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The Henry rifle was a breech loading, tubular magazine, lever action rifle designed by B.Tyler Henry.
The Henry rifle was manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company in Connecticut. Owned by Oliver Winchester.
The Henry was an improved version of the earlier Volcanic Repeating rifle made by Smith and Wesson. The Henry used copper and brass 44 rimfire cartridges.
It was a major improvement over muzzle loading muskets of the period. The Henry rifle held 16 rounds of 44 rimfire and could fire 28 shots in one minute.
The Henry rifle was designed in 1860 and nine hundred were manufactured between summer and October 1862; by 1864, production had peaked at 290 per month. By the time production ended in 1866, approximately 14,000 units had been manufactured.
At the start of the American civil war starting in 1861, Oliver Winchester had tryed to sell Henry rifles to the Union army. However the Henry rifle cost around $50 while a Springfield 1861 musket only cost $14. Although never officially adopted by the Union army, many soldiers purchased Henry's with their own funds. Soldiers who saved their pay to buy one often believed it would help them survive. Winchester gave Union President Abraham Lincoln a gold plated engraved Henry rifle hoping the Union army would adopt it, although it was never offically adopted the Union army.
To the amazed Confedarates who were armed mainly with muskets, nicknamed the Henry rifle that "Damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!" Confederate lucky enough to capture a Henry rifle had little ways to obtain its cartridges. This meant that wide use of the Henry rifle by Confederates was unpractical. The rifle was, however, known to have been used at least in part by some fifteen different Confederate units. These units included cavalry units in Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia, as well as the personal bodyguards of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The Henry rifle's main competition at the time was the 7 shot Spencer repeating rifle. The Spencer fired a heavier more powerful 56 rimfire cartridge, it was also cheaper and simpler in construction compared to the Henry. The Spencer was actually adopted for service by the Union cavarly, however the Spencer used a manual hammer which had to cocked to eject a cartridge to pull the lever to recock and load the weapon while one pull on a Henry rifle's lever loaded and ejected in one pull.
After the war the Henry rifle went west and was used against the Native Americans in Redcloud's war of the late 1860's. Many Indians used Henry rifle's at the battle of the little Big horn in June 25th 1876 against Custer and the 7th cavarly. The rapid rate of fire the Henry gave to the Indians helped them defeat the 7th cavarly who were using single shot Springfield carbines.
Production of the Henry rifle ended in 1866, the Henry rifle though effective had its problems. It used a slot in the tubular magizine for loading which allowed dirt to enter the weapon and would eventually make it fail to fire. There were no side plates on the rifle and the shooter's bare hand holding the rifle would get burned as the rifle heated as it was fired.
The Henry rifle was redesigned, in 1866 the New Haven arms company was renamed Winchester repeating arms and a new improved version of the Henry made its appearence. The new rifle used a loading gate and had sideplates. It was quicker to load and safer to shoot. It became the first lever rifle under the Winchester name.
Modern Henry rifles are produced and sold today, Uberti offers a replica of the Henry rifle but in 44 40 and 45 colt instead of 44 rimfire.