The Henry Repeating Rifle:
The Weapon of Choice!
Usage of the Henry Repeating Rifle
In the Civil War 1861-1865
Compiled by: Andrew L. Bresnan
Researchers: Andrew L. Bresnan & Todd Koster
The Henry Repeating Rifle
Andrew L. Bresnan, Bentonville, NC 2010
For those that do not understand the title of the essay “The Henry Repeating Rifle: The Weapon of Choice! Usage of the Henry Repeating Rife In the Civil War” here is a little background. For the soldiers of the Civil War on both sides carrying an Enfield or Springfield rifle-musket or similar type of long arm was not a matter of choice, it was what they were issued when they enlisted. For those that used the Henry Repeating Rifle it was in fact a matter of choice for most since the US government did not issue the Henry rifle to soldiers with the exception of the 1st D. C. Cavalry. The men of the 7th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry, the 66th WSS and many others that purchased their own Henry Rifles did indeed make a conscience choice of putting up $35 to $50 of their own money for a weapon that they felt would give them an advantage and improve their chances of survival in the war. There were also others who tried to get Henry Rifles but were unable due to a number of reasons, this even included Wilder’s Brigade as the Henry Rifle was his first choice. This essay is about how the Henry Rifle was used in the Civil War by those that made the choice of arming themselves with the Henry Rifle at their own expense.
It is the purpose of this document to spark an interest for further research. This document is not meant as a detailed look at particular battles, rather, it is to show how the Henry Repeating rifle was looked upon and used during the American Civil War, 1861 to 1865. The Government had their view of this innovative new weapon. Unfortunately their view lengthened the Civil War by not adopting and assisting in the production of the Henry Repeating rifle. The Government was more concerned about the dollar and cents side, rather than the view of saving lives. Any of the soldiers using the Henry Repeating Rifle knew the value of the Henry in battle as well as the possibility to end the war sooner. Those Rebels, on the receiving end of most of the Henry Repeating rifles, sure knew the value of the Henry, as most of them did not know what type of weapon they just ran into, killing and wounding thousands. Read this with interest, as this is “The most complete documentation of the usage of the Henry Repeating Rifle in the Civil War.”
When Benjamin Tyler Henry invented the Henry rifle he knew that it would be a weapon greatly sought after by soldiers wanting to have a greater chance of survival in an armed conflict. What a lot of the soldiers that armed themselves with the Henry Repeating rifle did not know was that the mere fact of having a Henry rifle would also put their life in greater danger. You might say that being armed with a Henry Repeating rifle was a “double edged sword”. The proud Henry owner had at his disposal 16 or 17 rapid fire shots that could be unleashed from their magazine in less than 10 seconds. This was a huge advantage in the day and age where the mainstay of the Union and Confederate armies was the muzzle-loading rifle only firing 2 or 3 shots per minute. So in a “normal” battle, if there ever was such a thing, a Henry owner did indeed have a greater chance of survival by being able to dispatch much more of the enemy to his front than ever before. The disadvantage of Henry ownership comes from the fact that eventually officers began to come up with ways of using this increased firepower to the advantage of the army as a whole. The “Big Bugs” began to think, why send out a large force of men armed with the standard muzzle loading rifle when they could send out fewer men armed with the Henry Repeating rifle and still have equal fire power or more than likely have greater fire power than their muzzle loading counterparts, while risking fewer men. So you can see the reason for the term “Double edged sword”. What could save your life could also be the cause for you losing your life in one of those “Special Duty” assignments.
The Henry Repeating rifle was never meant as a long range weapon with the capability to pick off targets at 1000 yards. It is interesting to note that some of the early advertisements claimed that fact, certain death at 1000 yards. The fact is that a 216 grain bullet in front of 26-28 grains of black powder would doubtfully even travel close to that distance with any accuracy. However the Henry Repeating rifle was at its best at ranges of fewer than 200 yards and even better at ranges of fewer than 100 yards. A company of men, or even less, armed with Henry Repeating rifles could put out the firepower equivalent to that of a regiment. The volume of fire would often confuse the Confederates into thinking they were being attacked by a much larger force. Looking at the historic record of the way the Henry Repeating Rifle was used by their owners proves the fact that the Henry Repeating rifle was indeed the first true assault rifle, evolving into the modern assault rifles such as the AK 47 and the M16. The Henry rifle was the first time in history where truly rapid fire was possible. Fewer men could be used to accomplish what in the past it would have taken 10 times their number. The following pages will show this to be true. The Henry Repeating rifle made its mark while only some 10,000 Henrys were used in the Civil War. The government only purchased 1731 Henrys with fewer than 1000 of these being delivered during the war years. The bulk of the Henrys used in the Civil War were privately purchased, mainly by those soldiers who received re-enlistment bonuses. At around $45 for a Henry rifle it was an expensive rifle. We will look at how some of these 10,000 Henrys were actually used in the Civil War.
In a November 16, 1861 letter written by Colonel C.P. Kingsbury Chief of Ordnance, A. P. he writes that the Henry would be a first rate weapon. He writes, “As I have no doubt of the merit of “Henry Repeating Rifle” compared with other breech-loaders, I think it would be well to purchase a number, sufficient for one regiment, provided the Ordnance Department has not already ordered all that may be required for the service of this army. With the barrel lengthened, it would be an efficient arm for skirmishers, and with carbine attachment, for cavalry. Henry’s Rifle appears to be quite equal to any in service, in the compactness of its machinery, and the accuracy of its fire, and superior to others in that it may be fired 15 times without reloading, and would not ordinarily require to be loaded at all in the saddle. Respectfully and truly yours, C.P. Kingsbury” (56) General Ripley was not as impressed as Kingsbury seemed to be.
The Henry Repeating rifle was not that well received by the higher ups in the government. In a letter dated December 9, 1861 from General Ripley he writes to Simon Cameron the Secretary of War letting him know that he is not in favor of a repeating rifle. He writes, “Sir: As directed from the War Department, I have examined the reports upon the Henry and Spencer guns accompanying the proposition to furnish these arms to the Government and have also examined the arms. Both of them are magazine arms; that is to say, they have the cartridges for use carried in a magazine attached to or forming part of the arm and fed out by a spiral spring. They require a special kind of ammunition, which must be primed or have the fulminate in itself. The reports heretofore made are favorable, so far as the limited trials went, but they do not go farther that to suggest or recommend the procurement of a sufficient number to place in the hands of troops in the field for trial. Indeed, it is impossible, except when arms are defective in principle, to decide with confidence, in advance of such practical trails, on their value, or otherwise, as military weapons. I regard the weight of the arms with the loaded magazine as objectionable, and also the requirement of a special ammunition, rendering it impossible to use the arms with ordinary cartridges or with powder and ball. It remains to be shown by practical trail what will be the effect on the cartridges in the magazine of carrying them on horseback, when they will be exposed to being crushed or marred possibly to such an extent as to interfere with their free passage into the barrel, and whether they will be safe for transportation with the fulminate in the cartridge: also what will be the effect on the spiral spring of long use and exposure in the field. I do not discover any important advantage of these arms over several other breech loaders, as the rapidity of fire with these latter is sufficiently great for useful purposes without the objection to increased weight from the charges in the arm itself, while the multiplication of arms and ammunition of different kinds and patterns, and working on different principles is decidedly objectionable, and should, in my opinion, be stopped by the refusal to introduce any more unless upon the most full and complete evidence of their great superiority. In view of the foregoing, of the very high prices asked for these arms, and of the fact that the Government is already pledged on orders and contracts for nearly 73,000 breech loading rifles and carbines, to the amount of $2,250,000, I do not consider it advisable to entertain either of the propositions for purchasing these arms.” (37) Needless to say General Ripley is not a fan of the Henry Repeating rifle and in his letter he so states the reason for being against it. Today we look at the past with 20/20 hindsight and think the adoption of the Henry Repeating rifle as well as the Spencer in great numbers early on would have ended the war a year or even two sooner. However from the perspective of 1861 he does have some valid reasons for not wanting it. In short, Ripley’s reasons against the Henry Repeating rifle are: 1. weight, 2. need for special ammunition, 3. effect on the cartridges in the magazine while on horseback being crushed, etc., 4. safe transportation of ammunition, 5. wear of spiral spring in field use, 6. No advantage over other breech-loaders, 7. too many different types of arms in use., and 8. high price.
One of the earliest uses of Henry Repeating rifles was in account of the capture of Clarksville, Tennessee in 1862. Colonel Rodney Mason was the commanding officer of the 71st Ohio Infantry who occupied Clarksville. Colonel Mason was forced to surrender Clarksville on August 18, 1862. It seems he was attacked in the Ohio newspapers for the surrender. In a letter to the editor of the Ohio State Journal, Colonel Mason writes a defense of his actions. “On Monday morning I received notice of the approach of the enemy in force. I was near my headquarters in the city, and immediately started for camp, which I reached just as the enemy galloped down the street. I found Lt. Colonel Andrews, who was in command, forming the men in position. The enemy halted out of range, and sent in a flag of truce, demanding a surrender. I called my officers together, and submitted the proposition to them. The matter was some time in consideration. Pending the negotiation, I asked and obtained leave to send Lt. Colonel Andrews along the line to verify their statements of their force. He counted them to the number of about eight hundred, well armed, one company with volcanic rifles, (“sixteen shooters,”) one with carbines, some with muskets, and the remainder with double-barreled shotguns......They had besides a battery of four guns, six and twelve pounders.” (49) To oppose this enemy force Colonel Mason had one hundred and fifty-two men and no artillery. In the officers meeting, the officers of the 71st Ohio Infantry agreed with Colonel Mason that it would be hopeless to resist and the only sensible option would be to surrender. The officers also agreed with Lt. Colonel Andrews’ report as to the armament of the enemy having a company of sixteen shooter, Henry rifles. In the statement of the company officers they state, “He returned and reported that, as near as he could ascertain, about four hundred cavalrymen were drawn in line some four hundred yards distance; one company armed with new sixteen shooters, one company with carbines and sabers, balance with double-barreled shotguns; at the left and rear drawn up about one hundred infantry....” (49) The enemy Colonel Mason was facing consisted of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, also known as the 15th Kentucky Cavalry, CSA, as well as the 10th Kentucky Cavalry also known as the 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers commanded by Colonel Adam Rankin Johnson. Company B of the 10th Kentucky Cavalry was commanded by Captain Lorenzo Fisher who even had his picture taken with his Henry Repeating rifle. (61) When Lt. Colonel Andrews mentioned “well armed, one company with volcanic rifles, (“sixteen shooters,”)”, a company of Henry armed men could be anywhere from 25 to 75 men armed with Henry Repeating. That is a force with a lot of firepower. Where Captain Fisher and Company B got their Henrys would be of great interest. With this showing of strength, the Confederates did not have to fire a shot to take Clarksville. The two commands split up after the capture of Clarksville. Woodward’s command would later become part of General Nathan B. Forrest’s command.
Early in the war there were those that had wanted to acquire the Henry Repeating rifle but the Henry was in short supply. In fact as early as January 16, 1863 Colonel A.C. Ellithorpe from the headquarters of the 3rd Brigade, Army of the Frontier at Camp Curtis, Maysville was writing to Colonel N.P. Chipman requesting to raise a battalion armed with Henry Repeating rifles. He writes, “I should still like to raise a battalion of sharpshooters and have the Henry rifle. I can make it equal to two regiments, and terror to the enemy, yet I am here and cannot figure for the thing.” (35) In early 1863 there were very few Henry Repeating rifles for sale anywhere. The New Haven Arms Company could not keep up with the demand for the rifle. Many requests were denied as rifles were not available.
Oliver Winchester the owner of the New Haven Arms Company received several letters of testimony about the uses of the Henry Repeating rifle. “Major Cloudman of the 1st D.C. Cavalry, in a letter to Mr. Winchester, said that when he was held in Libby Prison he often heard the enemy discuss the merits of Henry rifles, and he heard one of them say, “Give us anything but that damned Yankee rifle that can be loaded Sunday and fired all the week.” (54)
Captain Wilson was a very interesting Henry owner that much has been written. “The following letter from Captain Wilson, Co. M, 12th Kentucky Cavalry, is entitled to an introductory statement. The writer is an unconditional Union man, living in a strongly disloyal section of Kentucky. His neighbors had threatened his life. In consequence of this Captain Wilson had fitted up a log crib across the road from his front door as a sort of arsenal, where he had his Henry rifle, Colt’s revolver etc. One day, while at home dining with his family, seven mounted guerillas rode up, dismounted and burst into his dining room and commenced firing upon him with revolvers. The attack was so sudden that the first shots struck a glass of water his wife was raising to her lips, breaking the glass. Several other shots were fired without effect, when Captain Wilson sprang to his feet, exclaiming, “For God’s sake, gentlemen, if you wish to murder me, do not do it at my own table in presence of my family.” This caused a parley, resulting in their consent that he might go out doors to be shot. The moment he reached his front door he sprang for his cover, and his assailants commenced firing at him. Several shots passed through his hat, and more through his clothes, but none took effect upon his person. He thus reached his cover and seized his Henry Rifle, turned upon his foes, and in five shots killed five of them; the other two sprung for their horses. As the sixth man threw his hand over the pommel of his saddle, the sixth shot took off four fingers; notwithstanding this he got into the saddle, but the seventh shot killed him; then starting out, Captain Wilson killed the seventh man with the eight shot.” (56
“This letter is in reply to one asking for an authentic statement of this remarkable feat from under his own hand, which, in the commencement of his letter, he promised to give, but which, it will be observed, he entirely omits (probably from that modesty and dislike to recounting their own deeds of daring, characteristic of truly brave men), but tacitly admits the correctness of the above statement. Mumfordsville, Ky., Feb. the 17th, 1863. O.F. Winchester, Esq. President New Haven Arms Co. Dear sir: Yours of December the 31st, came to hand on yesterday. Thanking you for the too flattering compliments paid to myself by you, I shall proceed to a candid statement of the facts as they have occurred within my own experience. In the use of the Henry gun I have had some experience in the instance of which you seem to have been apprised. When attacked alone by seven guerillas I found it (Henry rifle) to be particularly useful not only in regard to its fatal precision, but also in the number of shots held in reserve for immediate action in case of an overwhelming force. In short, I would state that, in my opinion, the Henry Rifle is decidedly the best gun in service of the United States; can be used with one-half of the usual scouring and cleaning incident to the guns now principally in use, no more liable to get out of trim or unfit for service than any other gun, and will shoot with as much precision and as terrible effect as any rifle in use anywhere, when in good hands. In conclusion I would say, give me sixty men armed with the Henry Repeating rifle, with sufficient quantity of cartridges, and it is not an overestimate to say that we are equal to a full regiment of men armed with muskets. Very truly yours, James M. Wilson, Captain Co. M, 12th Kentucky Cavalry.” (56)
R.K. Williams writes on March 3, 1863 of witnessing the use of Henrys in Kentucky. He feels that the Henry is the most effective weapon in use. He writes: “The Henry Rifle is regarded in Kentucky as the most effective known, and some most astonishing things have been accomplished with it; among these we mention one: Whilst the gallant Colonel Netter was raising his regiment of Kentucky Volunteers at Owensboro, Ky., he sent fifteen of his men armed with this rifle on a scout; these men were attacked by two hundred and forty rebel soldiers in an open lane, where there was no timber for shelter, and the fifteen Union soldiers, armed with the Henry, successfully repulsed and drove from the field the two hundred and forty assailants. This unparalleled feat could not have been accomplished with any other arm known to us. Respectfully, R.K. Williams, W.W. Gardner” (56)
Oliver Winchester, president of the New Haven Arms Company, wrote an article that appeared in the March 17,1863 edition if “The Scientific American” on the merits of the Henry Repeating rifle. “....A magazine gun like the Henry rifle, carrying fifteen charges, which can be refilled in fifteen seconds, and the fifteen shots fired with deliberate aim in sixty seconds, or fifteen times before the enemy could reload once, must produce a sheet of fire and lead before which no troops could stand to receive the last shot. The only reason, or excuse rather, we have ever heard against the use in the army of arms susceptible of such rapidity of loading is that the troops would waste the ammunition. Will this bear the test of examination? Consider that it is admitted that in the use of muzzle-loading guns, but five per cent of the shots would take effect, showing a loss of ninety-five per cent of the ammunition! Can a greater waste be well expected under any circumstances? Thus far we have looked at the subject from a mathematical point of view only. Now as to the moral effect upon those armed with such terrible weapons and upon those opposed to them armed with such comparatively defective arms. If, as we think, it is a consciousness of power that makes men brave, and a sense of imminent peril that makes cowards of us all, and oftentimes strikes with panic the best armies, is it not reasonable to suppose that such a weapon would give a soldier the courage and coolness needed to send each of those fifteen shots with more unerring certainty than his trembling opponent could send his single shot? If, to save ammunition, it is essential that every soldier should remain for sixty seconds while reloading, a helpless target, to receive his opponent’s fire from one to fifteen shots, why not reverse the order of progress and turn the ingenuity of inventors to the production of more to reload, and thus double the saving of ammunition? Saving of life does not appear an element worthy of consideration in this connection. Yet this is West Point opinion, the deductions of West Point science! Are these results worth their cost to the country?” (66) Wasting ammunition has been an age old concern of the military. This seems to have been a concern down through history even at the expense of saving lives. It is not until we get to WWII that putting fire on a target really meant something. Even this was not taught in training but troops had to be re-taught once they arrived in Europe or the South Pacific. Winchester and others recognized the value of having rapid fire in a life or death situation.
Another version of this same account includes the following; “Owning to their capacity to maintain a rapid and continuous fire, they successfully repulsed and drove from the field the enemy rebel force.” (55) The mention of “rapid and continuous fire” is not possible with any other arm other than the Henry Repeating rifle.
The following paragraph is taken from the report of Captain Wendell D. Wiltsie of the Twentieth Michigan Infantry. He writes this while in camp at Green’s Ferry along the Cumberland River, Kentucky on May 11, 1863. “I accordingly took 25 men of my own company H, under Lieutenant McCollum; 30 from Companies B, F, G, I and K, all picked men, under Captain Allen; a company of 28 men under Captain Searcy, of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry, and a company of Henry rifles, 27, under Captain Wilson, Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry, all dismounted, and moved from the river at 9 p.m. .....I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of both officers and men engaged in this terribly unequal strife. That 40 men held 300 at bay for over two hours and finally drove them back, or that 30 should repulse 250, shows with what determined bravery they stood, and with what desperate energy they fought.....During the whole engagement at Alcorn’s, I was supported by Captain Wilson, of the Henry rifles, Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry, and Captain Searcy, of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry, both of whom were heroes in the fight.” (53)
Another account of the same event is taken from the diary of Lieutenant Walter McCollum of Company H, Twentieth Michigan, with his take on the record of the scouting party of May 8 and 10th, 1863. “May 8--The cavalry is still crossing. At 9 p.m., a scouting party of 103 men under Captain Wiltsie went out on a scout in the direction of Monticello, for the purpose of breaking up a band of resident guerrillas or “bushwhackers,” reported to be in the vicinity of a distillery owned by a man named Alcorn. The party was composed as follows: 25 men from Company H, 30 from other companies and about 50 Henry rifles from the Ninth and Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry, under Captains Wilson and Searcy. Officers in all were Captains Wiltsie, Allen, Carpenter and Montgomery. Lieutenants McCollum, Lounsberry and Knight from the Twentieth Michigan.” (53)
Here is the third description of this same event by Colonel Richard T. Jacob of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry, commanding the brigade wrote a report of the actions that took place near Columbia, Kentucky in late April and early May. The report is dated May 12, 1863. His brigade consisted of parts of the Ninth, Eleventh and Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry. “The three pickets of Company B, Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry, under charge of Sergeant Dexter, finding that our men had retired, took deliberate aim at the enemy’s pickets, and then darted over the hill, fighting as they ran, and succeeded in making good their escape.” (52) The Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry were armed with Henry Repeating rifles. “Lieutenant-Colonel Holeman, commanding the charge, being ranking officer and the commander of the Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry, cheered the men on to their work of death, and whenever the fight was most dangerous there he could be found.....Captain Wilson, of the Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry, rushed into the midst of the enemy and laid many a man low with his Henry Rifle......Captain Sims worked his gun with great skill. Lieutenant H.W. Shafer did the most rapid and accurate firing, carrying death and destruction to the enemy.......Captains Wiltsie, Wilson, Allen and Searcy, I am informed with great skill and bravery in Saturday’s fight.....I do not know the loss of the enemy, but I think it very heavy. We had 450 men in the fight, and fought Major-General Morgan, with nine regiments, for forty-five minutes, and then crossed the deep river with only one small boat, a few canoes, and a half-broken, half sunken gunnel, floored, and a half a foot of water on it. The enemy did not follow us.” (52)
A.A. Vanwormer was impressed with the Henry that he purchased. He writes this in a letter dated June 3, 1863. “The New Haven Arms Company: Gentlemen: I bought the first one of the Henry Rifles sold here, of my old friends, Albright & Co. I have fully tested it, having shot over 500 shots. It is certain death at 800 yards, and probably at 1,000 yards. A regiment armed with this gun would be equal to a whole division of the army armed with the common Enfield or Springfield stovepipe. I have shot it at 500 yards against the Sharp rifle, and find it far superior. Yesterday I lent it to a friend, a member of the Old Guard, was going out on a target excursion. After the shooting with the Enfield rifle, and amateur operations with Sharp’s rifle, my friend beat them all at a largely greater distance with your Henry. I will take the Henry rifle and shoot against any living man at 1,000 yards, with any other gun, and give him 100 yards, if his gun was made in Europe. Yours, A.A. Vanwormer” (56) Vanwormer has a lot of confidence in his Henry Repeating rifle. I have my doubts about the accuracy of the Henry Rifle out to 500 yards. I guess my question is, did Vanwormer stretch the truth? In all fairness, I have read other claims of accuracy out and past 500 yards by others from the time period using their Henrys. So maybe their is some truth the their claims. But then there is the Henry test conducted by Lieutenant, W. Mitchell U.S.N. that gives a different story. In a letter dated May 20, 1862 he states; “fifteen shots were fired for accuracy, at a target 18 inches square at 348 feet distance. Fourteen hit direct.” (56) Also in 1864 in a book entitled “Hints to Riflemen” the author also feel that the Henry is not all that accurate at distances. He writes; “In speaking of its accuracy, however, although several of the writers praise it highly, I find that they allude to it only in general terms, and without specifying its performance. I am bound to say that, in this particular, the shooting of the only one I have had an opportunity of testing, and which was sent to me from the manufactory for the purpose, was anything but satisfactory. I could not on an average put three shots out of five into a circle of two feet in diameter, at 100 yards, and at 200 yards they varied four or five feet, wandering in every direction. In the trial report by Captain Dahlgren, 14 out of 15 shots were placed in a target 18 inches square at 116 yards. This is better than my experience, but certainly does not indicate such a degree of precision as most riflemen would require. I tried the gun repeatedly, and called in the aid of two experienced riflemen who succeeded no better, though one of them assured me he had seen good shooting done with it at 200 yards. To my mind the fault is sufficiently accounted for by the unequal spring of the barrel, resulting from its being suddenly reduced in thickness for the five inches nearest the muzzle, to admit the sleeve which turns upon it. It is well known that the accuracy of a thin barreled gun is affected by the improper adjustment of the bands, which bind it to the stock, and the accuracy of any gun is destroyed by clamping it in a vice, and it is reasonable to believe that a sudden reduction of half the thickness of the barrel, and then enclosing it in a ring revolving upon it, at the point where the greatest strain of atmospheric resistance is felt, should have a similar effect.” (56) So was the Henry Repeating rifle an accurate, long range weapon? The test show one thing but the written accounts by men in the field seem to suggest a different story. Since ammunition has not been made since the 1920’s for the .44 rim fire Henry cartridge and an original Henry is very pricey, it is not likely to find out the answer as to the Henry’s accuracy.
Colonel J. Warren Keifer was the commanding officer of the One Hundred and tenth Ohio Infantry. He describes the actions of the 110th Ohio from June 13-15, 1863. His men are involved in fighting in and around Union Mills, Winchester and Harpers Ferry. He makes a special mention to give praise to his group of sharpshooters. “Knowing the risk of being censured for making special mention of officers and men where all behaved so nobly, I cannot refrain from calling attention to my sharpshooters. Armed with the Henry rifle, in each engagement they fired almost continuous streams into the enemy’s ranks, creating great loss of life. They also, under my own eyes, shot down a number of the enemy’s officers.” (24) This report, was written June 16, 1863, documented the early use of the Henry Repeating rifle and its effectiveness against the enemy.
The Battle of Corydon, Indiana of July 9, 1863, was a battle in which the towns people, Home Guard, fought against troops of General John Hunt Morgan. At least twelve of the Indiana Legion , Home Guard, were armed with Henry Repeating rifles. An account of this battle was written by the editor Simeon K. Wolfe in the Weekly Democrat on July 14, 1863. Morgan’s forced numbered around 2,500 but some estimates have put the number at close to 5,000. “Our forces, consisting of about 450 Home Guards and citizens under command of Colonel Lewis Jordan of the Legion, assisted by Provost Timberlake (late Colonel of the 81st Indian regiment) and Major Jacob Pfrimmer, who up to this time had been engaged with the cavalry in scouting, formed a line of battle on the hill one mile south of town........Before this skirmish was fairly over, the enemy made their appearance in front of our main line along the Mauckport road in strong force. We, the editor, were with a squad of the Henry rifles under command of Major McGrain, at the extreme right of the line on the Amsterdam road and had a full view of the approaching enemy. They completely filled the road for nearly one mile. As soon as they approached in range the Henry Rifles opened fire and did good work, the enemy being in full view. Soon the fire became general along the entire right wing, which checked the advancing column of the enemy, and compelled them to undertake to flank both our wings at the same time, a performance which the great disparity of forces enabled them easily to do. .......Upon the right wing a large flanking force was sent against our lines and the fighting was very sharp for the space of 20 minutes in that quarter; twelve Henry Rifles and a squad of 30 to 40, some 100 yards to their left, armed with the ordinary rifle musket holding a heavy body of flankers in check for ten or fifteen minutes and compelling them to dismount. Being completely overpowered by numbers our forces gradually fell back to Corydon and the cavalry and mounted infantry generally made their escape.” (62) In a letter written by Attia Porter dated July 30, 1863, she describes the battle and the fact that her father, “Judge Porter”, was out fighting with his Henry Rifle but they did not get him or his Henry. (62) The end result of the fighting at Corydon was that Morgan captured the town. Rebel losses were reported as 10 killed and 40 wounded while Union loses were reported as four killed and two wounded. (62) It can be speculated that the twelve Henry Rifles being used in defense of Corydon may have accounted for the large number of Rebel casualties as opposed to the low Union casualties by rebels armed with the common arm.
According to the report of Major Samuel Martin of the Thirty-Seventh Kentucky Infantry, Henry Repeating rifles were used at a fight in and around Glasgow, Ky. The date of this report is October 9, 1863. “I now proceed to give you the particulars of the recent raid made on Glasgow, Ky. by the rebel Col. John M. Hughes. .....The town was attacked on the morning of the 6th instant about daylight. I was in bed and heard the rebels passing through town and in the direction of the fort where my men were encamped. I supposing as they passed through town that they were Captain Stone’s men returning. I lay still until my father looked out of the window and said they were rebels, and while he was telling it to me, firing commenced in the square. I had Captain J.O. Nelson’s company as provost guards in the court-house yard. They numbered about 50 men present. As soon as the firing commenced in the square, I sprang from my bed, loaded my Henry rifle, dressed myself, went to the window and saw 15 or 20 rebels ordering Captain Nelson’s men into line under guard. I asked them whose command they belonged to, receiving no reply, myself and Lieutenant Chinoweth fired on them, both about the same time. They returned the fire, some of their balls passing through the window into our room. We fired six or eight times at them from the windows, wounding 3 or 4 of the rebels on the square. Here I will mention one of my orderlies Frank Claiborne. We had shot a rebel off his horse, I ordered Claiborne to go down and get on the horse and try to get to the fort and rally my men, then myself supposing that the rebels had not reached there. As quick as the order was given it was obeyed, and I saw him gallop off from the rebels in the square toward the fort, and I learned since that he was captured by them. Our fire from the windows was too severe, and the rebels left the public square, then myself and Lieutenant Chinoweth, and William Griffith, an orderly, went down stairs to go to the stable to get our horses. When we got down stairs I saw Captain Nelson in the court-house yard by himself, and I told him to follow me to get a horse, which he did not do. When we turned the corner of the square to go to the stable where our horses were we saw that it was surrounded by rebels catching the horses. We fired several times at them and they left the stable, leaving in it 4 horses and saddles. We soon mounted three of them and rode back through the town and started toward the fort. At that time I heard firing and a hallooning at the fort. We went within 200 yards of the fort, where we could see it well, and there I sat on my horse and saw rebels sacking my camp and driving my men into line. I again lowered my gun to fire on them, but was prevailed on by Lieutenant Chinoweth not to do so for fear of killing my own men. We were there helpless, only 3 of us with arms and I considered the greater portion of my command captured. We sat here about two minutes, when we were discovered by the rebels and about 30 of them started after us, but we kept out of their way and succeeded in collecting a few of my pickets who were yet at their posts.” (25) This was not a good day for Major Martin of the 37th Kentucky Infantry. But he does use his Henry Repeating rifle with good results to save himself. I have to wonder why his Henry was not loaded and ready to go.
