The Yankee Sixteen Shooter” was the stuff of legend. The success of the Winchester 1866 model, the “Improved Henry” and the ubiquitous Winchester 1873 are completely built on the shoulders of that first .44 caliber lever gun. The world would never be the same.
Obviously, the modern Henry Repeating Arms company didn’t make the original 1860 Henry. If you want a direct lineage back to those original guns, don’t look for a company named Henry. Anthony Imperato, prince of a man that he is, secured the rights to the Henry name in the late 90s, and didn’t produce firearms under that name until more than 130 years after Oliver Winchester stopped making the original 1860 model.
Unlike Henry, which makes everything in America, a modern day Winchester lever action rifle will say “Made in Japan.” That’s not to disparage Miroku, who makes the guns for Winchester. I’ve shot the heck out of the modern Miroku guns and they are quite nice. And all of that is beside the point, because Winchester doesn’t make an 1860 anymore, in any country.
But man, Henry sure does.
As usual, the brass receiver of the Henry is the first thing people see. I’ve remarked in the past that if you put a brass framed Henry on a table next to the newest and best AR-15s on the market, nobody picks up the AR first.
Want to shave, signal aircraft, or gaze indirectly at the clouds? The Henry receiver is just the thing. It’s shiny enough to make photos difficult. Every photo you see in this review is after having the rifle for a few months, practicing and competing in half a dozen Cowboy Action Shooting matches with it, and over 1,000 rounds fired, including black powder cartridges.
That mirror polish doesn’t end with the receiver. The entire 24.5″ of heavy octagonal barrel gleams. It’s got that kind of shine that makes it look wet even when it’s 104 outside and it hasn’t rained in a month. (Ask me how I know.) It’s just a gorgeous rifle.
In my first reviews of the Henry rifles, especially the ones I really liked, (and I liked a lot of them) I had to look for something to ding their rifles on so that I could keep them out of the five-star category. I guard my five star ratings carefully. So I took points off for not having gorgeous wood.
No such deduction can be made on the New Original Henry. Henry has invested in beautiful American Walnut for the stocks on these rifles. The particular New Original they sent me is not the fanciest of these models I’ve seen, but the wood is a step up from the other Henry models, and a huge leap ahead of what others are offering.
The T&E model I got has waves and curls in the pattern. Near the comb, there’s flake and flame that play off the light. It’s the kind of thing you forget you’re staring at.
Lemon Pledge, (although pretty good on gunstocks for shine), has no place on this stock. Instead, I stole from my ample jar of “buffler grease” and rubbed it in with my hands. The result was as expected. For the first time, it wasn’t just the polished brass receiver that stole the show. The wood might have even upstaged it. My meager photography skills don’t do it justice.
The wood to metal fit is also as it should be for the period. Tight and flush, the line where the wood meets the receiver and butt plate are even throughout the rifle. Proud wood would be appropriate on some Victorian era rifles, but not this one, and I’m glad to see it was done right.
This level of detailed polish isn’t just pretty, it’s historically correct. The original Henry rifles released in the early 1860s were also well polished, and then some.
You could get — and Winchester pushed — multiple engraving patterns right from the factory. Winchester also released a number of engraved silver plated guns. Winchester well knew that eye-catching guns created more than revenue, they created a buzz.
The New Original Henry also sports the correct curved brass butt plate, with a storage tunnel. It’s polished, well fit, and both accents and protects the stock. It’s also kind of a pain. As it would have in 1865, the ends of the butt plate lead to narrow points.
The Henry 1860 was designed prior to the common military use of firing rifles from horseback. Not that people didn’t ride horses and shoot rifles. It’s just that when you only had one shot, you got off the horse, stood up, and took your shot.
Military shooting was done standing, with the body bladed to the target. You wanted a stock that was curved, that would sit into the pocket of your shoulder and use less of your chest and more of the deltoid to backstop the gun. That’s why you’ll see mostly highly curved butt plates from the 1700’s through the mid 19th century.
That’s also why, around the time our nation pushed to the West, you see many guns offered or modified to a carbine version with a flatter stock to be shot more off the chest, forward facing to the target. The New Original Henry follows the same pattern as the original, which curves to meet the shoulder.
Shooting standing with the body bladed, as it was designed for, this set up works great. If you have been taught to shoot more facing the target, as most modern shooters have, this will be a problem. First, those points on the stock are going to dig into your chest and collar bone something fierce. They certainly did mine.
The other problem is that the well-polished butt plate will then slide around during fast cycling of the action. Considering that there is no foregrip on the gun, this makes fast maneuvering and firing of the gun pretty challenging.
When it was produced from 1860-1865, the Henry rifle had no loading gate. Nelson King hadn’t invented it yet (as far as we know). The New Original Henry, just like those pre-King versions, loads from the front of the magazine under the muzzle. As I described in my Uberti 1860 review, the loading process isn’t likely what you are used to.
