The LeMat revolver was a .42 or .36 caliber cap & ball black powder revolver invented by Dr. Jean Alexandre LeMat of New Orleans, which featured an unusual secondary 16 gauge smooth-bore barrel capable of firing buckshot. It saw service with the armed forces of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War of 1861–65.
History and design
The mid-19th century was a time in American history that gave birth to a number of innovative firearm designs. This unique sidearm was also known as the "Grape Shot Revolver." It was developed in New Orleans in 1856 by Dr. Jean Alexander Le Mat, whose manufacturing effort was backed by P.G.T. Beauregard, who became a general in the Confederate Army. About 2,900 were produced.
The distinguishing characteristic of LeMat`s revolver is that its 9-shot cylinder revolves around a separate central barrel of larger caliber than the chambers in the cylinder proper. The central barrel is smooth-bore and can function as a short-barreled shotgun (hence the name "Grape Shot Revolver") with the shooter selecting whether to fire from the cylinder or the smooth-bore barrel by flipping a lever on the end of the hammer. Flipping the lever up caused the movable striker to fall upon the primer set directly under the hammer, discharging the lower barrel, while leaving it in the standard position would fire the chambers in the cylinder, much like any other revolver.
LeMat originally chambered his pistol for .40 (or .42) caliber revolver bullets, with a .60 (20 gauge) smooth-bore barrel, and had a jointed ramrod (mounted on the right-hand side of the frame), which was used to load both barrels. Later, during the American Civil War, a lighter .35-caliber pistol with a .55 caliber (28-gauge) smooth bore barrel was produced, but as these were non-standard ammunition sizes (.36 or .44 caliber were most common for contemporary revolvers) LeMat owners had to cast their own bullets (as opposed to being issued them from general military stores.) The final models of the LeMat were produced in .36 or .44 caliber in response to these criticisms, but too few of them managed to get past the Union blockade of the South during the Civil War to be of any real use.
Civil War use
LeMat hoped to market his adaptable revolver as a primary sidearm for dragoons and other mounted troops. He entered into a partnership with P.G.T. Beauregard (at that time a major in the U.S. Army) in April 1859 to market his handgun to the U.S. Army. Beauregard, besides being LeMat`s cousin, was one of the first U.S. Army officers to resign and join the Confederacy.
When war broke out LeMat received Confederate contracts for the production of five thousand revolvers, and plans were laid to manufacture the gun abroad and then import them into the Confederacy, which lacked the necessary facilities to produce the weapon locally. Confederate gun runners were able to slip shipments of the gun through the Union naval blockade and it is estimated that about 2,500 made it into Confederate service.
In addition to General Beauregard and Colonel LeMat, LeMat`s revolver was used by such famous Confederate officers as Major Generals Braxton Bragg, J.E.B. Stuart, Richard H. Anderson, and Major Henry Wirz. Confederate Major General J.E.B. Stuart "was known to favor the Le Mat revolver". General Beauregard`s personal engraved LeMat, which he carried throughout the war, is preserved at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.
The LeMat revolver was manufactured from 1856 to 1865, with approximately 2,900 being produced. The first models were manufactured by John Krider of Philadelphia, with the second model (the first overseas model), being produced by Charles Frederic Girard and Son of Paris. Quality concerns prompted LeMat to consider production at the Birmingham Small Arms Company in Birmingham, England, but production was never mounted there. LeMat revolvers from France were shipped to the Confederate forces via the United Kingdom, and all firearms landed in the UK were (and still are) required to be proofed. The LeMats which found their way through the Union blockade were stamped with British proof marks from the Birmingham Proof House, leading to the misapprehension that the pistols were actually manufactured in the UK. A handful are known to have been made illegitimately in the UK by an unknown manufacturer, believed to be the London Armoury Company, but only two examples survive to the present day and it is doubtful any of the English-made LeMats ever saw service during the U.S. Civil War.
The original revolver, constructed of blued steel with grips of polished walnut, was not considered to be a very accurate weapon although it was deadly at close range. Civil War cavalrymen, particularly in the South, preferred to carry several pistols, as it was faster to draw another loaded weapon than it was to try to reload a cap and ball revolver in combat.
After the introduction of cartridge-firing firearms, the LeMat system appeared in pinfire, but this version is exceedingly rare. A centerfire version in 12mm Perrin or 11mm Chamelot-Delvigne, with a 24 gauge shot barrel was made in later years in Belgium. While having better sales than its pinfire relative, the centerfire LeMat also had no real commercial success due to the invention of the double-action system. With both weapons, loading was accomplished via a loading gate located at the 4 o`clock position for the cylinder, and by swinging the breech of the shot barrel up and left.
- Muzzle Loader – The first variant of the LeMat.
- Pinfire Cartridge –
Second variant, can be recognised by cylinder.
- Centrefire – The centrefire variant came with a distinctive grip.
- Carbine – A rare variant with extended barrels and a rifle type stock.
The Pietta company of Brescia, Italy has manufactured modern reproductions of the LeMat revolver since 1985. United States distributors include Navy Arms Company, Dixie Gunworks and Cabela`s. Canadian distributors include Marstar Canada, among others.
- Confederate States of America
- American Civil War
John Krider of Philadelphia, Charles Frederic Girard and Son of Paris, London Armoury Company
Single Action Revolver, Single Barrel Shotgun
.42/.44 (repro)/.36 16ga Shot
3.1 lb (1.41 kg), unloaded
13.25 in (356 mm)
9-round cylinder; single-shot smooth-bore secondary barrel
Fixed front post and rear notch
620 ft/s (190 m/s)