First Sergeant Christopher C. Cowen was armed with a Henry Repeating rifle at Chickamauga. He was a member of Company K, 96th Illinois Infantry. Cowen was born in Jo Davies county, Illinois. At the time of his enlistment he was an accountant and clerk and enlisted from Warren. He was appointed First Sergeant at the time of the organization of the company. He received shell wounds at Fort Shaler, Kentucky in October 1862 losing sight in his left eye as well has having an injured right thigh. At Chickamauga he had a gunshot wound through the right shoulder and shoulder blade. He had a Henry 16 shooter, which he used on the advancing enemy after the line had fallen back. When his gun was emptied of cartridges he loaded it again, although he had no support, and kept up his firing until the Rebel line was but ten or fifteen feet from him, when he was stuck by a bullet and fell. A ball from his own regiment tore his coat as he lay on the ground, but did not wound him. A Rebel gave him a drink of water, but took his gun. A Henry rifle captured at Atlanta marked, “Captured from a Federal soldier at Chickamauga Sept 20, 1863,” is believed to be the same gun. The lines again shifting, he escaped from the field. Being disabled for field service he was transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps Jan. 27, 1864 and mustered out June 30, 1865 at Nashville.” (43) The unfortunate thing for the Confederates that captured Henry Repeating rifles was they had little use for the rifle once the ammunition ran out. The Confederacy had no means of producing Henry cartridges.
Henry Repeating rifles were acquired by both the “Unionist” soldiers of Kentucky as well as the “Rebels” of Kentucky. I am not sure who was involved or when it was in the following shoot-out. “Two or three days ago three loyal men near Owensboro, Ky., armed with Henry rifles, had a conflict with forty well armed guerrillas, and soon put them to a very hasty flight. The three gentlemen were at breakfast when the guerrillas surrounded them and demanded, their surrender, but the brave fellows refused, and bringing their terrible weapons into quick and effective play, they at once cleared the field of their enemies. Western Papers” (79) I am sure the forty guerrillas had not idea of what was just unleashed upon them when the three Henry Repeating rifles opened up on them.
The following letter is one that is requesting the purchase of ammunition. The Government did not provide ammunition for every Henry in use, especially the Henry rifles that were in use prior to 1864. John S. Tennyson was the pilot of the U.S. Gunboat Pittsburgh. He writes on October 17, 1863 to the New Haven Arms Company while at Grand Gulf, Mississippi. “I have been using one of your Henry’s Patent Rifles for one year and many a rebel has felt it superiority over other weapons. We have on this vessel the Spencer Rifle for sharp shooting, but my pet, as I call the Henry, can beat them in distance and accuracy, and has had nearly one thousand rounds fired from it and has never got out of order the slightest, though it shows some honorable scars; while very few of the Spencer pattern are fit for service; they will not load. I wish to know about ammunition, for if I will use my own gun I must supply it. Let me know what you can send me one thousand rounds to Cairo for. Several pilots in this squadron have the same arm and want cartridges, and of course it would be cheaper for us to procure it direct from the manufactory. Is there any other calibre of these guns? Is so, what is the price of the different calibres? Please send me the price of the cartridge per 1,000, and the price of the arms. The express will be paid at Cairo. I will make a bill and remit the money as soon as I receive your answer. Very respectfully, your ob’t servant, John S. Tennyson Pilot U.S. Gunboat Pittsburgh.” (79) The purchase of ammunition was a constant problem in the first couple years of the war. After 1864 the Government began to furnish some ammunition for regiments that armed themselves with Henry Repeating rifles. However, for individuals that purchased Henry rifles, many of those people had to purchase their own cartridges.
James Wilson of the 12th Kentucky Cavalry writes Oliver Winchester on October 27, 1863 while at hospital No. 14 in Louisville, Kentucky. “I will give you a description of a couple of the engagements that I was in since I last wrote you, one more especially than the other, that was on John Morgan’s advance across the Cumberland River. The number of rebels that attacked me was 375. I had only 67 men. The fight lasted about two and a half hours, we drove them about one mile, and that was the last we saw of them. We killed thirty-one and wounded forty-three. I myself lost six killed and wounded. I that night crossed the river with my company. Please write as soon as possible. I still remain your officer friend, James Wilson, Captain 12th Kentucky Cavalry.” (79)
In a letter to the President of the New Haven Arms Company, John H. Ekstand, Ordnance Sergeant for the 51st Illinois Infantry writes that he would like to get more Henry Rifles and that the Henry Repeating rifle is a “hobby” of his. This letter is dated November 2, 1863. “I take the liberty to inquire about your Rifle, as I have been an owner of one of them a long time, and through my agency twelve of them have been bought in the regiment and many more would have been bought had I been able to get them in any place, and if I do get any the price is very much increased. In the 51st Illinois it is many that will buy them, and the brigade and division both requested me to write to you for information and a price list and the different kinds made, and how many we can get, or when, and express charges from the factory to Stevenson, Alabama, and if we cannot get some good globe sights or if any telescope sights are made, and their cost. I have took pains to command, and also to bring them through. We have now four months pay due us and the boys will have the money ready to send by express to you when we can know how many we can get. We used your rifle in the Battle of Chickamauga with good effect, and it is undoubtedly the best gun in the service, far superior to the Spencer rifle or any other rifle, both here and in Europe, as I have served a long time in both armies; but better sights ought to be made for so good a rifle. I received ten rifles from Bowen in Chicago, but could not get any more just now. Cannot any heavier guns be made to order, or different calibre? Excuse my many enquiries. Your rifle is my “hobby” so the boys say, and I like to be able to give them all the information possible, and get as many Henry’s rifles in the Army of the Cumberland, so we could drive the Rebs from Chattanooga, so we could get something to eat.” (63) Sergeant Ekstand would use his Henry rifle in several battles in the Civil War with his last battle being the Battle of Franklin. He was shot in the leg and had to have his leg amputated. He left the service due to his injury but later reenlisted as a Methodist minister.
In a letter to New Haven Arms Company dated December 29, 1863 Lafayette C. Baker of the 1st D. C. Cavalry writes, “A thorough practical trial of your rifle in the field, even with ordinary care, has demonstrated beyond all questions, that it has no equal in the service. Since it has become known to the leaders of the numerous guerrilla bands, that my Regiment is armed with these Rifles, it is impossible for us to provoke a fight with them. Even small squads of my men have driven Mosby and White’s whole force beyond the Blue Ridge, without a shot or drawing a sabre.” (79) The Henry rifle developed a reputation as a weapon that would discourage those having to attack those armed with this rifle.
On January 20, 1864 at Petersburg, Virginia Major D. S. Curtiss writes his opinion of the Henry verses the Spencer after having seen both in action. “Last autumn, I with two battalions of the 1st D. C. Cavalry, were transferred to the 1st Maine Cavalry Regiment, armed with the “Spencer Seven Shooter,” which has given me an opportunity to test both these arms, in regard to efficiency, durability and safety, and I am fully satisfied that the Henry rifle is far superior, in all respects, so that I would by no means use any other if it could possibly be procured, and believe the Government would realize a great saving of life, money and time, in its warfare, if all the men were armed with Henry Rifles. This is my fully conviction, after being in various fights and engagements where both were used, It is safe, and saves life and time.” (79)
At Mound City, Illinois John S. Tennyson writes again to the New Haven Arms Company on June 23, 1864. Tennyson has had his Henry for a couple of years now and it is still in perfect working order. “Messrs: Yours of the 20th instant, also the cleaning rod, is received. For your prompt action please accept my thanks. Your successful operations gratify me very much. I thought over two years ago that I was choosing a very superior arm when I purchased a Henry rifle; time has proved that I was correct. I have fired about 2,000 rounds and every part of my gun is perfect yet. It has been struck twice by the enemy but in no way disabled. At one time I made them believe that there was at least twenty of us. The result I learned afterwards was two killed and nine wounded. My challenge to the squadron is to shoot any distance, they to use any other than the Henry. Every one that thinks himself a shot has tried me with equal results, badly beaten. I have shot against several and beat them that afterwards took my gun and beat me, which proves the superiority of the arm. The result has been orders for the rifle. Yours very respectfully, John S. Tennyson” (79) The above proves the durability of the Henry rifle as well as its long range accuracy.
Not only were states worried about Henry Repeating rifles getting into the wrong hands such as draft dodgers but also the railroad was worried about protecting themselves from attacks by increasing guerrilla bands. The following is a dispatch, sent by J. Holt on July 22, 1864 worried about attacks on the railroad and requesting Henry Repeating rifles for protection. It is unlikely that they received the requested amount of 300 Henry rifles as the Henry was in very high demand and the New Haven Arms Company could not keep up to meet demand. “Hon. E.M. Stanton: Mr. Guthrie, president of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, has by letter and dispatch, asked that you would supply him with 300 repeating rifles, those of Henry preferred, for the use of the employees of the road. This is a matter of much importance and urgency. The increase of guerrilla bands has been such that unless those engaged in running trains are armed it will not be possible much longer to retain them in service. General Burbridge and Colonel Fairleigh favor the application which has been made, and as the Government has a deep interest in the protection of this road and the trains, which have of late been frequently stopped and fired into by guerrillas, it is hoped that prompt action may be taken. J. Holt” (42)
With the passage of a couple of years of bloody fighting the attitude changed somewhat as the government was now purchasing a few Henry Repeating rifles. In fact they will eventually take delivery of 1731 Henry Repeating rifles, many of which were delivered after the war. However in a letter dated August 9, 1864 from Governor Brough of Ohio he is worried that the Henry Repeating rifles are falling into the wrong hands, draft dodgers. He writes, “ Ho. E.M. Stanton Secretary of War: Is there an order of the War Department that manufacturers of the Henry rifle shall not fill private orders while manufacturing for the Government. I have heard something of the kind. Agents for manufacturers are all over this State selling these arms to men who are organizing to resist the draft. Such an agent is selling heavy rifles here; sold thirty yesterday. The transactions are private, and civil process will not prevent it. Do you hold the manufacturers under such control that you can stop for ninety days the shipment or furnishing of arms by them for private sale? The evil is a serious one. Can it be reached?” (38) To this letter Edwin Stanton the Secretary of War writes back on August 10, 1864. “The Government has no contract for the Henry rifle. Let me know the name of the agent, where he is, and where his arms are.” (38) The Henry Repeating rifle could be purchased by determined individuals from a number of private sellers representing the New Haven Arms Company. Many of these sellers were located in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.
The 10th Michigan Cavalry was armed in part with Henry repeating rifles however with that said I am not sure how true that maybe as I have not found the documentation. A fellow researcher said that he found the information with the Henry reference but as it has been over 20 years ago since I was first given the information I have not found the source. I believe that it was mentioned that Company B was armed with the Henry Repeating rifle. The 10th Michigan Cavalry were armed with Spencer carbines so it could be the case that these men defending the ford were armed with Spencer carbines. I am not sure that 7 men could hold off Wheeler’s Cavalry with Spencer carbines for the three and half hours that they did. Henry Repeating rifles would offer over twice the firepower, so I think maybe the Henry Repeating rifle might have been more likely the weapon. I do include this account mainly because it is an interesting account of what determined men can do when fighting with either a Spencer carbine or a Henry Repeating rifle. A part of Company B was detailed to guard McMillan’s Ford on August 24, 1864. This was an assignment given to them because of their firepower. Colonel Trowbridge gives this account of the action. "Eight men were sent to guard McMillian's Ford, on the Holston; one of them went off on his own hook, so that seven were left. One of them was a large, powerful fellow, the farrier of company B, by the name of Alexander H. Griggs, supposed to belong to Greenfield, Wayne county. These seven men actually kept back a rebel brigade from crossing that ford for three and a half hours by desperate fighting, killing forty or fifty. The rebels, by swimming the river above and below the ford, succeeded in capturing the whole party. During the fight this big farrier was badly wounded in the shoulder. "General Wheeler was much astonished at the valor of these men, and at once paroled a man to stay and take care of this wounded man. Approaching the wounded farrier, the following dialogue is said to have taken place: "General Wheeler. Well, my man, how many men had you at the ford? "Griggs. Seven sir. "Wheeler. My poor fellow, don't you know that you are badly wounded? You might as well tell me the truth; you may not live long. "Griggs. I am telling the truth sir. We had only seven men. "Wheeler (laughing) Well, what did you expect to do? "Griggs. To keep you from crossing, sir. "Wheeler. Well, why didn't you do it? "Griggs. Why, you see, we did until you hit me, and that weakened our forces so much that you were too much for us. "Wheeler was greatly amused and inquired of another prisoner (who happened to be a farrier too), 'Are all the 10th Michigan like you fellows?' 'Oh no!' said the man, 'we are the poorest of the lot. We are mostly horse farriers and blacksmiths, and not much accustomed to fighting.' 'Well,' said Wheeler, 'if I had 300 such men as you I could march straight through h--l." The above came from the book entitled Michigan in the Civil War. (45)
The 64th Illinois Infantry also known as Yates’ Sharpshooters were armed in part with Henry rifles. While serving with General William Sherman in his march to the sea and then up through the Carolinas Captain Joseph Reynolds wrote letters back home to his relatives in Illinois. In a letter dated January 28, 1865 Captain Reynolds writes about an incident that happened while the 64th Infantry was camped near Pocotatigo, SC. Captain Reynolds writes in the first part of the letter that Lt. Colonel Manning had written from New York stating that he would be returning by next week with his rifles, meaning more Henry rifles. The weather for the past week had been very rainy so the army was unable to move. Finally the army began to move and drove the enemy back across the Saskehatchie River. Reynolds writes that fourteen men armed with Henry rifles crossed the river in boats and were able to close within fifty feet of the rebel fort. Here he was able to capture a rebel artillery captain and two of his men. He even states that troops in any number would not have been able to cross since the river had been “so much overflowed”. Reynolds raiding party made it back to their own lines with their prisoners about midnight having to wade water part of the way. The fourteen men with their Henry Repeating rifles were chosen for this mission because of their superior fire power that they could bring on target if it was needed. A larger body of men armed with muzzle loaders would more than likely been discovered by the enemy. For most of the Carolina campaign Reynolds was the commanding officer of the 64th Illinois Infantry or as he usually referred to it, Yates’ Sharpshooters. He was promoted to major and by wars end Lt. Colonel. Upon his mustering out he was given the brevet rank of brigadier general. The 64th Illinois were used as skirmishers for most of the war usually out in front of the rest of the division or at its flanks. (41)
It seems that Illinois troops saw the value of a repeating rifle more so than soldiers from other states. Illinois troops accounted for more purchases of Henry Repeating rifles than any of the other state. Other Illinois infantry regiment that purchased the Henry Repeating rifle includes the following: 7th, 11th, 16th, 23rd, 39th, 51st, 64, 66th, 68th, 73rd, 80th, 85th, 86th, 96th, 100th, 105th, and the 115th.
The 66th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry also known as the Western Sharp Shooters purchased Henry rifles. Most of their Henry rifles were delivered while the WSS were at Corinth, Mississippi at Camp Davies with delivery taking place a few at a time starting as early as September of 1863 and continuing into 1864 until the regiment had over 200 Henry Repeating rifles in their ranks. Those armed with Henry rifles, early on, were chosen for “Special Duty” as is documented in Lorenzo Barker’s history of the Western Sharpshooters. The following excerpts are taken from the 1994 reprint of Barker’s book with additional information from Barker’s diary. In his diary Ren Barker writes on September 4, 1863 “Got a pass to go to Corinth. Went to the 3rd Michigan Cavalry on a visit with some friends. Payed $40 for a seventeen shooter.” The “Seventeen Shooter” that Ren is referring to is the Henry Repeating rifle also at times referred to as a “Sixteen Shooter”. The Henry ammunition made prior to 1864 was a little shorter thus allowing an extra round in the magazine. Both terms are correct depending on which ammunition was being used. In the September 6, 1863 entry in his diary he states, “Orders come for all of the men that have seventeen shooters to get ready to march with five days rations”. These men were being singled out because of the fact that they were armed with the Henry Repeating rifle. These men were mounted on horseback. Ren mentions on September 8, 1863 that “part of our command go out on the Ripley Road, the other Boonville Road, about five miles out and lay in ambush all night and part of the next day.” Again this is a case where fewer men armed with superior fire power can get the job done that in the past would have taken hundreds to have the same fire power but would not have been able to be concealed as few men can. On his September 15, 1863 entry Ren states, “Our scout come in with one guerilla. The sharpshooters with seventeen shooters return to camp from their ambush.” On September 21, 1863 Ren writes, “Orders for twelve men with seventeen shooters to get three days rations ready to march. Went south to Boonsville to lay in ambush.” Twelve men with “Seventeen Shooters” has the ability to fire 204 rounds within the first seconds of a firefight and within a minute could possibly fire over 400 rounds. That many rounds within the first minute of a firefight would discourage a much larger force armed with the muzzle loading rifle of the day. It would take over 200 soldiers armed with muzzle loaders to equal the same amount of fire. The men armed with the “Seventeen Shooters” were the ones that were singled out of this “Special Duty” of ambush. On October 22, 1863 the entry reads, “Relieved from guard house and sent to our quarters. The sixteen shooter boys draw horses and saddles preparing themselves to be mounted.” But then on the October 28 entry Ren states, “Relieved from camp guard. Return to quarters. Go out to shoot off our guns off. Seventeen shooters cavalry go to Corinth as a guard for Mrs. Burke”. It is interesting to note that reference of Sixteen shooters on one day and then a few days later back to the reference of Seventeen Shooters. Again the Henry armed boys were selected for a “Special Duty” however this time as an armed escort. On November 2, 1863 the 66th Illinois Infantry left Camp Davies and was the advanced element of General Sweeny’s division. Several skirmishes were fought at Waterloo, Lauderdale, and Lexington. Ren mentions that “everything is burned as we go”. In January 1864 most of the 66th reenlisted as Veterans. Ren also writes that a majority of the regiment had ordered or purchased Henry rifles at their own expense. These cost between $40 and $45. On January 11, 1864 Barker writes “the seventeen shooters or Henry rifles comes to the company for those that had signed for them. The rifles divided out to those in quarters.” The regiment was given their veteran furlough for reenlisting. The 66th was back in action on April 28 pulling scouting and foraging duties and skirmishing with Confederate cavalry. By May of 1864 the WSS were now in Georgia. On May 9, 1864 it was mentioned that the regiment was ordered in haste to the front. As soon as they arrived the regiment was deployed as skirmishers and advanced. A fight soon insured at Resaca, Georgia where the WSS killed and captured 76 rebels. On May 15, 1864 Company H was sent forward as skirmishers and was attacked by Confederates but was repulsed with “considerable loss” after a few minutes of fighting. With having a company of men armed with Henry Repeating rifles several hundreds of rounds could be fired in a fight lasting a few minutes. I am sure the Confederates doing the attacking looked upon Company H as easy pickings. Little did the Rebs know, but soon found out, what the Henry Repeating rifle could do. According to the “Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 38, p 378 on May 16, 1864 “General Veatch had just arrived upon the ground, and was being shown the position to be taken by his division, on the right of the Second Division, when the enemy in heavy force charged down upon the right of the 66th Illinois Infantry, striking the flank. This regiment which is armed in part with the Henry rifle, by a stubborn resistance, and a steady, cool fire, checked the enemy’s advance, and gave me time to throw forward to its support and directly to the enemy’s front, the balance of the Second Brigade and part of the Third.” On May 27 the regiment was engaged again as skirmishers. For most of the next several months the 66th was engaged performing skirmish duty and losing several men in the process. (40)
Private Prosper Bowe was a member of Company D that was engaged in fighting near Atlanta. He writes to his sister on July 28th, 1864. His description of the fighting is very interesting. He is describing the fighting of July 22, 1864. The 66th were ordered to the rear and to protect the supply train. No sooner had the 66th got into position than the rebels came out of the woods advancing across the open field. Bowe writes, “Not a man faltered and when the order was given to open on them we started our sixteen shooters to work. The first column in front of us nearly all fell with the first two or three volleys but they stood their ground well. They were bound to get our trains but we had something to say about that. We will fight for our supplies if nothing else but as luck would have it the Rebs fell back just as we had got out of ammunition. I stood and fired ninety rounds without stopping. My gun barrel was so hot that I could not touch it. Spit on it and it would siz. There was seven hundred rebels buried in front of our regiment and the ground was covered with wounded.” Bowe goes on to mention that reinforcements came from the right and they got a new supply of ammunition. The Rebs had captured two of the Union batteries. This is the same fighting that is depicted on the famous print of Don Troiani’s where the 66th Illinois with their Henry Repeating rifles are helping to retake DeGress’ Battery. The men of the 66th Illinois Infantry were part of Mersey’s Brigade assigned to the task. Bowe writes his sister, “We were then ordered to the right on a double quick nearly two miles. We charged then and took back our works and captured our batteries back again. The rebels’ loss on that day was very heavy.” (40)
I have been able to check an original copy of Barker’s 1905 book on the 66th Illinois Company D and the following information is taken from it. “December 16th members of the Sixty-six and Company D began to re-enlist for the war in the Veteran service, and on December 23rd fully 500 men had re-enlisted and were mustered in as Veterans by Captain T. D. Mitchell, United States Mustering Officer, of the Second Brigade. Previous to this time the greater portion of Company D and the Regiment, had discarded their “target rifles” and purchased the celebrated “Henry Rifle,” or seventeen shooter, at their own expense, which cost the men $50 each, the men owning their guns, the Government furnishing the cartridges. On January, 1864, the Company and Regiment left Pulaski, and marched via Petersburg and Lynnville to Columbia, Tennessee. ...On January 22nd we received four months pay and $100 Veteran bounty. ....Company D and the Sixty-six Illinois, Western Sharpshooters, had the honor on the 9th of May(1864), of opening the fighting of the Army of the Tennessee in this campaign(Atlanta), at Ball’s Knob, Snake Creek Gap and Resaca, Ga., unaided and almost unsupported of driving General Wheeler’s cavalry and brigade of rebel infantry through Snake Creek Gap, and holding until night the heights of Resaca. In this engagement is where Company D’s repeating rifles were used to good effect. On this campaign to Atlanta, Company D was under fire for one hundred and twenty days, and participated in not less that ten or fifteen pitched battles, and skirmishes innumerable, the Regiment losing 225 officers and men killed and wounded, Company D losing one officer killed, George M. Baldwin, two officers wounded, R. J. Williamson, one of whom died of his wounds, Captain John H. Andrews, and eight or ten men killed and wounded. Among the regimental officers, mortally wounded was Colonel P. E. Burke, and severely wounded was Major A. K. Campbell.” (80) The men of the 66th Illinois no sooner get their Henry rifles and they are thrown in the thick of things many times fighting their own way into and out of battles, coming out as the victors. Barker also writes of a couple men that are taken prisoner but before surrendering they destroy their Henry rifles to prevent their capture and use by the Rebels. “Orderly Sergeant Albert C. Thompson, and John Randal, while in action at the battle of Dallas, Ga., May 27, 1864, were taken prisoner. The Company was drawn up in line of battle, and had advanced, when Thompson and Randall dropped into a rebel rifle pit for protection. About that time the command was given to fall back. The “boys” did not hear the command, but stuck to their rifle pits, and worked their seventeen shooters for all they were worth against a large force of rebels who were advancing upon them, and ordering them to surrender, which they were forced to, but not until they had used up their last cartridge, and bent the barrels and broken the locks of their seventeen shooters when they surrendered to a mad lot of fellows, who discovered the fact that there were only two “Yank” soldiers, who had caused ten or twelve of their men to “bite the dust.” They were taken to the Rebel General Pat Claybourne’s headquarters, who was very mad at them for not surrendering instead of holding out to the last against such odds as was opposed to them, and then had to eventually surrender. They were pushed back to the rear of the Confederate Army to Atlanta, Macon, Milledgeville, Ga., and at last into that “hell hole,” Andersonville prison pen, where for months and months they were subjected to the horrors of a living death, until they were finally exchanged, near the close of the war.” (80) This is a classic case where a couple determined men armed with a Henry rifle could hold up a greater number. It is also a rare example where a couple of men from the 66th ended up in Andersonville but before they surrendered they had the presence of mind to destroy their Henry to deny the enemy of its use. From the field near Atlanta on September 6, 1864 Captain William S. Boyd writes; “As soon as we arrived at the front the regiment was deployed as skirmishers, and advanced. We soon came upon the rebel cavalry, driving them before us into Resaca, six miles, killing and capturing seventy-six rebels. ....... On the morning of the 19th the Regiment was sent out in advance as skirmishers. On the same day we occupied Decatur, Ga., six companies sent on picket during the night. On the 20th the command advanced toward Atlanta; we moved three miles. On the 21st we advanced again a short distance. On the 22nd we were ordered to move to the extreme left. After marching two miles we met the enemy’s pickets. Their force soon made an attack upon our lines. We had a severe engagement, lasting nearly two hours. The enemy was repulsed and withdrew from the field. Our loss was ten killed and forty-four wounded. We captured two hundred and ten prisoners. As soon as the engagement was over here, the command was ordered to support a Division of the Fifteenth Corps. We double-quicked some two miles, and recaptured the works taken by the enemy. (In this engagement we regret that Captain Boyd for the benefit of future generations, does not give a little of his own personal exploits, of his command in recapturing four guns, twenty-pound Parrotts belonging to DeGress’ Battery, and how he loaded one of the pieces, and not ramming the charge home, in attempting to fire it, bursted it. This is why Birge’s Western Sharpshooters know they recaptured DeGress’ Battery.---Editor) (80) Ren Barker also writes about twelve men of the Regiment that were armed with the seventeen shooters that became the personal escort of General Dodge. “General Dodge’s Escort. Captain William S. Boyd, Commander. Was organized while the command was lying at Corinth, Miss., and was composed of first-class picked men, tried and true, who did not fear man or the devil, and were armed with the celebrated seventeen shooter, under the command of Captain William S. Boyd of Birge’s Western Sharpshooters, who continued as General Dodge’s escort on the Pulaski campaign, on the Atlanta campaign, on “Sherman’s March to the Sea,” and through the Carolinas to Washington, D. C., on the Grand Review, May 24, 1865. The boys in escort from Company D, Sixty-six Illinois, Birge’s Sharpshooters, were M. A. Randall, Percival R. Dix, Lon Vincent, John S. Randall, George Yerrington, O. A. Baird, Michael Whalen, Dallas Brewster, Mace Vermett, Thomas Gleason, George Thornton, Jefferson S. Dowd.” (80) Company D held their first reunion in 1884. Ren Barker brought with him the weapon that was valued by all of the members of Company D. “Ren was accompanied by his old friend in war and companion in peace, the Henry Rifle, carried by him through the war. The “Old Bull Dog” bore the names of the battles, skirmishes and marches of the Company, neatly engraven on its brass mountings. It was handled carefully and reverently by all, and is prized by the owner above money.” (80)
In another report in the “Report of the Proceedings of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee” it also mentions the 64th Illinois Infantry with their Henry Repeating rifle recapturing DeGress’ Battery. “There was one regiment in that Second Brigade, Second Division, Sixteenth Army Corps, that was deployed as skirmishers, extending far beyond the front of the brigade to the left, according to General Dodge’s command at that time that we must extend the line so as to protect the left flank. That regiment was armed with Henry rifles, or as we say, sixteen shooters, and their fire was simply terrific. Some of the prisoners that fell into our hands that day after this repulse said, “What kind of guns have you, anyway? These are the first guns we ever saw that fired without intermission.” This source goes on to say, “At this junction General Logan hastened to General Dodge and asked for a brigade to retake the lost line and to recapture the guns. The Second Brigade, Second Division, Sixteenth Army Corps, was chosen, the regiment armed with sixteen shooters.” In this same source “Major Woods:--On behalf of my regiment, the Sixty-fourth Illinois, which carried those sixteen-shooters, I want to thank you for this magnificent tribute to their bravery.” (11)
The use of Henry armed troops was used many times to charge and overwhelm the enemy with massive firepower. Unfortunately many units armed with Henry Repeating rifles also suffered several casualties because of having the Henry Repeating rifle. These units usually were deployed to the most dangerous part of the lines. From April 29, 1864 to September 6, 1864 the 66th lost six commissioned officers another six were wounded. Thirty-eight enlisted men were killed while 140 were wounded. Throughout Sherman’s March to the Sea the WSS were deployed mostly as skirmishers and had several brief exchanges with the Rebs. The WSS followed the same course of action during the Carolina Campaign. Their Henry Repeating rifles usually got this regiment a choice spot wherever the fight was located. The information concerning the 66th Illinois Infantry can be found in Lorenzo Barker’s book “Western Sharpshooters” 1905 and 1994, Barkers diary, the Illinois Adjutant General’s Report, Official Records of the Civil War. (40)
There is a brief account about the Henry Repeating rifles of the 66th not being used by the 66th but by Company C of the 81st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. This account was written by Corporal Charles Wright of Company C in 1887 in his book “A Corporal’s Story”. This took place outside of Dallas, Georgia. “The 66th Illinois came up, and as they could not get into the ditch, they laid down in our rear. Some of the men handed their sixteen shooters to our men, and a tremendous fire was kept up along the whole line. In the flash of one of Welker’s guns I glanced to the right and beheld, if I am not greatly mistaken, Comrade T.R. Willis pumping death into the rebels’ ranks with a borrowed sixteen shooter. The Confederates made several attempts at different points to pierce our lines, but every attempt was repulsed, convincing themselves that assaults on the Union lines meant nothing but disaster to them; they finally desisted, and the 2nd division had no more midnight fights at Dallas.” (12) This is a unique account where Henry owners loaned their repeaters to a regiment already in position.
