Military Wiki
LeMat Revolver
Le Mat Revolver.jpg
Type Grapeshot Revolver/Service pistol
Place of origin  Confederate States of America
Service history
In service 1861–65
Used by Confederate States of America
Wars American Civil War
Production history
Designer Jean Alexandre LeMat
Designed 1855; US Patent 1856
Manufacturer John Krider of Philadelphia
Charles Frederic Girard and Son of Paris
London Armoury Company
Produced 1856–65
Number built approx 2,900
Variants Revolver
Weight 3.1 lb (1.41 kg), unloaded
Length 13.25 in (356 mm)

Cartridge .42 Ball (.44 repro) or .36 ball
16ga Shot
Caliber .42/.44 (repro)/.36
16ga Shot
Barrels 2
Action Single Action Revolver
Single Barrel Shotgun
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 smooth-bore 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 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,[1] 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".[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]
  • Pinfire Cartridge

    A close-up of the hammer on a LeMat Pinfire Revolver, showing the pivoting striker that could be used to fire either the pinfire cartridges in the revolving chambers or the secondary smoothbore barrel.

Second variant, can be recognised by cylinder.[5]

  • Centrefire – The centrefire variant came with a distinctive grip.[6]
  • Carbine – A rare variant with extended barrels and a rifle type stock.[7]

Modern reproductions

Modern reproduction of a LeMat Revolver.


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.

Use in popular culture

  • 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 which he named 'Boo'.[8]
  • Dr. Theophilus "Doc" Algernon Tanner in the Deathlands series of novels has carried three different LeMat revolvers. First, he uses a .36 caliber cap and ball version, followed by a .44 caliber cap and ball version that he obtains in book 20, Cold Asylum. In the 100th book in the series, Prodigal's Return, Doc upgrades to a modern replica chambered for .44 center-fire cartridges.
  • Bruce Willis' character in the movie 12 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.
  • Red Dead Redemption, a video game set in the dying days of the Old West, includes the LeMat revolver as an available weapon in the later part of the game (without the secondary under-barrel).
  • The Warrior's Way, one of the film's villains, The Colonel, uses a LeMat throughout the movie.
  • In J. T. Edson's Trigger Fast, George Lasalle, a supporting character, owns and uses a LeMat carbine; its unusual configuration is described in some detail.
  • In the BBC America series Copper, Detective Francis Maguire, played by Kevin Ryan, wins a LeMat in a poker game and carries it thereafter. In the same show, General Donovan, played by Donal Logue, also owns a LeMat.
  • In the film Sucker Punch, the German map courier can be seen firing a LeMat at Babydoll.
  • In the French Comic book "Bouncer" by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Boucq : the main character is the one armed Bouncer of a saloon and uses a centerfire Lemat revolver saying "I've never been alone with the 9+1 shot of the lemat"
  • In the comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the character Allan Quatermain uses a LeMat.[9]

See also

  • Henrion, Dassy & Heuschen Revolver


  1. [1][dead link]
  2. "The Pocket Book of Civil War Weapons", by Angus Konstam. Chartwell Books, Inc., Edison NJ, USA; 2004p89
  3. [2][dead link]
  4. "Horsat Held : Antique Handguns". Retrieved 2013-11-02. 
  5. "Lemat-123". Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  6. "0-Lemat-25". Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  7. "Photograph of Guns". Archived from the original on 2013-01-27. Retrieved 2013-11-02. 
  8. "Firefly - Jayne Cobb's pistol 'Boo'". Archived from the original on 2010-06-07. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  9. Jess Nevins (2002-03-10). "Notes on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #1". Retrieved 2013-11-02. 
  • The Confederate LeMat Revolver, Doug Adams, Mowbray Publishing, 2005.

External links

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