Henry Repeating Rifle

  

Additional Information on the Henry Repeating Rifle
September, 2005
By:  Andrew L. Bresnan

           The Henry Repeating Rifle is a very interesting weapon and one of the most outstanding weapons to come out of the Civil War.  As with a lot of projects my book “The Henry Repeating Rifle” is an ongoing project where new and additional information surfaces.  This additional information has surfaced since I originally wrote “The Henry Repeating rifle” back in 1992.   

          Today reproduction Henry rifles are made by Uberti in Italy and imported into the United States.  As of this date they are the only company that manufacture the Henry rifle.  However that was not the case back in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s.  Navy Arms manufactured the first reproduction Henry rifles.  These were manufactured in the United States, not Italy.  These are truly American made Henry rifles as were the originals which were produced by the New Haven Arms Company which later became Winchester Firearms.  In an e-mail dated June 7, 1999 Val Forgett, president and founder of Navy Arms, confirmed this to me stating “yes the first Henrys were made in the United States-manufacturing was then moved to Italy by Uberti.”  Navy Arms produced a limited edition of 50 Henry rifles marked .44 RF.  These Henrys had the correct two-prong firing pin and were rim fire.  I have been able to look at one of these Henrys.  The owner of this Henry purchased a center-fire bolt and replaced the rim fire bolt and began shooting his with .44-40 ammunition and blanks.  There was also another limited edition of 500 Henry rifles as well as a limited edition of 1000 Henry carbines with a 22 inch barrel.  All of these were chambered for the .44-40 cartridge.  I have been told by others that there were a couple of other limited edition runs of Henrys by Navy Arms.  Navy Arms manufactured Henrys likely number less than 3000.  The Navy Arms Henrys are also different from the Uberti manufactured Henrys.  The carriers will not interchange.  The side plates of the Navy Arms Henry are held on by two screws while Uberti only uses one screw.  The trigger spring on the Navy Arms is an internal two-prong trigger and safety spring while the Uberti Henry has an external trigger spring.  The Navy Arms Henry does not have the magazine lock to prevent the magazine from just being twisted open and ruining the magazine spring.  The Navy Arms Henry and the Uberti Henry are indeed two completely different guns.  The cost of Henrys sure has skyrocketed.  The current retail price, as of this writing, for an Uberti Henry is between $1100 and $1200.  The retail price for the reproduction Henrys when they were first introduced by Navy Arms was $500. 

          I would like to include in this document additional information concerning the use of the Henry Repeating rifle during the Civil War

         Few More Interesting Henry Facts

          The Henry as we all know is a very interesting rifle and has had a very interesting history.  Another name for the Henry as referred to by many Civil War veterans is the “Sixteen Shooter”.  I have also read in a few sources that it was also referred to as the “Seventeen Shooter”.  I had always thought this to be just a miss-statement by the author or possibly a typing mistake.  I have seen the Henry referred to as a “Seventeen Shooter” many times and got to thinking there had to be more to it than someone making a mistake in numbers.  I am sure that most of the Civil War veterans could count to sixteen and seventeen.  It really didn’t take long to uncover the mystery behind the “Seventeen Shooter”.  The fact is that there were two types of Henry ammunition.  The first Henry cartridge produced used a case length of .815 inches long with a 200 grain bullet and 26 grains of powder.  The overall length of the cartridge was 1.285 inches long.  Sometime during the Civil War, probably around 1864, the case length was changed for some reason.  So far I have not been able to find out the reason for the change.  The case length was increased to .875.  The overall length of the new cartridge was 1.345 inches long.  This is a difference of .06 inches.  That in itself does not sound like much but when multiplied by fifteen or sixteen it makes up enough length for another cartridge in the magazine which had a little extra length in it already.  So if a Civil War soldier was using ammunition of the early case length they would have been able to load seventeen rounds in their Henry, sixteen in the magazine and one in the chamber.  Ren Barker and others that referred to their Henrys as “Seventeen Shooters” were correct in doing so.  One possible reason for the increase in the cartridge length could have been the fact that a 216 grain bullet was used with 28 grains of powder.

           Sometimes you will find a Henry referred to as a “Sixteen Shooter” or a “Seventeen Shooter” on the same page of the book.  I also think that when some modern day writers are writing about the Henry and run across the reference to them as a “Seventeen Shooter” that they change it to say “Sixteen shooter” thinking they are correcting the original source.  This is just another one of those interesting tidbits of information on the Henry that probably most of you already knew.

           While reading more on the 66th Illinois Infantry WSS I have refreshed my
memory on the fact that some of them were referred to the “Seventeen Shooter Cavalry”.  Here are some of the interesting facts about the 66th that probably most of you knew. 

