The .44 Henry was one of the first rounds to be utilized in a repeating rifle and helped to demonstrate the advantages of having multiple, ready to fire, rounds available in a rifle. With use in the American Civil war and the Franco-Prussian War the round, and it’s parent platform became a turning point for modern small arms. Marking the end of single shot muzzle and breech loaders and the advent of repeating rifles. While this round may be dead the mark it left in the history of the shooting world still lives on to this day.
From a pastime to a game changer
The .44 Henry and the 1860 Henry rifle are both named after the man who invented them, Benjamin Tyler Henry. Working in the New Haven Arms company as the foreman, Henry toiled away in his spare time to create the innovative design. Henry’s design was forward thinking with the use of individual self-contained rounds. While most breech-loading rifles of the era were stuck as single shot rifles, Henry’s toggle lock design and more modern rounds, using individual cases, allowed for the gun to be fed from a tubular magazine under the barrel. This massive increase in the number of rounds that could be fired before the shooter had to stop a reload, 16 up from 1, allowed the .44 Henry and the 1860 Henry rifle to dominate the battlefield.
Good for it’s time
While by today’s standards the .44 Henry is out paced by a number of handgun rounds the round was still quite effective for its day. While not widely adopted when it was first released, the advantages of the round and the 1860 Henry soon became apparent. During the American Civil war both sides of the conflict fielded the rifle and the .44 Henry. The Union Army utilized them in somewhat limited numbers and the Confederacy would use as many as they could capture from the Northern Forces. The round was almost impossible to find in the South and this limited the usefulness of the rifle to the Southern Forces. However the Confederate forces still feared the new rifle with many troops lamenting that the, “damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!”
Despite being fielded in the American Civil War the round would not see its full potential utilized until the Franco-Prussian War with the Henry 1866 repeating rifle. The Turkish troops brought in many of the new repeating rifles and the .44 Henry round proved to be a decisive element in a number of battles during the war. By the end of the war, the 1866 Henry and other repeating rifles proved their effectiveness and the design would go on to see more and more refinements over the years. Today the lever-action rifle still finds a home in many gun safes, and the .44 Henry round was what helped start it all.
Many different firearms were chambered for the .44 Henry round from the previously mentioned 1860 and 1866 Henry Rifles. The Winchester Model 1866 rifles and carbines, Smith & Wesson No. 3 Revolvers, Colt Model 1860 Army Long Cylinder Conversion and the Colt Model 1871-72 “Open Top” were all chambered in this round. The idea being that it was better to have a single chambering for both your rifle and pistol with many soldiers and hunters opting for this combination of firearms and caliber.
Today, however, no new firearms are made in .44 Henry and modern reproductions of the older designs are chambered in other, modern and available, rounds. What firearms that survive to this day are considered to be collectors items with the ammo itself fetching high prices at auction. Recently a box .44 Henry ammo, containing 48 rounds, was valued at well over $20,000.
Hand loaders and Factory Ammo
Hand loaders will find themselves out of luck when it comes this round. With even unfired rounds fetching high sums there are no available components or factory made ammo for this caliber. While the .44 Henry was a good round in its day, it has fallen out of use. Handloaders looking to fire a lever-action rifle are best advised to look at other rounds for modern reproductions.
.44 Henry, gone but not forgotten
The .44 Henry was a round that helped to spur the use of modern, self-contained cartridges and it helped to change the way wars were fought. If not for the advancements that the .44 Henry made in the field of repeating rifles our modern firearms may not look the same. Let’s take a moment to stop and remember this great round whose time has now passed.