Monday, February 16, 2004

Once upon a time, I owned a Henry rifle (still do, but it's a different one) and I went to reenactments with some guys who did an East Tennessee Unionist impression (lots of stupid politics in the Confederate units in those days, which is why I played yankee). Anyhow, that's neither here nor there as far as the present story is concerned.

I went to the event at Jonesboro in a about '88 or '89 carrying this particular rifle. It was an early production Navy Arms rifle (SN # 490 I think) and it had a few problems, mainly with the magazine, but also the barrel had a bad habit of rotating just a little bit, which meant when I'd load it that the cartridges would sometimes hang on the frame.

The Henry has a strange loading method; to load (with the rifle empty) you place the rifle butt on the ground with the lever facing you, pull the cartridge follower up towards the end of the barrel, compressing the magazine spring as you go. The end of the barrel swivels to one side after you get the spring and follower pulled up (I once got my horse tangled up with another guys and lost the whole assembly, never did find all of it) you then proceed to drop cartridges in.

Well, I was running around in the woods at Jonesboro with a bunch of guys with the 21st and 52nd Ohio and we were retreating in relatively decent order towards a prepared line of entrenchments to our rear. I paused to reload, not noticing that my barrel was slighty askew. While I was still in the reloading process the Confederates facing us made a rush at our postition, getting to within about 40 feet in all the smoke and confusion.

I hurriedly finished loading and turned to face the advancing Confederates... and comitted a great no-no with a Henry. Instead of lowering the cartridge follower gently, I simply released it... and had a chainfire. It knocked down the guy who was kneeling in front of me, made a horrendous boom, blew out the sides of the magazine and caused the advancing Confederates to fall back...

They thought we'd dragged a field gun down into the woods. The guy that got knocked down was a retired Marine Sergeant. Luckily he wasn't hurt (nothing was hurt but my rifle and my pride) but he gave me a serious cussing after we put out his smouldering jacket.

The most fun I ever had with that rifle was at the 125th anniversery of Chickamauga. I fell in with four or five other guys with Henrys out on the Skrimish line. We found yourselves a (relatively) dry streambed about five feet deep and fifteen feet wide and we hunkered down. We left mounds of empty cartridges in that ditch. We finally had to go back to our lines when we got outflanked on each side (kinda like Wilder?) The Confederates just advanced around us like the water in a creek parting around a big rock. We had a worm's eye view of of this massive advance (about four or five thousand Confederates).

One of the most impressive things I've seen was at the 125th of Gettysburg. I got lost (really!) and wound up between the lines the first day. I took shelter in a copse of trees beside a small stream and watched the Confederate Cavalry come pounding accross that stream in a column of fours at a dead gallop... and no, I didn't have a camera with me.

I have no idea where that came from, it has nothing to do with my Henry rifle...

I realize this was kind of a weak effort, but we are extremely busy at the salt mines right now. I haven't been in the mood to do much in the way of writing lately. I'll try to catch up in the near future.