The Henry Repeating Rifle

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

Chapter 7: The "Modern Henry"

The Henry is a very unique rifle and a rare one. Only a little over 14,000 were produced. These are expensive collector's items that most people would not shoot even if there were ammunition available. Still it would be neat to go back to the 1860's and 1870's when the Henry was the "King" of the repeating rifles. A big thanks goes to Aldo Uberti of Brescia, Italy in connection with Navy Arms Company, Dixie Gun Works, Allen Arms, EMF, and others that have helped make available a faithful copy of the original Henry.

The first of the "Modern Henrys" was introduced in the late 1970's when Navy Arms offered a Henry rifle for sale. These were a limited run of 500 Henrys offered at a price of $500. They are chambered for the famous .44-40 center-fire cartridge. Following up this limited run of Henry rifles was another limited run of 1,000 Henry carbines with a 21 inch barrel. These were also offered at $500 and chambered for the .44-40. They also advertised a reproduction Henry rifle chambered for the .44 Henry rim-fire cartridge. One of these rim-fire Henrys is located at the Perryville, Kentucky Battlefield Museum. These limited production Henrys sparked a new interest in the Henry and a high demand. These first two Henrys are different than the reproduction Henrys of today. One big difference is that there are two screws that hold the side plates on instead of one, like they are made today and as were the originals.

Through the 1980's several companies have imported several different variations of the Henry. There is a military version of the Henry. It has the sling swivels and the door in the butt of the gun. The Henry carbine is still offered with its 21 inch barrel and there is also a "Trapper" version with a 16 inch barrel. Neither one of these have the sling swivels, but they could be added if the owner chose to do so. There is a steel frame Henry offered by Navy Arms Co. It is offered in blue or case-hardened finish on the receiver. These "Modern Henrys" are not cheap. The current retail is priced around $900.

I have shot several of the "Modern Henrys" and they shoot fairly well for the type of gun they are. The 24 inch barrel version have the same problem as during the Civil War, they just do not balance quite right. These rifles weigh in at almost 9 pounds. The magazine capacity is 13 rounds, if you put one in the chamber the Henry becomes a "14 Shooter." The .44-40 is a little longer round than the original .44 Henry, so you end up with 2 fewer rounds. The "Modern Henrys" have a walnut stock. These vary on the several I have seen to a very attractive well finished stock to a plain grain stock. The rear sight is a copy of the original adjustable sight. The front sight is a German silver blade as on the original.

In the accuracy department the "Modern Henry" does a good job when kept to a realistic range of the .44-40 cartridge. At 50 yards with the 200 grain factory load it will shoot 2 inch groups or less. My shooting at 100 yards opened the groups from the smallest of 3 and a half inches to the largest of 8 and a quarter inches. At 200 yards the .44-40 cartridge drops off almost 30 inches. I did fire at water filled milk jugs at 200 meters. It took the first 6 shots to walk the bullets to the jugs. It seems that it took the bullet forever to travel that distance. I also loaded some .44-40 rounds with 28 grains of black powder to try to duplicate the original Henry load. My groups at 50 yards opened up to almost 5 inches. At 200 yards it was very difficult to hit the target.

Today the "Cowboy" shooting events are becoming popular. The Henry has found a romantic place in the hearts of these shooters. The World Series of these shoots is the "End of the trail" competition in California. One problem encountered by Henry shooters is they forget to move their hand out of the way so the magazine follower can push the cartridges down, but they soon get used to it.

A hobby that has been spreading throughout the United States is that of Civil War Re-enacting. They are modern day Civil War soldiers of the Blue and Gray that relive the 1860's. Uniforms, equipment, camp life and weapons are to be as authentic as possible. Of course one of these weapons is the Henry Repeating Rifle. Henrys are not encountered very much at re-enactments. The main reason for this is the expensive price tag they carry. There is one nationally organized group of Henry re-enactors, The National Henry Rifle Company. This group is made up of about 75 Henry enthusiasts in 16 states. Of these there are 33 active members that take part in re-enacting. This group was founded in 1989 after the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, TN by Andrew L. Bresnan with the help of many others. The reaction of the Confederate re-enactors who come in contact with the Henry Company for the first time must be the same reaction that the Confederates had in the Civil War. In re-enacting, instead of live ammunition, blanks are used. The Henrys shoot the 5-in-1 blanks that have been used by the movie industry for years.

