In every field of human endeavor there is a select group of individuals who are given credit for making such major contributions that they become synonymous with their achievements. In the area of firearms development, one name that must be included on that honored roster is Benjamin Tyler Henry. His invention: The Henry Rifle.
It was Mr. Henry who conceived the first practical, lever action repeating rifle. Patented in 1860, the Henry gave a single man the firepower of a dozen marksmen armed with muzzle-loading muskets.
America was engulfed in the searing flames of the Civil War, and the first Henry rifles were in the hands of Union soldiers by mid 1862. Due to its revolutionary design and rapid rate of fire, the Henry quickly found popularity both with the military and civilian purchasers. Early sales were especially brisk in Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana.
With its reliable .44 caliber rimfire metallic cartridge, the Henry produced a rapid and highly accurate fire. Reports of the successful use of Henry rifles in the Civil War were numerous. The incredible firepower unleashed by the Henry is evident in Major William Ludlow’s account of the Battle of Allatoona Pass. “What saved us that day was the fact that we had a number of Henry rifles” wrote Major Ludlow. “This company of 16 shooters sprang to the parapet and poured out such a multiplied, rapid and deadly fire, that no men could stand in front of it and no serious effort was made thereafter to take the fort by assault.”
After an encounter with the 7th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, which had the good fortune to be armed with Henrys, one Confederate officer is credited with the phrase, “It’s a rifle that you could load on Sunday and shoot all week long.”
The Henry rifle would go on to play a significant, if not dominant role in the frontier days of the American West. It would soon become one of the most legendary, respected and sought after rifles in the history of firearms. A contemporary rifle collection isn’t complete without one.