Another Illinois unit that was engaged in much the same manner as the 66th Illinois Infantry was the 7th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry. The 7th was also armed with the Henry Repeating rifle that they purchased themselves. There is a famous picture of the color guard of the 7th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry. These members proudly display their Henry Repeating rifles. The 7th Illinois’ dog is even in the picture, his name was “Jefferson Davis”.
In the “Report of the Adjutant General of the State Of Illinois” concerning the 7th Illinois Infantry it is stated; “The 7th, armed with Henry rifles, (16-shooters), did gallant and fearful work, successfully repelling four separate charges by the desperate and hungry enemy on the line occupied by them, its torn and bleeding ranks told at what a fearful cost. Its colors, under which fell many a gallant bearer that day, were never lowered.” (78) This same source goes on to give a little retrospect on the Seventh. “As a little retrospect it will not be improper to say that the Seventh Infantry takes great pride in the fact that it was the first organized regiment from this State mustered into the United States service in the war that was waged to save the Union, and the first to return to the capitol of the State and re-enlist as veterans, as well as being the only regiment in the whole army that purchased its own guns, the Henry rifles, 16-shooters, paying $50 each for them out of their meager pay of $13 per month, thereby increasing their effective force five-fold. Colonel Rowett, who commanded the Seventh the last four hours of the battle of Allatoona, where Sherman had stored millions of rations, while according to all the highest meed of praise for gallant conduct and stubborn courage, insists that without the aid of the 16-shooter, French’s 6000 Rebels would have overwhelmed the gallant 1500 of “The Pass”. Colonel Rowett was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General on recommendation of General Sherman, for gallant conduct in this battle. General Sherman, speaking of this battle, in his official report says: “I esteemed this defense of Allatoona so handsome and important that I made in the subject of a General Order, viz:--No 86 of October 7, 1864: “The General, commanding avails himself of the opportunity in the handsome defense of Allatoona to illustrate the most important principle of war, that fortified posts should be defended to the last, regardless of the relative numbers of the party attacking or attacked. The thanks of this army are due and are hereby accorded to General Corse. Colonel Tourtellotte, Colonel Rowett, officers and men, for their determined and gallant defense of Allatoona, and it is made an example to illustrate the importance of preparing in time, and meeting the danger when presented, boldly, manfully and well. “Commanders and garrisons of the posts along our railroads are hereby instructed that they must hold their posts to the last minute, sure that the time gained is valuable and necessary to their comrades at the front. By order of Major General W.T. Sherman” (78) Sherman’s order was to hold Allatoona Pass at all cost, to the last minute. Sherman did not want the Confederates to get their hands on the millions of rations stored there. To this end the Seventh was to keep French’s 6000 Confederates out. The men of the Seventh credit their Henry rifles with not allowing the Confederates to capture the Pass.
The 7th Illinois Infantry got their Henrys as a result of Captain John Alexander Smith's efforts tracking down enough Henrys for sale. "He applied for an order to go to Hartford, Connecticut to get the rifles. It was refused. He then secured a leave of absence and paid his own expenses. Arriving in Hartford, he found no rifles, but information that 500 of them had been shipped to Chicago. Smith telegraphed to hold the rifles, and took the first train for Chicago. He found the rifles, but had to pay $52.50 for them instead of $47.50 each. He paid this difference out of his own pocket, and has never been reimbursed to this day. He ordered the rifles shipped by express, and started South. At Cincinnati he found the Captain of a company that was raised in his native town in Ohio. Going with him to see the boys of the company, he was stopped by a large van unloading some big boxes into a warehouse. Looking at the boxes he was astonished to see them directed to Captain J.A. Smith, 7th Illinois Infantry. 'What are you doing with those boxes?' he inquired. 'Storing them; no express matter sent South unless prepaid. 'Captain Smith borrowed enough money from his friend, with what he had, to prepay the freight, and the guns were forwarded. As soon as the balance of the regiment saw the sixteen-shooters, they all wanted them. The whole 500 were purchased. They arrived at the regiment a few days before the Allatoona fight. Now, the concurrent testimonies of the Union and Confederate forces agree that the 16-shooter rifles were all that saved the day in that terrible October battle." (46)
In a history of Kane County Illinois by Frank and Rodolphus Joslyn, they state “The Seventh, armed with the Henry rifle or sixteen-shooter, did gallant and fearful work -successfully repelling four separate charges made by the desperate and hungry enemy on the line occupied by them-its torn and bleeding ranks told at what a fearful cost.” (22) This theme seems to be a common one where any attempt by a rebel force to take a line held by determine Henry shooters, the enemy is shot to pieces not really knowing what had just hit them.
After the war the members of the 7th held reunions and published a reunion pamphlet entitled “Proceedings of Reunion. Association of the Survivors, 7th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Springfield” and then the year of the reunion. One account that can be found in each one of these pamphlets that was retold every year was the account of the 7th Infantry fighting at Allatoona Pass, Georgia. The 7th had just received their Henry Repeating rifles a few days before the Battle of Allatoona Pass. So one could guess at the reason why the 7th was sent to Allatoona Pass. Would the 7th have gone anyway whether they had Henry Repeating rifles or not or was the 7th chosen to help defend the pass because of the fact that they had just received their Henry Repeating rifles? At any rate, regardless of the reason, the 7th used their Henry Repeating rifles with great effect and one could argue the fact that they did indeed help to save the day for the defenders of the pass. The defending force of Union soldiers were outnumbered at least 4 to 1 and maybe more. An eye witness account is given by a member of Company A, Private Frank D. Orcutt. First off Orcutt enlisted at the first call for volunteers in Company K. After the 3 month enlistment was up he re-enlisted into Company A for 3 years. The date of this enlistment was July 25, 1861. Orcutt was from Carlinville, Illinois and is listed as a musician in the company roll. He re-enlisted as a Veteran on Dec. 22, 1863 and fought the rest of the war, mustering out July 9, 1865. His account of his actions is taken from a narrative written by Frank D. Orcutt. "Early in the forenoon of the next day a demand came in for a surrender followed immediately by an impetuous and headlong attack which overwhelmed Company I who were out as Skirmishers, killed the Capt. Jack Sullivan and captured all who were not killed. The assault partially succeeded. The 7th Regt. and 39th Iowa were partly cut off from the fort, but those who reached it poured in the severest fire upon the assailing forces that had ever been seen up to that time, with such splendid result that the attacking forces melted away out of sight as though the earth had opened and swallowed them. The cook of Company A, who had coffee made for us in a ravine near us, was taken prisoner, but in the confusion and haste of leaving, the Rebels neglected to take him along. He says General French with an entire division were the assailants. That he saw the General make frantic endeavors to induce his men to storm us out. He saw them make several attempts to rout us, each time resulting in a sudden collapse of their line when they would come tumbling back to the starting place to receive the scolding of General French who upbraided them for their failure to dislodge us from the ditch outside the fort. Have accord the opportunity of an ocular demonstration of the effectiveness of the writer's firing, after fully 400 cartridges had been used without any perceptible result--besides burning his hand and exhausting and depressing him mentally and physically. It was at the close of the battle the writer had climbed over the top of the fort and was looking over the top of a six pounder cannon where a fellow in gray bending low came up from a ravine and entered the cabin of an artillerist. Soon smoke issued from a knothole of the side toward us. Leveling my 16 shooter across the wheel of the open carriage I awaited a 2nd discharge from the hole. As rapidly as his gun could be loaded, for it was an Enfield Rifle (muzzle loading) he proceeded with his 2nd shot. Instantly my rifle cracked for my aim had been fixed upon the hole and no more smoke issued from that place. Almost immediately from behind a tree close to the cabin a glimpse of a hat was had. Then it disappeared only to reappear in a moment. My gun was already in position having good rest over the open carriage and at the second appearance of the head, was discharged. I was positive that from my high position none other observed the hat, and not another shot was fired from the fort that day afterward. Our cook came in and reported the enemy as retreating, and upon going to the spot from curiosity, a body was seen lying in the shanty, and one at the foot of tree. Both killed by a bullet in the head. There are no grounds for believing that any other of the many shots fired by the writer took effect. Therefore his service to the Government is no longer to be considered as non-effectual. With a range inside of 60 yards and no distracting movements to interfere it will readily be seen and recognized as no very skillful performance, yet large numbers of men go into battle and do valiant service without ever knowing if they ever succeeded in producing even a scratch upon their opponents." (57)
Capt. John A. Smith, who was only about 20 years old, was commanding Company E of the 7th Illinois Infantry. This company had 52 men and was the largest company in the 7th Illinois Infantry at this time. He was asked if he could take care of the attacking regiment, part of Young's brigade, numbering about 400 troops. He replied, "I can, Sir," and with a sixteen shooter on his shoulder he turned to his 52 men armed with Henrys also and said "Come on, boys" and gave the command, Forward. The movement was in the open. The enemy could not understand it, 52 against 400. Reaching a position in line with the left flank of the rebel regiment, Capt. Smith gave the command, "By right into line." In 5 minutes the rebel regiment was broken to fragments and practically annihilated. The huge volume of fire pouring forth from the Henry Repeating tore the rebel regiment to pieces. This was not without a price to pay. Company E lost 17 killed, 21 wounded and 4 captured. In the 2 hour action in which Company lost 80% of their strength, Captain Smith used his silver plated Henry, firing and reloading many times. The following is Captain John A. Smith telling what happened to his silver plated Henry. "I had a boy in my company named William H. Burwell. He was a very large man, not very tall, and on the left of the company. We would wait until we heard the rebels yell as they came up to the side of the ridge. They always yelled first and then fired. When we were reloading after one of these volleys, Burwell turned to me and said, "Captain, my gun is out of order.' He couldn't get the cartridge into the chamber. Meantime I had loaded and emptied my gun several times. I said, 'All right Billie. You take my gun and I will see if I can do anything with yours.' I got down on my knees and got out one of those Barlow knives which you all remember, but I was unable to remove the difficulty." "About that time we were ordered back to the fort and after the battle was over next morning we commenced gathering up the dead. Of course the wounded and dead lay all together that night. The left of the company rested on the Carterville Road. In one of the ruts that had been worn by the wagons lay William Burwell on his face, dead, and under him was my silver mounted rifle all covered with blood. He had evidently been killed in the act of firing. My gun was the only one saved out of the 17 lost by the company." (47) The Confederates ended up with the rest. As long as the ammunition held out, they were of use to the Confederates. “The regiment went into battle with 291 men, and out of that number 150 were killed and wounded, more than half the regiment. With the Henry sixteen shooter, purchased with their own money, $52 each, 31,000 cartridges were fired, 163 to each man. The flag in mind was pierced with 217 bullets, and much of the staff was shot away.” (58) The 31,000 cartridges differs what has been given in the Official Records but then the Official Records just track government purchases. The 7th Illinois more than likely purchased much of their own ammunition at this time. Not all members were able to fire 163 rounds, some fired less but some, such as Frank Orcutt, fired over 400 rounds. This was a spirited three hour fight with the Henry rifle barrel becoming very hot.
Also at Allatoona Pass was the Twentieth Connecticut Infantry. The captain of Company I, James Spears, recalls the following; “We ran to Arkworth, Ga., returning on October 5th, a little before daylight, a solid 12-pound shot came crashing through the car occupied by Dr. Terry and myself. ...There was for us no front or rear, or, more properly, it was all front. Those of us outside of the fort were armed with Henry rifles, the rapid firing from which made a Rebel captain, who was taken prisoner, inquire: “If them ‘ere was the things that we wound up Monday morning, and wot run till Saturday night?” We informed him they were the things. He remarked that he “ ‘had often hearn tell of them, but had never seen one afore.” They seemed to be a perfect marvel to him as we laid flat on the ground and kept pumping our one shot after another until the whole sixteen were exhausted.” (75) It seems more than the 7th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry had Henry Repeating rifles at Allatoona Pass.
The 7th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry fought all through the Atlanta Campaign, the “March to the Sea” and all through the Carolinas with their Henry Repeating rifles. In a report dated March 28th, 1865 Major Edward S. Johnson of the Seventh describes their use of the Henry Repeating rifles during the Battle of Bentonville. He writes, “At 3 p.m. I received orders from the brigade commander to relieve the skirmishers of the Fiftieth Illinois Infantry, then occupying the outer works of the enemy, and to hold those rifle pits at all hazards. I accordingly moved with my whole command, seventy men in all, principally armed with the Henry repeating rifle, to the swamp on the farther side of which those pits were located, and found that our skirmishers had withdrawn from them, and that they were reoccupied by the enemy in force. The enemy immediately opened a galling fire upon me, under which I, however deployed my men as skirmishers, and returned his fire. The left of my line succeeded in getting over the swamp, but was afterwards somewhat withdrawn to allow artillery uninterrupted play upon the enemy’s position.....My men also threw up detached rifle pits for their own protection. The enemy attempted several times to advance his lines, but was driven back with little trouble. An exceedingly sharp fire was kept up, however, by both sides during the entire night, until 3:00 o’clock on the morning of the 22d, when the enemy’s fire entirely ceased. At daylight I ordered a party over the swamp to reconnoiter the rifle pits in my front, which were found deserted; and I immediately advanced my whole line, occupying a second and third line of works, and finding the enemy had disappeared.” (39) Seventy men armed with Henry Repeating rifles would be a force to reckon with. Even if each man only carried a hundred cartridges that would equal 7,000 rounds that could be fired stopping any advance by an enemy. Another account of the fighting in North Carolina describing the 7th Illinois Infantry participation states the following; around Goldsboro, North Carolina “March 20th--We advanced early this morning. The Seventh are soon deployed on the skirmish line, and are soon skirmishing, for on such occasions the Seventh with their sixteen shooters are always called upon. ....... The rebels are entrenched close to our lines and until three o’clock in the morning there is a continual firing. The Seventh pumped the death dealing elements from their sixteen shooters with such a vim that it made the enemy think that the whole army was on the line of battle. Three o’clock in the morning the firing ceased, and at the first gray dawn of morning light the enemy is discovered to be gone and on the retreat. Thus ends our battle near Bentonville, North Carolina, which proves to be our last encounter with the rebel army in the war for the Union.” (59)
William G. Power was in Company G of the 39th Iowa Infantry wrote about his experience during the Battle of Allatoona Pass. A copy of this may be found in the “Annals of Iowa” by the Iowa Division of Historical Museum and Archives. He writes, “As I was in the first hollow going to the rear, I discovered a sixteen shooter that had belonged to one of the Illinois boys, and to save it took it with me, and had it in my left hand when shot, but after that I did not wait to get it.” (3) This Henry could have ended up in the hands of the 39th Iowa.
In the 1884 book “The Blue and the Gray” by Theodore Gerrish and John S. Hutchinson they talk about the “Sixteen Shooter” as being used against the Confederates to cause fear and confusion. This is an interesting segment from their book: “When the arm of the service known as “Sixteen Shooters” was first introduced into the northern army, it was not only a great curiosity to the troops who bore it, but held in great fear by the Confederates. It was always very hard to tell, when engaged in a fight, how many troops were being encountered, and sometimes very mortifying blunders were the result of miscalculation. A company of Federal cavalry dismounted, and drawn up in ambush, stampeded an entire regiment of Confederates near Stony Creek, a station on the Weldon railroad. After the Confederates had regained their presence of mind, and driven the enemy back, everything soon became quiet. That night an advanced rebel picket called to a yank doing similar service: “I say, Yank, will you answer a civil question? Will you tell me whether or not you fellows don’t load all night that you may fire all the next day?” (13) This particular cavalry company, the 1st Maine Cavalry, was more than likely picked for the ambush because of the fact that they did have Henry Repeating rifles. The above authors use the terms “fear” and miscalculation” that allowed a small company of men take on an entire regiment of men. The Confederates did succeed in pushing the company back but it did take a regiment of Confederates to do it.
The following takes place during the battle for Atlanta where some Confederate prisoners were amazed by the firepower that they were greeted with. This is taken from the book by Faunt Le Roy Senour entitled “Major William T. Sherman and his Campaign” published in 1865. “Some of the prisoners, with an air of great curiosity, inquired in reference to breech-loading Henry rifle, which can be fired sixteen times without reloading: “Where do you get those guns which you load on Sunday, and fire all the week without reloading?” In this same book the author tells of an incident that involves the 46th Ohio Infantry. It is an account of an incident that the Henry Repeating rifles played a decisive roll. This section was even referred to as “A Yankee Trick”. “Colonel Wolcott of the 46th Ohio played an original and striking trick upon the rebels in his front. They were behind a very heavy earthworks and safe from our sharpshooters. Advancing his regiment he constructed a substantial rifle pit, in which he placed his regiment entirely covered from the rebels, and within short range of their works. He then formed columns some distance in the rear with considerable display, as if about to storm the rebels’ works. After he had sufficiently attracted their attention, his bugler sounded “forward”. The rebels jumped to their works in readiness to resist an assault. The “Johnnies” thus exposed the half of their bodies above the parapet, and instantly received full and square in their face the volleys of the sixteen shooters of the 46th. The line fell down and the survivors thunderstruck by the unexpected fire ran without ceremony out of the works. No doubt they considered it a Yankee trick.” (8) Without the Henry Repeating rifle and the 16 repeated volleys the rebels more than likely would have held on to their position. Sixteen rapid-fire repeated volleys could amount to several thousands of rounds fired in a short time. The rebels probably had no idea who, what or how many were facing them. Because of the overwhelming fire they chose to leave.
“Rambling Recollection: An Autobiography” by A.D. Rockwell MD shows how a few armed with Henry Repeating rifles sounds like 10 times that number or greater. He wrote his account in 1920. This is a typical case of those that were armed with Henry Repeating rifles were chosen for the job. This is an account of the 1st Maine Cavalry trying to return after one of its raids into Confederate territory around Stony Creek. “One night we started for Stony Creek, some miles away, and after destroying a considerable amount of property, began the return march. As usual, the foe was quickly on our heels, and with such increasing pressure that it became necessary to take a more positive stand. Therefore the First Maine Cavalry was brought to the rear and distributed along a stretch of rising ground, behind trees and stumps and fences, awaiting the nearer approach of the enemy. This regiment was armed with carbines of the sixteen shooter pattern, and when it opened fired each man discharging his cartridges in quick succession; it seemed as if, instead of five hundred, there were five thousand hidden in ambush. This furious fusillade lasted a short time, but effectively cooled the ardor of the pursuers, and elicited the remarks from a captured “Johnny” that “You’ uns put the butt end of your carbines against your cartridge boxes and fire without stopping.” (15) The great advantage of a Henry Repeating rifle is the fact that the Henry is capable of massive death dealing fire power in a short time.
In the book entitled “A Boy Lieutenant” the author F.S. Bowley writes “Disjointed Cavalry was the soldier’s name for a cavalry regiment which was sent to the front as infantry, armed only with carbines. Dismounted cavalry were cavalrymen fighting on foot, but with one man out of four holding the horses not far away. He goes on to write, The disjointed cavalry to whom my man had referred were three full regiments, of at least twelve hundred men each, all armed with the new Henry sixteen-shooter, the first of that modern arm that we had seen. A few nights afterward, during the first week in June, the army lay at Cold Harbor. The enemy charged the Union line, and ran squarely against this brigade of disjointed cavalry. Then what a terrific crackling of musketry there was! The sky was lighted up, and the glare of the musketry made everything as bright as day. So deadly was the fire of these new weapons that but few of the assaulting line ever got back to their own side again. Most of them lat flat on their faces until the firing ceased, and were then taken prisoner. “Say, Yanks,” they asked our men, “what kind of guns youuns got, that you kin load’em Sunday and shoot all the week?” (23) While I disagree with the numbers of Henry rifles that were present at the battle, the effect of the Henry is consistent with other sources. The Henry Repeating rifle can put out a devastating amount of firepower in a short time and put an end to almost any assault by an enemy.
In the book entitled “The Twentieth Century”, a story is related about a man name Ike that recounts his use of the Henry in the Civil War. “If a man is fighting for his own hand, he must keep his head cool, and judge for himself when it pays for him to “pump lead”. I fought all through the Secesh war, said Ike to me one day when we were talking over this very question of magazine guns and rapid firing. The Henry was the old original make of Winchester. It was a sixteen or seventeen shooter and it worked much the same, only the magazine was different. You took the magazine clean out to refill it, and also there was a slit all down the magazine, so you could see just how many cartridges was lying there and tell when it was empty. I carried a Henry at the end, and this was how it was. My old regiment got most terrible used up in one of them last campaigns before Richmond, and there wasn’t more than fifty of us left that wasn’t either dead of wounds, of sick, or invalided out of the Service; so what did they do but send us back to the base and reorganize us with fresh lot of officers, and about nine hundred newly drafted men. They were a pretty poor lot. ---Well, they took away our old Springfields from us, and they armed the regiment with them fine new brass-mounted Henry magazine rifles, and sent us right on to the front. I liked the new gun well enough; ‘twasn’t a bad gun, the Henry, you hear me talk! But what I and my old chummies didn’t care about was the notion of going into action alongside of them nine hundred raw recruits. “Forward” says somebody, and we run forward till we come to a pasture with a fence on the far side, and a wood beyond it. There was a good few rebel sharpshooters in that wood, and right away they begun to belt a few shots into us. We’d ought to have run on, but we all stopped. “Fire” says somebody, and then, lord! but you’d ought to have heard them raw recruits whaling away. Every last man of ‘em had his magazine emptied in about twenty-five seconds. Then there comes a lull, for they’d all got to stop firing to onset and pull out their magazines and fill up with sixteen more cartridges. And in that lull what d’you reckon we heard? Why a noise like a hailstorm over in that wood where the rebs were. It was only the leaves and the small twigs falling down from the high tops of the trees where them recruits’ bullets had gone. I reckon they must have fired about fifteen thousand rounds up there. Fell down just like rain, them leaves did. You see, fellers like that when they’re excited are dead sure to fire too high. Nor they didn’t scare them rebs, neither. Why one of them darned rebel sharpshooters helloed across the pasture to us “Oh Yank” Well, many a day I’d talked with ‘em like that before, across the field of battle, and so I sung out back “What is it, Johnny? D’you surrender? “Surrender, h--l,” calls out the reb. “But oh, Yank,” says he, “say! Where d’you get them coffee-mills?” Ike goes on to say,” It may or may not be advisable to “pump lead”; circumstances must decide that, but it is always essential to shoot straight”. (19) It would be great to know what regiment that Ike belonged to. I am not sure what regiment would have issued Henry Repeating rifles to nine hundred newly drafted recruits. I think the numbers are a little off.
In a letter to Major W. M. Hartley, July 29, 1864, M. O. Davidson writes about the use of the Henry Repeating rifle in Sonora and Arizona. “We have seven of them, but as our operations increase, that number will be insufficient. In the Indian Country, so great is the dependence placed upon them, that none of our men care to go on escort duty unless there is one or more of these powerful and accurate weapons in the party. They are quite as fatal at 900 yards as 300 yards.” (79) There are some that have evidently had very good luck using a Henry Repeating rifle at long distances.
The following is an excerpt from a copy of a circular issued in Philadelphia, July, 1864 that also appeared in the New Haven Arms Company’s 1865 catalog. The government seems to always be worrying about wasting ammunition, or for that matter anything that might help a soldier, however they are not too concerned about cutting the “perks” of their office. The circular was written by B. F. Reimer, Photographer located at No. 624 Arch Street, Philadelphia. “Permit a fellow-member of the Union League to call your attention to the fact, that in this age of invention and improvement, there is not material improvement in the infantry service of our army in the method of loading; it is still tear cartridge, draw ramrod, ram cartridge, prime, the same as in the war of the Revolution; the time required to load is from twenty to thirty seconds, all this time our Union soldiers are a target for the Rebels. Persons who are not acquainted with the improvements that have been made in Fire Arms must think it strange that the gun should not keep pace with other improvements. On the 20th of May, 1862, Lieutenant W. Mitchell, U. S. N., reported that he had fired a rifle fifteen times in ten seconds. That he had loaded and fired the same weapon one hundred and twenty times in 5 minutes and 45 seconds, and that he fired 187 shots in 3 minutes 36 seconds in rounds of fifteen shots, equal to 50 per minute. .... Now if our chances of crushing the rebels is more sure with seven hundred thousand men than with one hundred thousand, it is because that the seven hundred thousand can do more execution than the smaller number-they can shoot more bullets-why then not adopt the labor-saving machine? There cannot be any virtue in eating so many rations, but in doing so much killing of rebels. .... This weapon (the Henry rifle), as an inducement with the bounty, would persuade many of the Pennsylvania Reserves to re-enlist. But says a U.S. Senator, men waste ammunition if they have the facilities to shoot often. Seven hundred thousand men waste more ammunition than one , they also waste seven times as many rations, for seven thousand the Quarter-Master must supply with seven times as much ammunition as he would for one thousand, if one thousand men can do the killing with the improved weapon, they require seven times as much ammunition, but not seven times as many rations-an economy in rations. You then say, I would load the men down with ammunition? I would have pack horses or mules, and would have them trained to lie down, tie them down when in battle. I would never permit the men to shoot when the enemy was at a great distance off, but if possible get them under cover, do all the fighting at short range, Charge on them firing, as you could shoot fifteen times with your eyes constantly on the enemy, without looking at your piece except when firing. I would advance, fire! Advance, fire! for fifteen rounds, not firing the first shot until within 200 yards of the enemy. You could shoot down Artillerists in the act of loading, you could shoot instead of using the bayonet, in fact the enemy could never reach you in a bayonet charge, for one-seventh part of the men with the improved rifle could protect and support Artillery. Pickets could much longer keep at bay an assaulting enemy; there could therefore then be no surprise. A skirmisher could be counted as seven without there being seven to shoot at; the one has always the advantage of getting under cover, whilst seven could not so easily find cover. It would make a coward brave, as he would feel he had the advantage, and instead of wasting ammunition, there would be less used, because the enemy would be permitted to come to a close range, as there would be no fear of the bayonet or superior numbers; for if five thousand attacked one with the improved weapon, the one thousand could reserve their fire, knowing they could put fifteen thousand bullets into them in ten seconds; where with the present weapon it is a question if it is not fired at the enemy when in superior numbers, at so long a distance off as not to be effective. In assaulting breastworks, you being constantly loaded and ready to fire, the enemy dare not show their heads above their works, and therefore cold not keep you out, nor could you be driven out; it is also the weapon to defend wagon trains, as a much smaller number of men could defend them; using the wagons as a cover they could defeat five times their number, and knowing the advantage they possessed in their weapons there would not so likely be a panic or disorderly retreat. It is a daily occurrence that our men are either surprised or outnumbered; it could not take place with a weapon that could be constantly kept loaded with fifteen charges, and if desired could be instantly unloaded without wasting the ammunition. The men could have fifteen loads in the gun when off duty, when in camp at night, in fact at all times the whole fifteen charges could be discharged at the enemy in ten seconds, and in a few seconds there could be fifteen more in the gun. If you will only think, the enemy with only one load, an empty gun, you having discharged one, and fourteen more left, the facility for using them all before the enemy would be able to get another in his gun. What can you require more to convince you? Why do you have a revolver in preference to a single barrel pistol? Because if you fail in the first you have five more shots. Do For God’s sake give the Union Soldiers what you desire yourself, and in a short time you will not be able to comprehend why it could have been possible we could so long sacrifice our men with so contemptible a thing as the Springfield Rifle. We are about having raised through the means of the Sanitary Fair one million and a half of dollars. Give us your influence to raise one twentieth part of that sum to prevent soldiers being wounded, and as it is said charity begins at home, let our great aim be to minister to and prevent our own Union soldiers from being wounded; the old maxim, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” I would put in practice. I would shoot down the rebels so fast there would be very little chance of their wounded loyal soldiers. .... I will show you a weapon, the worth I have tested, that is manufactured, and supposed to be for sale. .... I do not think you can forgive yourself, if, after a few years, the worth of what I am writing becomes universal, and that, had you given your influence, you might have saved thousands of lives and millions of treasure.” (79) The above is a very compelling argument for arming regiments with Henry Repeating rifles. You could have fewer men, consuming fewer supplies, to do the same job it had taken thousands to do in the past. In all of this you would have saved both lives of soldiers and the treasure of the country.
