Designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry, the Henry Rifle was considered one of the most advanced weapons of its day. The toggle-link action was nearly identical to that used in the Smith & Wesson volcanic pistols and the Volcanics manufactured by the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company. However both of these firearms fired an inefficient self-contained projectile. After Oliver F. Winchester obtained the patent rights to the Volcanic, he founded the New Haven Arms Company and manufactured the Henry rifle which employed the .44 Henry rimfire cartridge created by B. Tyler Henry. Both the rifle and its ammunition were superior in every respect to the Volcanic firearms.
First Model Henrys were made with iron frames (s/n 1 to 400 range,) and brass frames (s/n 1 to 5,300 range, overlapping with iron frames) both with rounded buttplates. Second Models were exclusively brass frame with pointed buttplates (s/n 5300 – 14900 range). Henry rifles had 24” barrels with a magazine capacity of 16 rounds, with a few shorter length Henry carbines known to exist. The serial number of Henry rifles are found on the top flat of the barrel, on the left side of the lower tang under the stock, on the stock under the upper tang, and on the inside of the buttplate. On early rifles, the tang and buttplate screws also are serial numbered. Matching assembly numbers, in small numerals, are found on the barrel under the loading sleeve and on the rear face of the loading sleeve.
Some First Models were purchased by the U.S. Army and bear the “C.G.C.” mark. This was the stamp of Charles G. Chapman, indicating he had inspected and accepted this gun for the Ordinance Department of the U.S. Some Second Models bare the “AWM” and “JT” government inspection markings on the left side of the stock, on the wrist near the receiver.
From records in the National Archives in Washington , D.C. , it is known that rifles in the serial range from 1392 to 3956 were in the Ordinance Department order for Henrys, dated December 30, 18 63. Many rifles in this serial range are recorded as issued to the First D. C. Cavalry and after use with this unit were turned back in to the ordinance department. These rifles were then re-issued to the Third U.S. Veterans Volunteers, where they saw duty until the end of the war. One of the incentives for reenlisting in the Veteran Volunteers was a cash “bounty” as well as the agreement that the veterans would be permitted to keep their guns and accessories. Because many of the veterans later went west, most of these rifles saw duty in the frontier and in the Indian wars. Few of these martial guns remain in good condition; war duty and later service in the West and other wear resulted in much hard use and abuse.
Sought after due to its rapidity of fire, most Henrys used during the Civil War were purchased by Union soldiers with their own money. The largest privately funded Henry regiment was the 7th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, armed with over 500 Henrys purchased at $52.50 each–almost 4 months pay for a Civil War solider. Despite the obvious superiority of the repeating rifle over muzzle loaders of the day, it was well after the Civil War before the US Government accepted the repeaters, changing warfare forever and making the muzzle loader obsolete for future wars.
That damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!