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 rebuilt.
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.”
Though the 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.”