An Original Henry Repeating Rifle & the Iron Brigade – Guns for Great Causes

by Major Van Harl

Dr. Lance J. Herdegen standing next to the "Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle", on display at the Kenosha Civil War Museum.
Dr. Lance J. Herdegen standing next to the “Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle”, on display at the Kenosha Civil War Museum.
Major Van Harl USAF Ret
Major Van Harl USAF Ret

United States -(AmmoLand.com)- The Civil War Round Table of Milwaukee (MCWRT) is the second oldest Round Table in the US (milwaukeecwrt.org).

It is made up of approximately 300 members who have a strong interest in American history. It is an all volunteer 501c3 organization that remembers and promotes through education, the history of the American Civil War. The MCWRT is also the caretaker of the Iron Brigade Association. The Iron Brigade was a Civil War Union combat unit made up of the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin, the 19th Indiana, and 24th Michigan, all Infantry organizations. Also attached to the Iron Brigade was the 4th U.S. Light Artillery.

The Iron Brigade suffered the most casualties of any Union brigade in the Civil War.

The Iron Brigade fought in such famous locations as the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Battle of South Mountain, the Battle of Gainesville, and the Battle of Gettysburg. The losses at Gettysburg almost destroyed the combat effectiveness of the Iron Brigade. Members of my own family fought at Gettysburg and one did not come home from that fight. Henry R. McCollum of Company “H”, 2nd Wisconsin died on 7 July 1863 of his wounds received the opening day of the Battle of Gettysburg. He is still there.

While Henry rifles were not issued officially in the Iron Brigade, members of that unit purchased their own Henrys to use in combat. Louis Quinius of Company B of the 66th Wisconsin Infantry (not an Iron Brigade Unit) carried his personally purchased Henry rifle serial number 8291 into battle.

In a long conversation with Dr. Lance J. Herdegen, the leading authority on the history of the Iron Brigade, he advised me there was no official issue of Henry rifles to Iron Brigade members, but numerous soldiers took their re-enlistment bonuses and bought a Henry (www.goodreads.com/author/show/259857.Lance_J_Herdegen). Years of combat with a single shot, muzzle loading rifle taught the veterans of the Iron Brigade the advantage of fighting with a lever action rifle that fires 16 times before you reload.

If the US Army would not issue a Henry rifle–buy one yourself and increases your odds of surviving the Civil War.

Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle
Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle

Legend has it that members of the 4th U.S Artillery Unit purchased their own Henry rifles. Confederate units routinely would try to overrun and capture Union artillery in the heat of battle. A Henry rifle in the hands of an experienced rifle shooting artilleryman could do the work of a dozen Infantrymen using a muzzle loading rifle. Henry rifles would save the cannons, save the day and save Wisconsin lives.

Iron Brigade history and a currently produced 1860 Original Henry repeating rifle are on display in Wisconsin.

Kenosha Civil War Museum
Kenosha Civil War Museum

The Kenosha Civil War Museum is located in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which is about thirty miles south of Milwaukee. It is a unique museum because it focuses not on battles and generals like most Civil War era museums do, but concentrates on the people of the mid-west states during that war (kenosha.org/wp-civilwar/).

The museum is hosting an exhibit, Faces of the Iron Brigade—A Social Network of Soldiers, 16 January to 6 November 2016.

The MCWRT is loaning their Iron Brigade Association flags for this display. The MCWRT donates money to the museum on a regular basis to promote education.

Anthony Imperato the President of the Henry Repeating Arms Company of Bayonne, NJ and Rice Lake, Wisconsin www.henryrifles.com is a strong believer in supporting, remembering and promoting our Nation’s history. Mr. Imperato has a program at Henry Rifles titled “Guns for Great Causes.” Henry rifles are donated for causes that support veterans, law enforcement, firefighters and EMS, injured and ill children, the NRA, promoting of hunting and shooting programs and to preserve the history and heritage of the 2nd amendment.

Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle
Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle

I interviewed Mr. Imperato for a column about Henry Rifle’s outstanding customer support, and I have written a number of other columns about Henry lever action rifles. In my spare time I am the President of the Civil War Round Table of Milwaukee, which carries the title General Commanding, the Iron Brigade Association. So I take the history of the Iron Brigade personally.

I have to admit, I shamelessly approached Mr. Imperato about possibly getting a Henry rifle from his “Guns for Great Causes” program to use as a fund raiser for the MCWRT. Thinking he might say yes and perhaps offer a Brass Big Boy Henry lever action rifle in 44 mag or 45 Long Colt I was shocked when he e-mailed me that he was sending a new Original Henry in 44-40. I almost e-mailed Mr. Imperato back to decline the rifle thinking it was “too much” to ask for (www.henryrifles.com/rifles/original-henry-rifle-iron-framed-original/).

The Colonel (my wife) instructed me to accept the rifle and thank Mr. Imperato for his generosity. She informed me he would not have offered the Original Henry if he did not really want to help.

"Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle" on display at the Kenosha Civil War Museum
“Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle” on display at the Kenosha Civil War Museum

The “Guns for Great Causes” Original Henry rifle (current production) that Henry Repeating Arms donated to the MCWRT and now officially known as the “Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle” is on display at the Kenosha Civil War Museum as part of the Faces of the Iron Brigade—A Social Network of Soldiers. (http://www.kenosha.org/wp-civilwar/exhibits/)

The original plan was to place the “Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle” up for auction when the exhibit ended in November of 2016. I am afraid as a collective group we have become rather attached to this beautiful, 1860s designed mechanical wonder, and do not want it to leave the museum. So, with the blessings of Mr. Imperato at Henry Repeating Arms, the Milwaukee Civil War Round Table will donate the “Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle” to the Kenosha Civil War Museum.

The most famous Civil War photo of a Henry rifle was taken with members of the 7th Illinois Infantry. Every man in that unit bought their own Henry rifle and the 7th Illinois was never bested on the battlefield because of their Henrys. Illinois is one of the seven upper middle-west states represented at the Kenosha Civil War Museum.

There is a need for a Henry repeating rifle to be on displayed at the Kenosha Civil War Museum to honor and remember the men who used the first successful lever action repeating rifle to defend this Nation.  With the generosity of Mr. Anthony Imperato and Henry Repeating Arms this will happen.

"Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle" on display at the Kenosha Civil War Museum.
“Iron Brigade Association Henry Repeating Rifle” on display at the Kenosha Civil War Museum.

This Original Henry lever action rifle is truly a gun for a great cause. The Iron Brigade Association thanks you Mr. Imperato.

Wisconsin produced quality men who served and fought for their Nation. The history of the Iron Brigade attests to that fact. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Henry Rifles is manufacturing outstanding quality lever action rifles in Rice Lake, Wisconsin—a proud history continues.

Major Van Harl UASF Ret. / [email protected]

Henry rifles built at the corner of Henry and Quality Ave.
Henry rifles built at the corner of Henry and Quality Ave.

About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:

Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School. A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI. His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training. He believes “evil hates organization.” [email protected]