Folk Art Engraved Martial Henry Rifle Named to J F Shelby Co D 1st DC Cavalry
.44 Henry RF. 24″ octagonal barrel. SN: 3247 (mfg. circa Sept-Oct 1863). Blued finish, brass frame and furniture, walnut stock. Lever action tubular magazine fed repeating rifle. Barrel marked in two lines: HENRY’S PATENT OCT. 16, 1860 / MANUFACTURED BY THE NEW HAVEN ARMS CO, NEW HAVEN CT. Small capital H sub-inspection marks are present on the left and right sides of the frame at the barrel junction and on the right side of the barrel. Also, the traces of a CGC (Charles G Chapman) inspection is present on the left side of the barrel, near the frame junction, but only the last “C” is visible. No cartouche is present on the stock. Matching serial numbers are present on top of barrel, on the left side of the lower tang, inside the buttplate and inside the upper tang cut out of the stock. Equipped with a folding ladder rear sight that is graduated to 900 yards, and a German silver front sight blade in a steel base and dovetailed into top of barrel near muzzle. Mounted with sling swivels, with a half-moon ring screwed to the left side of the barrel and magazine tube and swivel plate installed on the left side of the butt. Butt compartment for cleaning rods is empty. The gun is engraved in a folksy hand with some flowing foliate scrolls on the right side around the name J F Shelby over Co D 1st Dist. Col. Cav., with the forward section of the right side of the frame engraved with a spread-winged American Eagle with the word MAINE in an arc over it. The left side of the receiver is engraved with the same folksy hand with the scrolls surrounding an Eagle in flight with the traditional arrows and laurels in its talons with a banner reading Death to Traitors in its beak. The forward section of the left side of the frame is engraved with an American flag with six stripes and thirty “stars”.
The 1st District of Columbia Cavalry Regiment was formed during 1863 to provide a mobile force to counter the Confederate partisan rangers in Northern Virginia. Initially a four company battalion sized organization, it grew to a full sized regiment with the addition of companies raised in Maine. The regiment was armed with Henry Rifles, the majority of which were delivered in the 3,XXX to 4,XXX serial number range and were inspected by Charles G Chapman with his “CGC” mark. This example appears to be a legitimate example of one of those 1st DC Cavalry rifles and is in the correct serial number range. However, an extensive search of available records was unable to find a “J F Shelby” in Company D of the regiment, or anyone with the last name “Shelby” in the entire regiment. Further investigation could not find a solider with that name who served in the 1st Maine Cavalry either, which was the regiment that the majority of the 1st DC Cavalry was rolled into in August of 1864. Additionally the roster of the 3rd Veteran Volunteer Infantry was checked, as many of the Henry rifles previously in the hands of the 1st DC Cavalry were later reissued to that regiment. The folk art decorative engraving has legitimate age and similarly decorated Henry Rifles are known, particularly with Veteran Volunteer association. The gun certainly has an appealing appearance and is a legitimate Civil War period Henry Rifle, with only the name on the receiver providing a conundrum. Further research may prove fruitful.
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