The Henry Repeating Rifle

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


The Henry rifle story is a very interesting story. It was the first successful repeating rifle that evolved into some of the best lever action rifles in the world, the Winchesters.  The first of the Winchesters was the Model 1866.  This rifle was nothing more than an improved Henry using the same ammunition.  The Model 1866 included a redesigned magazine that was not opened to dirt.  It loaded by means of a loading gate in the right side of the receiver.  The Model 1866 also had a wooden forearm stock to protect against burns during prolong shooting.  This is getting a little ahead of our story.  The use of the Henry begins in the Civil War.

The Henry played an important role during the Civil War, mainly in the western theater. It was used from the very beginning to the bitter end of the Civil War.  The soldiers developed confidence when using their Henrys that did not exist with a muzzle loader. The Henry rifle was the first of the truly rapid fire small arms that was practical.  However the United States government did not adopt a repeating rifle until the Model 1892 Krag.

The Henry rifle made a name for itself on the American frontier of the 1860's to1880's. It was not replaced until those using Henrys could replace them with a more modern weapon. The Henry was used by ranchers and soldiers as well as Indians. Custer found this out too late. In fact there is one hill located at the Little Bighorn that is known as Henry Hill because of the large number of Henry casings that were discovered there.

The Henry underwent very few changes during its production.  The butt plate was changed slightly and some guns do not have a lever latch. There was an iron frame Henry but most Henrys were brass frame. The sights were mounted on the frame or the barrel. The barrel length was standard at 24 inches but some examples may be found with shorter barrels. The ammunition remained the same throughout production. It was a 216 grain bullet and 26 to 28 grains of black powder.

Today original Henrys are collectors’ items commanding high prices. These start at around $6,000 and go up from there.  There has not been ammunition produced for years and what can be found is also highly collectable and too expensive to shoot. Those of us that want to shoot a Henry will have to settle for the outstanding reproduction Henrys. These are manufactured by Aldo Uberti of Italy and imported into the United States by Navy Arms and others. Although these are reproductions, they look and handle like the originals. They are chambered for the .44-40 round but the .44 Henry ballistics may be duplicated by reloading.

Two groups of enthusiasts today that use the New Henry are Civil War re-enactors and those interested in the Cowboy style shoots. The largest Civil War group using the Henry is The National Henry Rifle Company. This group consists of about 75 re-enactors scattered throughout the United States. It is quite impressive to see 15 or more Henrys in action. It really brings to life what rapid fire must have been like during the Civil War.

The following is a compilation designed to both educate and interest the reader on a weapon that very little has been written. I would like to thank all who have helped me in this venture. Several have helped supply several bits and pieces of information I have used.

Reading is the key to education.  So on with our story:.. [Next]


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