The Henry Repeating Rifle

Victory thru rapid fire
Andrew L. Bresnan, M.S.
The National Henry Rifle Company

Chapter 6:  Henry Odds and Ends

There are several interesting facts about the Henry that deal with many different aspects of the Henry. These include Henry carbines, the Henry as a muzzle loader, reloading the .44 Henry cartridge, cartridge boxes, cleaning rods, slings, factory made changes, barrel markings and interest in the Henry by foreign countries.

The "Modern" Henry of Navy Arms is currently offered in a carbine version. These are offered with a 21 or 16 inch barrel length. Many feel there were no carbines made by the New Haven Arms Company. The fact of the matter is the New Haven Arms Company did make barrels shorter than the standard 24 inch barrel. Henry number 6850 is pictured in The Winchester Book and it has a 19 inch barrel. The Henry carbine was not a regular production gun, but it could be special ordered. Most Henrys left the factory with the standard 24 inch barrel and some were then sent back to have the barrel shortened to the desired length. Some of the carbine length barrels found today were the result of taking the gun to a private gunsmith and having him shorten the barrel. There were 2 main reasons for reducing the length of the barrel of the Henry. The first one is to reduce the overall weight of the gun. At over 10 pounds fully loaded, it was a heavy gun. The second reason is to make the gun balance better. The weight and the poor balance of the Henry were cited as why the cavalry did not like it as well as the Spencer.(6, 14) On March 21, 1865 there was a Henry carbine entered by the New Haven Arms Company for testing. This gun was an 8 shot Henry. That would put the barrel length at around 15 inches. In the rapid fire test this gun fired 8 shots in 10 seconds. A 16 shot Henry was also tested but no results were given.(30)

On March 10, 1866, a board of officers was to select a breech loading weapon for the Army. This board was presided over by Major General Winfield Scott Hancock. The board was to have a representative from the infantry, artillery, and the cavalry. A Henry carbine was submitted for testing. In a preliminary test of one hundred rounds rapid fire, the Henry carbine, with a magazine containing eleven rounds, was discharged in eight seconds, discharged and reloaded in twenty-three seconds. Without use of the magazine, eighteen shots were fired in a minute. The Spencer got off only seven shots in eighteen seconds, and six in a minute without the magazine.(37) The Henry was withdrawn from the testing due to it's inability to handle excessive loaded rounds.(37)

Was the Henry used as a muzzle loader? The answer is doubtful but the reality is that it could be done. An auxiliary steel chamber was patented by Oliver Winchester. It fit into the breech of the rifle the same as you would insert a loaded round. This auxiliary chamber was fitted with a nipple for a percussion cap. Recesses were cut in the steel chamber so as not to damage the 2 prongs of the firing pin. The face of the breech pin would hit the percussion cap firing the gun. With the steel chamber in place, the Henry could be loaded as a muzzle loader. This device never reached the mass production stage.(37)

Reloading rim-fire casings can be a risky business. It is suggested that the Indians of the American Frontier did just that. This was done by soaking the heads off of matches and covering the interior of the case's rim with the phosphorus. Hopefully this would give enough of a flash to explode the powder when the hammer crimped the rim. Many cases recovered from the Little Bighorn battle site show several pairs of firing pin indentations. These could be proof of reloading.(17) More than likely these were misfired rounds that were rotated in the chamber and tried again.

There were two types of cartridge boxes for the Henry. One of these looks very similar to the regular Springfield box of the Civil War. It has an implement pocket sewn to the front. It is covered by a large flap. Instead of tins for the inside, the Henry box contains 4 wooden blocks. Each block was drilled to contain 35 Henry cartridges. These blocks were stacked on top of each other. The bottom of the box was open. When the top block was emptied, it was removed and pushed up through the bottom. This moved the other 3 blocks up into position. The blocks were held in place by means of a spring on each side of the box. It also had 2 leather straps that went around the bottom of the box to insure that the blocks did not fall out.

The other box for the Henry did not hold as many rounds. It is possibly the rarest cartridge box of the Civil War. This box was manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company in 1864. The black leather flap measures 7 inches across and is embossed with the standard "US" oval 3 inches across. The flap is pointed like a shield at the bottom and measures 4.5 inches from point to top of the box. At the bottom left hand of the front flap of the box is marked "Henry Arms Company 1864" in 1 and three eights inch elongated rectangle inspector's stamp. The back of the box has two, three-quarters of an inch leather straps riveted to the box four inches long for fitting over a cavalry or infantry belt. The flap affixes to the box by a brass vinule in a three-quarter inch leather strap. Inside the box is a staggered row of linen loops with places for 16 cartridges. On the outside of the front box, underneath the flap, there is another stitched row of 8 linen loops for cartridges. To the left inside the box there is a rounded space with a leather strap with a cut out for a Henry rifle tool. The box itself is 6 inches by 3 inches. It is 2 and a half inches deep and 2 inches wide. This box is pictured in Dr. Francis Lord's third volume of The Civil War Collectors Encyclopedia. One of these cartridge boxes was offered for sale a few years ago at the price of $1,400.(39)

There were 3 basic designs for the 4 section cleaning rod for the Henry. Early Henrys had a hard wood rod with ferrules threaded at both ends. These rods were for Henrys up to serial number 3,000. These rods were thicker than the later ones. Therefore the opening in the butt plate was .97 inch in diameter.(35)

Another type was made of steel with a brass rammer head and a brass eye at the ends of 2 of the sections. The opening in the butt plate was reduced to .72 inch in diameter due to the smaller diameter of the steel rods. This rod seems to have been issued with serial numbers 3,000 to 3,500.(35)

The last design of the Henry cleaning rod was also used with the Model 1866 Winchester. This is also a 4 section steel rod. Instead of a brass eye, it has 1 eye forged on one section. It does still retain the brass rammer head.(35) Dixie Gun Works is offering for sale a reproduction of this cleaning rod for about $15.00.

