The Henry Model 1860 –80ì The Revolution Begins
Hand held firearms first came into being around 1200 AD. They were basically small cannons. The concept of the firearm entails a few elements that have to come together to work properly. First, you have to have a receiver where the combustion takes place to allow the expansion of gasses to push a projectile. You have to have a projectile to send and a propellant. You also have to have an ignition source and a barrel to guide the projectile. For the first almost 600 years, the basic design was a rifle or pistol which had to have the two separate elements of propellant/powder and projectile/bullet introduced separately into the weapon. Ignition was first done by burning cord then flint striking steel and finally percussion caps that would ignite from a spring-loaded falling hammer hitting and detonating.
The self-contained ammunition cartridge came about in the mid 1800’80ôs. The idea of having a primer/percussion cap in a brass cylinder with powder in it and capped off by a lead bullet crimped onto the end was revolutionary. The next innovation was a system to have multiples of these contained within the firearm with the ability to easily reload. Throughout history, one of the main driving forces of innovation and design has been conflict. One of the greatest conflicts to come around at this time was the American Civil War.
Enter Benjamin Tyler Henry, gunsmith and manufacturer. Mr. Henry started his career working for Oliver Winchester in the 1850’80ôs. His job was to improve the design of the Volcanic Repeating Rifle. The Volcanic design used a ring attached to a hinged trigger guard to load and eject cartridges stored in a tube beneath the barrel of the rifle. Henry changed the idea of the ring to a larger oval that the hand could fit in to make the levering action easier than with a single finger. He received a patent on October 16, 1860 for his design of the Henry Repeating Rifle.
The original Henry rifle was a .44 caliber rimfire, lever-action, breech-loading rifle. The Henry used copper (later brass) rimfire cartridges with a 216 grain (14 g) bullet over 25 grains (1.6 g) of gunpowder. Nine hundred were manufactured between the summer and October 1862; by 1864, production had peaked at 290 per month. By the time production ended in 1866, approximately 14,000 units had been manufactured.
For a Civil War soldier, owning a Henry rifle was a point of pride. Although it was never officially adopted for service by the Union Army, many soldiers purchased Henrys with their own funds. The brass framed rifles could fire at a rate of 28 rounds per minute when used correctly, so soldiers who saved their pay to buy one often believed it would help them survive. They were frequently used by scouts, skirmishers, flank guards, and raiding parties, rather than in regular infantry formations. To the amazed muzzleloader-armed Confederates who had to face this deadly "sixteen shooter", it was called "that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!" Those few Confederate troops who came into possession of captured Henry rifles had little way to resupply the special ammunition used by the weapon, making its widespread use by Confederate forces impractical. The rifle was, however, known to have been used at least in part by some fifteen different Confederate units. These units included cavalry units in Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia, as well as the personal bodyguards of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
While never issued on a large scale, the Henry rifle demonstrated its advantages of rapid fire at close range several times in the Civil War and later during the wars against the Plains Indians. Examples include the successes of two Henry-armed Union regiments at the Battle of Franklin against large Confederate attacks, and the successful defense by small U.S. Army detachments against overwhelming Sioux forces at the Wagon Box Fight and Hayfield Fight during Red Cloud's War—80îas well as the Henry-armed Sioux and Cheyenne's destruction of the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn.
Manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company, the Henry rifle evolved into the famous Winchester Model 1866 lever-action rifle. With the introduction of the new Model 1866, the New Haven Arms Company was renamed the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Thus, the revolution begins.