The movie studios have caught the Henry fever. Let's face it the Henry is a flashy looking gun with it's brass frame. A few shows to use Henrys are "Bordertown", "Young Riders", "Silverado", "Sacred Ground", "Dances With Wolves" and many more. One interesting thing that comes to mind when I have watched these fine films is that those shooting the Henrys act as if they are firing a Sharps Buffalo gun. The .44-40 does not have that much recoil. I guess it looks good on screen.

Another use of the "Modern Henry" is in the hunting fields. The .44-40 over the years has taken thousands of deer and other wild game. The "Modern Henry" would fit right in as a short range deer gun. Hunting with a Henry seems to put you in a different time zone where you can forget the problems of the present, at least for a little while. It's nice to know that we can escape to the past to a simpler time. The Henry can do that for the hunter.

The following is a list of regiments that were armed with Henry repeating rifles, at least in part:

7th Illinois Infantry

11th Illinois Infantry 

16th Illinois Infantry 

23rd Illinois Infantry 

39th Illinois Infantry

51st Illinois Infantry 

64th Illinois Infantry 

66th Illinois Infantry

68th Illinois Infantry

73rd Illinois Infantry

80th Illinois Infantry

85th Illinois Infantry

86 Illinois Infantry

96th Illinois Infantry 

100th Illinois Infantry 

105th Illinois Infantry

115th Illinois Infantry

58th Indiana Infantry    

59th Indiana Infantry 

93rd Indiana Infantry

97th Indiana Infantry

1st D.C. Cavalry

12th Kentucky Cavalry

Col. Netter's Cavalry 

1st Maine Cavalry

9th New York Cavalry 

29th New York Infantry

2nd Wisconsin mounted Infantry

3rd Wisconsin Cavalry

66th Wisconsin Infantry 

1st Missouri Engineers

4th Missouri Cavalry 

25th Missouri Cavalry

47th Missouri Cavalry

3rd Regiment U.S.V.

7th West Virginia Infantry

10th Michigan Cavalry

31st Pennsylvania Infantry

 

 

 

The following U.S. Navy vessels also had Henrys:

USS Cricket

Gunboat Pittsburgh

Tennessee

North Carolina 

USS Black Hawk

Essex

Varuna

Great Western

 

Henrys were used in part by the following Confederate regiments:

1st Arkansas Cavalry

Jeff Davis' Bodyguards

7th Virginia Cavalry

11th Virginia Cavalry

12th Virginia Cavalry

35th Virginia Cavalry

21st Virginia Cavalry

 Laurel Brigade

8th Texas Cavalry

 5th Texas Cavalry

29th Texas Cavalry

10th Kentucky Partisan Rgr.

Jesse McNeill's Rangers

Camp Ferguson's Guerrillas

General S.G. French

 

This list of units is an incomplete list as it is next to impossible to account for every Henry used in the Civil War.  (1,3,4,5,6,7,9,10,11,12,14,15,22,36)

The following is a production list of when the Henrys were produced.
This list accounts for serial numbers 1 through 14,094. (20)

1860

1

270

1861

271

300

1862 

301

1300

1863

1301

4000

1864

4001

8000

1865

8001

12,000

1866

12,001

14,094

Listed here are some known iron frame serial number Henrys, Serial numbers:  12,  13,  31,  45,  49,  57,  89,  103,  108,  110,  119,  125,  138, 147, 156,  161,  270,  279,  287,  355.

The following is a listing of battles in which Henrys were used at least in part or where units that had Henrys were present during the Civil War:

Ft. Donelson ?

Shiloh, TN ?

Corinth, Miss.

Luka, Miss.

Mt. Sterling, KY

Blount's Farm

Chickamauga Henderson, KY

 Clarksville,TN Chattanooga, TN

Skirmishing with John Hunt Morgan

Medley, W. Va 

Rasaca, GA

Atlanta, GA

Nickajack Creek, GA

Jonesboro, GA

Savannah, GA

Lovejoy Station, GA

White's Bridge, VA

Cox's Mill

Center Point, VA

Buzzard Roost, GA 

 Franklin, TN

1st Reams Station

 2nd Reams Station

Rome, GA

Stoney Creek, VA

Allatoona Pass, GA

Cumberland, MD

Sycamore Church, VA

Lookout Mountain

Goldsboro, NC

Missionary Ridge

Goodrich's Landing, LA

Florence, ALSweetwater, AL

Columbia, SC

Salkahalchie Swamp, GA

Bentonville, NC

Saylor's Creek

The Red River Campaign

Perryville, KY

Spring Hill

Olustee, Fl.Doniphan, MO

McMillian Ford, TN

Strawberry Plains, TN

 

These are just a few of the battles in which Henry rifles play 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. [Next]

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