Public invited to unveiling of rare Civil War artifact

George W. Fulton

The Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation has announced its purchase of a rare Henry Rifle, which the group will unveil for the public.

The Foundation will present the rifle to Wilson’s Creek Acting Superintendent Russ Runge in an outdoor ceremony at 1 p.m. Tuesday at stop five on the battlefield’s tour road, overlooking the open fields of Colonel Franz Sigel’s position the morning of the battle, Aug. 10, 1861. 

The public is invited to the event. Precautions will be in place at the ceremony to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing. Attendees are encouraged to wear masks, but masks are not required. The event is free, as entry fees to park continue to be waived, park information officer, Kristine Abbey, said.

The Foundation purchased the rare .44 caliber Model 1860 Henry rifle at auction for the park’s permanent collection. While the rifle was made in 1864 and has no connection to the 1861 Battle of Wilson’s Creek, the rifle belonged to a Missouri veteran of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the Civil War.

The original owner, Major George W. Fulton, hailed from Edina. Fulton served with the 21st Missouri Infantry, a Union regiment that saw extensive service during the war including at Shiloh, Corinth, Pleasant Hill, Tupelo and Nashville. Fulton remained with the regiment from July 1861 until his resignation in December 1864. Fulton possibly bought the Henry rifle around the time he left military service and entered into a new role – as sheriff of Knox County. He also later served as mayor of Kinsley, Kansas, where he died in 1890.

“Fulton purchased the rifle for $42 – then a princely sum for a firearm – and paid another $10 to have it engraved. The rifle includes embellishments of crossed flags, shields, oak leaves, a rope border, and the name ‘G.W. Fulton,’” according to a release from Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. The Henry was the most technologically advanced small arm of the Civil War period. A lever-action repeating rifle, the Henry’s 15-round magazine holds self-contained metallic cartridges. This rifle allowed a soldier to fire 15 to 30 shots per minute, while a soldier carrying a single-shot muzzle-loading rifle-musket could fire only two to three shots per minute. It became known as the “sixteen shooter” because one round could be chambered while fifteen rounds sat in the magazine.

According to the National Museum of American History, the New Haven Arms Company presented Abraham Lincoln a Henry rifle featuring gold fittings in 1862 “in an effort to obtain his influence in their purchase for the war effort.”

The company made about 14,000 of the rifles between 1860 and 1866, but the U.S. Ordnance Department purchased only about 1,731 of the rifles. However, many soldiers acquired their own Henrys, which were popular in Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. One Confederate soldier is rumored to have said, “It’s a rifle you could load on Sunday and shoot all week long.”

Fulton’s Henry rifle will be displayed in the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield’s renovated Visitor Center, tentatively set to reopen in October 2020. The planned exhibit will highlight the history of Civil War weapons technology and give visitors a greater appreciation of the rapid advance in arms technology during this period. The rifle draws a clear distinction between pre-war single-shot weapons and the repeating rifles that dominated after the war.

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation is the support and fund-raising partner for Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. The foundation encourages awareness, appreciation, education and development of the park, as well as raising funds for various projects not covered by the National Park Service. The Foundation also recently contributed an additional $40,000 to the visitor center renovation project to provide content for electronic displays highlighting several aspects of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and the Civil War.

Wilson’s Creek Administrative Office is located at 5242 S. State Hwy ZZ, in Republic Missouri.

Engraving near trigger.