First, clear the rifle and turn it over. Now push the follower all the way up until the bar indicator on the front of the muzzle pushes out about 1/16th of an inch. Then, and this feels like opening a some magic lock, rotate the entire mechanism around the gun to the left.
Keep the rifle angled, not straight up and down, and simply feed the rounds into the magazine, bullets facing up. That magazine will take thirteen 255 grain rounds, and with one in the chamber, you have 14 rounds of 45 Colt. The originals, loaded in the slightly shorter .44 Henry Rimfire, would hold 16 total.
The New Original Henry doesn’t come in the original caliber, the .44 Henry Rimfire. Good thing, because that ammo is pretty hard to find and darn near impossible to make. The modern Henry comes in .45 Colt and .44-40 WCF, neither of which would exist until almost a decade after the 1860 had ceased standard production.
I chose the .45 Colt version for this review as commercial ammunition is much easier to come by than the .44-40 WCF. Reloading allows a shooter to duplicate the weight and muzzle velocity of the original cartridge, which was a 200 grain bullet moving at 1,100 fps from the rifle length barrel.
The trigger mechanism on the 1860 Henry was simple from the beginning, and the New Original Henry is no different, although I wonder if the ones made 155+ years ago were as good. Using a Lyman digital trigger scale, the average pull measured over 5 pulls on the New Original Henry was 3 lbs 12.7 oz, with very little deviation. There is no discernible creep or squish.
The slightly curved and polished shoe breaks clean, and the trigger position itself is excellent for careful aim or fast fire. Unlike the more curved versions of the later 1873s, the flatter Henry shoe is in a great place for firing just as the action closes.
Note that Henry made these rifles as close to the originals as possible, with the exception the chambering and superior metallurgy. That means that there’s no detent under the lever and, consequently, it’s possible to drop the hammer by pulling the trigger even with the action open. This might cause concern, but there’s not enough momentum or travel space for the firing pin to move forward enough to strike the primer and make it go off with the action open.
I loaded up several cases with Federal and CCI Large Pistol primers and tried to get them to go off by pulling the trigger while the action was open. There was no position I could get the primers to go off other than with the action completely closed.
The upside of this feature is that, along with a great trigger, the action can be cycled and fired quickly, especially for a firearm with a fairly long action stroke.
Henry well deserves their reputation for buttery smooth lever guns. No other major manufacturer on the market makes a lever that cycles as good as a Henry. With the simplicity of the 1860’s action, they’ve taken that a step further.
Just like the originals, there is no transfer bar and no cross bolt or tang safety. There is the traditional half cock position. I placed the rifle on half cock and bounced it up and down on a hardwood floor a bunch of times and could not get it to release. All I got out of that exercise was some dented up hickory floor boards, but a long fall on a rock surface might still be a problem.
The sight set up on the New Original Henry is a familiar one. A simple flip up, drift adjustable rear and a solid blade front sight. The front blade is steel, and polished, a duplicate set up to the originals after the year 1862. (The first couple of years had a more rounded front sight.) With this set up, a good bore, and a 22″ sight radius, better than acceptable precision is possible with almost any decently constructed round.
Like the originals, this Henry comes with a barrel-mounted adjustable elevator sight. I’m always curious about these sights for guns that come in multiple calibers. The rear sight is graduated in 100 yard increments from the very possible 200 yards all the way out to the very definition of wishful thinking, at 800. (Your ballistic arc would clear a six story building.) Are these elevation marks just for show, or do they actually work?
I don’t have a target big enough to test the sights at 800 yards, but I can try them out to 300. At 200 and 300 yards, the lowest two marks on the rear sight, the marks equate well with actual point of impact, if you are using the right load. My 255 gr bullet round needs to be leaving the barrel at or over 950 fps for the marks to be point of aim/point of impact out to 300 yards. Anything less than that and the rounds landed short.
Using the 180gr, 800fps round I use for Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS), I was able to easily print 4″ five-round groups at 100 yards while shooting from a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest. Commercial Winchester Cowboy Action Lead Flat Nosed 250gr rounds printed similar groups.
Stepping up quite a bit in power, with a 255 grain bullet at just under 1,100 fps from the rifle barrel, the group size shrunk to an average of 2.7″. That is about as good as my eyes can see at this range, and the limitation is likely the shooter more than the rifle itself.
Out of the box, the rifle was sighted dead-on at 100 yards for elevation, but I did need to tap the rear sight ever so slightly right to get the windage on track.
For those of you who are interested in hunting small to medium sized game with these rifles, note that a cartridge overall length of 1.6″ will cycle just fine, but anything longer won’t. I tried lengths longer than this, and they just wouldn’t clear the magazine tube to go fully into the lifter.
There is an argument to be made that modern metallurgy would allow the action to handle more than the 14,000 PSI max pressure for the .45 Colt, and thus heavier bullets could be used. Even if that were true, and I have no data that says it is, the rifle simply won’t function. In short, those 300+ hard cast .45 caliber bullets I love in my Ruger Bisleys just won’t work in the Henry.