The 66th first tried to get Henrys rifles through the Dimick firm but Dimick was not able to supply Henrys to the 66th.  The earliest reference I could find as to when the 66th were able to buy some Henrys was May 25, 1863 when 42 Henrys were purchased at a cost of $40.00 each.  The serial numbers of these ranged from 1600 to 2200.  An iron frame Henrys number 147 also showed up around this time in the 66th.  More Henrys were purchased in September and October and by the end of 1863 the 66th had almost 250 Henrys in the regiment.   

          It is also very interesting to read excerpts from Ren Barker’s diary.  He makes several references to the Henrys as a “Seventeen Shooter”.  He also makes several references as to at least part of the 66th being mounted and even refers to the mounted portion as the “Seventeen Shooter Cavalry”.  A June 18th entry states, “One man put on extra duty for not having his gun clean.” so make sure all of you have those rifles clean.  An entry on September 4, 1863 states “Payed $40 for a seventeen shooter”.  On September 6 he states “Orders come for all of the men that has seventeen shooters to get ready to march with five days ration.”  I am assuming that these men were mounted as on September 7 he states “The fifth Ohio cavalry, with the artillery, and the mounted sharpshooters march from camp”.  On September 8th he writes “The balance of our regiment receive orders to march with one day rations.  Marches south, or rode out to Rienzi in wagons.”  He also talks about that the rebels ambushed them several times but were able to repeal them.  On September 15 he states “The sharpshooters with seventeen shooters return to camp from their ambush.”  September 21st is interesting as he states “Orders for twelve men with seventeen shooters to get three days rations ready to march.  Went south to Boonsville to lay in ambush.”  Were these men mounted, I am not for sure but would assume so?  On October 22 Ren writes “The sixteen shooters boys drew horses and saddles preparing themselves to be mounted.”  It is interesting that he refers to them as “Sixteen Shooters” this time or did the author change it?  On October 28th he writes “Go out to shoot our guns off.  Seventeen Shooters Cavalry go to Corinth as a guard to Mrs. Burke.”   

          In the Wiley Sword book he mentions the amount of Henry ammunition used by the 66th and others.  Between May 4th and September 8th, 1864 83,500 rounds of ammunition were used.  This sounds like a lot and if evenly divided among 250 Henrys it is a little over 400 rounds per rifle.  However that can be misleading in that some may have fired many times that amount and others less than the amount.  Private Prosper Bowe states that he fired his Henry ninety times without stopping and the barrel got so hot that it would sizzle when he would spit on it.  Another thing that Sword does not mention is that there was still the private purchase of ammunition,  The 83,500 rounds reflects government purchases.

           Many of you already know the advantages of the Henry but here are a few that Sword states:

          1.  reduce combat exposure, reloading prone and concealed.
          2.  greater firepower
          3.  elite status    
          4.  produce high moral and feeling of invincibility.

He also mentions the downside of being armed with a Henrys and that is a great deal of exposure to combat.

          Well I hope that you found the information interesting and informative and it was probably just a refresher on what you already knew but I hope it helps.  Most of the above information came from the “Western Sharpshooters”, some information from the Sword book and some from “Cartridges of the World”.

           The following is a copy of a letter written by John H. Ekstrand who was the Regimental Ordnance Sergeant for the 51st Illinois Volunteers.  It is interesting to hear first hand that Henrys were used at Chattanooga and in the Battle of Chickamauga.  Not only was the Henry rifle used, but Ekstrand gives a testimony concerning the Henry.  He is also trying to acquire more Henrys.

 

      Gil Harbison of the 73rd Illinois Infantry was another Henry user.  He used his Henry with good effect at the Battle of Franklin, TN.  According to the book “Arming the Suckers”  “During the night at Spring Hill he (Gil Harbison) seemed to be in his glory, and during the short rest in the rear of the lines at Franklin he remarked to a comrade that he was abundantly satisfied with the way the account of Joe Isenburg stood.”  Harbison and Isenburg were close friends.  Isenburg was killed at Kennesaw Mountain.

 

"2005 Additional Information on the Henry Repeating Rifle".

The following information is information complied by Todd Koster. Todd is a Civil War reenactor and part of the Independent Company of Sharp Shooters. Todd compiled this information in preparation for the national reenactment at Franklin, TN in 2004. It is excellent information.

                    65th Indiana, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, XXIII Corps(posted east of the Cotton Gin at Franklin near the main works.  “Company A of the 65th Indiana had Henry repeating rifles and was related in Wiley Sword’s book regarding the Franklin battle that it was a “continuous living fringe of flame. Maj. General Walthall(CS) said “It was by far the most deadly fire of both small arms and artillery that I have ever seen troops subjected to.”  Sword also credited the 65th Indiana with two companies being armed with Henry rifles.  The source for this information was “The Confederacy’s Last hurrah” by Wiley Sword.

