Type Grapeshot Revolver/Service pistol
Place of origin Confederate States of America
In service 1861–1865
Used by Confederate States of America
Wars American Civil War
Designer Jean Alexandre LeMat
Number built approx 5,000
Weight 3.1 lb (1.41 kg), unloaded
Length 13.25in. (356 mm)
Caliber .42 Ball (.44 repro) or .36 ball, 16ga Shot
Action Single Action revolver
Rate of fire 9 rounds/minute
Muzzle velocity 620 ft/s (190 m/s)
Effective range 40 yd
Maximum range 100 yd
Feed system 9-round cylinder, single-shot smoothbore secondary barrel
Sights fixed front post and rear notch
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 a rather unusual secondary 16 gauge smoothbore barrel capable of firing buckshot, and saw service with the armed forces of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War of 1861–1865.
History and design
The mid-19th century was a time in American history that gave birth to a number of innovative firearm designs, and this unique sidearm was also known as the "Grape Shot Revolver." It was developed in New Orleans in 1856 by Dr. Jean LeMat and backed by Pierre G.T. Beauregard, who was to become a general with the Confederacy. Roughly 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 smoothbore and can function as a short-barrelled shotgun (hence the name "Grape Shot Revolver") with the shooter selecting whether to fire from the cylinder or the smoothbore barrel by flipping a lever on the end of the hammer. Flipping the lever down caused the moveable 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 (16 gauge) smoothbore 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 .50 caliber (28-gauge) smoothbore 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 then-Major P.G.T. Beauregard in April 1859 to market his handgun to the U.S. Army. Beauregard—besides being LeMat's father-in law—was one of the first U.S. officers to 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 and Richard H. Anderson, and Major Henry Wirz.
The LeMat revolver was manufactured from 1856 to 1865, with approximately 2900 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 investigate production at the Birmingham Small Arms Company in Birmingham, England, but this was not proceeded with. However, 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. Having said that, a handful are known to have been made 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 anyway as it was faster to draw another loaded weapon than it was to try and 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.
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.
The Pietta reproduction of the LeMat is a well made, accurate revolver. The shot barrel, due to a short hammer throw and oblique striking angle, is difficult to fire with modern percussion caps which are possibly less sensitive than the original mercury fulminate caps.
* Elmer Keith, Sixguns 1955, noted that early 20th century percussion caps would sometimes fire under thumb pressure when seated on the cones. This would raise a blister on his thumb. While the possibility of this happening with modern lead styphnate caps is present and it is important to point the gun in a safe direction while capping, it is rarely, if ever, seen, even when using a dowel or the gun's hammer to seat the caps.
* TV Gunslinger turned Sheriff Johnny Ringo, carried a LeMat revolver. Played by Don Durant, Johnny Ringo aired for one season (38 episodes) in 1959-60.
* Jayne Cobb, a character from the television series Firefly and the movie Serenity, uses a handgun based on the LeMat Revolver.
* Dr. Theophilus "Doc" Algernon Tanner in the Deathlands series of novels has carried two different LeMat revolvers.
* Bruce Willis' character in the movie Twelve Monkeys was equipped with a LeMat for a time-traveling mission into the past to assassinate a bioterrorist.
* Swede Gutzon is armed with a LeMat in the film The Quick and the Dead.
* Inman, the main character in the novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, carries and uses a LeMat.
* Bufe Coker, a character in both the novel and miniseries Centennial carries a LeMat revolver.
* Ezra Justice in the novel "The Justice Riders" written by Chuck Norris uses a LeMat revolver.