Skip to comments.Henry rifle is currently the best-known Civil War-era rifle
Posted on 05/08/2006 4:21:39 PM PDT by kiriath_jearim
By Bob Sheldon
Of the cartridge repeating rifles used in the American Civil War the best known today is the colorful Henry with its yellow receiver. Total production of Henry rifles was tiny compared to quantity Spencer rifles and carbines purchased by the US Army. Total production of Henry rifles was only about 12,000 with sales to the Federal Government only about 2,000 rifles. Some states purchased Henry Rifles for their militias and other rifles were purchased by individual soldiers or their families.
If a soldier had a Henry rifle the Army would issue him cartridges to use in his rifle. Government issue of Henry rifle cartridges was about 4.5 million. The Henry Rifle had another advantage that unlike a muzzle loader it could be rapidly loaded by a soldier crouched down behind something, or even lying down. To the Confederate Soldier the Spencer and Henry were both known as the damn Yankee rifle you loaded on Sunday and shot all week. US Troops armed with single shot rifles faced Indians armed with Henry rifles.
B. Tyler Henry was plant superintendent for the New Haven Arms Co., owned by Oliver F. Winchester. The rifle that became the famous Henry started as the Hunt repeating rifle. The Hunt rifle was operated by two levers and fired a Rocket Ball with the propellant in the base of the bullet. The propellant was just the priming compound and all of these forerunners to the Henry were subject to disastrous accidents when cartridges fired in the magazine tube. The design was improved and became the Jennings rifle. The Jennings rifle was produced in a small quantity but wasn't very satisfactory.
The Smith-Jennings and Volcanic rifles were two more attempts to improve the rifle before Mr. Henry finally adapted the rifle to the then new rimfire cartridges he had developed and made the rifle work.
The Henry rifle was operated by a lever that also served as the trigger guard and ended in a loop typical of lever action rifles today. It had a 24-inch octagon barrel and carried 12 extra 44 caliber rimfire cartridges in a magazine tube under the barrel. Twelve shots may not seem like much today, in 1860 it was a lot of firepower. The magazine tube was slotted its entire length except for the extreme tip. To load the magazine tube there was a projection that was attached to the follower. This projection was pushed forward into a section of the muzzle which pivoted to the side to allow the cartridges to be dropped into the magazine tube.
When the muzzle section was rotated back inline with the magazine a coil spring pushed the cartridges toward the receiver as they were used. This slotted magazine tube allowed moisture and dirt to enter the magazine tube and a dent any place along the slot could stop the cartridges from feeding. Rust could also freeze the rotating sleeve on the front of the barrel and prevent loading. The slotted magazine tube also prevented the rifle from having a wood forearm for the shooter to grasp when the barrel heated from firing.
The gun was very reliable except for that slot and rotating sleeve which was corrected in the 1866 Winchester by King's Improvement. The familiar loading gate that allowed a solid magazine tube to be loaded from the rear like all tube magazines center fire rifles do today was Kings Improvement. The Henry rifle had a very reliable feed system. A brass carrier lined up with the tube magazine when the lever was up and one cartridge was pushed into the carrier by the magazine spring. When the lever was lowered, the carrier was pushed up by an arm and lined up with the chamber, as the lever came back up the breech bolt went through the carrier and chambered the round.
The carrier was slotted on the top side so it could drop back down for another round. This system was very reliable but the brass carrier was heavy with the rifle weighing 9 1/4 pounds.
The barrel of the Henry rifle had gain twist rifling, which meant the twist became faster as it approached the muzzle. The rifling started at about one turn in sixteen feet in front of the chamber and was one turn in thirty three inches at the muzzle. This gain twist rifling was some times used in muzzle loading rifles and thought to improve accuracy. It is still some times debated among muzzle loader shooters with both sides sure they are right. The 44 caliber Henry cartridge was loaded with a 200 grain lead bullet and 26 grains of black powder. This was, by the standards of today, a very low-powered round, but a Henry rifle could put several men out of action while a musket was putting one man out of action. For hunting in the hands of a good shot the Henry could be good for anything up to deer up close.
