First on Louisville market
Rebs cursed Union weapon that was
‘loaded on Sunday, shot all week’
Civil War Confederates, armed with muzzle-loaders, cursed a sparingly used but highly effective repeating rifle used by Union forces.
The 15-shot Henry frequently was described as “that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!”
The Henry, created in 1860 by Tyler Henry, used a .44 rimfire metallic cartridge that the developer also created. The Henry was the first of the war’s repeating rifles that was truly successful, but the U.S. Army Ordinance Department initially dismissed the weapon believing that rapid-firing rifles would cause soldiers to waste ammunition.
In tests, the rifle’s 15-shot magazine could be emptied in less than 11 seconds. Its advantage was clear considering that a well-trained infantryman could load and fire a muzzle-loader only three times per minute. Also, the Henry could be fired in a very safe prone position.
Despite the U.S. Army’s objections, Union soldiers spent their own money to buy a Henry, which could cost as much as $50. And, in early 1862, the weapon began to become commercially available.
The first Henrys appeared on the open market in Louisville in July 1862, and later in Paducah. In three months, more than 900 Henrys were sold.
According to The Louisville Journal of July 12, 1862, Henry rifles were offered for sale and in stock at James Low & Co’s on Sixth Street. Other Louisville dealers included Joseph Griffith & Son, 5th Street, Dickson & Gilmore, 3rd Street and A.B. Semple & Sons.
In the Louisville Journal of July 14, 1862, it states that W.G. Stanton advertised the good qualities of the Henry and the rifles were offered for sale to both Union and Confederate soldiers. The retail cost of the Henry was set at $42 without the sling. By November 1862, several Kentucky regiments both U.S. and C.S.A. were using Henrys.
Capt. James Wilson of Company M, 12th Kentucky Cavalry, wrote that at Munfordville, Feb. 17, 1863, he used the Henry when attacked by seven Confederates. He killed all seven with eight shots.
Wilson also had a small skirmish with Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry in July 1863 when his 67 men were attacked by 375 of Morgan’s troopers. Wilson’s men with their Henrys were able to drive Morgan’s men back more than a mile, killing 31 and wounding 40.
By October 1863, Kentucky would arm Wilson’s entire command of 104 with Henrys.
Despite being marketed in Louisville to both Union and Confederate soldiers, very few captured Henry rifles were used by Confederate troops. Since those few Confederate soldiers had little way to resupply the special ammunition used by the weapon, its widespread use by Confederate forces was very impractical.
The rifle was, however, known to have been used at least in part by some 15 different Confederate units. These included cavalry units in Louisiana, Texas and Virginia, as well as the personal bodyguards of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Federal officials are said to have predicted that the war would have lasted no more than three years if the Henry rifle had been accepted early by the Army Ordnance Department.