This Henry Rifle is unquestionably one of the rarest of all Civil War artifacts offered for sale in the last several years. Not only is it a rare iron-frame example, it is inscribed: "Co. A, 5th TENN. CAV. JULY 27.1862." in three lines on the left side of its frame. This example, serial number 165, is listed on page 78 of "The Historic Henry Rifle" by Wiley Sword and pictured on page 159 of "Civil War Guns" by William B. Edwards. In the Edwards photo, the gun is extremely dark on the left side-plate and the "Co. A" portion of the inscription is not apparent. My good friend Bobby Smith sold this rifle back in the early 2000's and the frame had been gently cleaned to reveal the extra portion of the inscription, and in addition, clearly shows that a name preceded it, likely that of the original owner in script form vs. the block letters that are clearly visible. You can see its shadow in the close-up photo I have provided. There may be a way to reveal what the name is with some type of infrared x-ray technology or some other method, but I am not aware of what that process might entail.
Based on the date of the inscription, this example was carried by a member of the Union 5th Tennessee Cavalry regiment that was mustered into service on July 15, 1862, and who saw extensive service with the Army of the Ohio and Army of the Cumberland between August 1862 and February 1865. During its term of service, the regiment had one officer and 68 enlisted men killed in action. Many of the officers of that unit were promoted and transferred from the 21st Ohio infantry, and one of their officers could have been the original owner, as the regiment was outfitted with arms and equipment at Camp Dennison in Cincinnati, Ohio. Kittridge & Co., also in Cincinnati, were a primary source of Henry Rifles early in the war and its quite possible some officers visited that establishment.
To date, fewer than 100 iron frame Henry rifles have been identified by collectors. In addition to the iron receiver and buttplate, this rifle has a rear sight provision dove-tailed into the the frame, loading lever without spur and buttplate with rounded heel that are features of the first 400 iron and brass frame Henry rifles. The lower tang has no provision for a lever latch. German silver, front blade sight and first style, folding leaf rear sight with "1000" yard mark beneath the center notch missing its ladder. The top barrel flat is roll-stamped with the first style New Haven Arms legend: "HENRY'S PATENT OCT. 16. 1860./ MANUFACT'D BY THE NEWHAVEN ARMS CO. NEWHAVEN. CT." in two lines. This early style legend has the second "NEWHAVEN CT." markings in block letters rather then the serif letters used in the rest of the legend. All of the serial numbers match and the rifle shows all the early features that were standard for the first 400 or so Henrys. It lacks the sling swivel and loop for sling hook that were extra cost features on early Henry rifles. A Sharps swivel is fitted to the bottom of the stock immediately behind the lower tang. The sling loop has been modified to accept a snap hook from a standard carbine sling. This well-documented rifle appears to be the only unit inscribed iron frame Henry rifle known to exist. It unquestionably saw action in the Civil War and is in very good condition for its type, displaying wear consistent with a weapon that was carried on horseback and saw extensive service. The magazine follower is an iron field replacement. The bolt is missing the upper extractor and firing pin. The barrel has a brown patina and the receiver has a similar patina and with the lighter appearance of the left frame and scattered handling marks. The trigger and lever show brown patina. The buttplate shows mottled aging. The stock is sound and full, shows moderate service wear with numerous shallow bruises and scratches with a likely coat of linseed or other oil added long, long ago. This gun is pictured in the early work of William B. Edwards' "CIVIL WAR GUNS" on page 159 and is mentioned on page 78 in Wiley Swords' THE HISTORIC HENRY RIFLE. This is unquestionably a wonderful opportunity for an astute collector and it's priced at a level that would be considered fair even if not inscribed.