Although it was a better mechanical design than its rival, the Spencer Rifle, the Henry Repeater was not chosen by the Union Army during the Civil War because it was not as rugged. A comparison could be made to the M16's initial problems with harsh-environment reliability due to its precise fit and finish. However, it was very popular with those familiar with it, and many soldiers bought one out of their own pocket.

A famous incident involving the Henry involved a single man, James Wilson, who killed seven men that attacked his house using only eight shots. His ability to fire in rapid succession without having to remove the weapon from his shoulder overwhelmed the numerically superior, but lesser armed, criminals.