Before the Civil War, America had been called an
"experiment in democracy." From 1861 to 1865 the outcome of that experiment was
very much in doubt.
In those four years, the country faced
its single greatest trial; a fearsome conflict that threatened to forever shatter the
fragile union of states that was not yet a century old. But in the end, the flames of
battle did not consume America; instead they forged a stronger nation, united as it had
never been before, and ready to take its place as a major world power.
On both sides of the war, brave young men
left their quiet lives as farmers and shopkeepers, laborers and students to take up arms
and fight for a cause. The history of the Civil War is the story of their sacrifices and
courage, and when at last peace came, it was through their labors that the new nation was
Some officers were even moved to document the
courage of the enemy, as when Confederate General George E. Pickett wrote of a Union
brigade's assault on Confederate defenses at Fredericksburg. "We forgot they were
fighting us," he wrote, "and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all
along our line."
On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee
and General Ulysses S. Grant met to sign the articles of peace at Appomattox Court House,
Virginia, bringing an end to the national ordeal that had begun four years earlier at Fort
Sumter. The soldiers who laid down their arms on that day now faced a new challenge; the
rebuilding of a nation. Through their efforts, America would grow into a stronger,
unshakable democracy, affirming President Abraham Lincoln's pronouncement in Gettysburg
that "government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish
from the Earth."
Union and Confederate armies differed greatly in size, resources, and training, the life
of the common soldier was much the same whether his uniform was blue or gray. Both
"Johnny Reb" and "Billy Yank" experienced long weeks and months of
exhausting work and boredom, punctuated by terrifying episodes of fierce combat.
Shelter at camp was often
crude; meals were often limited to rock-hard biscuits, and the average day dragged on in
endless drills and marching. Disease and starvation were as great a threat as enemy fire.
When battle did come, it was more fierce and brutal than in any war before; it was not
unusual for a regiment on either side to lose as many as 50 percent of its men in a single
battle. Medical attention, if available at all, was usually long in coming, and often as
painful and dangerous as the battle wounds themselves.
"Johnny Reb" and "Billy
Yank" found the strength to endure these trials through their love of home and
country, their devotion to their comrades and their profound sense of duty to their cause.
The reports of their commanders are filled with accounts of their bravery and heroism.
In honor of the invincible American spirit, as exemplified
by the Civil War soldier, the United States Society of Arms & Armour presents "A
Nation Reunited: The Civil War Tribute." Appropriately, the Tribute takes the form of
the legendary Henry Rifle, considered by many as the most effective firearm in the War,
and a highly prized weapon among fighting men on both sides of the conflict.
Named for its developer, gunmaker B. Tyler
Henry, the Henry Rifle represented a major breakthrough in firearms design. In a time when
singleshot, ball-and-powder guns were still the norm, the Henry Rifle fired a
self-contained .44 caliber rimfire cartridge. Produced at Oliver Winchester's New Haven,
Connecticut factory, each Henry Rifle held up to fifteen cartridges in the magazine with
another in the chamber, a sensational feat of engineering for the day.
Besides providing a blueprint for the legendary
Winchester Rifle, the Henry also raised combat to a new level of efficiency. Before the
gun came into use among Confederate forces, the Southern troops were said to have called
it "that damn Yankee rifle that can be loaded on Sunday and fired all week."
Return to A Nation
Reunited: The Civil War Tribute Rifle