There is one interesting side note about the Henry Repeating rifle in a book published in 1909 entitled “Butler and His Cavalry in the War of Secession, 1861-1865. In a letter from John C. Calhoun, not the congressman but a Confederate soldier, to his sister about what was going on and how he was recovering from his wounds he adds a PS to the end of the letter. “To Miss M.M. Calhoun. Tell father I will send him a seventeen-shooter captured from the Yankees, by the first opportunity. J.C.C.” (18)
Another Henry Repeating rifle captured by the Confederates is mentioned in the “First Maine Bugle” published in 1891. In a “Personal Recollections of Boydton Plank Road” written by Frank C. Needham Co. G, First Maine Cavalry he writes “There was only one man on my right and he fell; it was Gustavus K. Estes, I started for him to get the sixteen-shooter, but the Johnnies got there first, so I retreated in good order.” (10) The only way most of the Confederates had to get a Henry was to capture it but then came the problem of feeding it. Ammunition for a Henry for a Confederate would have been a major problem.
Major McCook’s Henry also would fall into the hands of the Confederates. “On the morning of the 19th, the Major insisted on going with the vedette in front of Lieutenant Armstrong’s Company. ....... When the vedette rode up the bank of the creek the old Major joined it, his eye flashing and his cheeks flushed with excitement. In return of our remonstrances, he swept a mock salute, and dashed out of sight into the fog, his fine sorrel charger seeming to partake of the spirit of his master. The little party he was with rode almost into the Confederate skirmish line before either saw the other. He and one soldier of the vedette were killed at the first fire. Major McCook’s body was pierced by three balls. His horse, watch, and Henry rifle fell into the hands of the enemy.” (20)
During the fight at Hatcher’s Run, Henry Repeating rifles played a part. “The whole force started before daylight Thursday morning for Hatcher’s Run. Hancock and Gregg, after considerable skirmishing, crossed at the ford. The First Maine, with their sixteen shooters, carried the works on the opposite banks.”(6)
The Fifty-Seventh Indiana Infantry also received Henry Repeating rifles. The down side is that they got their Henry Repeating rifles too late to be used in battle. The following comes from the book entitled “Annals of the Fifty-Seventh” by Asbury Kerwood published in 1868. “On the 13th of January the 57th received ten cases of Henry rifles, six in each case, from Hartford, Connecticut. These rifles were an improved, repeating gun, and could be fired sixteen times without reloading. They were the most destructive weapon known. A single company of men armed with them could do as much firing as whole regiment armed with common rifles. They were purchased by the men from their own wages, and were their individual property. The cost of each rifle was twenty dollars. The purchase money was placed in the hands of Col. Blanch, who went home on leave of absence while we were at Pulaski; but there was such a demand for these arms that the order could not be filled for a long time, and they arrived too late to be of any service to their owners.” (14) It is interesting to note in what way the Henry Repeating rifle was shipped. There were six rifles to the case. This is the first time that I have seen this mentioned. One part of this account that I would question is the price that they mentioned they paid for their Henry Repeating rifle. This is the lowest amount that I have seen anyone paying for a Henry during the war. Twenty dollars is well under the most quoted prices of from $35 to over $50.
The 1st D.C. Cavalry was another regiment armed with the Henry Repeating Rifle. In an account in the book “The Secret Service in the Late War” the following appeared, “On, on they came, expecting an easy victory. Coolly our men waited. Not a shot fired till they were within easy range. Then a few volleys from the sixteen shooters sent them back in confusion. A second time they charged, with the same result. This time they did not return. After waiting some time, in expectation of another attack, scouts were sent out to ascertain what they were about. They found a formidable force in front, and a strong advancing on each flank. No alternative now remained but to fall back to Sycamore Church, as Captain Howe had been ordered to do, in case a retreat became necessary. The enemy had been severely punished, that he was careful to keep at a safe distance, and the command fell back in good order, and without a loss of a man.” (9) The down side of all of this is that the Confederates ended up surrounding the 1st D.C. Cavalry capturing hundreds of them along with hundreds of their Henry Repeating rifles. It seems that the best supplier of Henry Repeating rifles to the Confederates was the 1st D.C. Cavalry. This particular battle is also talked about in the book entitled “A History of the Laurel Brigade” published in 1907. This account is referring to the “Great Cattle Raid” made by Confederate Colonel Rosser. The 1st D.C. Cavalry was to guard the cattle and other supplies. It is interesting that Hollywood made a movie about this incident starring William Holden in “Alverez Kelly”. “To Rosser was assigned the duty of carrying the outpost position of the enemy at Sycamore Church, and then to push on and capture the cattle which was corralled about two miles from the church and guarded by another considerable force of cavalry.--- This was the outpost of the force protecting the cattle, the approaches to it being protected by felled trees and abattis. This position was occupied by about 400 men of the District of Columbia Cavalry, armed with sixteen-shooter Henry rifles. The narrow roadway leading through the abattis into the camp, which the scouts had reported to be open was now found to be well barricaded.---- The enemy, covered by darkness and from behind trees, kept up a rapid fusillade with repeating rifles upon the front and flanks of the charging column, the streaks of flame from their guns now and then revealing their forms to aim of the assailants. Quite a number of them were killed and wounded and about 300 captured, besides a number of horses and ten wagons.--- The net result of the capture was 2,486 large fat young steers, 304 prisoners, a considerable number of horses, arms and equipments, including several hundred of the Henry sixteen-shooter rifles.” (4) The “Great Cattle Raid” is always an interesting account to read about. The Henry rifles captured were then used by the Laurel Brigade, at least until the ammunition ran out.
In a history written about the Fifth New York Cavalry a Henry rifle is mentioned. “At length upon dry ground I stood, a sorry picture of a sorry Yankee, weak from exhaustion, heavy with water in my clothes and boots, and hatless! Raising my right foot by the toe of my big boot, I poured out the water at the knee, and while endeavoring to do the same thing with my left boot, I beheld a large riderless bay horse, rising from the creek and coming toward me. I seized him by the bridle and mounted into the saddle, joining the column with new hope. This horse belonged to the 1st District of Columbia cavalry, as I knew by the sixteen shooter that he carried.”(5) How many Henrys the Fifth New York Cavalry had I do not know but at least one of the 1st D.C. Cavalry Henrys ended up in the hands of the Fifth New York Cavalry boys.
Corporal Ruggles served as a spy for General Grant for the four years of the war. In the book written by Edward C. Downs in 1866 entitled “Four Years a Scout and Spy” some of Corporal Ruggles’, also known as “General Bunker”, exploits are mentioned. The following appears in chapter twelve of this book: “It was about the middle of the month of April(1863) that I returned to my regiment, which I found encamped at Berry’s Landing, five miles above Lake Providence, Louisiana. It was while there that I had an opportunity of examining one of Henry’s volcanic or repeating rifles, which are capable of discharging seventeen shots without reloading. The one that I saw was in the possession of the Captain of the steamboat Superior. From my first enlistment I had possessed a strong desire to have a first-class rifle of the most modern improvement. The promise of such a gun was the principal condition on which I enlisted. It was several months after I enlisted before I received in exchange for my “hand-spike” (musket) the Enfield that was promised to me. My company officer, however, did all they could to furnish me with the promised gun. My long experience as a bear-hunter in the Western wilderness had made me expert with a rifle, and my desire to have a piece with which I could excel at sharp-shooting, if ever an opportunity offered, had become intense, and the organizing campaign against Vicksburg seemed to promise the desired opportunity. I went to General Grant and told him about the gun, and that I wished to purchase it and carry it. He asked me if I thought I could carry so valuable a piece without losing it. “I think I can,” was my reply. “You lose mules, don’t you?” “Yes, but I capture mules. I am several mules ahead of what the government has furnished me now; but I can’t capture Henry rifles.” “Very well; tell General McPherson to get you the rifle.” I saw General McPherson about it, and he gave me permission to purchase and carry it. It was a most beautiful piece with steel barrel and chamber. The Captain who owned it was so much attached to it that he hated to part with it, but at last he yielded to my importunities, and sold me the rifle for sixty-five dollars, including what cartridges he had. My release from duty afforded me a splendid opportunity of practicing with it. I was perfectly delighted with its execution. Its accuracy and long range was a marvel compared with the best feats of marksmanship that I had seen among experienced hunters. A few days after I purchased the rifle, the grand move of the army against Vicksburg commenced.” (2)
Theodore Upson used a Henry Repeating rifle when he was with General Sherman and making the famous “March to the Sea”. Upson wrote a book entitled “With Sherman To The Sea” that is a collections of his Civil War letters, dairies and reminiscences. The following excerpts are from Upson’s writings. On May 11, 1864 Upson states “We moved up into Snake Creek Gap and have been fortifying all night. I got a Henry rifle---a sixteen shooter----yesterday. One of the 97th Indiana men was wounded, and being taken to the rear. He wanted to sell his rifle as they own their own guns, so I gave him 35 dollars all the money I had for it. He wanted $45 which is what it cost him, but I was the only one who seemed to have any money. I am glad I could get it. They are good shooters and I like to think I have so many shots in reserve.” (1) Upson paid a bargain price for his Henry Repeating rifle. Most Henry Repeating rifles usually sold for between $40 and $65. Upson enlisted in the 100th Indiana Infantry regiment in April of 1862. Before Upson purchased his Henry he mentions, “I wish we had Henrys.” The 97th Indiana Infantry did have Henrys and the 100th Indiana Infantry had witnessed the usage of the 97th’s Henrys. He also mentions that the 46th Ohio Infantry have been armed with the Spencer rifle, a 7 shot gun. However in another source I have found that at least some of the 46th Ohio Infantry were armed with Henry Repeating rifles. Upson mentions that when men reenlisted as veterans for another four years they received a $402 bounty and a thirty day furlough. This bounty made it possible for men to purchase a Henry Repeating rifle. While on the “March to the Sea” Upson mentions, “Of course, we have our haversacks and canteens and our guns and cartridge boxes with 40 rounds of ammunition. Some of the boys carry 20 more in their pockets.” (1) I found this interesting. I am not sure if he is talking about himself carrying 60 rounds of Henry ammunition or if he is talking about some of the rest of his regiment that were armed with the common arm. The following is a description of an incident in which the 100th Indiana Infantry captured a rebel gun and 20 prisoners. “The Johnnys couldn’t make out what was going on. They would fire at those they could see. Meanwhile our men were marching through the brush and trees in the water or any way to get along. Finally we came to the River itself. We could see the bridge and the gun standing on the other side. Of course, we had been very quiet so far. Then we went towards the road from both sides. We could not cross the river, it was too deep. We got up close to the road and bridge, then we fired and must have killed or wounded nearly every man at the gun. The boys on the other side of the road came up. We made a rush and took the gun and some 20 prisoners. Those first shots did the business. I think the Johnnies are getting rattled; they are afraid of our repeating rifles. They say we are not fair, that we have guns that we load on Sunday and shoot all the rest of the week. This I know, I feel a good deal more confidence in myself with a 16 shooter in my hands than I used to with a single shot rifle.”(1) Upson mentions “repeating rifles” which is plural, meaning several Henry Repeating rifles took place in the capture of this rebel gun. How many Henry Repeating rifles the 100th Indiana Infantry had I am not sure of, but they must have been armed with several Henry Repeating rifles. On March 21, 1865 he writes about his participation in the Battle of Bentonville, NC. He writes the following: “The Johnnys sent a lot of cavalry around our flank, thinking they would capture our skirmish line which was well in advance. We were driving the Johnnys rapidly. They had a little 3 pound gun on the road and would stop and fire it sometimes. We were perhaps 80 rods away. Some of our boys had been firing at the men with the gun, but could not seem to have much effect. Then Captain Pratt called me to try it with my Henry rifle. I got as close as I dared, for they were firing at us with their small arms too. By that time they had the gun limbered up and were starting away with it, but I was close enough now so I could see them good. The rider was on the rear mule. I pulled up my rifle, thinking I would shoot him which I could easily have done as his whole body showed plainly above the mule. Just as I was going to fire something seemed to say to me: “Don’t kill the man; kill the mule,” so I dropped my rifle a little and shot the off mule just behind the fore leg. He went down and that delayed them so much that we got the gun. Meanwhile the Johnny cavalry came dashing into the rear. Generals Logan, Woods and other officers had followed our skirmish line closely. Col. Johnson saw the cavalry coming out of the woods. He faced the Regiment towards them and the men fired a volley into them that scattered them, and his quick action no doubt saved not only us but the Generals from capture. We were relieved and stopped to rest for we had been pushing the Johnnys hard for over 4 miles. While we were resting, the little gun we captured was brought back where we were and Captain Pratt told Col. Johnson how we got it. The Colonel thanked me before all the boys and I felt pretty good. I am glad I shot the mule instead of the man.”(1) Upson proved to be a very good shot with his Henry Repeating rifle. He will later use it at longer range. Upson writes about when he was in charge of a group of men 12 miles outside of Goldsboro. “There are a great many small alligators and once in a while quite a large one in the pond above the mill. The boys have shot several. There was one that has kept well away but has been seen at times. I got on top of the mill to day and he showed up a long shot away. I raised the sights on my rifle and was fortunate enough to kill him. When the boys got him he measured 7 feet in length. The citizens and Darkies here think I am a wonderful shot.” (1) The rifle he had was his Henry rifle. Upson was an excellent shot. “Yesterday in the morning some of the officers go to talking about sharp shooting and I said something about shots I had seen made with a Henry rifle. Some of them rather doubted that one could be sure of hitting a man at the distance I had named, some 500 yards. I said that would be easy, that we had plenty of men who could do better than that, that I could put half the shots in the magazine of my rifle into that size target at that distance. Well to make a long story short we went out to a shooting range as they call it, and I took off my coat and put 12 shots, one after another, into their target and did not half try. Those fellows opened their eyes; said they had no idea such shooting could be done.” (1) Upson mentions that “we have plenty of men who could do better”. The weapon that Upson was referring to was the Henry rifle so it may be believed that the 100th Indiana Infantry did have several Henry Repeating rifles within their ranks. When the 100th Indiana Infantry marched in the Grand Review in May 1865 Upson gives a brief description of what they looked like. “They looked fine as with polished shoes and brass trimmings on their accoutrements, with their rifles burnished till they shone, new uniforms and nearly all with white gloves.”(1) Upson definitely had a Henry but then he makes references to others in the 100th Indiana Infantry having Henry rifles.
It was on June 27, 1864 When Alanson P. Webber exhibited bravery and superior marksmanship while using a Henry Repeating rifle. The following information was printed in a 1987 issue of the Peoria Journal Star and was written by Jim Kerrigan. I have the article but unfortunately the date of the newspaper has been cut off. Fife Major Webber would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions with the Henry Repeating rifle that day. Many lives were saved due to the rapid fire ability of the Henry and the marksmanship of Webber. “It was August 27, 1862, when Webber and some 900 other men from Peoria, Tazewell, Knox and Marshall counties assembled in Peoria to form the 86th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Although he had enlisted as a private, Webber’s musical talent was quickly recognized and he was promoted to the rank of Fife Major, a position he held during much of the 86th Illinois’ three-year, 5,500-mile march through 16 battles of the Civil War. His ability as a sharpshooter, however, remained largely hidden until one day in Georgia when he traded his flute for a Henry rifle and won the Medal of Honor. The day was June 27, 1864, and the place was called Kennesaw Mountain. .... As recognized in the citation accompanying Webber’s decoration, the Union toll would have been worse had it not been for his determined, rapid-fire work with the Henry rifle.” (72) Webber and the 86th were to attack and take a hill that was held by the Rebels. They found themselves in a desperate spot of not being able to go forward but could not go back without being fired upon by the Rebels. “He(Fahnestock) refused to retreat back across the open field, but he ordered his men to fall back to a slight fold in the ground barely 35 yards below the crest of the ridge. Before Fahnestock gave that order, however, he passed his then high-tech Henry Repeating rifle and 120 rounds of ammunition to Fife Major Alanson Webber, along with instructions to fire every bullet as quickly as possible at the Rebel heads protruding atop the ridge. Webber did, every single bullet. Many of the slugs found Rebel heads, but even those that didn’t had the effect of keeping enemy heads down as the rest of the 86th Illinois dug into the shallow fold below the crest. While Webber poured on covering fire, the central Illinoisans used every implement they had--tin cups, bayonets, their rifle stocks--to excavate a life-giving hole in the dirt on the slope of the hill.....Fahnestock and the rest of the 86th Illinois would fight on to the end of the war. And Webber, the flute player from Marshall County, would be called upon again to use his commander’s rifle. The 86th Illinois Volunteer Infantry was mustered out of federal service at Washington D.C. in June 1865. When Webber returned home to his Saratoga Township farm, he carried a battered Henry which bore the inscription, “Presented to A.P. Webber, Fife Major, 86th Ill. Int., by Lt. Col. A.C. Fahnestock for bravery in many battles, June 6, 1865.” Years later, Alanson Pitts Webber was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his work on Kennesaw Mountain. The medal has long since disappeared, but the Henry rifle remains in the family.” (72) I have also found his first name spelled several different ways; Alanson or Alason or Alonzo, makes for a bit of confusion. In the book “Deeds of Valor”, it has another account of this same incident of Webber’s use of the Henry Repeating rifle, however it is referred to as a “Winchester rifle” but this account was written in 1907. “A Musician as a Sharpshooter: Alonzo P. Webber, of the Eighty-sixth Illinois Volunteers, Principal Musician of his regiment when it was engaged at the battle of Kenesaw Mountain, Ga., June 27, 1864, distinguished himself by voluntarily advancing as a sharpshooter. Seeing the desperate situation of his regiment, with no chance to advance, he obtained permission from Colonel Fahnestock to “go in” as a sharpshooter. With a Winchester rifle and 120 rounds of ammunition, he succeeded in advancing to within twenty-seven feet of the rebel line of battle, which was formed in V shape. There he found shelter behind a tree, and although he was at the apex, with the enemy on both sides of him, he stood his ground from nine o’clock in the morning until six o’clock in the evening. Being an excellent shot he brought down a number of the enemy, while the Union forces lay behind him at a distance of a city block or more, unable to get closer to the enemy’s line. Webber’s courage on that day won him the admiration of his while regiment, none of whom had expected to see him return alive from his dangerous position.” (73) Webber died July 27, 1902 at the age of 74. The Medal of Honor was presented to Webber on June 22, 1896. The citation reads: “Voluntarily joined in a charge against the enemy, which was repulsed, and by his rapid firing in the face of the enemy enabled many of the wounded to return to the Federal lines; with others, held the advance of the enemy while temporary works were being constructed.” (74)
Brigadier-General and Chief of Cavalry August V. Kauts wrote a letter dated July 11, 1864 while camped near Jones’ Neck, Virginia in which he states the following: “The best carbines for cavalry are breech-loading repeaters, with metallic percussion cartridges. Of this kind Spencer’s carbine is preferred, next the Henry rifle or carbine. ....Without a serviceable carbine cavalry is almost useless in the wooded country in which it is required to operate, where the enemy take up positions from which they can only be driven by dismounted men. I trust that something may be done to improve the equipment of this division.” (48) In other words General Kautz wants to be armed with Spencer carbines or the Henry Repeating rifle.
In 1890 the Government Printing Office published “The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate”. This is an excellent source of first hand information from the people that lived during the Civil War. It is great to find out how the Henry rifle was used in the Civil War. The following accounts are taken from this source.
The next several entries involve either ammunition expenditure, ammunition on hand or requests for ammunition. Major R.M. Johnson commanding the 100th Indiana Infantry at the end of the Savannah Campaign writes, “During the entire campaign I have used the following amount of ammunition, Henry rifle cartridges, caliber .44-------- 200 cartridges.” He writes this in a report the end of December of 1864. With only 200 Henry cartridges being expended it could mean there were very few Henry Repeating rifles in the 100th Indiana Infantry or the possibility of private purchase of Henry Rifle cartridges. Either way the 100th Indiana Infantry did have some Henry Repeating rifles in the regiment. (31)
In another report ending about the same time period, ending December 21, 1864. A report of Captain Thomas G. Baylor, U.S. Army, Chief Ordnance Officer it is reported that in the Savannah Campaign ammunition expenditures for the Henry rifle was 500 cartridges. (32) No specific regiment is mentioned or division. Since the number of Henry cartridges expended was an even 500 cartridges, I have to wonder if this may be an estimate or a rounded off number and not the actual number.
In a letter to Major General Burnside from Colonel Frank Wolford Commanding Independent Cavalry Brigade, Wolford is requesting ammunition for his men. He states the following in his letter, “Sir: The Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry of my command is out of ammunition for the Union rifle carbine, and there is none here. Also out of ammunition for the Henry rifle, and none to be had. Can it be procured there? If so, I need 21,000 rounds Union rifle carbine cartridges and 2,640 Henry rifles.” This request is dated October 21, 1863. (34) The question that begs to be asked is, why 2,640 cartridges for the Henry rifle? That seems like an odd number for a request.
On May 17, 1864 near Norfolk, Virginia General George F. Shepley writes requesting more Henry ammunition. “Our lines are threatened with an attack tonight. Please send immediately tonight by tug a supply of ammunition for the Henry repeating rifle for the First District of Columbia Cavalry. I will give all necessary receipts.”(26) Also on May 17, 1864 is a letter from General Vogdes concerning the same topic. “Will you have the North Carolina regiment in readiness to move over at any time? The outpost is in danger of attack. Also have a boat dispatched to Fort Monroe for the ammunition for the First District of Columbia Cavalry.” (26) The First D.C. Cavalry was armed with Henry Repeating rifles and in need of ammunition.
The amount of ammunition during the Atlanta Campaign numbered into the hundreds of thousands. Of the ammunition expended, Henry rifle cartridges number 11,068. This is the ammunition used as of May, 1864.(27) A couple of the more famous regiments using Henry rifles during the Atlanta Campaign were the 7th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry and the 66th Illinois Infantry WSS.
The reports for the Atlanta Campaign ending July 31, 1864 has well over 2,500,000 elongated ball cartridges in caliber .57 and .58. During this same time period only 2000 Henry rifle cartridges were expended. This expenditure was given by T.G. Baylor Captain and Chief of Ordnance for the Department of the Cumberland near Atlanta. From May 4, 1864 till September 8, 1864 there were 10,240 Henry rifle cartridges expended in the Department of the Cumberland. (28) According to the ordnance report for August, 1864 there were 7,650 Henry cartridges expended in that month alone, this was according to the report filed by Lieutenant O.E. Michaelis reporting for the Department of the Cumberland submitted on September 15, 1864. (30)
The report for the entire division, which included the Army of the Cumberland, the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Ohio from, May 4, 1864 to September 8, 1864 shows quite an expenditure of ammunition for the Henry Repeating rifle. The report breaks the numbers down as the Army of the Cumberland firing 10,240 Henry cartridges. The Army of the Tennessee firing 93,655 Henry cartridges. The Army of the Ohio firing 23,300 Henry cartridges. The total amount listed of expended Henry cartridges was 126,195. This report was submitted by Captain and Chief Ordnance officer T.G. Baylor. The report was written on September 17, 1864. Most of this ammunition was expended in and around Atlanta, GA. (71)
Concerning the amount of ammunition that the government felt should be adequate annually for a particular type of weapon, General George D. Ramsey writes the following: “I have to state, as the opinion of this department, deduced from past experience, that 500 rounds of copper cartridges for the single-shooter and 1,000 for the repeater is an ample annual allowance.” He goes on to state that there is outstanding contracts for 2,000,000 Henry cartridges from the New Haven Arms Company. (29)
In a report for the period of February 1, 1865 to March 23, 1865 there were 38,654 Henry cartridges expended. This was reported by Captain of Ordnance Thomas G. Baylor. This was for the Military Division of the Mississippi. (33) The ammunition expenditure reports is for Government purchased ammunition and does not include private purchase ammunition. The Government did purchase over 4,000,000 Henry cartridges during the war.
Colonel J.A. Mathews of the Headquarters 205th Pennsylvania Volunteers while at the Old Court House, Virginia writes on October 28, 1864 of being sent 330 dismounted cavalryman and 58 mounted and wondered what to do with them. He writes, “Captain: I regret to inform you of the loss of three of Lieutenant Capron’s cavalry(14th Illinois) by capture on our picket-line last night. One of the number made his escape and is now with his command at City Point. My field officer of the day will report more fully tomorrow. Major Tucker, commanding cavalry depot, has sent to me altogether 330 dismounted cavalry and 58 mounted, who are now encamped temporarily in the rear of our lines. What disposition does the general wish me to make of these men? Lieutenant Barre, who reports these men to me from Major Tucker, is of opinion that they are to remain here for any emergency that may arise. The work of revetment along our line is progressing rapidly, but I am entirely out of timber for this purpose. Can I have ten teams early in the morning? J.A. Mathews, Colonel 205th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Commanding Post.” (51) Colonel Mathews get his answer later that evening, October 28, 1864. “Hdqrs, Engineer Brig. and Defenses of City Point, Colonel J.A. Mathews, Commanding Post: In reply to your communication of this date the general commanding directs me to say that the cavalrymen were sent to you by his order, and, as you suppose, they will be held in readiness for any emergency, encamping in the woods in your rear. There are to be some rifle-pits thrown up tomorrow in front of the large redoubt which some of these men, who are armed with sixteen-shooter carbines, will hold. The ten teams will be ordered to report to you early in the morning. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, Channing Clapp, Assistant Adjutant-General.” (51) The headquarters of the 205th Pennsylvania was having problems with rebels lurking around the surrounding wooded area. It seems that the “sixteen-shooter” cavalrymen were sent to provide the protection the headquarters needed.
In the fall of 1864 Captain Charles Robinson made it back to his company after escaping from Johnson’s Island. He made it to Canada where the sympathetic Canadians gave him and the others that escaped with him food, clothes and boots. In fact he was given a hat half filled with money, a pair of gold spurs and a magnificent pair of cavalry boots. “But a few days after our Captain’s arrival and while he was yet making himself acquainted with the new recruits of the company, the regiment was called out to take part in a terrific battle of Ream’s Station. In the morning of that battle as the company moved in line to meet the enemy, it was discovered that a part of them had taken advantage of the excavation caused by making a brick kiln, and behind the kiln and embankment the removal of the earth had made necessary, and were ready to make stout opposition. The company advanced to the edge of the woods opposite the brink kiln. The Federal regiment who confronted us was a Maine regiment consolidated with the First District of Columbia Cavalry, and armed by the ladies of the District with Henry Rifles that could discharge sixteen shots without reloading. When they opened, fire on it was terrific; it sounded like the volley of a brigade. It quite unsettled the nerves of one of the recruits. He thought the time had come to seek shelter. A large pine tree was at hand behind which he could find shelter, and he got behind it, and with the view of securing greater protection he assumed an humble posture, bowing with his head to the ground.” (65) I am sure that many a recruit witnessed the terrible sound of a volley of Henry Repeating rifles during the Civil War and may have reacted in the same way. When a soldier is used to fighting and enemy with the same weapons he feels he has an even chance, but when a soldier meets the Henry Rifle on the battlefield for the first time, he must wonder what the heck he has just run into.
