The 1860 Henry Repeating Rifle is an American-made lever-action rifle, a weapon so prolific a section of Little Bighorn battlefield became known as Henry Hill. It is the long rang weapon of Crazy Horse.
- Mag Capacity: 15 rounds
- Range: 200 yards
- Weight: 9.25 lbs
- Length: 43 in
- Cartridge: .44 Henry
- Action: Lever-action, breach loading
- Rate of Fire: 28 rounds/min
- Muzzle Velocity: 1100 ft/s
The first guns capable of holding multiple rounds at a time were Volley Guns; which were multiple gun barrels combined into a single weapon. This design was heavy, expensive and imprecise; as only one of the barrels would be able to aim at a single target. Most of these guns were for close range combat or as anti-infantry artillery; but were rare due to their overall inefficiency. Some versions, like the Chinese 3-Barrel Pole Cannon, required shorter barrels to give them less weight; however this did force the guns to sacrifice range for their rate-of-fire.
Revolver mechanisms have existed since the late 1500s (believed to have originated in modern day Germany); but most designs were prototypes that were too expensive, unreliable, complicated or dangerous to be used effectively.
The Kalthoff Repeater was one of the first examples of a lever-action gun. This musket uses two lever powered belt mechanisms to deposit the powder and musketball. The Royal Foot Guards of Denmark used this musket in the late 1650s; most noticeably the 1659 Assault on Copenhagen. However the complexity of the mechanism was too expensive to be mass produced for the common soldier. It also was delicate and jammed frequently, as the buildup of gunpowder residue would jam the belt mechanism.
Another prototype design for a crank-action or lever-action gun was the Cookson Repeater. It had two magazines (one for powder, the other for the musketballs) and would use the crank-action or lever-action to rotate the two cavities into the barrel; depositing the powder and musketball together. This mechanism has several flaws however; as it jammed frequently. The most dangerous issue however was that embers could linger within the cavities; which meant that this musket could frequently explode without warning if any embers leaked into the gunpowder chamber. http://firearmshistory.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-cookson-repeater.html
Jonathan Browning (father of John Moses Browning) is credited for inventing the Harmonica Gun in 1834. It had a metal horizontal magazine that could be moved left or right to load new rounds. This expensive magazine design made the weight of the gun uneven, making its precision unreliable.
In 1836 the Colt Paterson, one of the first modern revolvers made was produced. Samuel Colt decided to adjust the design to turn the pistol into a rifle; creating the 1839 Colt Paterson Carbine and Shotgun. The complexity of the prototype made it very expensive ($150 at the time: over $3,500 in 2017 USD), and the mechanisms were very vulnerable to rusting. Spare parts were too expensive and each rifle was structurally unique from each other; making it almost impossible to repair the gun on a battlefield. Only 950 carbines were ever made; the US military quickly considering the gun unfit for warfare.
One of the first successful repeating rifles was the 1855 Colt New Model Revolving Rifle. It had a revolver chamber; akin to the revolver pistols Colt became famous for. The rifle had major drawbacks however. The higher rate of fire created more smoke and gunky build-up; making the rifle get dirtier and smokier faster than muskets. The biggest drawback was 'chain-fire'; where embers would ignite all the rounds in the cylinder without warning; which could shoot of the hand of the owner or potentially kill someone while the gun was resting. There were rumors of the gun exploding like a bomb as well.
The first major gun associated with lever action was the 1855 Volcanic Pistol and 1855 Volcanic Rifle. Both guns advertised themselves with waterproof modern bullets and the ability to carry multiple rounds at once: something not seen in the more common muskets and blackpower weapons of the time. Oliver Winchester acquired Volcanic and converted it into the New Haven Arms Company in April 1857. Benjamin Tyler Henry was hired at a plant superintendent. He was able to update the Volcanic design, and in 1860 the Henry rifle was created on the eve of the American Civil War.
Although it was never officially adopted for service by the Union army, many Union soldiers purchased the weapon with their own funds (when the rifle became introduced to public markets in 1862), believing that the faster rate of fire would help them survive. To the stunned Confederate troops still using single-shot muskets, the Henry was known as "That Yankee gun. They would load it on Sunday and shoot at us all week.".
A similar rifle was also created in 1860; the Spencer Repeating Rifle. Like the Henry, the Spencer had a similar reputation for high rate of fire and efficiency. It gained significant popularity in the Battle of Gettysburg. The major drawbacks were that it produced alot of smoke when it fired and it had to be cocked, lever-actioned, and cocked for each round (giving it an inferior rate-of-fire than the Henry at 20RPM), the reloading mechanism was from the buttstock (making it relatively awkward to reload), and it could only hold 7 rounds (due to the larger 56-56 ammo compared to the Henry). The Spencer arms company closed in 1869; unable to maintain demand after the Civil War ended in peace.
The Henry ceased production in 1866: when the end of the American Civil War weakened demand. Surplus of the Henry would continue being used in the Wild West until the more reliable Winchester rifles replaced them. The biggest difference between these rifles is that the Henry had a zipper mechanism in the magazine while the Winchester enclosed the magazine. This 'zipper' would collect dirt very easily, making the Henry jam. In 1866 the New Haven Arms Company was converted into the Winchester Arms Company.
Crazy Horse used Henry and Winchester Rifles in the Battle of Little Big Horn while the American Army under Colonel George Armstrong Custer used singleshot rifles. The Sioux's superior rifles gave them the overwhelming edge that gave them the greatest Native American victory against a western army.
Despite the introduction of lever-action: single-shot rifles were still introduced. The 1871 British Martini–Henry was the dominant rifle of the British Empire until WWI; being replaced by bolt-action rifles like the Lee-Enfield Rifle.
- One of the hills in the site of The Battle of Little Bighorn is called Henry Hill due to the use of the Henry rifle in that part of the battlefield.