Not all Henrys were equipped with sling mounts. In fact very few were equipped. Many of the government issue Henrys did have the sling mounts. These included a swivel metal rectangular piece to attach one end of the sling. The base was inlaid into the stock on the left side and affixed to the stock by 2 screws. There was a barrel loop located on the left side of the barrel located about 11 inches from the muzzle. This was tapped into the barrel housing and held by 2 screws. Not very many slings have survived. The ones I have seen pictured appear to be an inch wide. One end was fastened to a metal buckle and the sling was run through the stock swivel back up through the buckle. A fish hook looking piece of metal was attached to this end by the leather going through a D shaped loop and a brass button. It was then hooked to the barrel loop. There is no one correct sling for the Henry as all different types were in use, even musket slings.

Many guns were sent back to the factory for several reasons. One of these was to have the barrel shortened as mentioned earlier. Some were sent back to have different sights mounted. Others were sent back to the factory to have sling mounts installed. One of the most popular reasons why guns were returned to the factory was to have a half-cock safety position added to the hammer. Lever latches were also added. Many people, I imagine, felt a little uneasy with a round in the chamber and the hammer either on full-cock or with the hammer resting on the firing pin on a chambered round. Another special feature eluded to is that of a detachable magazine. These were thought to be offered for sale in 1864 and later.(35) No description is given to what these were or what they might have looked like. I speculate that it was a round metal tube with a slot, the width of the magazine follower, cut the length of the tube. This tube held 15 Henry cartridges. The lower end of the tube probably fit into a recess area in the brass frame. It could be removed from the gun by turning the top barrel housing, which would hold the top of the tube in place, and pulled out. The rounds were held in place in the tube during storage by a small pin run through the top and the bottom of the tube. All that needed to be done was to insert a loaded magazine, line up the slot with the magazine follower, remove the retaining pins and you were ready with another 15 rounds. Keep in mind this is only my speculation but it seems logical to me. Another possible description of these detachable magazines could be a quick loading device similar to the Blakeslee box used with the Spencer. In fact it is not inconceivable that Henry owners learned from Spencer owners and fashioned their own quick loading device.

Barrel markings on all Henrys were standard. They consisted of 2 lines. The top one read "HENRY'S PATENT. OCT. 16, 1860" The second line read "MANUFACT'D BY THE NEW HAVEN ARMS CO. NEW HAVEN CT." These read from the muzzle to the breech. The serial number is located just in front of the frame. Henry markings did vary depending on when the rifle was made. Serial numbers started in 1860 with number 1 and went to over 14,000 in 1866. Serial numbers may also be found on the stock under the upper tang, on the left side of the lower tang and on the butt plate. Some Henrys also had assembly numbers. This was a two digit number and mainly found on later Henrys.(35)

Factory inspection letters will be found on various parts of the Henry. The letter "H" will be found on Henrys that were under contract with B. Tyler Henry. This was his inspection mark, an indication that he had inspected that particular Henry. It is found on the left side of the butt plate heel, the rear portion of the lower tang, and on the right side of the barrel and the frame at their junction. Most of these can be found on Henrys under serial number 6,000. The "W" is the inspection mark for Oliver Winchester, found on the rear of the lower tang.(35)

Government inspection marks are stamped on the government contract Henrys. They were inspected by Charles G. Chapman. His inspection marks were "C.G.C." These only appear on the 1731 government Henrys.(35)

Other countries were interested in the Henry repeating rifle. I had an opportunity to look at and handle a French copy, complete with a barrel length forearm stock. I also handled a Henry that was one of a pair that was sent to Japan for their evaluation. The one that I looked at I believe had the Japanese inspectors markings stamped on the frame. Another country that was interested in the Henry was Prussia. The Mexican government purchased some of the last Henrys produced, as many as 1,000 in 1866 were sent to Mexico.(6)

Oliver Winchester in 1863 patented the Henry rifle in England. A few examples of the English Henrys are known. They differ slightly from the US Henry in that they have a loading aperture closed by a sliding cover toward the forward end of the magazine. The magazine tube is slotted in the usual way but is round like the barrel, there being no turning sleeve. Another peculiarity is a ramrod mounted on the left side of the barrel, between it and the magazine, displacing the usual sling fitting, which is placed on the right side.(37)

Other Henrys have the markings of the Royal Bavarian Armory. There are also copies that were made in Germany or Belgium. The Turkish government also tested the Henry. Mithat Pasha was shown one and immediately asked for 10 more. Another unlikely Henry user was Henry M. Stanley. He took with him on his trip into Africa a Winchester 66 and a Henry. When Stanley and Dr. Livingstone parted company, Stanley left him with the Henry along with 1,500 rounds of ammunition.(37)

One last of the Odds and Ends of the Henry is a magazine cut off device. Oliver Winchester received on September 4, 1866 patent number 57,808. This was for a magazine tube and a stop-lever device to enable the user to use the rifle as a single shooter while saving the 15 rounds in the magazine in reserve. Henry rifle serial number 10,547 has one of these devices on it. This rifle is engraved on the left side "O.F. Winchester: New Haven Ct USA."(6)

The brass frame of the Henry made an ideal surface to engrave. Many Henrys have been engraved with all kinds of art work. "The Winchester Book" has many of these highly engraved Henrys pictured. They are indeed very beautiful and very valuable. [Next]

 

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