Still, for our little Hill Country White Tail Deer and smaller pigs, a competent marksman should have no difficulty taking game with a 255 gr round moving at 1,000+ fps out to about 50 yards. The round is still generating 500 ft/lbs of energy at twice that distance.
I let TTAG know I wanted to review one of these guns, but I also wanted to put it through its paces at a few Cowboy Action Shooting matches. I was crystal clear with Henry that their flagship rifle would get beat up a bit, as CAS is pretty hard on guns. It took a while to get one, but surprisingly, Henry said “OK, have at it”.
I’ve shot in six matches with this rifle so far, (362 rounds fired) as well as one long range match (20 rounds) and a whole lot of practice sessions (because I need them, badly). Since then, it’s been bumped on floors, walls, been set down hard on plenty of tables, and cycled a thousand times or so, and other rough handling.
It’s had a couple unfortunate events. First, the zipper on the rifle bag I was carrying it in broke, spilling it out onto parking lot gravel. Then, one of the folks being helpful tried picking it up after a black powder shoot, not realizing how hot the barrel would be. He let go of the front of the barrel, hammering it down on the iron rim of a wooden barrel. That left a mark. It’s still gorgeous. Maybe even more so. After all, the real beauty of a gun is in the experience.
The Texas “state championship” CAS match, Commancheria Days, is next month, and I’ll be using the New Original Henry for that match as well. No, it’s not a short-stroked 1873 clone, and the lack of a foregrip and loading gate are serious handicaps. But it’s also friggin’ gorgeous, fun, and just as fast as I am at this point.
This New Original Henry has been shot over 1,000 times now. That I’m sure of, because I used an entire 1,000-count brick of Federal primers to feed it. These days, that really hurt.
That’s not how most folks are going to shoot these guns, and yet, it performed flawlessly. Not a single misfire. Zero failures to feed, no hang-ups on eject, absolutely nothing ever went wrong with this gun.
The rifle was cleaned at round number 440. That’s because round 360 to round 440 were fired using Goex FFG black powder. It still hadn’t failed, but it was pretty grimy by then.
The vast majority of those rounds were very mild pure lead loads. These are both commercial and home poured bullets, none of which are coated. I haven’t had any problem with leading so far. That’s due to a nice tight bore, but also low velocities and the prodigious use of gooey bullet lube. At the end of each match, there’s a nice star shaped pattern of lubricant around the rim of the bore, so I’m doing something right.
I know, given the beauty as well as the cost, most folks with these rifles are going to handle them rarely, shoot them occasionally, and admire them often. That’s a shame. They have been exceptionally well built, and built to be shot. I wish I had this rifle last fall and winter. If so, I’m sure I’d have a few photos of it laying on dead pigs.
The 1860 Henry is one of the most important rifles in history. It’s intertwined with the story of American conflict, expansion, and innovation. Several other companies make a copy of this gun, but nobody has made one like this. Henry has made the New Original Henry a credit to the originals, and is the only company I know of making them like they used to, in America.
Specifications: New Original Henry Rifle
Action: Toggle Link Lever
Caliber: .45 Colt (.44-40WCF also available.)
Barrel Length: 24.5″
Barrel Type: Octagon Blued Steel
Rate of Twist: 1:16
Overall Length: 43″
Weight: 9.0 lbs.
Capacity: 13 (+1)
Receiver Finish: Polished Brass
Rear Sight: Folding Ladder
Front Sight: Blade
Stock Material: Fancy American Walnut
Length of Pull: 14″
Safety: Half Cock
Style and Appearance * * * * *
This is actually the base model New Original Henry, and it is breathtaking. The most common thing I heard when people saw it was “oh..wow”. The wood, metals, polish, everything is right. A lot of work went in to get it that way.
Historical Accuracy * * * * *
I would highly recommend “The Historic Henry Rifle” by Wiley Sword for a far more detailed look into the Winchester-made Henry. It will show you through plenty of description, photos, diagrams, and cutaways that Henry got the New Original Henry details right. No points off here for not making it the original caliber which no-one could shoot.
Reliability * * * * *
Accuracy * * * * *
It is said that Birge’s Western Sharpshooters could put three shots into a 3 1/2″ target at 200 yards. I can’t do that with any open-sighted gun. But the New Original Henry will shoot just as well as I can, with any open-sighted gun.
Overall * * * * *
Henry took a while to put out this gun. There were lots of other rifles and shotguns with the name “Henry” marked on them before Mr. Imperato decided to take the time to release the Henry rifle, by Henry. This will not be a mass market gun. Few people, in comparison to the company’s other offerings, will buy this rifle. Those who do are the kind of people I want to have a beer with, hunt with, and shoot with. They’re the ones who wanted a rifle that generation after generation can be proud of. It warms my heart to see a company as large as Henry taking the time to make a historic rifle this fine.