The Henry was an impressive looking rifle with its yellow receiver, octagon barrel, and crescent butt plate. Early production Henry rifles had iron frames but most of the rifles had a copper-tin alloy receiver that was usually improperly called brass.
B. Tyler Henry retired in 1865 then the name of the company was changed to Winchester Repeating Arms Co. and the rifle with improvements became the famous Winchester 66 Yellow Boy. When center fire cartridges replaced rim fire the frame was changed back to iron and the rifle became the 1873 Winchester The Gun That Won The West.
and here they are today :
The Spencer was a lot better rifle. Heavier cartridge, quicker to load, and the loading mechanism was less prone to fouling with dirt.
Sounds like a good time! Plinkin' this way and that. You ought to be a deadeye with all that practice, LeoWindhorse
They still make 'em. Oh, man, I got to get me one of those.
feral chickens beware! ;^)
I always thought the Whitworth was the best known... The North's Berdan Brigade was essentially disbanded following Gettysburg... in large part due to Southern Sharpshooters using Whitworths.
this book is interesting only up until the Fall of Washington , thereafter it falls of the scale into dumb dumb dumb .
Chain fired meaning the rearward rounds in the magazine fired the forward ones? What sort of ammo, and what would make blanks more prone to that than bullets?
AK's use Berdan-primed ammo.......center-fire would have been a bit radical for the time.....the iron sights would have been not much better than what was available, certainly no better than Creedmoore sights. Think the AK would be tough enough to stand up to period lead- and black-powder fouling? That gas chamber might not last long before filling up with crud.
Turtledove makes a fairly good case that they could, given time. And if not the smiths in the South, with their limited industrial base, then the smiths in the north. He makes the analogy that if an Afghan gunsmith can manufacture AK copies with the crude tools he has in his Peshwar village then, eventually, an 1860s gunsmith could, once they knew it was possible.
Same thing applies to the powder and the clad bullets. Once you know a thing can be done someone will figure out a way to reproduce it. My guess is that it would have taken 10 years to produce a crude new autoloader based on the principles shown in the AK, and probably another 10 to get the powder. I don't have a guess how much technology is involved in manufacturing jacketed bullets, but I'm betting that would come in the least time of all.
Right now I'm reading a somewhat similar series of books. This starts with the books 1632 by Eric Flint and 1633 Eric Flint and David Weber (both available as free eBook downloads from Baen's free library). The premise here is somewhat similar to Guns of the South. In this case an entire West Virginia coal mining town and about 30 miles of surrounding countryside are switched with a similar sized chunk of Germany in the midst of the 30 years war (it happens, no real explanation except a vagure reference to a "cosmic shard"). This bunch of union coal miner hillbillies go out in their pick ups after this big flash happens to try to figure out what's going on. The road suddenly ends in this hill that didn't used to be there. They climb up over the hill and see some guys with long spears in odd outfits and funny metal hats sacking a primitive farm, torturing the farmer and raping his wife. The leader of the group looks back and says "Bill, you got your hunting rifle back in your truck?" You can guess the outcome of that little match up.
I'm on about the 7th book so far. Lots of fun. The trial of Galileo is particularly fun. And what they do with the music over the loudspeakers and then the napalm to the inquisition guys in that castle.... <g>
They go into the tech a lot in the collections of short stories. They have numerous articles where they discuss why they make certain tech choices, such as what type of ham radio set ups they go with because of the low sun-spot activity during this historic period. There are tons of people contributing to this now and it's grown to be quite a fascinating read. Allowing for the odd left turn of the story's premise the thing I like the best is how much real history they throw in.
This is what I read when I'm not reading technical manuals or IEEE papers. I need something I can totally just not worry about.
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