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Henry Rifles and The Military: Contributions to the Civil War

By    |   Wednesday, 06 May 2015 04:09 PM

Benjamin Tyler Henry received a patent on his level action repeating rifle in 1860. Two years later, the Civil War broke out Henry began production for military use by Union soldiers. There is no doubt that the Henry rifle played a role in the Civil War, but in helping the development of future firearms.

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Henry offered the first successful design of a repeating rifle. His first model is called the Henry Model 1860 and Henry Repeating Arms still produces replicas of this firearm. It was practical, durable, and offered a revolutionary design that supported rapid fire. Civilians and military alike flocked to purchase it, according to a history on Henry's website.

It offered .44 caliber rimfire which gave this model the period names of the ".44 Henry" or ".44 Rimfire." Rather than rely on self-contained powder (which was not dependable), the .44 rimfire cartridge was in metal casing. It loaded from the muzzle end like most firearms at the time, but the metal casing meant fewer steps, adding efficiency to shooting, explains an article on the website the Military Factory.

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From 1860 to 1866, the New Haven Arms Company produced 14,000 Henry rifles. It offered an advantage over the Confederate Army members, who were mostly armed with muzzle-loading single-shot weapons. It was a prize for these soldiers and was taken from killed Union soldiers. However, getting ammunition for it was difficult for Confederate troops since it was produced up north, according to an article by the Smithsonian.

The disadvantage of the rifle was that it was not standard issue. The Ordinance Department, the branch in charge of arming soldiers, only purchased 1,731 Henry rifles from 1862 to 1865, showing that a vast majority were private purchases for those troops who had the means. Records indicate the Union government issued the Henry rifles to the 1st Maine and 1st District of Columbia cavalry divisions. As a private purchase, it was primarily a specialist weapon used by scouts, raiders, and marauders.

Precursor to Winchester and Improved Firearms: In 1866, the first Winchester models started being available and it is argued that they were nothing more than an improved Henry. The Model 1866 used the same ammunition, tolerated being in the dirt better, and loaded quicker, thanks to a reloading gate. The forearm stock of wood protected against burns during long shooting battles. It proved to be an effective weapon in war and joined Henry rifles as an Old West icon.

The New Haven Arms Company, which produced the Henry rifle in the early days, would later become Winchester Repeating Arms Company after the Civil War.

This article does not constitute legal advice. Check the current gun laws before purchasing or traveling with a firearm.

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Benjamin Tyler Henry received a patent on his level action repeating rifle in 1860. Two years later, the Civil War broke out Henry began production for military use by Union soldiers.
henry rifles military
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2015-09-06
Wednesday, 06 May 2015 04:09 PM
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