Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 75: Engraved 3rd Veteran Volunteer Henry Lever Action Rifle

Auction Date: August 26, 2022

Historic Documented Soldier Identified Lewis Reibrecht Engraved Civil War 3rd U.S.Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment New Haven Arms Co. Martially Inspected Henry Lever Action Rifle with Extensive Research

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $55,000 - $85,000

Historic Documented Soldier Identified Lewis Reibrecht Engraved Civil War 3rd U.S.Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment New Haven Arms Co. Martially Inspected Henry Lever Action Rifle with Extensive Research

Manufacturer: New Haven Arms Co.
Model: Henry Rifle
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44 Henry RF
Barrel: 24 3/8 inch octagon
Finish: blue/bright
Grip:
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 1100
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 94
Class: Antique
Description:

This rifle is accompanied by a Steve Stevens Henry Rifle Research Project letter that states that this rifle is from Stevens's collection. He notes: "This Henry rifle is one of a group of 500 Henrys that was ordered by the U.S. Government on 4/7/1865 and shipped on 4/19/1865. All of these rifles were issued to the 3rd Regiment U.S. Veteran Volunteers and awarded as an enlistment bonus for a 1 year enlistment. The rifles were taken home by the soldiers upon discharge in 1866. Of the ten companies in the 3rd U.S. Veteran Volunteers, five recorded the serial numbers of their issued Henrys beside the name of each soldier in their company record book. The other five did not. This rifle was issued to a soldier in one of the former companies and the records show that it was issued to private George Bemfer of Company B. This Henry was engraved by one of his fellow Company B soldiers, Lewis Reibrecht. This rifle was featured in my article about the Reibrect [sic] Henrys written for the February 2016 issue of 'Man At Arms' magazine." A copy of that issue with "Lockwood Sanford, you are off the hook!" by Stevens is included. In it, he discusses how the engraved 3rd Veteran Volunteer Infantry rifles were previously attributed as engraved by Lockwood Sanford, a wood block engraver in New Haven, Connecticut. He notes that just over half of the engraved Henry rifles known from the 3rd U.S. Veteran Volunteers belong to Company B (13 of 24) and that the engraving was clearly done after the rifles were issued given some have the men's names, unit, etc. He explains that Lewis Reibrecht of Company B was identified in the period as an engraver, the only known engraver among the approximately 1,000 men in the regiment. His own engraved Henry is also known, sn. 7419, sold at Rock Island Auction in 2013, and that rifle was part of what led Stevens to discover that Reibrecht was likely the engraver of these rifles. Another of the engraved Company B rifles is featured in the American Society of Arms Collector article "Civil War U.S. Martial Henry Rifles and an Examination of Engraved U.S. Veterans Volunteer Infantry Martial Henry Rifles" by Vincent L. Rausch. In that article, Rausch identifies Companies B, C, I, H, and K as the five reporting the rifle serial numbers and who the rifles were issued to. Company B's Type II Henry rifles were spread across the 6,809-9,701 range. He explains that "Based on the evidence, it is much more likely that an individual in the 3VVI, namely Private Lewis Reibrecht of Company B, was the engraver of the 26 known 3VVI engraved martial Henry rifles." Reibrecht was born in Germany in 1839 and is believed to have arrived in the U.S. shortly before the Civil War. He served as a musician in Company B of the 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He re-enlisted in the 3rd U.S. Veter Volunteer Infantry on March 29, 1865. At that time, his "Volunteer Enlistment form" listed his occupation as an "engraver." He and the rest of Company B were stationed at Camp Butler in Illinois and then Camp Randall in Wisconsin. The remained at the latter until March 1866. He later worked as a jeweler and engraver in Newark, New Jersey, until his death in 1904. Given Reibrecht was an engraver and that most of the engraved 3VVI rifles come from Company B, the evidence certainly points towards him being the man responsible for the engraving on this rifle and others. This rifle is also listed by serial number on page 75 of "The Historic Henry Rifle" by Wiley Sword. Sword features Pvt. Jacob Werle's Henry which has similar style of engraving. The rifle has a square back, nickel-silver blade front sight fitted in the slot at the muzzle, the notch and folding ladder rear sight with 900 yard top notch, "HENRY'S PATENT OCT. 16. 1860/MANUFACT'D BY THE NEWHAVEN ARMS CO. NEWHAVEN. CT." on top ahead of the rear sight, the serial number behind the rear sight, larger magazine follower, larger trigger pin, no rear sight dovetail on the frame, "&" on the lower tang, sling loop on the left side of the barrel/magazine tube, corresponding sling swivel on the left side of the buttstock, "Henry bump" below the swivel, the "AWM" acceptance stamp on the left side of the wrist, pointed heel buttplate with smaller door, and correct four-piece iron cleaning rod. Stevens indicated that in addition to the visible serial number on the breech end of the barrel, this rifle has matching serial numbers on the left side of the lower tang, in upper tang mortise of the buttstock, and on the inside the buttplate and matching assembly numbers on the barrel under the magazine loading sleeve and on the rear of the magazine loading sleeve itself. The "6" in the latter location is visible without disassembly. The screws are not numbered (noted as correct for later Henry rifles). The engraving consists mainly of floral and scroll patterns and wavy line borders on the frame and buttplate along with a figure-8 and banner design on the right side plate, a cross on the front left, and a patriotic shield, flags, and arrows and spears on the left side plate. The rifle is accompanied by a Springfield Research Service letter identifying the rifle as issued to "Private George Bemfer" as well as copies of records from the National Archives regarding his service in the 3rd Third Veteran Volunteers. Despite these documents listing "George Bemfer," the man's name actually appears to have been George W. Benfer (1835-1924). There was also another George W. Benfer from the same area, but he was too young to have served at the beginning of the war. Benfer is identified in records as born in Prussia and as employed as a weaver when he enlisted as a private in Company B of the 3rd Regiment, U.S. Veteran Volunteer Infantry on March 31, 1865, and as previously having served as a private in Company C of the 98th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry. Company C was raised in Union County. With the latter, he would have fought at many of the major battles in the East. At Gettysburg, they led the VI Corps on their 30 mile march from Manchester, Maryland, to the battlefield where they arrived during the peak of General Longstreet's attack on July 2 around 5 p.m. They formed up on Little Round Top and attacked toward the Wheatfield and then held the John Weiker farm. The plaque dedicated to the 98th at the Pennsylvania State Memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park lists him as "George Benfer." Benfer was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. In that battle, they fought for two hours until they expended their ammunition and were relieved. They suffered nine dead, and 56 wounded. Benfer was discharged on September 3, 1864, at the end of his enlistment in the 98th. His muster-out roll for the Veteran Volunteers notes "This soldier is entitled to retain his arms, appendages, and acc." Census records later identified him as a farm laborer and then a farmer. He is buried in New Berlin Cemetery in Union County. Local papers noted him as "a highly respected citizen" and indicate he had been ill with the flu. He was survived by his daughter Clara Benfer (1862-1944). Provenance: The Steven D. Stevens Collection

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine, with 50% bright original blue finish remaining and concentrated along the grooves on the side of the barrel/magazine tube as well as on the rear sling swivel base, and mottled brown patina and light oxidation on the balance of the iron. The "gunmetal" frame and buttplate exhibit crisp period engraving and attractive aged patina as well as minor dings and scratches. The buttstock is very fine and has a crisp U.S. inspection acceptance stamp, and mild scratches and storage dings. Mechanically excellent. This is a very rare chance to get your hands on an identified, soldier engraved, 3rd U.S. Veteran Volunteer Infantry Henry lever action rifle!



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