The gunmaking firm of J. Henry & Son was established by William Henry in Lancaster, PA, prior to the French & Indian War. During that era Henry produced arms for the use of British colonial militiamen, and even took the field himself as an armorer during the campaign to recapture Fort Duquesne during 1758. In the years after the French & Indian War, he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. By about 1760 he had left the gun trade and become a successful Lancaster, PA based ironmonger. His son John Joseph Henry (J.J. Henry) took up the family gunmaking business sometime around 1775 and the firm continued operation under his leadership until 1811, when John Joseph Henry II took over. During the early 1800s, the firm relocated to Boulton, PA. The firm became known generally as the Boulton Gun Works (some references spell it “Bolton”). After John Joseph’s death, his son James took over, and in 1859 James’ son Granville joined the firm and the name was changed to “J. Henry & Son”. During their nearly six decades in business prior to the name change, the Henry family had produced guns for the new United States government, for the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland and for numerous fur trading companies engaged in commerce with the many American Indian tribes. They also worked as manufacturers for other gunmakers and retailers like Philip S. Justice of Philadelphia, selling that firm both completed arms and parts to manufacture arms from. It is also likely that the Henry firm provided gun parts to other local Pennsylvania gunmakers like John Krider and possibly Henry Leman. With the coming of the American Civil War, and the calling for 100,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion, (not to mention the calling out of the Pennsylvania militia units for the defense of the state) Henry looked to produce military arms to cash in on the need for guns. He produced two patterns of military style rifles and a cadet musket. The rifles were offered with either a socket or a saber bayonet, and were known respectively in the Henry company records as “Mini” Rifles” or “Saber Rifles”. Both patterns of arms were brass mounted rifles with 35” barrels in .58 caliber. The “Saber Rifles’ tended to have the unique “recurved” triggerguard that is commonly associated with the arms made (or sold) by both Henry and P.S. Justice. It appears that much of the brass furniture was probably obtained from Bernard Leman of Philadelphia in 1861. It is not clear if both Henry and Justice purchased brass furniture from him, or if Justice acquired the parts from Henry. Both patterns of Henry rifle also included a brass patchbox that is also associated with arms made by Justice and Krider. It appears that these patch boxes were left over parts purchased from the Sharps Firearms Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia. In 1859 Sharps had transitioned from brass mountings to iron mountings, and apparently a large number of brass patchboxes in varying states of manufacture were sold as unneeded surplus. These “militia” rifles produced by Henry were manufactured in very limited quantities, with only 952 of the “Saber Rifles” and 285 of the “Mini” Rifles” being produced. Of the 952 “Saber Rifles” Henry during the summer of 1861, the majority of them (876) were also sold to Justice, with deliveries starting in September of that year. However, 70 were sold to Henry to the Catasanga Home Guard in October and November, and another 6 were used as sample rifles in an attempt to obtain other military contracts. It appears that the 285 “Mini” Rifles” produced by Henry during the summer of 1861 were sold almost entirely to Justice as well, who subsequently sold them to the US government to help satisfy his contract for rifles. These guns (like the “saber rifles”) bear Justice’s marks, not those of Henry. The guns were either produced for Justice without markings or Justice removed them and re-stamped them. However, a very small number of the Henry “Mini” Rifles” were sold to the Bethlehem Home Guard. They purchased 40 of these “Mini” Rifles” with angular (socket) bayonets in August of 1861. The angular bayonet provided with the “Mini” Rifles” was a modified US M-1816/22 pattern socket bayonet, that had been obtained on the surplus market. These bayonets were marked with a single mating number on the right hand side of the neck, and were intended to mate with the same number marked on the bayonet lug of the rifles. Due to the extreme scarcity of the J. Henry & Son “Mini” Rifles” today, sources differ regarding some of the details of the guns. Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Arms “ 8th Edition notes that some locks were blued and some were case hardened, and that the metal was finished in the “bright” while the barrels were browned. In American Military Shoulder Arms - Volume III, George Moller notes that the locks of these rifles were either blued or bright, and that the barrels were bright. The discrepancies may be resolved by considering the fact that some Pennsylvania gunsmiths were known to only finish the exposed parts of the barrel, and sometimes left the underside of the barrel unpolished and roughly finished. This saved time and money, both of which were always in short supply in the 19th century American gun trade. Thus, some rifles may have had the browned finish applied only to the upper portion of the barrel, leaving the bottoms bright. When one of the scarce extant guns was examined 150 years later, it may have retained no original finish on the top of the barrels and the bottom may have been equally bright, suggesting the barrel had always been bright.
