1860 Henry .44 Caliber Lever-Action Repeating Rifle. Clearing the Way for the Winchester.
By now, everyone has heard of the legendary Winchester rifles, and how they played a part in "Winning the West." But before the Winchester, there was the 1860 Henry, the first practical repeating rifle to enjoy success. The Henry was an improvement on the former Volcanic Repeating Rifle. Introduced just before the outbreak of the American Civil War, the rifle's .44 caliber rimfire cartridge was considered underpowered for most military use. However, there were instances where the Henry was successfully deployed in combat by Union infantrymen, and repelled attacks by a regiment armed with flintlock muskets. The Henry was used mostly by advance raiding parties or flank guards. Since the Union Army didn't officially adopt the Henry for military use, many of them were paid for by soldiers themselves. They believed--and rightly so--that the superior speed advantage of the Henry would give them better odds in combat. The first units produced for military use (or private military sales) rolled out in 1862. Although considered underpowered for combat, they were much faster to reload than the old flintlocks and percussion weapons, which were still in widespread use during the Civil War.
This was made possible by the new lever-action loading system, coupled with self-contained cartridges--another major breakthrough in firearms technology. This allowed a vastly speedier reload than one could ever hope to acheive with a flintlock. The lever action system consisted of a tube magazine directly beneath the barrel, and the action would chamber a new round in about a second, with the cocking of the lever, ready to fire again. The self-contained cartridges (still used today) were a major advantage over the percussion weapons and flintlocks that were still in widespread use. Before the self-contained rounds, the shooter was required to load black powder and a separate lead bullet into the chambers, and then manually prime the charge with either percussion caps, or the pan on the flintlock assembly. The Henry was loaded by simply feeding the cartridges into the magazine, from the front end and cocking the lever after each shot, until the magazine was empty. The octagonal barrel is another distinguishing characteristic of the Henry rifle.
The revolutionary 1860 Henry Rifle was the first to successfully use the new rimfire cartridges, a design of Daniel Wesson that was perfected by a brilliant gunsmith/engineer Benjamin Tyler Henry, for use in his new lever action rifle. The fully self-contained .44 caliber cartridges, along with the fast lever action of the rifle would later prove to be a major development that would shape the course of the future in firearms production. Self-contained cartridges quickly overtook flintlocks and percussion weapons after the Civil War. The later development of the centerfire cartridge only accelerated this development.
The Henry repeating lever-action rifle saw most of its production during the Civil War. An estimated 12-14,000 of the rifles were produced between 1860 and 1866. Rather than fade away like many other arms that were produced during that time, the Henry name was absorbed into the Winchester Company. After 6 years of production in the New Haven, Connecticut factory, an investor named Oliver Winchester, who had a controlling interest in the New Haven Arms Company bought it out. In 1866 it officially became the Winchester Repeating Arms company. The advances made by BT Henry went on to great heights with Winchester over the next 140 years. These rifles shaped the settlement of the West, made their mark in Hollywood, and became the quintessential cowboy and hunting rifle for big game. They are in widespread use, even today. Beginning in 1964, amid a change in management, Winchester underwent a long, downward slide, until the company was finally closed altogether in 2006. Since that time, the name has been taken up by other owners who still produce the Winchester under a new license. Today, The Henry Repeating Arms Company produces the Henry rifles in Brooklyn, NY, not far from its original home in New Haven, Connecticut.
Nation Of Manufacture: USA
Military Service Dates : 1862-1865
Variations: Civilian, Military
Ammunition: .44 RimFire
Wars: US Civil War (Limited Use)
Recent Prices at Auction for Originals: US $15,000-$50,000 (Rare)
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