General Alexander Hayes, commanding Third Division, Second Army Corps writes praises for the Seventh West Virginia and their gallant actions. The Seventh West Virginia, as with other Henry armed regiments, were located in advance of the army. “As an acknowledgement of the splendid service rendered by the battalion, it was furnished, in 1864, with Henry rifles, 16 shooters; being thus armed it invariably occupied the advance, and was almost constantly on the skirmish line.” (70) Being furnished with Henry rifles does not mean that these were government purchased Henry rifles. More than likely when the Seventh re-enlisted in 1864, they used part of their enlistment bonus to purchase their own Henry Repeating rifle.
Captain Conner resigned his commission in the Eighteenth Illinois Infantry. “He met his four brothers in Helena, Arkansas and they decided that one of them should return to the Indiana home to look after business affairs, and by casting lots our subject was the one selected. He resigned and returned home but did not remain long, for in the fall of 1863 he re-enlisted at Indianapolis in Company C, One Hundred and Twenty-fourth Indiana Volunteer Infantry. He being then an experienced soldier was called upon to drill the greater number of the volunteers in the company, and when it was organized he was selected second lieutenant. His company and regiment were sent to Chattanooga, where he was attached to Sherman’s army, and they all participated in the Atlanta campaign and the siege and fall of Atlanta, our subject being practically in command of his company. He was the first to cut the railroad south of Atlanta, and with sixty soldiers armed with Henry rifles his company cleared out two Confederate regiments and cut the railroad at “Rough and Ready” station.” When Sherman started to the sea, Captain Conner’s regiment was sent back to Nashville to join the Twenty-third Corps under General Thomas. In this way they met Hood’s army and engaged in the battles of Columbia, Franklin and Nashville.” (76)
The Scientific American of November 19, 1864 ran an article concerning the fact that the War Department has finally woke up to the fact that the repeating rifles were a valuable weapon. “The “Rip Van Winkles” of the War Department have at last waked up to the importance of this arm of the service, and by contracting for the delivery of 35,000 Spencer rifles may in part redeem themselves. How there could be any great deliberation about arming our men with repeating rifles long before this cannot easily be explained. The testimony of soldiers from the front, who have seen the advantages of them, is almost unanimous, that no body of rebel troops can be brought into action against men known to be armed with repeating rifles. The- Illinois were so well satisfied of the superiority of the repeating rifle, that at an expense to themselves of $40 apiece they purchased the Henry rifle, the Government giving credit for the price of the musket not issued, and agreeing to furnish suitable ammunition. Last spring the Colonel of the - Illinois Cavalry made requisitions on the War Department for horses and repeating rifles for his regiment. The rifles came, with an intimation that it was doubtful about the ability of the Government to furnish horses. He remarked that “he did not care much about horses now that he had secured repeating rifles, his regiment 900 strong was equal to a brigade” It will be found that the secret of Sheridan’s success is the 10,000 cavalry armed with repeaters or breech-loaders. In the battle the infantry on our wing, armed with muskets, were repulsed, and the wing armed with repeaters converted their success into a route.” (67) The volume of fire power of the repeaters is repeated time and time again. The repeater, Henry Rifle, makes a soldier feel that he is invincible.
“Major J.S. Baker, in a letter dated from the field before Richmond, January 20, 1865, wrote: But notwithstanding my high opinion of this arm when in the hands of dismounted men, I do not think it a suitable weapon for cavalry. I consider it too heavy; the coil spring used in the magazine is also liable in the cavalry to become foul with sand and mud, and this, for the time being, renders the arm unserviceable.” (54) The criticism of the Henrys magazine being fouled with dirt, sand or mud has been mentioned several times. However I think it was written about more than it was really a problem as I have not found a single account where a soldier specifically states that his Henry Repeating rifle was out of action because of the magazine being fouled.
So far no mention has been given as to how soldiers armed with the Henry Repeating rifle carried their cartridges. There has been some mention of cartridges boxes but what kind? More than likely the use of a Springfield cartridge box. Also haversacks have been mentioned and pictured, but did they contain cartridges? Carrying cartridges in their pockets has also been mentioned. Another item that is not really talked about is how much ammunition did an individual soldier carry. I have seen it written that 40 cartridges were carried in their cartridge box and another 20 in their pocket. It has also been mentioned of carrying 100 rounds. However in some reports soldiers talk about firing 90 rounds non stop or even firing over 400 rounds in one, two hour engagement. Another question is, how far was the supply wagons that would have carried the extra ammunition, would it have been close enough for a quick re-supply. It was mentioned that after expending all of their ammunition the 66th Illinois Infantry was re-supplied quickly in order to recapture DeGress Battery of artillery. Wilder mentioned ammunition amounts concerning the Spencer, which would be similar for a Henry, when talking about the fact that the ammunition is water-proof. “the men of my command carry 100 rounds of ammunition in their saddle bags, and in two instances went into a fight immediately after swimming their horses across streams twelve feet deep, and it is very rare that a single cartridge fails to fire.” (56) The 100 rounds of ammunition carried in saddle bags would be in addition to the ammunition carried in their cartridge box of 42 rounds plus the seven rounds in the rifle. Therefore it would not be unreasonable to think that a man with a Henry Repeating rifle might carry 100-200 rounds in a knapsack plus another 40 to 50 rounds carried in a cartridge box or haversack.
The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee in late 1864 was another battle where Henry rifles played a part. One Henry was used by Gil Harbison. “Among the killed at Franklin was a strange and noble character in the person of Gil Harbison, of Company B, 73rd Illinois Infantry. His home was in Delavan, Illinois where he had been raised on a farm. At the breaking out of the war he was in Cincinnati, Ohio, taking a course at some theological school. One day, while on the street, he saw some of his Illinois acquaintances marching past in the 73rd. He fell in with them, and marched on until the battle of Franklin. Although a strict Baptist and a consistent Christian, he chose reckless Joe Isenburg as his “pard”. At Kennesaw Mountain Joe was treacherously shot while carrying water on the picket-line, a duty which, by mutual consent of both pickets, had been preformed unmolested. Gil Harbison then and there, on his bended knee, over his wounded partner, who soon died, swore by the highest authority he called upon that he would be avenged. He sent for a Henry rifle, and from that time forward Gil Harbison could, at night or day, be found as often as elsewhere on or beyond the picket-line. During the night at Spring Hill he 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. Very soon after this he was shot in the head and immediately killed.” (44) It sounds like Gil must have made good use of his Henry in the short time he was able to use it. It would be interesting to find out more about how Gil used his Henry and how many men were added to the account of his friend.
The Battle of Franklin taught both sides many lessons about the use of repeating rifles. “The improvements in repeating arms made since our Civil War, and the current discussion of the practical range and rapidity of fire from a line of battle, receive light from our experience at Franklin. We found that the slight undulations of the field were scarcely noticeable from our parapet, and yet they were sufficient to cover Hood’s advancing lines of infantry so well that it was not till they had passed the position first occupied by Wagner’s two brigades that they came under infantry fire. They thus got within five or six hundred yards of our lines practically unharmed from musketry. We rarely found a field, during the war, so open or so level as this, and one might fairly be sceptical as to the practical value of much greater range in small arms. As to rapidity of fire, however, the proof seems strongly in its favor. The few repeating rifles we had bore no important ratio to the number of men in line, though the enemy, exaggerating the number of such weapons, credited them with much of the terrible destruction of the field. The truth was that the crowding of our second line and reserves into the works practically made all our weapons repeaters. For as the men were three or four deep in most places, they supplied the front rank so rapidly with loaded pieces that I doubt if any ordinary line armed with the latest magazine gun could have delivered so continuous a fire as we witnessed. As darkness came on, the appearance was so exactly that of a sheet of fire lying stationary and uninterrupted at the level of the parapet, that the engagement is rarely mentioned by one who was there without speaking of this, striking phenomenon of the battle. With the weapons of today a similar result would be produced by a line in two ranks.” (77) Basically they are stating that an infantry need only to be able to hit targets out to five or six hundred yards. According to many accounts of soldiers shooting Henry rifles that range would not have been a problem. As to rapidity of fire, the enemy seems to think that there were far more repeating rifles at a battle that were really there. They go on to say that since the lines at Franklin were force so close together, the rapidity of fire by that many troops in such a small area would give the allusion of having men armed with repeating rifles. The fact is there were several soldiers armed with the Henry Repeating rifle at Franklin, however, there were far more of the common arm than there were Henrys at the battle.
Special Field Order No. 26 for the Fourth Division, Fifteenth Corps gives an idea of how much ammunition was necessary for troops armed with the Henry Repeating rifle. Dated December 7, 1864 near the Ogeechee River, Ga., the special field order list the order of march. “The Third Brigade will have the advance, followed by the pioneer corps, and then the battery; the Second Brigade will move in the center, followed by the trains hereafter designated; the First Brigade will bring up the rear. The battery will take three wagons loaded with canister, two wagons loaded with shell, and one wagon with shot. Each brigade will take five ordnance wagons loaded with caliber .58, and for each regiment armed with Henry rifles one wagon load of that kind of ammunition will be taken. By order of Brig. General John M. Crose” (69) It would be interesting to know how many cases of .44 caliber Henry ammunition a wagon load consisted of, at any rate, it had to be thousands of rounds of ammunition.
In a report dated January 3, 1865 written at Savannah, Ga., Lieutenant Colonel F.J. Hurlbut is writing his account of the actions that took place by his brigade after the Battle of Allatoona Pass, GA. The 7th Illinois Veteran Volunteers were part of his brigade. “Captain: I have the honor to report the part taken by the Third Brigade, Fourth Division, Fifteenth Army Corps, under my command, from immediately after the Allatoona battle to the occupation of Savannah. Pursuant to General Orders, No. 7, received from division headquarters, I moved the brigade on the 13th October, 1864, across the Etowah River on the Cave Spring road at 5 a.m., the Seventh Illinois Infantry in advance, Followed by the Thirty-ninth Iowa Infantry, Fiftieth Illinois Infantry and the Fifty-seventh Illinois Infantry, and Battery B, First Michigan Artillery. After advancing about four miles my advance encountered a picket-post, which fled at once upon being fired upon. After advancing about half a mile, I threw forward two companies of the Seventh Illinois Infantry, armed with Henry Rifles, as skirmishers, and just after passing the five-mile post skirmishing became very brisk, when I threw forward the balance of the Seventh Illinois Infantry as skirmishers, and drove the enemy’s skirmishers some distance, when they took up a very strong position on the crest of a hill, behind works made of rails, and the road strongly barricaded. One section of Battery B, First Michigan Artillery, was at once got into position, when after firing three or four rounds, the enemy entirely disappeared.” (52) This report was written to Captain A.W. Edwards the acting Adjutant General, 4th Division, 15th Army Corps. The Seventh Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry ended up with advanced skirmish duty on most occasions. The Henry Repeating rifle provided the massive firepower needed to move the enemy pickets out of the way.
In a report dated January 23, 1865 from Brevet Major-General O.B. Wilcox to Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Richard, Assistant Adjutant General, the General writes of the action around Walker’s Ford. Confederate General Wheeler’s Cavalry had been re-enforced and was operating in the area. This action took place on December 1, 1864. “The enemy sent a brigade to turn our left flank and cross the river by a ford just above Walker’s. This movement was detected by Graham, who detached a part of Capron’s Illinois regiment, armed with Henry rifles, by whom the enemy was met and repulsed, losing heavily under the rapid firing of a much inferior force. The main body came upon our two infantry regiments, which, although new troops, stood up bravely and repulsed the enemy in about twenty minutes. The enemy had a battery of light artillery, which our artillery, under Captain Patterson, silenced, firing over the heads of our own men. ....Our loss was about 50 killed, wounded, and missing. The enemy outnumbered us two to one, and were commanded by General Martin in person, in Wheeler’s absence from his command. Colonel Graham, having replenished his exhausted ammunition in the night, started at daylight in pursuit, and picked up quite a number of stragglers, which were sent to Tazewell.” (64) Once again the Henry rifles were able to repulse an enemy far greater that those defending. The other thing is that during the night the men were able to replenish their ammunition supply. That is important to note because a Henry Rifle without ammunition is just an expensive “paper weight”.
Major J. S. Baker was commanding the 1st D. C. Cavalry on January 20, 1865 to Major General A. B. Dyer the Chief of Ordnance. “My Regiment has been fully armed with these Rifles ever since their first organization, which was in June, 1863. The Rifles now in use in my command are the same that were issued to us at the time of our organization, and since that time they have been in constant use, most of the time in active service in the field, and they are now, with a very few exceptions, as serviceable and efficient as they were when they were placed in the hands of the Regiment. These Rifles have been well and thoroughly tested in the following battles and raids during the last summer campaign: General Kautz’s first raid in the month of May. Battle of White’s Bridge, on the 8th of May. General Kautz’s second raid in Southern Virginia in the month of May. An engagement with the enemy near Fort Pride on the Bermuda front on the 1st of June. The first attack on Petersburg on the 8th of June. The second attack on Petersburg on the 16th of June. General Wilson’s raid in Southern Virginia in the months of June and July. The Battle of Roanoke Bridge on the 27th of June. The first battle of Ream Station on the 29th of June. The first battle at Deep Bottom on the 25th, 26th and 27 of July. At the battle on the Weldon Railroad on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of August. The battle of Ream’s Station on the 25th of August. The affair at Sycamore Church on the 16th of September. Engagement on the Darbytown road near Richmond on the 7th of October. From the experience I have had with this Rifle, in the engagements above mentioned, and in numerous other skirmishes and small affairs on the picket line, I have no hesitation in saying that I consider it one of the most effective weapons now in use in the army. The remarkable rapidity and accuracy with which this gun can be discharged, renders it an invaluable weapon to the army. Under ordinary circumstances, I believe it utterly impossible to make a successful charge on troops armed with them,; at the battle of Ream’s Station on the 25th of August, repeated attempts were made by the enemy, in large numbers, to charge a position held by my regiment, (they being dismounted) and at each attempt they were repulsed with heavy loses. On one occasion there were several officers of high rank from the Cavalry Corps and 2nd Army Corps present, and noticed the destructive effect of my fire on the enemy. ....They carry with great accuracy: in target practice I have ascertained that an ordinary marksman can put two balls out of three inside of a ring two feet in diameter at a distance of from six to seven hundred yards. Very respectfully, your ob’t servant J. S. Baker Maj. Comd’g Reg’t” (79)
Here is an interesting account from January 28, 1865 by Captain Benjamin Thomas, commanding Fort Pinney, in command of the Sixty-third U.S. Colored Infantry, provost-marshal, District of Eastern Arkansas. He writes of tracking down a couple of deserters and smuggles by the names of Stewart and Dustin. He writes, “We found Dustin’s boots, socks, coat & etc., and I was well satisfied he was in or near the house. I asked Mrs. Kimball to tell us where he was, so as to save her house from being burned or goods much injured by thorough search, as we were sure to get him. She said he had never been there but once, and that was on last Monday week. I found his revolver under Mrs. Kimball’s pillow. I ordered the floor to be torn up, and found him under the floor with his Henry rifle. I ordered the men to fire under the House and set the house on fire in three places. He left his hiding place and came out, without arms, at the other end of the house from where he was in the first place, and throwing up his arms exclaimed, “oh, my God; oh, Captain Thomas, save me.” Two men were wounded by Dustin or by careless shooting by my men, and I had not time to investigate which........The property and money captured was as follows: ....1 Henry rifle.” (36) It seems that even the deserters and smugglers could get their hands on a Henry somehow.
The following incident occurred on February 6, 1865. The rebels had strong works near Buford’s Bridge but were being driven out by the 15th corps. “There was considerable skirmishing today in our front, but the enemy continually fell back. ..... This afternoon a young man by the name of Jenkins of the 105th Illinois, Colonel Dustin’s regiment, with another soldier of the 1st division, went out on a scouting expedition to the left some five miles. While riding along, they discovered a couple of horsemen ahead of them, but at so great a distance they were not certain whether they were our men or not. The other man said to Jenkins, “I believe they are Johnnies, and as we are two and two, suppose we try our luck.” At first they rode along rather leisurely, but discovering by and by they were rebels, they put spurs to their horses and dashed in upon them to surrender. The Lieutenant wheeled his horse, drew his revolver, and seemed determined not to be easily taken. Jenkins armed with a Henry rifle, 16 shooter, cocked it and leveled it at him, saying as he did so, “put that revolver in your sheath, or I will blow you through.” Not caring to compete with a Henry, he put up his revolver, and the two soon led into our camp. Each of them was armed with two revolvers, and had a very good horse, saddle, etc. Jenkins was one of the party who captured and burnt the rebel boat Ida, on the Savannah river, about the time we arrived near the city. He is an excellent scout and loves the business very much. He has had some very narrow escapes, and much experience of a very exciting character.” (60) Jenkins was just one member of the 105th Illinois, so one must speculate how many others in the 105th Illinois were armed with the Henry Repeating rifle.
Another regiment to be armed in part with the Henry Repeating rifle was the 23rd Illinois Infantry. In a letter from Lt. Colonel S. A. Simison dated February 25, 1865 to Oliver Winchester he is requesting more Henry rifles. He writes from Bermuda Hundred. “I have the honor to respectfully represent that in the winter of 1863 I purchased of you some fifty stand of Henry’s Repeating Rifles, and having tested their effectiveness in a number of battle since, I desire to arm my entire battalion with them, and wish to know the cost and if prepared to furnish on receipt of cash orders. Trusting that you will give this your earliest attention.” (79)
Major Joel W. Cloudman on March 15, 1865 writes to Oliver Winchester on the merits of the Henry rifle and how it worked in the field. He writes the following testimony in favor of the Henry Repeating rifle. “Permit me to bear testimony in favor of the “Henry Repeating Rifle.” It is in my judgment the most effective arm in service. I have been connected with the 1st D. C. Cavalry from its first organization, and that arm having been in constant use by my Regiment, I feel prepared pass along its merits. Its first excellence is the rapidity of its use. We have found no difficulty in firing fifteen shots a minute. Such rapidity of fire is perfectly irresistible by a charging force. On the 25th day of August, 1864, near Ream’s Station, we had an opportunity of testing the Rifle. Our Regiment of Cavalry was dismounted at 4 o’clock, p. m., marched and stationed on the extreme left of the infantry line, there to build light breastworks for the moment. There we received a most desperate charge from the enemy. We used your Rifle and easily repulsed the foe, while the infantry were broken and swept from their constructed breastworks. Our Regiment with your Rifles stood like veterans, and never left the line until the battle ceased. Our men often said, and I concur in the opinion, that with this Rifle and a plenty of ammunition they could safely meet four to one with any other arm. The Spencer Rifle is a good arm, preferable to Springfield, Sharp’s or Star’s Rifles, and next, in my judgment, to the Henry. We used the Spencer in the 1st Maine Cavalry during the past winter, as well as the Henry, and so have tried both. The Henry excels all others in accuracy and force. It is also the most durable arm. With anything like fair usage a man can use one for his whole term of service without its getting out of repair. Its simplicity of construction, also, is such that almost any soldier can repair one, if needed. Another advantage is that the dullest soldier who can use the commonest arm in the service, can quickly and safely learn to use this Rifle. It is a very safe arm, as there is no half cock to it. The hammer is either down or clear back. Great danger attends the use of common arms, from the fact of their going off so often at half cock. Another great advantage is that it is so easily and quickly loaded. Two motions loads and cocks the piece. Great advantage is gained by this over the enemy, who may be easily picked off while cocking his piece. But the best evidence in favor of the Henry rifle, however, does not come from it friends, or from our own people who use it. It comes from the enemy. I was captured last season and was for a time in the Libby Prison. Several of these rifles were taken when I was, and I often heard the enemy discuss its merits. They all fear it more than any arm in our service, and I have heard them say, “Give us anything but your d--d Yankee Rifle that can be loaded Sunday and fired all the week.” Joel W. Cloudman” (79) The 1st D. C. Cavalry fought in several battles through out Virginia and Maryland.
In a report dated March 27, 1865 from the headquarters Fourteenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Daniel Johnson writes about a skirmish involving twelve men with Henry rifles verses about sixty Rebel cavalrymen of Jesse McNeill’s rangers. This skirmish occurred in and around Sir John’s Run, West Virginia. “Lieutenant: I have the honor to report the result of a skirmish which occurred between a detachment of Company H, of this regiment, and a party of rebel cavalry, supposed to be McNeill’s old command, on the night of 22d instant, about nine miles and a half from Patterson’s Creek Station and at the house of a Mr. Baker. On the evening of the 22d instant Lieutenant G.W. Jolliffe, commanding Company H, sent out Lieutenant Martin and eleven men as a scout. On their arrival at the house of Mr. Baker, Lieutenant Martin posted a sentinel, and entered the house with the remainder of the detachment. After remaining in the house about an hour they were aroused by the firing of the sentinel, and, on rushing from the house, encountered at the fence a party of rebel cavalry, about sixty in number. The rebels made three successive charges upon Lieutenant Martin and men, but were each time repulsed, and at last retreated in confusion, leaving upon the field two men killed and three wounded. There were also seven horses wounded and two killed. From a subsequent scout, Lieutenant Jolliffe has ascertained that the rebels took with them several wounded men when they retreated. None of Lieutenant Martin’s men were struck. Lieutenant Martin’s detachment was armed with Henry rifles, and it is supposed the rebels thought from the rapid firing that his force was much larger than it really was.” (6) Twelve men taking on five times their number is not uncommon for men armed with the Henry Repeating rifle and usually come out on top.
At their Ninth annual reunion of the 1st Maine Cavalry, they relive the events of March 31, 1865. The following account is given, “On the morning of the 31st, we marched to Cat Tail Run or Stony Creek, and were dismounted under cover of a hill which was destined to play a conspicuous part, within a few hours, in the great events of the day.....we found ourselves, on nearing the brow of the hill, confronting a large body of the enemy’s infantry with Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry in support.....At half-past five in the afternoon, when our ammunition was nearly exhausted, the rebels slackened their fire, preparatory to their grand charge....The head of their column melted constantly away under the murderous fire of our troopers, till the current was filled with the bodies of the dead and wounded, but on they still came, fording the stream with the water breast deep, and holding their muskets and ammunition above their heads, till they reached the shore, where they soon outnumbered us five to one, too heavy odds to be successfully resisted. And yet our men fought on most manfully, their repeating carbines making fearful havoc in the rebel ranks, and not much an inch of ground did they yield till our ammunition failed, when they were ordered back. Men without a cartridge for their carbines, still fought with their revolvers. Others, taking the carbines and ammunition of their wounded comrades, formed in their front and held their position till the wounded had been safely carried to the rear. Such was their bravery and almost reckless daring, and such the wholesome dread with which they had inspired the enemy by the terrible volleys they poured in upon them from their seven and sixteen shooters, that in repeated instances they were seen to hold the rebels in check simply presenting their empty carbines! Our withdrawal was effected without confusion or the loss of a single man captured, and on reaching the crest of the hill, already referred to, the line was quickly reformed, and here we found a cavalry breastworks, of fence rails, thrown up by Custer’s and Gregg’s brigades and our artillery in position and eager to take a hand in the fray....It only remains for me to add that by this splendidly fought battle, in which the First Maine lost 103 officers and men, one-third our entire force engaged, the way was paved for the magnificent victory at Five Forks on the following day.” (50)
The following charts were compiled from information and research from my 1992 research that appears on the Henry Repeating rifle posted on the Rare Winchester website. http://www.rarewinchesters.com/articles/art_hen_00.shtml New additions have been made since the 1992 research was completed.
The following is a list of regiments that were armed with or had at least one Henry Rifle among their ranks.
7th Illinois Inf.
11th Illinois Inf.
16th Illinois Inf.
23rd Illinois Inf.
39th Illinois Inf.
51st Illinois Inf.
64th Illinois Inf.
66th Illinois Inf.
68th Illinois Inf.
73rd Illinois Inf.
80th Illinois Inf.
85th Illinois Inf.
86th Illinois Inf.
96th Illinois Inf.
100th Illinois Inf.
105th Illinois Inf.
115th Illinois Inf.
58th Indiana Inf.
59th Indiana Inf.
93rd Indiana Inf.
97th Indiana Inf.
100th Indiana Inf.
1st D. C. Cav.
12th KY Cav.
Col. Netter’s Cav.
1st Maine Cav.
5th N.Y. Cav.
9th N.Y. Cav.
29th N.Y. Cav.
2nd WI Inf.
3rd WI Cav.
66th WI Inf.
1st Missouri Engineers
4th MO Cav.
25th MO Cav.
47th Missouri Cav.
3rd Reg. U.S.V.
7th WV Inf.
14th WV Inf.
10th Michigan Cav. Company B
31st PA Inf.
Corydon Home Guard
37th KY Inf.
46th Ohio Inf.
57th Indiana Inf.
Capron’s 14th Illinois Cav.
81st Ohio Inf.?
20th Connecticut Infantry
9th Kentucky Cavalry
124th Indiana Infantry
65th Indiana Infantry
1st Indiana Infantry
5th Kentucky Infantry USV
40th Indiana Infantry
10th West Virginia Infantry
11th Kentucky Cavalry
13th Michigan Infantry
97th Illinois Infantry
36th Illinois Infantry
10th Illinois Infantry
40th Ohio Infantry
4th Ohio Infantry
1st Michigan Infantry
6th West Virginia Cavalry
7th Rhode Island Infantry
10th Rhode Island Infantry
10th West Virginia Infantry
66th Ohio Infantry
The following U.S. Naval vessels also had a Henry or two on board.
USS Black Hawk
Henry Repeating rifles were used by the following Confederate regiments at least in part, meaning one member of the regiment might have captured or purchased a Henry Repeating rifle.
1st Arkansas Cavalry
Jefferson Davis’ Bodyguards
7th Virginia Cavalry
11th Virginia Cavalry
12th Virginia Cavalry
35th Virginia Cavalry
21st Virginia Cavalry
8th Texas Cavalry
5th Texas Cavalry
29th Texas Cavalry
10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers
Jesse McNeill’s Rangers
Camp Ferguson’s Guerillas
General S.G. French
38th Virginia Infantry
The above list of unit is incomplete and next to impossible to account for all of the units that got their hands on the Henry Repeating rifle.
The following chart contains the production list of when the Henry Repeating rifles were produced.
Listed here are some of the iron frame Henry Repeating rifles produced. 12, 13, 31, 45, 49, 57, 89, 103, 108, 110, 119, 125, 138, 147, 156, 161, 270, 279, 287, 355
Listed below are some of the battles the Henry Repeating rifle was used in or were present at.
Mt. Sterling, KY
Skirmishing with John Hunt Morgan
Nickajack Creek, GA
Buzzard Roost, GA
Center Point, VA
White’s Bridge, VA
1st Reams Station
2nd Reams Station
Stony Creek, VA
Allatoona Pass, GA
Sycamore Church, VA
Goodrich’s Landing, LA
Saskehatchie Swamp, GA
Spring Hill, TN
The Red River Campaign
Ft. Doniphan, Missouri
McMillan Ford, TN
Strawberry Plains, TN
Surrender of Clarksville, TN
Union Mills, VA
Snake Creek Gap
City Point, VA
Sir John’s Run, WV
Fort Pride, VA
Petersburg June 8, 1864
Petersburg June 16th
Lay’s Ferry 1864
Rome Cross-roads 1864
Adairsville, GA 1864
Dallas, GA 1864
Lone Mountain, GA 1864
New Hope Church, GA 1864
Big Shanty, GA 1864
Ruff’s Mills 1864
Chattahoochie River, GA 1864
Decatur, GA 1864
Bald Hill, GA 1864
Howard House, GA 1864
Ezra Church GA 1864
Procter’s Creek, GA 1864
Sherman’s March to the Sea 1864
Eden’s Crossroads 1864
Big Salt Creek Fort McAllister 1864
Congree Creek GA 1864
Savannah, GA 1864
Columbia, SC 1865
Camden, SC 1865
South River, SC 1865
Kingston, NC 1865
Raleigh, NC 1865
These are just a few of the battles in which Henry rifles played a part. I am sure there are many other battles in which the Henry rifle was used, but history may not have recorded them. So this list that I have submitted is incomplete. One thing for sure is that Henrys were used from 1862 to the end of the war, even guarding President Jefferson Davis as he fled Richmond.