This is one of the extremely scarce J. Henry & Son Mini” Rifles that was part of the group of 40 guns delivered to the Bethlehem Home Guard. Even better, the gun is identified to solider from Bethlehem who served in the 129th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and retains an original and correct socket bayonet. Of the 285 “Mini” Rifles” produced by Henry, 245 were delivered to Justice and subsequently marked by him. Only the 40 rifles delivered to the Bethlehem Home Guard in August of 1861 were marked by J. Henry & Son. This rifle is clearly marked in two horizontal lines: J. HENRY / & SON, on the left angled barrel flat near the breech and J. HENRY / & SON in two vertical lines on the lock plate, behind the hammer. This rifle may also finally quell the controversy about the appropriate finish for the barrel of a J. Henry & Son “Mini” Rifle”. The barrel retains about 85% of a period browned finish, with scattered patched of thinning and wear and patches of freckled age oxidation throughout the brown. However, the bottom of the barrel is unfinished and shows no signs of ever having been finished. This suggests that the finish on the barrel was applied after the gun was assembled, or was intentionally applied only to what would be the exposed surfaces of the barrel once it was stocked. The finish spears to be period correct in every way and shows wonderful indications of real age under close examination. There is light pitting and scattered pinpricking around the breech and bolster area, and this wear from percussion cap flash is through the finish. In other words, the finish was not applied OVER a worn metal surface, the surface became worn AFTER it was browned. The browning also shows minor color tone differences at the breech and muzzle that are indicative of the browning changing due to the heat of firing the rifle. While I cannot be 100% sure that this is the original brown finish that the barrel had when it left the J. Henry & Son factory, I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the finish is original to the rifle during its Civil War period of use. The rifle is marked with a series of assembly numbers, which are not uncommon for Pennsylvania made rifles. In this case, the rifle uses two sets, 8 and 2. The number 8 is found in period ink inside the barrel tang channel of the stock. It is also stamped on the top of the bayonet lug near the muzzle. This marking must have been for keeping the rough finished and inlet stock and the barrel together during initial production. The balance of the major components are marked with the assembly number 2. A 2 appears on the bottom of the barrel near the breech plug, inside the lock plate, on the lower rear of both brass barrel bands, and no doubt is present on various pieces of furniture and small parts that I did not remove from the gun, like the buttplate, patchbox, triggerguard and their attendant screws. The rifle is also accompanied by an original J Henry & Son altered US M-1816/22 socket bayonet that is marked with a single 2 on right hand side neck of the bayonet, struck in the same die as the other mating marks found in the gun. The number 8 mating mark inside the tang channel is not the only period ink mark found inside the stock. In the barrel channel, in a very neat period copperplate is the name J.M. LEIBERT, written in period ink.
A review of American Civil War records reveals only a single J.M. Leibert who served in the war, his name was Joseph Matthias Leibert, from Pennsylvania. Joseph Matthias Leibert was born in Bethlehem, PA on February 28, 1837, the son of James & Mary Ann Leibert. Joseph was a member of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, and was a founding member of the Moravian Historical Society in 1857, and the society still exists in nearby Nazareth, PA. Before the Civil War, Joseph worked as a clerk in the store of Jacob Rice, who was a Bethlehem merchant. Rice had opened the second store to exist in the town. Joseph was also a member of the Young Men’s Missionary Society and served as the president of that group during the terms of 1858-1859 and 1859-1860. It is not clear if Joseph was a member of the Bethlehem Home Guard as I have not been able to locate a roster of the group’s members. However, it seems likely that he would have been, as the small town would have expected all young, single, responsible men to contribute to the protection of the town. It is additionally quite logical that the name was put inside the barrel channel of the rifle while Leibert was a member of the Home Guard, rather than when he was on campaign. On August 12, 1862 Joseph Matthias Leibert answered the call for additional volunteers and mustered into Company C of the 129th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a 9-month regiment. The regiment was assembled in Harrisburg, PA and marched to Washington, DC on August 16th, then to Sharpsburg, MD on September 12th of that year. They were assigned to the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Division of General Fitz John Porter’s 5th Corps, but do not appear to have participated in the fighting at Antietam (Sharpsburg) on September 17th in any appreciable way, as they only suffered a single casualty, one man wounded. The regiment remained in the Sharpsburg area until October 30, when it moved to Falmouth, VA. On November 15th, the regiment was engaged in a small skirmish in Warrenton, VA where they suffered the loss of 2 men captured. The regiment then fought at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13,1862, where they took relatively heavy casualties on Marye’s Heights, including 20 killed, 94 wounded, 14 taken prisoner and 1 man missing. The 129th PVI participated in General Burnside’s ill-fated “Mud March” in January of 1863, and then returned to Falmouth, VA. They remained in Falmouth until April of 1863, when the regiment participated in the campaign that culminated in the Battle of Chancellorsville May 1-5 of 1863. During the Chancellorsville campaign the regiment remained attached to the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Division of the 5th Corps, which was commanded by General George Meade at that time. At Chancellorsville, the regiment was engaged on May 3, and suffered 4 killed, 16 wounded and 6 missing in action. Leibert’s obituary notes that he was taken quite ill after the Battle of Fredericksburg and had to return home to recuperate, although he “never, however, recovered his former vigorous health.” It is unclear if Leibert returned to the 129th in time to be engaged at Chancellorsville, although it seems likely, as he mustered out with the rest of the regiment on May 18, 1863. After the war Leibert went to work for the Lehigh Zinc Company, as the assistant to his brother who was the Assistant General Manager. He took over that job after his brother’s death. Leibert also served on the Board of Trustees of the Bethlehem Moravian Congregation for just shy of 24 years, and as the treasurer for the congregation from some 23 years, starting in 1881. Like so many of the hearty veterans who survived the trials of the American Civil War, Joseph Matthias Leibert lived to see the dawn of a new century and died on September 1, 1904 at the age of 67. Today a portrait of Leibert resides in the collection of the Moravian Historical Society in Nazareth. A small binder with information about Leibert and the 129th PVI accompanies the rifle.