          65th Illinois, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, XXIII Corps posted east of the cotton gin at Franklin on the left flank of the 65th Indiana.  On a contemporary map located in the Carter House Museum it shows the 65th Illinois possessing 120 Henry rifles.

          51st Illinois, 3rd Brigade(Conrad’s) 2nd Division IV Corps posted east of the Franklin Pike at Franklin at the outer works and retreated to the main works in the area between the Carter House and the cotton gin.  The 51st Illinois were armed in part with Henry rifles.

          100th Illinois, 2nd Brigade(Lane’s) 2nd Division, IV Corps posted west of the Franklin Pike at Franklin at the outer works and retreated to the area around the Carter House.  It appears that the 100th Illinois were armed with Henrys as early as the Chattanooga campaign.  I could not find any direct link to the 100th Illinois at Franklin with Henrys however spent Henry casings were located in the main works by the Carter House during the excavation in 1996.  This from the book “Arming the Suckers” and a display at the Carter House Museum. 

          A complete Henry cartridge was located within the walls of the Carter House.  I don’t know if it was a misfired or dropped cartridge.  Did some of the Henry armed 73rd fire from within the Carter House?  Todd also mentions the following information from a article in “Confederate Veteran Magazine”, Tillman H. Stevens of the 65th Indiana, 2nd Brigade(Casement’s), 3rd Division, XXIII Corps writes: “The 65th Illinois and 65th Indiana to a large extent armed with breech-loading repeating rifles.  Company A of the 65th Indiana were all armed with Henry rifles, sixteen shooters;...there was nothing but death for anybody that came in front of them.”   

          Another interesting question that has come up is, how did the soldiers carry their Henry cartridges? It is difficult to find much information on this as most of the Henrys used in the Civil War were private purchase weapons.  I feel sure that many utilized their cartridge box they had been issued with their muzzle-loading weapon before they purchased a Henry.  I feel others may have used their haversacks.  There were a couple of different cartridges boxes made but not used much.  One is pictured in the Lord’s Encyclopedia.  In fact I have a very good reproduction of this cartridge box.  Others have felt that looped belts were used.  This is based on a book “American Military Belts and Related Equipment” by Stephen Dorsey.  In his book is a copy of an article from the “Army-Navy Journal of 1869” that mentions the looped belts.  However I could find no information in Civil War information that even mentions such a thing.  It is very doubtful if very many of these “looped Belts” were used in the war. 

          Today there are several reenactors that use their Henry rifles to portray those soldiers that were armed with this “assault rifle” of the 1860s.  One of the big problems using a Henry in reenacting is where to get blanks.  There are a few options out there.  Plastic 5 in 1 blanks are available at a cost of around 35 cents per round.  These are expensive, do not make a good report when fired, the extractor has been known to tear through the plastic rim, they leave a plastic residue in the barrel that is difficult to get out and rounds have been known to “cook off” in a hot barrel.  In short the plastic blanks are just not the thing to use.  There are also brass 5 in 1 blanks.  These are also very expensive but do work pretty good.  You might pay as much as a dollar a round.  Using a Henry can eat up a lot of ammunition.  The best way to feed your Henry is to make your own blanks.  Starline Brass Company makes the brass 5 in 1 casing but they are on the expensive side at 24 cents each.  Another source of brass is the British .303 brass, the .30-40 Krag, the .444 Marlin, and even some .410 shotgun shells.  All of these have to be cut to length, 1.57 to 1.59 inches long.  This is a time consuming process.  Another option is to convert your Henry to shoot shorter rounds such as the .44 Magnum brass.  A stop must be installed in the carrier to keep the next round from jamming the action.  A competent gunsmith could do this work.  Depending on what type of stop is used you may also have to remove a small amount of metal from the bolt.  Using the .44 Magnum brass is a big advantage.  They are cheap at around 10 cents each and once-fired brass is around 6 cents each.  Another advantage of the .44 Magnum brass is that now your Henry will have the capacity of a Civil War Henry of 16 or 17 rounds, depending on how long your cartridges end up.  Henrys have a large appetite.  I have gone through over 800 rounds in some of the 3 day National events such as Franklin, TN in 2004.  Many reenactors are not willing to go the extra mile to make blanks.  These individuals will show up with their Henry on their shoulder with maybe 50 rounds for the entire weekend.  

It is interesting to note that the reaction of Confederate reenactors when they come in contact with the Henry is very much the same as what the reaction of the real Confederates was in the Civil War in 1860s.  I must say that when there is a company of 10 or more Henrys all firing at the same time it is indeed a “sheet of fire” or a “wall of flame”.  The comments of the recipients of this wall of fire varies from “what the hell was that” to “holy****” to “let’s get the heck out of here”.  The Henry has been a hobby of mine for the last 30 years.  It has been an education and fun finding information about the Henry and I look forward to uncovering new additional information concerning the Henry in the future.