This is just a beginning, as my hope is that more information will surface. This has been a new look at old information to see if there is any truth that units and men armed with the Henry Repeating rifle were given specific assignments based on their possession of a Henry Repeating rifle. Another more important attempt in the above narrative is to help put all of the documentation concerning the use of the Henry Repeating rifle in the Civil War into one source. There are very few books published dealing with the usage of the Henry rifle in the Civil War. Some books will have a chapter devoted to a particular rifle which might amount to five or ten pages and a few pictures. This has been an attempt to dig through the old records and accounts of how the soldiers themselves actually acquired their Henry Repeating rifle and how they used it in battle. The search for additional information never ends.
The quest for information concerning the Henry Repeating Rifle is never ending. In 2009 an extensive search for documentation on how the Henry Repeating Rifle was used in the Civil War began in earnest. A renewed effort started again in 2010. This is the culmination of additional information that will be added to the bank of knowledge from 2009. It has always been my goal to try to use only primary source information such as diaries of the soldiers, the Official Records of the Civil War, books written by those that used their Henry rifles, books written by those that were of the time period, as well as, photographs from the Civil War. Modern books offer insight but do not have the same impact as the primary source information. My hope is to one day combine this with the 2009 information into a comprehensive book that will indeed be “the most complete documentation of the usage of the Henry Repeating Rifle in the Civil War”.
One of the more interesting users of the Henry Repeating Rifle was a man from Tennessee by the name of Daniel Ellis. Dan was born in 1827 in Carter County, Tennessee. Dan fought in the Mexican War where he gained some experience under fire. He was a Unionist as were several of the people from East Tennessee. East Tennessee was also an area of the Confederate States of America that supported the Confederacy. Dan would find himself acting as a “pilot” leading Unionist from Carter County and other areas as far east as North Carolina and Virginia to safety in Kentucky. It was also in this area of the county that numerous atrocities occurred. These include the hanging of Unionist and leaving their bodies to rot away while swaying in the wind. Men and boys were also dragged out of their homes and shot in front of their women folk. This form of terrorism was committed by the “Home Guards” and Confederate armies patrolling that area of East Tennessee. To protect himself, Ellis, also known as the “Old Red Fox”, armed himself with a couple of Colt revolvers and a Henry Repeating Rifle. (81)
It is not clear as to when exactly Ellis acquired his Henry rifle or Sixteen Shooter as he like to call it. However as early as 1863 he is known to have had a Henry rifle. Because of his activities the Confederacy posted a large reward for his capture, some say in the amount of $5000. According to the following which appeared in the 1865 book “The Secret Service, The Field, The Dungeon, and The Escape; “For three years there had been a standing offer of five thousand dollars for Dan Ellis’s head. During that period, except when within our lines, he had never permitted his Henry rifle, which would fire sixteen times without reloading, to go beyond the reach of his hand. (82) Not only did Ellis have his Henry rifle but he states that his men were armed with Spencer rifles. “We were well armed with eight-shooting Spencer rifles, and we also had an abundant supply of ammunition, and we determined to stay together as much as we possibly could”. (81) Dan and his friend Elbert Treadaway observed that three rebel house robbers were riding toward the house where Elbert’s brother was sitting on the porch. Dan and Elbert were a little ways from the house. Here is what went down. “Instantly they leveled their pistols and fired at us. This was the immediate signal for an attack from us; and in a moment our rifles were belching forth their leaden messengers of death, and the surrounding hills were made to reverberate the echo of one explosion after another until the last load was exhausted”. (81) He goes on to mentioned how his guns worked. “Our guns worked like a charm. I had always thought before that mine was too hard on trigger, but at this time I found nothing wrong, and I thought that nothing had been wanting but the sight of rebels to make me pull the trigger hard enough, for upon this occasion I was unable to find the least objection to its performance”…. We received no injury whatever, but the rapid firing which occurred on this occasion frightened the ladies very much with whom I had been conversing, and Bob was suddenly scared out of the pensive reverie in which he had been indulging while sitting in the porch.” (81) Bob, Elbert and Dan also get into another firefight with twenty rebel cavalry and fourteen infantry. His description of this encounter is amusing. “The cavalry had moved on ahead, and we now had only fourteen infantry to fight. We fell behind trees, and began to fire on them slowly. They returned our first fire. We now opened a brisk fire upon them, and the hills and valleys reverberated with the turbulent intonations which emanated from our rifles. The rebels, not fancying the way that our balls were singing around them, jumped behind some old saw-logs that lay in their way. We now had the advantage of them, for, when one of them would raise his head, one of us would immediately fire at it; our balls, however, failed to hit any of them, but filled their eyes with particles of old wood and dirt. We continued to fire at them, and at length they arose and started off as rapidly as they could, while we continued firing on them at every step. Treadaway, who had a remarkable strong voice, would sometimes mount upon a fence and yell out at the top of his voice. “Head them, boys; flank them boys;” and I do not doubt but that the rapidly-retreating rebels imagined that there were at least forty or fifty men in pursuit of them. In this way we ran them at least a mile, when, upon getting to a cabin, they stopped to get water, but we did not give them time to drink, for we opened a heavy fire upon them. One of them was just raising the cup to his lips when a Spencer ball whistled past his ear; he immediately dropped the cup, and all of them started again on a run, and we after them, shooting and yelling in a most terrible manner…..And now Bob returned. He had not been idle; for when he observed the cavalry occupying a position in the road, waiting for the infantry to run us out of the woods, he placed himself in a position of safety and commenced firing upon them with his eight-shooter, and wounded one of them in one of his thighs so badly that he died soon afterward. We soon learned from a reliable authority that we had inflicted severe wounds upon several of these brave rebels, and completely frightened the balance of the party that some of them returned to their camps with their eyes bathed in tear. They now reported that there was a bushwhacker behind every tree and bush in the settlement where I lived, and they also reported that they had been engaged with at least forty or fifty of them, and said that, while a portion of the bushwhackers were fighting with their infantry, the others were engaged with their cavalry.” (81)
Here is another account of the same incident from a different source. “Once, when none of his comrades, except Lieutenant Treadaway, were with him, fourteen of the rebels came suddenly upon them. Ellis and Treadaway dropped behind logs and began to fire their rifles. As the enemy pressed them, they fell slowly back into a forest, continuing to shoot from behind trees. The unequal skirmish lasted three hours. Several rebels were wounded, and at last they retreated, leaving the two determined Unionists unharmed and masters of the field.” (82)
This particular incident seems to have been a popular one to retell. In the book “History of the Thirteenth Regiment, Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, USA” is yet another description of this same event. It is really amazing that just three men armed with repeating rifles could so change a battlefield. Here is what is written in this source. “Ellis had much to arouse his passion and when once aroused he was found to be a dangerous enemy. He usually had about him a few friends who were as brave and daring as himself. Among them were Elbert and Robert Treadway. Towards the last of the war these men, as well as Ellis himself, were armed with repeating rifles, and each had two six-shooting army pistols. Being excellent marksmen these three men were foes not to be despised by a whole company of the enemy. At one time a squad of twenty or thirty rebel soldiers who was encamped on the Watauga River, went out to the vicinity of Ellis’ home. Robert Treadway was off some distance but Ellis and Elbert opened fire on the soldiers and after wounding several of them put them to flight. Hearing the firing Robert hurried to the scene and joining Ellis and his brother, the three men drove the squad of soldiers several miles back to their camp. People who still remember this fight say the firing was so rapid that it sounded as if there was at least a company engaged on each side. (84) Ellis was armed with his Henry Repeating rifle while Treadaway was armed more than likely with a Spencer Rifle. Here was a case where three men armed with two Spencer rifles and a Henry Repeating rifle were able to take on cavalry and infantry and come out the winner. With the rapidity of fire from the repeaters the enemy had no idea what they were facing. It was the firepower of the repeaters that won the day for Ellis and the brothers.
While Dan Ellis was visiting at the home of Mrs. Campbell he noticed several rebels coming at the house not more than forty yards away and closing in fast. He writes the following concerning his escape; “When I started from the house I had dropped my pistols and belt, but I held on to my sixteen-shooting rifle. The odds against me were so great that I immediately saw it would be perfectly simple for me to endeavor to defend myself by fighting, and therefore I determined, if possible, to save myself by flight…. Throughout the whole fearful race I held on to my sixteen-shooter, thinking that when I could run no farther, if my enemies should continue to pursue me, that I would then stop and sell my life out to them as dearly as possible. But when I made the attempt to shoot, I found that I was so nearly dead that I could not hold my gun up. I now got behind some rocks that I thought would serve me for a defense, and just at this time the rebels fired their last volley at me, and one of their bullets struck and passed through the leg of one of my boots, and stopped when it struck against the flesh of my leg.” (81)
Dan Ellis for most of the war was a man that was an individual “piloting” Unionist from Eastern Tennessee into Kentucky. However that was about to change. “I now went to the 13th Regiment (TN), and at the earnest request of my friends I joined the regiment. Company A being then without a captain, I consented to act in that position. As I have before stated, this company was raised by my own exertions, and was composed almost entirely of my old friends and neighbors from Carter County. (81)
Dan Ellis and Peter Shelton were going to check out a cabin. It went something like this; “We pursued our way toward the cabin along a fence-row, to prevent the dogs or any person in the cabin from seeing us until we got to the house, when Shelton immediately ran to one door and I to the other; but the door that I went to seemed not to be in use, as it stubbornly resisted all my efforts to burst it open. I rushed around to the other door, where I found Skelton standing, with the muzzle of his pistol presented toward a crack in the door. I pushed the door open instantly and both of us rushed into the cabin together, when we found ourselves in the presence of two rebel soldiers and the family, which consisted of an old man, an old lady, and some small children. I had my sixteen-shooter Henry rifle in my hand with the hammer drawn ready for shooting if the rebel soldiers pretended to offer and resistance; but one of them surrendered to Shelton, and the other one to me, without a word of disapprobation in regard to the sudden and unexpected proceeding. I never saw men so badly frightened in all my life, and the uproar which proceeded from the family circle was somewhat amusing, for it was a good deal worse than a tempest in a tea-pot.” (81)
While at the home of Mrs. Hawkins the question came up, if a group of rebels should pass by the house what should they do, here is Ellis’ opinion. “Daniel Ellis was in favor of attack—he never allowed a Confederate to come within reach of his carbine (Henry rifle) without giving him some of its contents. Reuben Ellis evidently sympathized with this feeling; but he merely said it would be against the wishes of Mrs. Hawkins. She thought it would be wrong to take a human life except in self-defense.” (83)
Dan Ellis usually traveled by night and had certain items with him. “His custom was to travel by night, and to lay by during the day, in the woods, or at the home of some Union man in whom he had confidence. In sections with which he was familiar, his only guide was the stars, or a small pocket compass, and everywhere his only companion was a sixteen-repeating Henry carbine, the fellow to that of Daniel Ellis, which the famous guide on arriving at Warm Springs, had insisted upon presenting to him, to properly equip him for his hazardous employment. Thus equipped, he soon revisited the vicinity of Waynesville, passed a day with Squire Plotts, and returned to him the horse which had served him so well in his escape from the gallows. (83)
Ellis was returning to his cabin after making his escape from Little Bald and the men of the rebel leader Keith. “Twelve of them surrounded him on the Little Bald only the night before last; but he laid out four or five, and put the rest to thar heels. But, he’d have been a dead captain, if it hadn’t been for the three sixteen-shooters he was bringing along for the Hawkins boys. He’s all worn, but he’ll see you.” (83) Here is a case where Ellis had not one Henry repeating rifle but three. Fully loaded he had ready forty-eight rounds of death to fire at the poor twelve rebels that were after him. I am sure they did not have clue what they had gotten themselves in for and got out of there as fast as they could but not before leaving four or five dead men behind. As this account continues, “The cabin of Ellis was somewhat larger, and better furnished, than the others. In one corner was a bed supported on a frame of saplings, in another, a rude table, and scattered about the ground---which was covered with deer and bear skins----were a number of rustic seats, fashioned like camp-stools. On a rack against the rear wall were four sixteen-shooting Henry carbines, three of them evidently new, but already smeared with gunpowder.” (83) The new Henry rifles smeared were the one that Ellis had used to defend himself from the twelve rebels. Those twelve sure got a lesson on what a repeating rifle could do that night.
Upon capturing several rebels Ellis writes about what was captured. “We captured one sixteen-shooter and several Spencer rifles, besides a large lot of navy pistols.” (81) Dan Elis received an honorable discharge from the military service of the United States on the 5th day of September, 1865. (81)
For Mrs. Hawkins it would turn out to be a sad day. Mrs. Hawkins entered the cabin and announced that all of her sons were dead. After a while Squire Plotts, a friend of Ellis, came with a group of men to protect her from Keith’s terrorists. It is interesting what Sukey does; “She brought to him the three Henry carbines which had belonged to the sons of Mrs. Hawkins. She said to him, “We hev hed these guns hid away in th’ loft uv th’ barn. They was th’ boys, an’ thar mother an ‘me think ‘taint no more right the guns should hev a chance ter tuck vengeance on th’ boys murderers. Ary one uv ‘em will do as much work as sixteen common rifles.” The Squire regarded the carbines as equal to a reinforcement of fifty men, still, he hoped the attack would be deferred until after dark, for then he could place his men in ambush, in the line of shrubbery that grew directly in the rear of the original dwelling, and probably beat off the assault with little, if any, loss to his own force…. “They are comin,” she said….. It was not many more minutes before a body of horsemen filed in at the gateway. They had dismounted, and were about fastening their horses to the line of fence that bordered the high road, when, opening the door whence she could be distinctly heard, Mrs. Hawkins called to them: “Leave my grounds, you gray-coated ruffins! If you don’t, your blood will be on your own heads.” A chorus of jeers and yells was the only answer to this warning. When they had died away, there came a discharge of rifle shots from the line of shrubbery, and many a man and horse fell to the ground, never to rise again. A long-continued roll of fire followed, as if an entire regiment was in the ambuscade, and panic-stricken, the Confederates fled, leaving twenty dead and dying upon the ground behind them. A half-dozen of the horses were killed, and upwards of a score broke away, and fled in the mountain to be subsequently captured by the mountaineers. The Confederates evidently expected resistance, for the party numbered at least two hundred; but disconcerted by the sudden and long-continued volleys from their concealed enemies, they fled without firing a shot.” (83) This was definitely one of the most successful ambushes of the Civil War. The great thing is that at least three Henry Repeating rifles were used in this ambush. Again this just provides more prove of how a few Henry Repeating rifles can give a great advantage to their owners.
One of the three Henry rifles of the Hawkins boys ended up in the hands of Reuben Ellis. In one instance he is said to have fallen into a trap by Colonel Keith but shot his way out. “Thar was a dozen agin him, and they killed his nag; but his sixteen shooter saved his life. He shot three or four uv ‘em, and then, got inter th’ thick undergrowth whar they was afeard ter foller. (83) From there Reuben made his get away to Spring Mountain.
Colonel George W. Kirk was detailed by General Burnside to organize the loyal mountaineers of East Tennessee and North Carolina. The following is an interesting use of the Henry where a small amount of men, twelve, can make a huge difference. There were four hundred rebels at Stackhouse’s store and another four hundred rebels in the woods. Here is what the Colonel has in mind for the rebels. “Let Major Rollins get the men under arms at once, and station all of them in the rear of this house, except a small squad that he shall post on the hill to observe any movement of the rebels in the woods. Meanwhile, I will take a dozen men that
I know, and who know me, mount them on our best horses, each one with two sixteen-shooters two revolvers in his belt, and two in his holster and will light down on those sleeping fellows at Stackhouse’s. We will steal upon the sentinels, and secure them without noise, and then remount, and move softly till we are between the rebels and their arms, when we will swoop upon them with such yells and firing as well make them think us a whole regiment. Woke out of sleep by such a din they’ll scatter to the four winds---all that are not winged by our carbines or revolvers. Having done that we’ll toss their stacked arms into the river, and gallop, back here, and help you to whip the other four hundred.”….. Before two o’clock Colonel Kirk, with his twelve picked men set out up the river, and by half-past three, he returned, having carried out his programme in the minutest details, without a man so much as wounded. Meanwhile the four hundred Confederates, whom he had rightly judged to be posted in the woods in his rear, hearing the firing, had moved forward, and engaged the force under Major Rollins. The conflict was at its height, when Kirk returned with his twelve men, and rushed impetuously upon the flank of the Confederates. Probably supposing that his small squad was merely the advance of a larger reinforcement, they fled in all directions, leaving twenty dead, and upwards of thirty wounded upon the ground, and losing a hundred prisoners in the pursuit that followed. This, one of the most brilliant of minor conflicts of the war, was the last of civil strife in Madison county. The Union forces in the following spring, with Colonel Kirk, and Daniel and Reuben Ellis among them, drove out the Confederates from all the mountain region, but the clash of arms did not come near the blood-stained district which has been the especial scene of this history.” (83) Colonel Kirk chose twelve men for special duty because of the fact that they would be armed with superior firepower by having Henry sixteen shooting rifles. He states that they each would carry two of the sixteen shooters, this is a little puzzling to me but that is what the 1889 source states. At any rate with two Henry rifles and four revolvers those twelve men would have been a force to be reckoned with.
There was another Henry rifle in the East Tennessee/North Carolina area belonging to Major E. A. Davis. Not a lot is mentioned about him but the following; “Our guides informed us that it would be impossible to start until the storm abated. After the noon hour we started and my suffering increased as no tongue or pen can describe. Just before night we were joined by Major E. A. Davis, of the 3rd North Carolina Infantry (US), who was on the mountain looking for recruits. With his Henry rifle, a sixteen-shooter, and a heavy navy revolver, he was a valuable acquisition to our party, and he supplied us with bear, wild hogs and occasionally turkey.” (95) This was in October-November of 1864. Not only does Major Davis have a Henry rifle he is also from the 3rd North Carolina Infantry, USA, which is a regiment that is known to have several Henry rifles in it. Also of particular interest is what he are hunting, bear and wild hogs. Both of those animals are hard animals to kill. Even though the Henry cartridge was a relatively weak round loaded with a 200-216 grain bullet and only twenty-six to twenty-eight grains of blank powder, it was powerful enough for the job at hand, whether animal or human.
Michael Hileman writes in his memoirs on his use of a Henry Repeating rifle. He was a member of the 96th Illinois Infantry Regiment. The following is taken from his memoirs of the fighting that took place in and around Chickamauga; “We charged until we drove the enemy nearly off the field, and it was here that I had another narrow escape, my gun stock being splintered by a shell. In a few moments later my cartridge box was shot to pieces, and it was nearly full of cartridges—about forty of them. I then stepped behind a tree to see what damage was done to my hand, and found it full of splinters. The captain seen me do this said, “Sergeant, is your hand ruined?” “Oh No”. I said, He said, “Whoa, what can you do without a gun?” he said, after pulling out the biggest of the slivers. I soon found another gun by the side of a big, dead rebel, who laid nearby. It was a sixteen shooter Henry rifle. My greatest trouble then was to get the belt to fit me. When I took my place in the company again, the boys all wondered how it was that I was popping away so fast.” (85) With a hand injury as severe as he had it was fortunate that he was able to find a Henry rifle. In fact he was able to fire at a fast rate of fire even with his injury. This would definitely not have been possible if he had found a muzzle-loading musket instead of the Henry rifle.
Hileman was then to help strengthen the fortification around Chattanooga. Hileman ended up on Missionary Ridge facing Wheeler’s Cavalry. The fighting became quite hot in fact Hileman’s group became trapped “like rats in a trap”. He writes; “We had forty seven rounds of ammunition to repulse two regiments who were now approaching us. For two hours we fought them as skirmishers, shooting everyone who exposed himself to our deadly fire. Our orders were—“hold your ammunition till you are sure of your man”. At last our ammunition was exhausted. Wheeler’s cavalry was preparing to flank us while the infantry was to charge us. We hurriedly held a council of war where we decided to raise the white flag as the best way out of our trouble. We had killed and wounded about two hundred. Forty eight laid dead within 200 yards of our position. We lost only one man, the one who was killed on picket duty before the battle began. When the rebel colonel come up to us he said, “What? Is this all there is of you?” He added, “You can’t say that is all of you for sure. Where’s the rest of em?” To make matters worse for our captors, we had all broken our guns before they got to us. I had a sixteen shooter which I regretted very much chagrined for what we had done, but notwithstanding, they treated us very well; much better than we expected. (85) This is not the first time that I have read where a Henry user was forced to surrender but before doing so they would break the rifle so It would not be used against them.
In the New York Times that was published December 12, 1909 appears an article dealing with General Howard’s Contributions to Military Science in which the Henry repeating rifle is mentioned. The article states; “I remember also in the first battle that I was in, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, called the battle of Ezra Church, there were already in the Sixteenth Army Corps, under General Grenville Dodge, two regiments armed with repeating rifles. One regiment had the Henry rifle and the other a repeating rifle that was called the “Sixteen Shooter”. These repeating rifles did great service in that battle. Those two regiments were brought into action at a crisis in the struggle, preventing, in conjunction with the artillery, a turning of my right flank by quite a large force of the Confederates. Great objection was made at that time against the use of the repeating rifle because of the temptation to the soldier to fire off his gun too often. (86) It is interesting to note that he refers to the repeating rifle as a Henry rifle for one regiment and then refers to the other regiment having “Sixteen Shooters” thinking that they were two different rifles when in reality the Henry was also referred to as a “Sixteen Shooter”. Both regiments were armed with the same repeating rifle, the Henry Repeating Rifle. The regiments he was talking about were the 7th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry and the 66th Illinois Infantry WSS.
Lee was holding the area around Spotsylvania in May of 1864 and the Union seem to be unable to push him out. The 6th Army Corps was now to try again to throw Lee out of his defenses at Spotsylvania. The following description is written by Brigadier-General Thomas H. Hyde; “Now another flanking movement gave a respite and a hope, and our shattered columns streamed out to the left toward the South Anna River. While on the march, word came that a party of the enemy’s cavalry were on our flank. We had with us some hundreds of convalescent men from the cavalry corps who could not join their commands, as Sheridan was far away somewhere fighting. Most of them were armed with Henry rifles, a new breech-loading sixteen-shooter. I was directed to organize them as best I could and go out to drive away this cavalry force. Accompanied by Lieutenant R. S. Mackenzie, just from West Point, who had a kind of map of the country, I tasted the joys of an independent cavalry command for the first time. With the regulation reserve on the road and with skirmishers thickly deployed in front, on arriving at Massaponax Church, we received a few harmless shots and all hands began to fire back. I could soon see that the Johnnies had not stopped upon the order of their going, and had left a few dead horses behind. Then for a long time we rode back and forth behind our lines trying to stop our firing. It was no use. The rattling volleys continued till the ammunition was all gone, and General Wright, supposing us heavily engaged, sent out a brigade and a battery to our assistance. It was some time before I heard the last of the “battle of Massaponax Church,” but it was quite a lesson on the improper use of rapid-fire arms. (97) Rapid fire is indeed contagious and once it has begun is hard to stop as the above incident attests to. I think rather than stating that is was a lesson on the improper use of rapid fire arms, it was more a lesson in ineffective leadership because of the troops that were not well organized or commanded. There “improper rapid fire” was what caused the rebel cavalry to continue on their way instead of attacking, thus, the rapidity of fire is what repulsed the enemy. The problems was in “turning off” the rapid fire.
This next paragraph is another amusing story about a Henry owner, Major Daniel McCook. Major McCook was mentioned in part one, the 2009 document. He was the paymaster not really suppose to see action in combat; however, he was killed by rebel skirmishers. They stole his horse, watch and his Henry Repeating Rifle. This incident happened in 1863 while McCook was on the steamer at Pittsburg Landing having dinner. A man named Joe Forrest a friend and aide to the Illinois Governor Yates was overheard by Major McCook making a comment about the fact that “he hotly advocated the human character and rights of the negro, he noticed a man in an undress military uniform, with the shoulder straps of a major jump to his feet from his seat at the side of the captain, and then walk rapidly down the cabin toward the stern of the boat….”Who is that man, and what is he going to do?” “That” was the answer “is the famous Major McCook, father of the two generals of that name. He is going for his sixteen-shooter and I’m afraid there will be trouble!” At this, the colonel (Forrest), who had often heard of the doughty old chap and his wonderful repeating rifle, arose and followed the other down the cabin. Forrest met him as he came out of the state-room with his famous sixteen-shooter in one hand and a quantity of cartridges in the other, which he began to transfer rapidly into the magazine of the pistol.” (88) I cannot help but think the reference to a pistol is a mistake in that the Henry is a rifle. When Forrest ask McCook what he was going to do the Major replied; “I propose,” responded the infuriated major, “to shoot you down in your tracks unless you at once apologize for your abominable utterances, and your damned abolition sentiments!” (88) The outcome of this confrontation was that Forrest did indeed apologize and the two ended up at the bar for a drink. It was touch and go for a while as McCook was bent on shooting Forrest with his Henry Repeating rifle. The Major stated that he was not going to murder Forrest but was going to fight a duel. When Forrest stated that he had no gun McCook went and brought an old carbine from his room for Forrest to use. It was a good thing that Forrest did apologize as he probably would have lost the duel against McCook’s Henry rifle.
The state of Ohio it seems was also a user of Henry Repeating Rifles as is mentioned in the following; “During the earlier portion of the war the old militia system had fallen into utter neglect, so that while tens of thousands of the patriotic sons of Ohio had voluntarily gone to the front, the State itself was virtually without organized military protection. Hence, in many of the cities and villages of the State unofficial local organizations were effected composed of persons past military age, and others who, for any reason, had not entered the volunteer service, who, under the general appellation of “Home Guards,” took lessons in military tactics, supplied themselves with weapons of defense, etc.—scores of the Henry sixteen-shooters being purchased by citizens of Akron about those days.” (87)
I have run across more than one incident of spies arming themselves with the Henry Repeating Rifle. It made good sense, If you got into a jam you could at least shoot your way out. Major A. J. Marlowe was one such individual. He even attended meetings of The Knights of the Golden Circle. He would recruit and gather information for the Confederacy. Marlowe operated mainly in Ohio in the Camp Chase area. He enlisted in Company C, Second Virginia Infantry and was made First Sergeant until May of 1863 when he was promote to the rank of Major and transferred to the Nineteenth Virginia Cavalry. He was very successful at being a spy however this document is not about his time as a spy but his use of the Henry rifle. The following is the information printed about his Henry rifle. He states; “I wanted to travel in a northwesterly direction, so I took my bearings, changed the gray uniform for the blue, loaded a sixteen-shooter and two seven-shooting revolvers”. He mentions his Henry rifle again but this time it is to say that he is leaving it at home. “I got home safely and changed my clothing. I stayed several days. I left one revolver and my sixteen shooter, as it would not do to go through Ohio armed to the teeth. I crossed the Ohio River and went to Cedarville, then to Cooleyville and on to Tupper’s Plains”. (89) Marlowe’s story is a very interesting story and has been written about. At this time however I have not been able to find any more information concerning his Henry Rifle or of him using his Henry Rifle.