The rifle is in about VERY FINE+ overall condition, and appears to be 100% complete, correct and original. The 35” octagon to round barrel is full length and retains about 85% of the period brown finish mentioned above. As previously noted, there are also freckled patches of oxidized age discoloration scattered along the length of the barrel, mixed with brown finish. The metal of the barrel is mostly smooth, with some scattered areas of pinpricking and some light pitting that is mostly confined to the breech and bolster area. The 4 groove bore of the rifle is in VERY FINE condition and is nearly entirely bright throughout. The bore retains very crisp rifling and shows only some very lightly scattered pitting along its length. The original “Enfield” style, long base tangent rear sight is place on the barrel, forward of the breech and functions appropriately. The original front sight is in place behind the turned down muzzle, as is the original mounting lug for the socket bayonet, which is numbered 8 on top. The original and correct ramrod is present in the channel under the barrel, and is full length, with fine threads on the end. The lock of the rifle is in EXCELLENT mechanical condition, and operates crisply on all positions. It is secured to the rifle with a single lock screw that passes through a brass teardrop shaped escutcheon. The lock has thick tobacco brown patina, which shows traces of darker case colored mottling scattered around the lock plate. The brass furniture has a lovely, medium golden patina and was probably lightly cleaned many years ago. The brass patchbox opens and closes smoothly, and an original, period spare cone is contained inside the appropriate recess of the patchbox. The bow of the brass triggerguard and upper barrel band both retain what appear to be their original sling swivels. The stock of the rifle is in about FINE condition, and remains crisp and sharp throughout. The stock shows no indication of having been sanded, and the sharp edges remain sharp as they should be, with good definition and fine wood to metal fit throughout. As would be expected, there are the usual bumps, dings and minor surface mars from handling, use and storage over 150 years. There are two condition issues with the stock that must be mentioned. The most prominent is a repair to the toe, where a drying grain crack separated a piece of wood from the toe of the stock. The original wood is present and has been repaired very long ago. The repair is not very noticeable from the display side of the rifle, and is more so from the reverse. This appears to be the result of using wood that was not sufficiently seasoned, resulting in a crack at the delicate toe of the stock. The use of green wood and issues with stock quality is one of the reasons that P.S. Justice was brought before the US House Committee on the conduct of the war. The other stock is issue is very minor, just a small, stable grain crack from the lock screw to the barrel channel that is barely noticeable. This is a typical crack for Civil War era muskets and is the result of the lock screw being over-tightened. The crack is tight and stable and does not detract from display in any way, but it is mentioned for exactness. An original and correct J. Henry altered socket bayonet accompanies the rifle and fits it perfectly. Although the lug of the rifle is numbered 8 and the bayonet is numbered 2 on the obverse neck. Interestingly, the rest of the rifle assembly numbers are 2, so maybe the bayonet is really the original one mated to the rifle. The bayonet is full length and well marked with a crisp US / EB on the ricasso. The “EB” is the mark of Springfield Armory sub-inspector Elizur Bates. The bayonet retains about 50%+ of an original period browned finish that matches the gun perfectly.
Overall this is a really wonderful example of an extremely rare J. Henry & Son Mini” Rifles in very crisp, complete and original condition. Only 285 of these rifles were produced, making them one of the rarest of American Civil War long arms, and of those 245 went to PS Justice and are not marked with Henry’s name. Only 40 of these rifles, the 40 delivered to the Bethlehem Home Guard were J. Henry & Son marked. Add to the extreme rarity the fact that the rifle is identified to Bethlehem native who served in the 129th PVI during some of the most horrific battles of the American Civil War; Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and you have a simply amazing piece of history. This is a great rifle to add to a collection of Pennsylvania made military arms, Civil War secondary martial rifles or just a collection of J. Henry firearms. This is a fine condition, very crisp and complete identified example of a Civil War rifle of which only 40 were made in this configuration and with these markings. The gun comes from an old and advanced collection of Pennsylvania militia and martial arms, and according to the previous owner, this will be only the second time in over 70 years that the rifle has changed hands. There is no doubt you will be very glad to add this outstanding piece of Civil War history to your collection, so don’t miss your opportunity to obtain a wonderfully rare, identified and fresh to the market J. Henry & Son Mini” Rifle.SOLD