Henry rifle

The Henry repeating rifle is a lever-action breech-loading tubular magazine rifle famed both for its use at the Battle of the Little Bighorn and being the basis for the iconic Winchester rifle of the American Wild West.

Designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry in 1860, the Henry was introduced in the early 1860s and produced through 1866 in the United States by the New Haven Arms Company. It was adopted in small quantities by the Union in the Civil War, favored for its greater firepower than the standard issue carbine. Many later found their way West, notably in the hands of the Sioux and Cheyenne in their obliteration of Custer's U.S. Cavalry troops in June 1876.

Modern versions of the weapon are produced by A. Uberti Firearms and Henry Repeating Arms. Most replicas are chambered in .44-40 Winchester or .45 Long Colt.

Henry rifle
Class Manportable
Type Rifles
Manufacturer U.S. Repeating Arms Company
Production Period 1860 - 1866
Origin United States of America
Country Name Origin Year
United States of America 1860
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
United States of America View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
U.S. Repeating Arms Company 1860 1866 14000 View

The original Henry rifle was a sixteen shot .44 caliber rimfire, lever-action, breech-loading rifle patented by Benjamin Tyler Henry in 1860 after three years of design work. The Henry was an improved version of the earlier Volition Repeating Rifle. The Henry used copper (later brass) rimfire cartridges with a 216 grain (14.0 gram, 0.490 ounce) bullet over 25 grains (1.6 g, 0.056 oz.) of gunpowder. Production was very small (150 to 200 a month) until middle of 1864. Nine hundred were manufactured between summer and October 1862; by 1864, production had peaked at 290 per month, bringing the total to 8,000 manufactured. By the time production ended in 1866, approximately 14,000 units had been manufactured.

For a Civil War soldier, owning a Henry rifle was a point of pride. Letters home would call them "Sixteen" or "Seventeen" Shooters, depending whether a round was loaded in the chamber. The US Government purchased about 3,140 (early versions with inspector marks) in late 1863 to early 1864, mostly for Cavalry units. Just 1731 of the standard rifles were purchased by the government during the Civil War. The relative fragility of Henrys compared to Spencer repeating rifles hampered their official acceptance. More Henrys were purchased by soldiers than by the government. Many infantry soldiers purchased Henrys with their reenlistment bounties of 1864. Most of these units were associated with Sherman's Western Troops.

When used correctly, the brass framed rifles had an exceptionally high rate of fire compared to any other weapon on the battlefield. Soldiers who saved their pay to buy one believed it would help save their lives. Since tactics had not been developed to take advantage of their firepower, rather than in regular infantry formations Henrys were frequently used by scouts, skirmishers, flank guards, and raiding parties. To the amazed muzzleloader-armed Confederates who had to face this deadly "sixteen shooter", it was called "a rifle that you could load on Sunday and shoot all week long." Those few Confederate troops who came into possession of captured Henry rifles had little way to resupply the special ammunition used by the weapon, making its widespread use by Confederate forces impractical. The rifle was, however, known to have been used at least in part by some fifteen different Confederate units in Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia, as well as the personal bodyguards of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Type Lever-action rifle
Place of origin United States
Service history
Used by  United States (Union)
 Confederate States
Wars American Civil War, Indian Wars
Production history
Designer Benjamin Tyler Henry
Designed 1860
Manufacturer New Haven Arms Company
Produced Early 1860s to 1866
Number built 14,000 approx.
Weight 9 lb 4 oz (4.2 kg)
Length 44.75 in (113.7 cm)
Barrel length 24 in (61 cm)
Caliber .44 Henry rimfire
Action breech-loading lever action
Feed system 16-round tubular magazine

End notes