J. D. Remington appears to have been a spy for the Union during the Civil War. He seems to have written a document “The Cause of Hood’s Failure at Spring Hill” that was published in the “Confederate Veteran” Volume 21 in 1913 that seemed to have been controversial. Although of great interest it is not my intent to go into that matter here but instead mention his use of his Henry rifle. Remington is not the only spy to have used a Henry. Here is what he writes for the “Confederate Veteran” volume 22 in 1914. “To many, he says, “who have not had experience as a spy it may seem impossible to do the things that have been done by spies on both sides….. I belonged to Opdyke’s Tiger Brigade, …. “Colonel Opdyke always let me go to my regiment when it was in action, and it was never in action when I was not with it.” I had a Henry rifle (a sixteen-shooter) and often went out and fired a few shots with the sharpshooters. And it did not take Colonel Opdyke over ten minutes to give me my instructions, my Confederate uniform, arms, and horse. I needed no “plans or preparations” as he merely told me to “go inside the Confederate lines, find out as nearly as possible the number of Confederates there, and any other information you can obtain.” The Colonel did not specify a time for me to report back to him; and when I found the Confederates I realized that I had something more to do than to find out how many there were—to keep them from getting possession of the pike---and I think my cousin and I did it. Colonel Opdyke and Generals Wagner, Stanley and Schofield congratulated and thanked me. (100)
An area of fighting that took place at the same time as the Civil War was on the frontier in Minnesota. The Sioux had started an uprising with killing several of the settlers. George W. Northrup was one of the soldiers that was sent out to help subdue the Sioux. However it did not turn out in a good way for him despite having a Henry Repeating Rifle. “George W. Northrup became orderly sergeant of Company C in Brackett’s Battalion of Minnesota Cavalry, which for a time was part of the Fifth Iowa Cavalry in the Army of the Cumberland…. Brackett’s Battalion was ordered to the frontier in 1864 to aid in suppressing the Sioux, who had risen against the whites in 1862, and against whom an ineffectual expedition had been sent in 1863…. No one knows what he said; but the Sioux recognized him, and determined to slay the handcart man. The wild Indians of the plains who had no guns shot at him with arrows. George had a sixteen-shooter, and Brigadier-General Miner Thomas told me that he saw three Indians fall under his rapid fire. I doubt not that every shot took effect. But at last, pierced by three arrows, Northrup fell dead. (91) The Indians tried to recover Northrup’s body to mutilate it but Major Brackett sent a squad that prevent that from happening. The same theme seems to keep repeating itself in the annals of history when reflecting on the Henry Repeating Rifle that is the fact of it being put to use as a rapid fire repeating weapon. In the end the Sioux were subdued. It was at the beginning of this conflict that thirty-eight of the Sioux were hanged in Mankato, MN making this the largest mass hanging in the United States.
Unfortunately just because a soldier was armed with a Henry Repeating rifle it did not make him invincible even with all of that firepower. There have been several incidents where Henry armed men were just plain overwhelmed by the enemy. Here is one such incident that involved Jacob Rentfrow. “Rentfrow, Jacob B. enlisted in Company D 57th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry, October, 1861, for three years; was in the battles of Pittsburg Landing, Stone River, Mission Ridge (where he was wounded); re-enlisted as a veteran, in same company and regiment, January, 1864; was in the battles of Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach Tree, Jonesboro and Nashville; having been detailed as a sharpshooter, was surrounded in battle at Nashville, when he discharged the loads from his gun (a sixteen-shooter), broke it over a log, and surrendered himself a prisoner of war, however he was held as such, only for a short time. Being a man of indomitable courage and perfectly cool under all circumstances, he managed to escape the notice of his captors, and while the cars, on which he was a passenger, were in motion he jumped off, made his escape home, married, returned to his regiment, was promoted to the office of 2nd Lieutenant, and is still in the service, June, 1865. (96) This is yet again another example of a Henry that met its demise by the owner to keep it from being capture by the rebs.
The Seventeenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry also had at least one Henry Repeating Rifle. In fact this is a sixteen-shooter that they captured from a Confederate. In the history of the regiment the following is written as to how this came about. “On the following morning we continued our march, and after getting out as far as Cossen river, about thirty miles from Winchester, we came upon some rebs, and captured three….. We opened up a fight and had it quite lively for a time. We finally captured the rebs and their horses and lost three of our own horses, as we could not do the fighting and hold the horses on the mountain. One of the captured party had a very fine gun, a repeater that shot sixteen times…. I posted my pickets, and in less than twenty-five minutes the rebs were on us. Fortunately I had posted two of my best fighting boys on the outpost (I am proud to say they were Beaver county boys), and they had with them the sixteen-shooter that we had captured from the rebs that day. They held the post until I got to them with more men. We finally drove them off, and were not disturbed any more that night. In the morning Mrs. Russell gave us a very good drink of apple jack. We now started off for camp, and arrived safe, only losing three horses on our trip, bringing in with us twelve horses, nine prisoners and one sixteen-shooter gun. We had made a raid clear around the reb army.” (92) It would be interesting to know what became of that lone sixteen-shooter. Generally it was the rebs that captured Henry rifles from the Yankees such as the 1st D.C. Cavalry who lost over two hundred Henrys to the rebs. When they captured the sixteen-shooter from the rebs they must have also captured a supply of ammunition in order to be able to use it later in the day.
The book entitled “History of the First Maine Cavalry” is a great source for information and details of how the Henry Repeating Rifle was used in battle. It is not my attempt to rewrite their history but to report the accounts of how they used their Henrys in battle. I would highly advise, for those of you interested in the whole story, which by the way is a most magnificent story of brave men, that you read this book. It is an 1887 book but is in itself a timeless book of bravery, courage and sacrifice that men made to preserve our great country, The United States of America.
The First District of Columbia Cavalry was the best armed regiment of cavalry in the war. The story starts out with how this regiment was armed. “This regiment was the only regiment in the Army of the Potomac armed with Henry’s repeating rifle. The peculiarity of this gun was, that it would fire sixteen shots without reloading. The subsequent history of this regiment proved it to be a terribly effective weapon. Thus a regiment of one thousand men could fire fifteen thousand shots in ten seconds.” (102) Thus we have a regiment now that has superior firepower to any other regiment of either side in the war. This will set the First District of Columbia Cavalry up to be called upon for assignments of “special duty”.
Outside of Petersburg the following incident occurred; “As the column, marching by the Jerusalem turnpike, approached the enemy’s defenses. Lieut. Colonel Conger, commanding, ordered Maj. Curtis to dismount his battalion and charge the enemy’s works. Every fourth man was left in charge of the horses. The balance of the battalion moved steadily forward, firing rapidly as they advanced, nor did they pause at all till they were inside the rebel works, securing prisoners and destroying such camp equipage as they could not remove. It was then discovered that they had done this against three times their own number, fighting behind breastworks. With the common arm this would hardly have been possible. Some of the prisoners said: “Your rapid firing confused our men; they thought the devil helped you and it was of no use to fight.” During the action, Capt. Griffin, of Co. C, with a small detachment from his own and another company, charged and took a twelve pound brass howitzer, against large odds of god fighting men.” (102) That was in June of 1864. As the months went by the First D. C. were called upon time and time again.
The Battle of Ream’s Station is an interesting one especially from a Henry rifle stand point. The First District of Columbia Cavalry were armed with Henry rifles. Shortly after this battle this same unit was sent to guard a herd of cattle and ended up having over two hundred of their Henry rifles captured by the Confederates and they also lost the cattle. The following is a partial account of their Henry use at the Battle of Ream’s Station that took place on August 25, 1864. “During one of the engagements at Ream’s Station, Colonel Chamberlain, of the First Massachusetts Cavalry, was wounded in the arm by a “tree-frog,” or sharp-shooter. I asked him why he was limping around in such a funny manner. His reply was, “Damn it, Tommy, if you were wounded in the arm you would limp too.” We saw the fellow who fired the shot and ran some men to the bottom of the tree. Chamberlain gave the order to fire, when down came Mr. Tree-frog looking like a bundle of rags. In this same engagement Mahone’s division was repulsed three times by the First District of Columbia Cavalry, dismounted. This regiment was composed of Maine men and was shortly afterwards consolidated with the First Maine Cavalry. It was armed with the Henry rifle (sixteen-shooter), and was composed of veterans who could not be excelled for coolness and bravery. Its position at Ream’s Station, on August 25, was on the left of a new division of the Second Corps. A German brigade in this division deliberately abandoned a new line of intrenchments with seven guns, leaving their loaded muskets standing up against the earthworks. Some of our dismounted cavalrymen used these muskets as long as they could find ammunition for them. General Hancock and General Gregg were present in person, for they were anxious to save the guns, and the slaughter in Mahone’s division must have been terrible, as the repeating rifles wiped out line after line. No supports coming, the cavalry was compelled to give way when Mahone made his fourth charge, capturing the guns of the Second Corps. In the last charge my horse was killed and I was severely injured, and was sent home for thirty days in consequence.” (93) Had it not been for their repeating rifles the First District of Colombia Cavalry would have been over run on the first attack by Mahone’s division? The repeaters evened things out for a while but in the end it was the overwhelming numbers that force a pull back by the cavalry. The pictured Henry at the beginning of this paragraph is a Henry rifle that was shipped and received by the First District of Columbia Cavalry in March of 1864. Sometime later, probably at the “Beefsteak Raid” this Henry was captured by the rebs. S.R. Heckman’s name and the year 1864 was engraved on the left side plate of the rifle. During the Civil War Heckman served in three Confederate units, Co E. 136th Infantry, Company D 146th Infantry and Company D Virginia Reserves Infantry. This Henry is valued at around $34,000 as of the end of 2009. (98)
The following is another account written by Henry R. Pyne, Chaplain, of the same incident but brings out the effectiveness of the sixteen shooters. “Five desperate charges were made and repelled; and had not one of those mistakes occurred which are constantly deranging military maneuvers on both sides, the enemy would have met with an overwhelming defeat. But a division which General Parke had sent from the Ninth Corps to proceed down the railroad and turn the rebel flank, when it had nearly taken its position, was, by some misapprehension of orders or circumstance, transferred to the Jerusalem plank road, and thus kept out of action. Meantime, the enemy had seized the anticipated position, which would thus have insured their destruction, between the ground held by the pickets of the First Cavalry Brigade and the line of infantry fortifications; and the fire of twelve admirably served guns, enfilading their position, demoralized the heavy artillery. General Gregg, with his cavalry and such of the infantry as he could gather, checked the enemy and covered the retreat of the Second Corps. The sixteen-shooters of the First District of Columbia Cavalry, whom he had withdrawn temporarily from Colonel Spear’s command, poured forth such a fire as no line could withstand; and seconded by the carbines of our division, held the enemy at bay. With great daring, General Gregg himself mounted with his staff, kept his men in line, unbroken; and when darkness set in, his skirmish line was but a hundred yards from the line of captured works. (105)
Private Albion C. Drinkwater, of Co. A made the following remarks at the reunion in Brunswick, 1882; “I will relate an anecdote of him that happened at Ream’s Station, that succeeded the capture of the Weldon Railroad, where we were in continuous action for many days. We were out of ammunition, and a large number of us boys were detailed to go down to City Point and bring ammunition to the ground for our regiment, which was armed with the sixteen shooter Henry rifle. We had just returned at break of day, and the fires were just started to heat a cup of coffee, when there was a gun, and another, and our pickets came rushing in, and the rebs were coming upon us before we had time to gather up our arms or even mount our horses. Captain Freese, Lieutenant Mountfort and myself ran down across the field, and there was a rebel cavalry man with a seven-shooting rifle very near us. He would drop on his knee and fire, and up and run, and drop and fire again. We three were close together. Captain Freese was a little excited, as I know I was myself, and he said; “Lieutenant Mountfort, shoot that d----d scoundrel.” He had a revolver in his own hand at the time, but had not thought to use it. But Lieutenant Mountfort, as brave a soldier as ever went forth to battle, dropped on his knee, brought his revolver across his arm, and that reb did not trouble us anymore.” (102) Ammunition would prove to be a problem or rather lack of ammunition. One of the reasons why the government would not purchase Henry Repealing rifles in large numbers was the fact that the government felt that the men would waste ammunition. Whether the ammunition was wasted or not, the fact is that a man armed with a Henry Repeating rifle will shoot more ammunition than a man armed with a muzzle-loading rifle.
The story of the “Great Beefsteak Raid” is one that was completely a one-sided fight with the rebs having more than four-thousand-five-hundred men against maybe four hundred for the First District of Columbia Cavalry. Although the First D. C. were armed with Henry Repeating Rifles they were overwhelmed with the greater numbers in the end. In September of 1864 one of their assignments of “special duty” was to help guard a herd of some 2500 cattle. “After picketing again on the twenty-second, the regiment became engaged with a body of rebel troops the next morning, and drove them four miles, destroying a quantity of army stores. In the afternoon Hampton’s Legion was encountered. It was “Greek meeting Greek.” It was impossible, however, for him to stand against the sixteen shooters, and he was driven back, leaving his dead and wounded on the field…. This, however, had continued but a short time when the enemy was seen in strong line of battle advancing through the woods. No sooner had they discovered the position of this regiment than they raised a yell and rushed on to the charge. But they paid dearly for their temerity. The men reserved their fire, coolly waiting till the enemy was sufficiently near. Their first volley told with startling effect. Many a poor drew short breath and never breathed again. Another and another volley followed in instantaneous succession, and the enemy was swept from their front. Unfortunately, however, the infantry on the right, pressed by superior numbers, had fallen back and the enemy was on the flank. The regiment held its position till dark, and was the last to leave the field. The next day it returned to Sycamore Church and resumed picket duty… The portion of the picket line held by the First district of Columbia, now numbering about four hundred effective men, was nearly five miles in length, extending along a road running nearly east and west, mostly through a wooded country. Major Baker, in immediate command of two battalions, held the right of the line, with the reserve at Sycamore church, while Captain Howe, with one battalion, held the left, with the reserve at Cox’s Mill, two miles east. Such was the position of this little devoted band of four hundred men on the outer picket line, five miles from any support, when daybreak, on the sixteenth of September, they were suddenly attacked by the whole force of Hampton’s cavalry, supported by three brigades of infantry…. Before daybreak the vidette in front of the picket post, near the church, gave the alarm that the enemy was approaching, and fell quickly back to the post, followed by a strong body of the enemy’s cavalry. The men of this post, under command of Lieut. Spaulding, opened fire with their sixteen shooters with great effect, and quickly repulsed the enemy’s attempted advance; but their efforts were destined to be unavailing, for soon the enemy, re-enforced, again charged up the road, and overpowered them, killing and wounding several of the number, and making prisoners of most of the others; but Lieut. Spaulding, with ready wit, being mounted, joined the enemy’s ranks and shouting “Forward” to them, moved ahead until a favorable opportunity was offered him to escape in the darkness….. Lieut. Mountfort and his men had just passed beyond this barricade and reached a low cedar tree which grew close beside the road, when suddenly out of the misty darkness horsemen appeared. At once Lieut. Mountfort called out; “Shoot them boys!” and with his revolver he opened fire upon them. The road was narrow, and the gray forms, as they appeared, were scarcely six feet distant from the muzzle of his revolver. As he fired at the leading files their horses wheeled into the bushes across the road, and the reeling forms of their riders disappeared in the darkness. Others quickly advanced in their places, to meet the same fate at the hands of Mountfort and his companions, with their sixteen shooters. The scene was like a picture painted in gray, lighted up by the flash of fire-arm. The remainder of the enemy, deceived as to numbers by such a brisk fire, and dismayed by the warm reception given them, quickly wheeled about and retired at a quick trot, lying low upon their horses, and lighting up the scene by shooting into the wayside bushes at an imaginary foe….. Soon a dim line of men in gray could be perceived by the flashing of their carbines as they moved across the field. The lieutenant and his men remained in their position, continually firing, until the enemy was close at hand, when he gave the command to fall back to the barricade… Of twenty-five men of Co. G who were captured on that fatal morning, only three are known to have survived the barbarities of their imprisonment…. A heavy force of mounted rebels had crossed the bridge, and with wild yells was charging up the hill, outnumbering Captain Howe’s men ten to one. On, on they came, expecting an easy victory. Coolly the men waited. Not a shot was fired till they were within easy range. Then a few volleys from the sixteen shooters sent them back in confusion. A second time they charged, with the same result. This time they did not return. After waiting some time, in expectation of another attack, scouts were sent out to ascertain what they were about. They found a formidable force in front, and a strong force advancing on each flank. No alternative now remained but to fall back to Sycamore Church, as Captain Howe had been ordered to do, in case a retreat became necessary.” (102) The fight that the men of the First District of Columbia Cavalry were in was the fight of their life. The sixteen shooters helped to save a few and proved their worth in the repulse of Confederate cavalry. However the Confederates had overwhelming numbers.
Private Stephen Gray, of Co. K tells his story in the following: “On the third post were William H. Hill, of Co. K, John Crawford of Co. F, and myself, and we waited for the officer of the picket to relieve us….. We had not gone far when we heard the sound of cavalry coming down the road, which we supposed was from the Eleventh Pennsylvania regiment, but which proved to be a number of the enemy’s cavalry. We were ordered to surrender, and Crawford and myself were inclined to do so; but when the officer stepped forward to take our arms, Hill, who was standing behind us, declared he never would surrender, and quickly brought his carbine to his shoulder and sent two shots into the body of the officer. Hill then turned and began firing into the ranks of the rebels, Crawford and myself following in quick succession. The enemy returned fire, but we stepped behind some trees and kept up a brisk fire with our repeating rifles for a few moments, when, by Hill’s advice, we ran into the woods some distance, and hid under the tops of some trees that had been recently felled. The enemy followed, but soon lost sight of us. We could hear them hunting for us in the woods, and could hear them talk about shooting us when they saw us, hanging us when they caught us, etc. Finally they concluded we had gone through the woods, and returned to the road to take care of the officer. We judged from their conversation that others were killed or wounded, as well as he. We crawled through the woods to near the house of a Union planter, where Hill had been on duty as a safe guard, when a young lady came running from the house and told us to run, as the rebs were coming…… On reaching the camp we found the body of Lieutenant Mountfort lying in the shed by the church, stripped of everything, and even a finger cut off to secure a ring.” (102) Too many times people seem to think that the Civil War was a Chivalrous war, an honorable war and so on. The truth is that it was war and wars are about death and destruction as well as atrocities of mankind against mankind. On this raid the confederates showed the worst side of war in their treatment toward their prisoners and the dead. The losses to the First District of Columbia Cavalry were as many as two or three hundred taken prisoner and several others killed and wounded. It was after is engagement that the eight companies of Maine men would be transferred to the First Maine Cavalry.
The First Maine Cavalry and the First District of Columbia Cavalry would consolidate late in 1864 becoming one and took part in several actions with the use of their Spencer and Henry Repeating rifles. The following was in October of 1864. “This camp was near the Jerusalem plank road, a mile from Hancock Station on Gen. Grant’s line of railroad, and about a mile in the rear of the general line of works confronting the enemy at Petersburg. On the tenth the Sharpe and Burnside carbines were turned in, and the Spencer “seven shooter” carbine were given the regiment. These, with the Henry “sixteen shooter” brought by the First District of Columbia men, made the regiment equal to any in the service in the matter of arms. Two battalions were given the Spencer and the other battalion the Henry. Then there was a week of quiet in camp, and then three days on picket.” (102) Now we have a very well armed regiment all with a repeating rifle, either a Spencer or a Henry rifle. “At two o’clock on the morning of the twenty-seventh the line was again in motion, Gen. Smith’s brigade in the advance, reaching Rowanty Creek, on the Vaughan road, about half-past five o’clock. Here the enemy was discovered on the opposite side of the stream, near the bridge, protected by breastworks. The Sixth Ohio and Capt. Freeze’s battalion of the First Maine were ordered to dislodge them. Both commands dismounted. Capt. Freeze, taking advantage of a bend in the stream, placed his battalion in a position from which his men gave an enfilading fire along the enemy’s line with their sixteen shooters, while the Sixth Ohio charged and drove the enemy out. The enemy was driven back into their camp, and their signal station, flags, etc., and six wagons were captured.” (102)
The following appeared in “The Maine Bugle” a publication of the 1st Maine Cavalry Regiment covering their reunions of the late 1800s. A trooper by the name of Clayton who later became the brigade commissary writes about his Henry rifle. He talks about the fall in the creek that he had with his Henry rifle. He writes in “The Maine Bugle” the following; “Also if this reaches any of the comrades that can substantiate my falling in the creek at Hatcher’s Run on the morning of October 27, 1864. I think Captain Boyd was in command. If Samuel Pinkham was alive he could testify, as he was with me at that point. Now if my memory is right there about nine o’clock A.M. Then we dismounted and formed a heavy skirmish line and our orders were to forward and fire as fast as we could and you know that we could do that pretty rapidly with our sixteen shooters, and the captain said there was a creek ahead but not to halt but to wade in, and I think we did. When I struck Rowanty Creek it seems to me there was a bend in the creek and I stuck for the center and said who will follow me, and Sam Pinkham said he would and we plunged in about that time. I could see lots of our boys in the water waist high. There I fell, losing my sixteen-shooter, and in diving for it I got pretty well wet and re-crossed the stream and found my horse. I had a dry suit of clothes in my saddle bags for which I soon made an exchange, then mounted and joined my company.” (90) This brings to light the fact that Many times cavalry were used as skirmishers on foot while using their sixteen-shooters. It also points out the fact that the use of the sixteen-shooter was as a rapid fire weapon. Its value was in the fact that it was a repeater and capable of rapid fire. Clayton mentions that he fell in the stream dropping his sixteen-shooter. Although the Henry and its ammunition were wet, more than likely it would have still continued to fire. That is another huge advantage of a Henry Repeating rifle over a muzzle-loader; its ammunition was more water-proof than a paper cartridge of the Springfields and Enfields.
A little later on the Boydton plank road another fight is occurring. Colonel Cilley, who was a little near-sighted, thinks his men are wasting ammunition only to find out differently. “The brigade followed on until it reached the Boydton plank road, where it connected with the infantry, and the regiment was dismounted and ordered to report to Gen. Mott, of the Second Corps, which was just then receiving a fierce attack from the enemy…. At the inspiring voice of Col. Cilley they rallied and held the position. Thus this little brigade stood between the Second Corps and destruction. Had this brigade given way, the Second Corps must have gone. Had this brigade given way, the brigade must have gone…. Chaplain Merrill wrote this description of the incident. “An incident is worth relating as an example of the coolness of the men. Col. Cilley is a little near-sighted. After forming the regiment on the Boydton plank road, the men opened a rapid fire with their Spencer and Henry rifles. A moment later, seeing no enemy and thinking they were wasting their ammunition, the colonel rushed along the line, directing the men to cease fire. Coming up to Corp. Gurney, of Co. B, he shouted: “You are acting like a fool with your ammunition, corporal.” “The rebs are right out there,” the corporal replied. “That may be so but wait till you can see them.” Knee down here, colonel; now look through there.” The colonel said no more of wasting ammunition, but remained on his knee and commenced firing with his revolver.” (102) The targets of opportunity were out there but the near-sighted Colonel Cilley could not see them. It is a good thing that Corporal Gurney could see the rebs. However the colonel did not waste his opportunity to shoot at the rebs with his revolver.
In December of 1864 around the Rowanty bridge the following action took place; “In a short time the Twenty-first Pennsylvania, who were out of ammunition, got it hot and sharp, and a portion of them went by the First Maine in a hasty manner, whereupon Gen. Smith ordered this regiment to again take the rear, and their repeating carbines caused the southern cavalry to behave respectfully. The regiment reached camp at half-past eleven o’clock, and henceforth the answer to rebel taunt of “Beef!” referring to the successful raid of the enemy at Sycamore church in September, was “Stony Creek!” (102) Stony Creek was the “payback” for the rebs defeating them at Sycamore Church.
On March 31, 1865 the First Maine was ordered to hold the crossing at Chamberlain’s Creek. “Capt. Myrick, was sent out scouting beyond the pickets and across the creek, to see what was there. The order was passed through the remainder of the regiment to be prepared to fight on foot at any time. The men were already counted off by fours, of course, and now the bridles of horses Nos 1, 2, and 3 were given to the No 4 man to hold, with orders to “look out for my grain,” “take care of my haversack,” and a thousand and one instructions. The sabers were strapped to saddles, and all superfluities taken from the person and fastened to the saddles or put in the saddle-bags. The grain bags and all baggage were strapped firmer on the saddles---they might go through some heavy shaking before the riders again got to them. The cartridge boxes were filled to their utmost capacity---the spare cartridges in the saddle-bags were put in the pockets---the carbines were examined---the Spencer’s loaded carefully with their seven deadly messengers, while the Henry’s were wound up to unwind and set flying sixteen humming birds, to sing in the ears of the enemy. The canteens that were full were thrown over the shoulders---there was no knowing how much a man might want a drink of water before he again saw his horse.” (102) It is interesting the description of how they were getting ready for the upcoming fight. It did not take long for the fight to begin. “Not long do they remain so this time, however, for suddenly the firing commences again, and nearer and more rapidly than before. Evidently Capt. Myrick’s battalion is being driven back, though their carbines are rattling heartily, and the boys know the battalion too well to think they are retreating any faster than they can be pushed; there is no run to them.” ( 102) Throughout much of the text written about the First Maine Cavalry as well as other regiments, the Henry and Spencer are both referred to as carbines in one section and then later on both are referred to as rifles. It does make it a bit confusing at times. In the same fight Colonel Cilley men are engaged in the fighting. “On they came, brave fellows, turning into the field a short distance from the creek, and still charging onward, and for a moment it seemed as if a hand-to-hand fight---mounted rebels against dismounted boys in blue---was inevitable. But the repeaters in the hands of the brave boys from Maine were too much for them. On they came, but came no nearer. Men and horses went down, and the head of the column remained in nearly the same place. It was like a stream of water thrown from an engine against a heavy wind---a more powerful stroke on the brakes sends the stream a bit further, but the wind drives it back and keeps it just there. It was only for a few moments ---they found it was no use and retreated, the dismounted men in the field going with them. The Maine boys followed them, passing in their headlong charge killed and wounded rebel officers and men, and quickly gained the thicket, taking position there, while in the road they took position behind a breastwork of fence rails which had been thrown up by the pickets on duty there the night before.” (102) This engagement ended the rebel advance and inflicted several casualties against them. Repeating rifles saved the day again.
Ammunition was a problem for those with repeating rifles no matter if it was a Henry or Spencer rifle. There were occasions where ammunition was in short supply as is verified by the following, in fact the rebels many times would joke and jeer across the lines; “You’uns better keep your ammunition: you’uns may want it before night”; a piece of advice many that heard it remembered latter in the day, when cartridges were worth more than money.” Along Colonel Cilley lines the following was written; “The line was not being driven, It was no retreat, it was fairly pushed, crowded back. It was a step backward, the men firing as they turn again and fire (and the repeaters did murderous service the men afterward learned). Men were getting out of ammunition, then, too late, did they remember the advice given by the defiant rebel earlier in the afternoon, and were going to the rear, but were stopped by the officers and ordered to get cartridges from the wounded men. Col. Cilley halted one young fellow with: “What are you going to the rear for, you” and was interrupted in his question, and well answered, by the young man holding up a shattered hand. “God bless you, my boy!” said the colonel, “give your cartridges to some of the men, take care of yourself, get out of the way as quick as you can.” (102) Using a repeating rifle, a soldier would go through a lot of ammunition where resupplying a regiment during a prolonged fight would be a problem. Most soldiers more than likely only carried with them around a hundred to a hundred-fifty rounds. Hopefully the supply wagons were close by but not always were they near enough.
The following took place toward the end of the war. “the highest casualty list of all was at Dinwiddie Court House, March 31, 1865, the preliminary of Five Forks. Sheridan’s cavalry was forced to give ground all day and at length Smith’s brigade was called upon to defend a creek crossing against heavy odds. The First Maine dismounted and advanced in a deployed line to meet charging cavalry. They opened fire with Spencer and Henry rifles, seven and sixteen shooters, and the Confederate column trembled, wavered and parted right and left, soon to melt away in a formless wreck of dead horses and men. In this fight the First Maine’s loss was twenty-seven killed and sixty-six wounded.” (103) The effect of the rapid fire repeater was immediate and fatal to all those that charged blindly at them. These new weapons, Henry repeating rifles, were like a scythe cutting through wheat.
The following was written by Colonel S. R. Clark in describing the action around Dinwiddie Court House. “We moved out in the following order: First Maine, Sixth Ohio, Thirteenth Ohio, Twenty-Second New York…. The fight really began with an attempt to charge over the bridge in our front with rebel cavalry. Those near the road could hear the command given, “Forward, Trot, March.” And on they came. As soon as they came around the turn in the road near the bridge a squadron of the First Maine opened on them with their repeating rifles, and back they went. Our boys cheered and our band in the rear began to play “The Star Spangled Banner,” …… We were obliged to keep up firing, for were they to find out that there was but a comparatively small force of cavalry they might, by charging, force us to leave all we had captured. As long as our ammunition held out we got along finely; being armed with breech loaders we could fire so rapidly that is was impossible for them to determine our numbers…… Men dropping out here and there, and what was still more alarming, our ammunition was nearly gone. As I rode along the line I found here and there men who were not firing and learned that the cartridges were all gone; and knowing what would happen when the firing ceased, I at once notified officers that when the order was given to fall back they should lose no time and close in toward the road on which our left had rested…. While we were retreating my attention was called to some rebel cavalry coming out of the woods on our right, with the evident intention of charging us. The officer in command was making every effort to get his command into line as they came into the open field. I felt that while we might be able to march or run away from the fellows behind us we were in no condition to stand a cavalry charge. I suggested that the line must not be allowed to form, and one of the first Maine men who was with us stepped into the fence corner, drew up his Henry rifle, and fired at the commanding officer. As three or four immediately rode up to him it was evident that he was hit, and in the confusion created their opportunity was lost….. As the sun was going down our detail, made early in the afternoon, to bring ammunition, arrived, each man carrying a box before him on his saddle, and we were again well supplied with cartridges.” (104) This was the end of their engagement at Dinwiddie Court House. A couple of things are of interest here. One, is the fact that they fired all of their ammunition. They seemed to fire rapidly but not wasting ammunition. The second, and most important, is the fact that a resupply was close at hand. He stated that “each man carrying a box before him on his saddle”, my thought on this is that the men were carrying a wooden box of two-thousand cartridges as opposed to a cartridge box of only a few cartridges. Henry cartridges were packaged fifty cartridges to the paste-board box and forty boxes to the wooden case. A wooden case is how ammunition was shipped in bulk to the front lines. If a detail was sent to the rear for a resupply of ammunition for their regiment, they would have brought back several thousands of cartridges not just a few fifty round boxes. My rationale for this opinion is that he also states, “we were again well supplied with cartridges”. The term “well supplied” I would think would mean “in abundance” hence my thinking of cases or boxes of two-thousand cartridges.
William Wilson was presented a Henry rifle by Stillman Witt. “William Wilson, during the Civil War he was captain in the 124th Reg’t Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Hon. Stillman Witt presented him with a beautiful flag and rifle on behalf of the “Stillman Witt Guards.” Was inspector of sharpshooters, and was wounded at the Battle of Resaca.” (99) From another source we find out what kind of rifle that was present to Wilson. “In 1862 Captain Wilson (who enlisted July 25), and C. Van Dorn, afterwards captain of Company C, One Hundred and Twenty-fourth O. V. I. (now third O. V. I., which was the first full company to report in the camp “on the Heights,” Cleveland; but, that regiment being full, it was transferred to and became Company A One Hundred and Twenty-fourth O. V. I., William Wilson, captain. It was called the “Stillman Witt Guards.” Mr. Witt proposed to arm it with Henry rifles and equip it, if the government would accept it, but it could not, as it had then no suitable ammunition. Mr. Witt presented Captain Wilson with a Henry rifle, a “sixteen-shooter,” engraved, “Presented to Captain William Wilson, Cleveland, Ohio, by Stillman Witt.” He also presented him with a beautiful flag, inscribed, “Stillman Witt Guards.” (94)
Solomon Woolworth wrote about his experiences in the Civil War. A Henry rifle found its way as part of what he experienced. He writes the following in his book; “I enlisted the second day of August, 1862, in the 113th Regiment of Illinois Volunteers….. My suspender buttons both gave way; so I had to stop and repair up. When I caught up to the command again they had captured the fort and a lot of prisoners besides; also a lot of rebel mail, and divided it among the soldiers. We found one letter that was written to a mother from a boy who was in the rebel army at Richmond. He said, I will soon be home, mother. All the swell-heads are leaving Richmond. Jeff Davis went today. Grant’s Army is in sight of Richmond. The boys all had a good cheer over that. (101) Then he goes on to talk about what some of his regiment are doing, in particular one that is going on picket duty. “One boy was loading his gun to go on picket duty. It was a sixteen shooter. While he was shoving the bullets down the rebel that was looking on said he was shoving down a big bellyful. Yes, said he, when he gets his bellyful he is good for sixteen rebels…. The next day we got news that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.” (101) This event must have taken place in and around April 14, 1865. The war was over but not all of the Confederate troops had surrendered by this time.
Part two has been another interesting adventure in researching the use of the Henry Repeating Rifle in the Civil War. I am positive that more information is out there and that in the future there will be a part three. The hunt for additional information is an on going undertaking and will continue. Part one and part two are just the beginning of the quest, a quest that has no end.
Major A.F.R. Arnt was an artillery officer in the First Michigan Light Artillery. In 1890 he wrote a paper describing his actions during the war. This paper was read before the Michigan Commandery of Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S. In it he speaks of the action against General Wheeler’s cavalry during the 1864 “March to the Sea” campaign. He write the following: “On the 14th of October, 1864, we were ordered to Cave Spring, Ga., via Calhoun, Resaca, Snake Creek Gap. &c.(having engagements with the enemy at Turkey Creek Oct. 26th.) Leaving Cave Spring on the first of November for Smyrna, Ga, whence we started on the ever famous march to the sea….General Wheeler with his cavalry was annoying the rear and flank of our corps, which more or less disturbed our marching column. General Osterhouse ordered General Wolcott, with his brigade and one section of my battery, to make a stand at Griswoldville, to check Wheeler’s move (had this been at the beginning of the war I am sure that our entire command there would have been easily captured), but immediately after having taken our position the infantry at once commenced to build temporary works, and not any to soon were they finished….An infantry officer stopped me, calling my attention to the approaching battery. I told him that I had noticed it, but before I could say another word, a rebel soldier leveled his gun at us, and the first thing I knew after that, was finding myself lying behind a stump, with one of my men leaning over me unbuttoning my clothes….Being resigned to my fate, I dropped back in my lying position, awaiting the end. In the meantime the rebel battery had taken their position on the field, and were shelling our forces, the shells exploding in all directions around me. At the same time their infantry came charging and re-charging across the field, determined to capture our command, which they would have done if it had not been for one regiment of infantry behind the works with their 16-shooters, and the pluck and determination of General Wolcott to hold the ground. Here it was where my battery or the section which engaged, suffered such a severe loss—two men lost each a leg, one man an arm, and several others were slightly wounded, besides we lost six horses, so that the men were obliged to draw the guns from the field by prolong.” (106) This was indeed a case where determined men well entrenched with the Henry Repeating rifle made all the difference in the world. As the Major stated, that if this action would have been early in the war they would have all been captured.
The following was written in 1874 by Lieutenant J.W. Neighbor in how if the enemy even thought they were facing Henry Repeating rifles it could change the outcome of skirmish. “While the 207th Penn. regiment was doing service on Hatcher’s Run and vicinity, one morning we lay about two miles from Fort Stedman I was busy steeping my coffee when I heard cheering and rapid firing. We were hurried out at double-quick, marched across a little ravine that came up to our picket line and, halted, while another part of our brigade swung around on the east side of the ravine that led north, in which the Johnnies were massed. Being on two sides of them a charge was ordered without fixed bayonets, and it worked splendid, for we rushed out at the enemy with a furious yell from two directions without bayonets on our guns. They fled, ran up the hill and through Fort Stedman, and down the hill on the west side into rebeldom, and before they could reorganize we pressed them so close that they gave themselves up as prisoners. I heard some of the prisoners say afterwards that their officers said, on seeing us start for them without fixed bayonets: “There comes a lot of sixteen-shooters, and we can never stand them.” they probably had had some experience with sixteen-shooters and remembered that they hadn’t any bayonets on them, so they took it for granted ours were good for sixteen shots, while the truth was they were ordinary rifle muskets.” (108) Here was a regiment not even armed with Henry Repeating rifles but the enemy’s perception was that they were armed with the Henry rifle. That perception was all it took to get the enemy to give up after obviously facing Henry Repeating rifles in the past and knowing what the Henry was capable of doing.
The First Maine Cavalry were heavily engaged throughout 1864 to the end of the war. Here is just another small episode where the Henry Repeating changed the minds of the attackers. This particular incident comes from “The History of the Nineteenth Regiment of Main Volunteer Infantry” as written by John Day Smith and printed in 1909. Day writes the following about the fight at Reams Station in 1864. “During the severe fighting at Reams, Station, Brigadier-General David McM. Gregg, with about 2000 men from his Division of Cavalry, was under command of Hancock and did excellent work on the skirmish line and flanks of the infantry. Charles H. Smith, then Colonel of the First Maine Cavalry, commanded a Brigade in this engagement. When Hampton’s Confederate Cavalry was pushing up from the south and the southwest, they bumped up against the First Maine Cavalry, dismounted and armed with sixteen shooters and stationed on the outskirts of a swamp. The Confederates backed up and concluded to try some place where it would be easier to break through.” (109)
By late 1864 into 1865 many of the Confederate armies had run into Henry armed regiments of the Union Army. These Confederates knew what attacking men armed with this devastating weapon could do so when faced with the option to pull back and try in another location that is what they tried to do whenever possible.
The 64th Illinois also known as “Yates’ Sharpshooters” were engaged at the Battle of Ezra Church July 28, 1864. J.M. Reid writes the following account on July 28, 1885 that appears in the “History of the Fifteenth Regiment, Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry”: “Twenty-one years ago today, July 28, 1864, the sanguinary battle of Ezra Church took place before Atlanta, Georgia….The 15th Iowa, 35th New Jersey and 64th Illinois (Yates’ Sharpshooters), armed with breech loading rifles, (sixteen shooters), were engaged in our part of the line. The firing was terrific. The Confederate forces were formed in column on the crest of a hill; behind them, on a more elevated spot, was a battery of artillery. At the foot of the hill in their front and parallel with their line of battle was a long string of rail fence between them and us. The distance between our two hill top positions being separated by a valley, or open field without timber, was about three-quarters of a mile. The Colonel of the sharpshooters picked out a squad of his best marksmen and directed them to pick off the artillerymen manning the Confederate battery, which they did so effectively that it was soon silenced. The Confederate forces formed in column on the hill made a grand display as they took up their line of march down the hill, marching as coolly and as deliberately as if they were going out on battalion or grand review, till they were full half way to the fence when from our fire they commenced falling, being killed or wounded, but they never wavered, but closed up and came steadily on towards our works.
A gallant and handsome general, a magnificent horseman, mounted on a large, fiery, dappled gray horse, which made him conspicuous, led them with drawn saber, who I learned from General Govan, of Arkansas, was General E. C. Walthall, of Grenada, Miss., a very distinguished lawyer, now United States Senator from that state. three times he led that grand veteran column, as it were into the jaws of death, to charge upon our works and three times they were repulsed it seemed as if half the army were firing at the General. I took seven shots at him myself as fast as a musket could be loaded for me. It is not strange that I did not hit him, but I have often wondered how he escaped, as I learn he and his horse also did, unhurt, with all those sharpshooters after his scalp….Next day I was out viewing the battlefield, and counted 300 dead Confederate soldiers lying along the fence I spoke of at the foot of the hill, and this was a small portion of their casualties in killed, wounded and captured. (110)
Several Henry Repeating rifles were used in the fighting in and around Nashville in late 1864. In one particular incident that took place at Wilson’s Pike on December1, 1864 Sergeant Holt of Company E, 9th Cavalry, 121st Regiment Indian Volunteers mentions a Henry rifle. The company was about to be over run, in fact he mentions, “The rebels were so close to us that I think I would almost know the color-bearer if I were to see him today. Before we left the yard, or just as we were leaving, Sergeant Helvie, who was sitting at the roots of a sugar tree, called to me to take his gun, a Henry rifle. I did so, and was so much excited that I only got two loads off out of the fifteen it contained. I believe that Sergeant Helvie was the only man wounded in the engagement, although we stayed upon the field until right and left wings of the rebel advance were considerably ahead of us, and I pointed the fact out to Captain Hobson, but it didn’t seem to affect him.” (111) Unfortunately no other mention of the use of Henry rifles was mentioned in this account.
There has been much written about “Morgan’s Raid” through Kentucky and southern Indiana. Where this raid involves the use of the Henry Repeating Rifles is at the Indiana town of Corydon on July 9, 1863. There seems to have been ten to twelve Henry Repeating rifles owned by citizens of Corydon that made up the “Home Guards”. The following account of Morgan’s Raid appeared in “Indiana’s Birthplace” by William H. Roose that was published in 1911. “About 11:30 o’clock Thursday morning the report reached Corydon that the enemy were coming. The Home Guards, under command of Colonel Lewis Jordan, Provost Marshall Timberlake and Major J. S. Pfrimmer, formed a line of battle on the hill about a mile south of Corydon and threw up a temporary breast works composed of logs, brush and fence rails. When Morgan’s Advance Guard appeared they were repulsed by the infantry under command of Captain G. W. Lahue. In the fight Harry Steepleton was killed. The rebels had three killed and seven wounded. Before the skirmish was over the enemy appeared in force, when fire was opened by the “Henry Rifles” under command of Major Thomas McGrain. However Morgan’s men soon opened fire with three pieces of artillery, thereby demoralizing the defenders and causing them to fall back, each man fighting for himself. The rebels soon planted a battery on the hill south of town and proceeded to make arrangements to bombard the town. After a couple of shells had been thrown into town a white flag was hoisted. Corydon surrendered, and the people and property were at the mercy of General Morgan. Before the rebels entered the town they captured County Auditor S. W. Douglas and State Senator S. K. Wolfe, who had been with the “Henry Rifles” and required them to ride in at their head declaring that a shot from the citizens would be the signal for their death. (112)
The following is yet another description of the Battle of Corydon. Matilda Gresham wrote a two volume account of Walter Quentin Gresham who lived from 1832 to 1895. In her book she describes her account of the battle. “About 11 A.M. on Thursday, July 9, 1863, the report came to town that Morgan’s main force was approaching on the Mauckport Road, with skirmishers out on either side. The Home Guards and citizens to the number of six hundred, under the command of Colonel Louis Jordan, assisted by Colonel Timberlake and Major Pfrimmer, formed what they called a line of battle on the hill one mile south of Corydon, reaching from Amsterdam Road on the right to Laconia Road on the left or east, with the Mauckport Road in the center. My brother, Major McGrain, was in command of a company armed with Henry rifles on the extreme right of the line on the Amsterdam Road. Temporary breastworks made of fallen logs and fence rails, together with the lay of the ground and the timber and underbrush, made it difficult for Morgan to make a direct attack. But still he came that way. He approached on the left in small force, but was repulsed by Captain George LaHue’s company; then after he had advanced his main force up the Mauckport Road, he saw that a direct attack would cost too many lives, so he covered both flanks at the same time, “what made it necessary,” one of the volunteers informed me, “for us in the center to fall back.” “This” he further said, “was done, not with the best of order, but with excellent speed, for, you know, our infantry were mostly undrilled.” On the Amsterdam Road where my brother commanded the “Henry Rifles” and thirty or forty men armed with ordinary squirrel rifles, he and his men claimed to have held Morgan’s cavalry in check until artillery was brought to bear on them and they were flanked out with a dismounted force. The “infantry” fell back to the town, while the “cavalry” made good their escape. Morgan then occupied the hill and began throwing shells into the center of the street in front of the court house. He also flanked the town to the east and west. Colonel Jordan, seeing that further resistance would be useless and would result in the destruction of the town, hoisted the white flag. The Home Guard losses were 3 killed, 2 wounded, and 300 prisoners; the latter, after several hours, were paroled. Morgan’s loses were 18 killed and 33 wounded. General Morgan arrived in time for a late dinner, and held possession of the town until night….Mr. T. C. Slaughter, my husband’s old law partner, was at Paoli when Morgan crossed at Brandenburg on Wednesday morning. That afternoon he drove over to Orleans and took the Monon Railroad into New Albany. He got out his squirrel rifle, joined the “Henry Rifles” under Major McGrain, and fired sixteen rounds before they retreated into town, where he was captured.” (113)
The History if the Fourteenth Illinois Cavalry as compiled by W. L. Sanford in 1898 does have several references to the Henry Repeating Rifle. It appears that they captured a few Henry rifles from the Confederates and had also used Henry rifles to save the day in other incidents. “September 17, 1863. Have left Greene county and entered S.E. corner of Sullivan county of which Blountville is the county seat…. September 19th. Reveille 4 a. m.; no breakfast; marched at daylight to Blountville, 9 miles, about 9 a. m. In this town are three churches; but on Christian Union family. Near here our advance came on the enemy’s pickets, skirmishing with them until we reached Bristol, when we charged upon their main force and drove them from the town, capturing and destroying a large amount of arms and ammunition, including some of the celebrated Henry rifles. We burned the depot, containing clothing, provisions and flour, saving only what we could then use. We destroyed much of the railroad track…. This was about 5 a. m. of December 2d…. The enemy’s plan to capture our brigade was good. Armstrong’s command was hurried to Blain’s Crossroads, from which point a road led into the Walker’s ford road in the rear of our camp at Maynardville…. The trains were hurried back to Walker’s ford in charge of that skillful officer, Captain Dent, of the 14th. Lieutenant Miller, in command of rear picket posted at the intersection of the roads, found Armstrong’s force on time, and skirmishing began as soon as the outlines of a foe was visible. As expected, our small picket force was compelled slowly to retire, before the enemy, Armstrong’s force, falling into the Walker’s ford road and pursuing. Company B of the 5th, and Company A of the 65th, the latter armed with the celebrated Henry rifle (16 shooters), were sent forward to reinforce Lieutenant Miller. They withstood the enemy until by sheer weight of the enemy’s overwhelming numbers they were forced slowly back. General Jones’ division now also came up, and Colonel Graham soon became aware that a strong force was being thrown around his left flank, by way of a road parallel to the Blain’s Crossroads route…. The enemy here made a charge in column, which was splendidly met by a portion of each regiment, and which proved decidedly disastrous to the enemy. The Henry Rifles handled by picked marksmen, with which one company was armed, dealt death showers of well-directed lead into the charging column, at long range and as short range. Sixteen well-directed shots from each gun, as rapidly as the lever could be worked, and then reloaded for sixteen more shots in less than half the time required to load a muzzle-loader. Their comrades also did good execution. Riding over the field next day showed the carcasses of horses so thickly strewn over the valley as to indicate that their loss in men here must have been great, as we were not warring especially against horses…. I retired my force across the river, thus ending the fight, as far as the 5th Indiana and 65th Indiana Mounted Infantry were concerned…. February 27, 1864. Reveille at daylight. Marched at 9 a. m. toward Knoxville, on main road, then on Rutledge road; came to the old Scott road. Country heavily timbered and not much improved. Passed a dilapidated building where an old lady was intently gazing upon us through her spectacles. She exclaimed: “Well, men! can you tell me how many have passed here today?” One of the boys promptly answered, 6,000 (there were about 1,600). “Well!” said the old lady, “I never thought there were so many people in the world.” We passed the spot where it was said that one of our videttes, with a Henry rifle, had killed a rebel soldier 1,000 yards distant, that is more than a half mile. We camped after night two miles from Knoxville; marched 25 miles.” (114)
There were several instances where one side or the other captured Henry rifles. It is rare when the original owner was able to get the captured Henry rifle back. However that is what happened to Henry owner Eugene Smith. Here is his story. “Chas. D. Smith of Norwalk has loaned to the Firelands Historical Society, to be placed on exhibition in the library building, a rifle which belonged to his uncle, the late Eugene Smith, of this city, which weapon has an interesting bit of history attached to it. Eugene Smith was a soldier in the Civil War. In 1849 when gold was discovered in California, Mr. Smith’s brother, Martin, was among the hundreds of men who migrated to that state in search of wealth. While Eugene Smith’s regiment, the One Hundred and Twenty-Third O. V. I., was in West Virginia, Martin Smith, who had returned east on a visit, went to West Virginia to visit his brother, and while there presented to him a valuable rifle with the following inscription carved upon it: “Eugene Smith, Bellevue, Ohio. Presented by his brother, Martin, February 10, 1863.” On the following June 13 the battle of Winchester was fought. Mr. Smith participated in that engagement, using the rifle given to him by his brother. During the battle Mr. Smith was taken ill, and, realizing that he would be captured by the enemy, and not wanting his rifle to fall into their hands, he handed the weapon to a comrade, George A. Darke, with the request that Darke should destroy the weapon in case he also should be in danger of being captured. Darke was captured during the battle, but before he was taken prisoner by the rebels he hid the rifle under a pile of brush, evidently not having time to destroy it, or hoping that a turn in events would enable him to recover it. Mr. Smith heard nothing concerning the rifle until February 25, 1905, when he was surprised to receive the following letter from Lexington, Va.: “I have in my hands a Henry rifle with the following inscription carved on it: “Eugene Smith, Bellevue, O. Presented by his brother, Martin, February 10, 1863.” “Thinking that if you are the man referred to in the inscription you would like to own the gun, I have taken the liberty to write to you. It is in good condition, and I would be glad to sell it. Let me hear from you in regard to the matter. “Very truly, L. W. Moore” Mr. Smith was greatly pleased at the prospect of recovering the highly-prized weapon. He at once replied to the letter, and after brief negotiations with L. W. Moore, the weapon was sent to him. At Mr. Smith’s request, the rifle, after his death, which occurred February 5, 1906, was presented to his nephew, Chas. d. Smith, who has loaned it to the Firelands Historical Society.” (115)
James Hickman used a Henry rifle to capture several rebels. Obvious an action like this would not have been possible if he had been armed with the issued muzzle-loading musket that the majority of soldiers were issued. “James Hickman, Sergeant Company I, (17th Regiment O. V. V. I.) had a Henry repeating rifle, and on August 30th, 1864, while we were near Rough and Ready Station, Georgia, on our way to Jonesborough, he captured eleven rebels, four of them in one squad. Three of this squad were armed, the fourth one was an artillery man. Nearly all that he captured belonged to the 5th Tennessee regiment. Colonel Ward hearing about this daring feat, took “Poke” as Hickman was called, with his Henry rifle, to see General Stanley, who asked, “Poke” all about capturing the rebels, and examining the rifle.” (116) The above description was complied by C. T. DeVelling who was a member of Company B of the Seventeenth Regiment, O. V. V. I.
Much has been written about the 64th Illinois Infantry, Yates Sharpshooters. In July of 1864 the following action around Atlanta near Decatur mentions the 64th Illinois and their Henry rifles. “The Sixty-fourth Illinois was armed with Henry repeating-rifles, with which they could fire fourteen(sixteen) rounds without stopping to reload. It was like the firing of a brigade. The Confederates were commanded by a brave officer, General Walker, who saw his line wavering, and brought forward other regiments from the woods. He rode in front of them bareheaded, waving his hat and encouraging his men. The Eighteenth Missouri came down at the moment and joined the Sixty-fourth Illinois, pouring in its volleys. The brave Confederate officer fell from his horse mortally wounded. Hood had lost one of his ablest division commanders…. The Sixty-fourth Illinois, with their Henry rifles, were doing him great damage. The soldiers of that regiment made a dash and captured forty Confederates of the regiment which fired the volley upon McPherson. In the pockets of one of the prisoners they found McPherson’s papers, and among them an important letter from General Sherman forecasting the Union commander’s plans, and about which Sherman had been uneasy; but it was quite certain that no Confederate officer had seen it, and Sherman breathed easier. The Sixty-fourth pushed on and recovered the body of their beloved commander, which was borne back to the Howard House. The Confederates rallied, and the Sixty-fourth Illinois and Twenty-seventh and Thirty-ninth regiments in turn were forced back into a thicket; but their resolute attack had retarded Walker’s and Cleburne’s divisions. (117)
Lieutenant Alonzo Cooper wrote in his book about rebel prisons how the possibility of prisoner exchange was always on the minds of the captives. He was being held near Macon, GA in 1864. During this time he made good an escape along with a Captain Alban. The following is a story that was related to him by Captain Alban on his capture at Chickamauga. “While on the tramp with Captain Alban through the Confederacy, after our escape, he told me an amusing story about his capture at Chickamauga. He belonged to the 21st Ohio, and that regiment was armed with the Henry rifle. The portion of the line occupied by the 21st Ohio, was assaulted with determined gallantry six or seven times, and was every time repulsed with heavy loses. The Johnnies would charge with an impetuosity that was wonderful, and would advance until they received the sixth or seventh discharge from those repeating rifles, which shoot sixteen times without reloading, when they would break and fly in disorder; receiving as they went back two or three more shots, before they would be our of range. They would again be re-formed and make another gallant assault, only to again be broken and driven back with fearful slaughter. After having charged, as I have said, six or seven times, and each time been repulsed with great loss, Captain Alban was taken prisoner and hurried to the Confederate rear. One of the privates was taken at the same time, and his rifle which he had just emptied, was examined with much curiosity by the reb who had taken him, who, after looking it over thoroughly, turned to Alban and said, “What kind of guns do youens use? You load up Saturday night and shoot al the week, don’t you?” After having learned how to handle it he thought it would be a good one for him, but as the soldier had exhausted his supply of ammunition, the piece would be useless until they could get some to fit it.” (118)
Colonel George Alexander Martin was a devoted follower of President Jefferson Davis. He offered his services as a body guard to President Davis and his offer was accepted. “Colonel Martin was requested to act as commander of the officers and they were to be armed with Henry rifles. The first given out was by Burton Harrison, “Aide” of President Davis to Colonel Martin, and that rifle, with an inscription on it, is now in the museum at Richmond.” (121)
“The 3rd U.S. Veteran Volunteer Infantry was organized at Camp Stoneman, D.C. in February and March, 1865. They were part of an elite corps, the intended “Shock Troops” of the Civil War, seasoned veterans under command of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock armed with breechloading rifles. However, the surrender of Lee in April, 1865, left them with little but garrison duties in the defense of Washington and in the Shenandoah Valley. They were eventually transferred to Camp Butler, ILL., and mustered out of service in July 20, 1866.” (122)
Corporal Louis Heiligmann was a member of Company B, 3rd Veteran Volunteer Infantry. Heiligmann was born in Wurttemberg, Germany, and enrolled at age 28. He was 5 feet 5 inches tall and listed his occupation as a cabinet maker. Before joining the 3rd VVI he was in the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He joined the 3rd on March 28, 1865 at Philadelphia and was appointed corporal on April 18. He was discharged at Madison, Wisconsin on March 29, 1866. Corporal Heiligmann was issued Henry rifle serial number 7278. As an enticement for men to join the 3rd VVI they could retain their rifle upon discharge, which is what Heiligmann did. Henry rifles were issued about July 15, 1865 for Heiligmann’s company. (122)
In April-May of 1865 the Ordnance Department purchased 637 Henry lever action rifles from the New Haven Arms Company. These late production U.S. Contract rifles are generally referred to as “Type II” rifles to distinguish them from the 800 “Type I” U.s. Contract Henry rifles purchased in 1863 to arm the 1st D.C. Cavalry Regiment. “Type I” rifles have Ordnance inspection marks while the “Type II” do not have inspector marks. The “Type II” rifles were issued to the 3rd U.S. Veteran Volunteer Infantry regiment. The 3rd VVI was one of the nine Veteran Volunteer regiments recruited in early 1865 to serve as an elite corps of experienced infantry. The VVI regiments were issued Sharps, Spencer or Henry rifles. (123) The “Type II” Henry rifles has a hinged trapdoor in the buttplate and contained the late pattern four-piece jointed steel cleaning rod. The left side of the stock has a factory sling swivel and the left side barrel has a factory screw-fastened loop for a sling hook. Sling swivels were standard features on the “Type II” Henry rifles. (123)
The Infantry was issued a General Order. This ordered detailed the loading procedure for those armed with the Henry Repeating rifle. According to the order it states the following:
“The following method of loading the Henry rifle is herby published for the instruction and guidance of the Officers Load in 8 times:
1st Motion Same as the first motion of Support Arms.
2nd Motion Carry the piece perpendicularly across the body to the left shoulder turning at the same time bringing the barrel to the front, muzzle to the front, so as to form an angle of about fifteen degrees from the vertical support the butt between the left elbow and side. Seize the spring between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand.
3rd Motion Raise the spring by extending the right arm and turn the sleeve to the left.
4th Motion Bring the piece in front of the body grasp it with the right hand just below the sleeve quit(?) the piece with the right hand and resize(?) it at the muzzle.
5th Motion Lower the piece to the ground with both hands without shock and carry the right hand to the cartridge box.
6th Motion Fill the magazine lower the right hand by extending the right arm its full length without bending the knee or deranging the shoulder and seize the piece.
7th Motion Turn the sleeve to the right with the left hand change the position of the hands, the right grasping the piece near the muzzle, the left extended along the piece.
8th Motion shoulder Arms.
For the purpose of instruction Company commanders should see that each piece is provided with a wooden rod fitted in and about one and a half inches shorter than the magazine.
The above is the first time that I have run across any sort of a procedure or manual for the loading of the Henry Repeating rifle. The order mentions cartridge box but does not say what type of cartridge box it was they were issued. Hopefully more will come to light concerning procedures for the Henry rifle.
In this digital age, I know there is more information becoming available on line for the researches to find and process. This project is an ongoing project in the quest to document how the Henry Repeating Rifle was used in the Civil War. As more information surfaces I will add to this essay.
Andrew L. Bresnan
National Henry Rifle Company
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