LeMat Revolver

The LeMat revolver was a .42 or .36 caliber cap & ball black powder revolver invented by Jean Alexandre LeMat of New Orleans, which featured an unusual secondary 20 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 and the Army of the Government of National Defense during the Franco-Prussian War.

LeMat Revolver
TypeGrapeshot revolver/service pistol
Place of originFrance
United States
Service history
In service1861–1865
Used byConfederate States
WarsAmerican Civil War
Franco-Prussian War
Production history
DesignerJean Alexandre LeMat
Designed1855; US Patent 1856
ManufacturerJohn Krider of Philadelphia
Charles Frederic Girard and Son of Paris
London Armoury Company
No. builtapprox. 2,900
Mass4.1 lb (1.86 kg), loaded
Length13.25 in (356 mm)

Cartridge.42 ball (.44 repro.) or .36 ball
20 ga. shot
Caliber.42/.44 (repro.)/.36
20 ga. shot
ActionSingle action revolver
Single barrel shotgun
Rate of fire9 rounds/minute
Muzzle velocity620 ft/s (190 m/s)
Effective firing range40 yd
Maximum firing range100 yd
Feed system9-round cylinder; and
single-shot smooth-bore secondary barrel
Sightsfixed front post and rear notch

History and design

This unique sidearm was also known as the "Grape Shot Revolver." It was developed in New Orleans in 1856 by Jean Alexandre Le Mat, whose manufacturing effort was backed by P. G. T. Beauregard, who became a general in the Confederate States Army. Fewer than 100 were made by John Krider of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1859, including the first 25 prototypes. It is estimated that 2,900 were produced in Liège, Belgium and Paris, France. The European-made pistols were shipped through Birmingham, England, where they were proofmarked.[1]

Approximately 900 revolvers were shipped to the Confederate States Army and 600 to the Confederate States Navy through Bermuda to avoid the Southern Naval Blockade.[1][2]

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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[3]

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.[3]

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 LeMat revolver".[5] General Beauregard's personal engraved LeMat, which he carried throughout the war, is preserved at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.[6]

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 States 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.[7]

The original revolver, constructed of blued steel with grips of checkered 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.[3] 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.[3]


  • Muzzle Loader – The first variant of the LeMat.[8]
  • Pinfire Cartridge – Second variant, can be recognised by cylinder.[7]
  • Centerfire – The centerfire variant came with a distinctive grip.[3]
  • Carbine – A rare variant with extended barrels and a rifle type stock totalling 20" in length.[8]
  • Baby LeMat - The rarest variant of the LeMat is a reduced size version with a 4 3/4" barrel and the revolver chambered in .32 caliber and the shotgun chambered in .41 bore. Only 100 were produced.[8]

Modern reproductions

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.[2]

  • In Harry Turtledove's 1992 novel The Guns of the South, Confederate General JEB Stuart is so impressed with the rifles brought back from 2014 by the men of AWB that he sells his LeMat revolver and replaces it with an AK-47.
  • 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'.[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • Inman, a main character in the novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, carries and uses a LeMat multiple times in the novel.[11]
  • Bufe Coker, a character in both the 1974 novel Centennial (novel) and miniseries Centennial carries a LeMat revolver.[12]
  • In the comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the character Allan Quatermain uses a LeMat.[13]
  • In the HBO sci-fi/western television series Westworld, the "Man in Black", played by Ed Harris, carries a custom cartridge-firing version of a LeMat.[14]
  • Nat Love, in Joe R. Lansdale novel "Paradise Sky", carries a LeMat revolver.
  • The LeMat appears in the 2010 video game Red Dead Redemption although with a slightly altered appearance and the inability to fire shotgun shells. As of March 20, 2019, it was teased to return in Red Dead Online[15], the multiplayer add-on to 2018's Red Dead Redemption 2, and officially released on May 18, 2019.[16] In Red Dead Online, it can switch between revolver rounds and shotgun shells.
  • Thielke, a character from the 2012 German novel Oneiros by Markus Heitz, carries a modern recreation of LeMat.
  • In the 2012 Western, "Dead Man's Burden", Heck Kirkland, one of the main characters, carries and uses a LeMat Pin Fire.
  • The LeMat appears in the 2013 movie Machete Kills, one of the bad guys in the beginning is shown with it.
  • In the 2015 film, Forsaken, Kiefer Sutherland's character, uses a LeMat revolver in the final showdown.
  • In the 2014 first person shooter Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the LeMat is available in multiplayer as the M1 Irons as of an update, albeit without the ability to fire shotgun shells.
  • In the first person shooter Hunt: Showdown, the LeMat is available as a midtier secondary weapon capable of switching between regular revolver rounds and shotgun shells.
  • In the book, "The Edge of Violence", a Tim Colter Western, by William W. Johnstone with J. A. Johnstone, 2016.
  • In the book, "The Black Hills", A Hunter Buchanon Novel, by William W. Johnstone with J. A. Johnstone, 2019.
  • In the 1984 book Deep Six (novel) by Clive Cussler, the character Dirk Pitt uses a loaned LeMat to help rescue the kidnapped Vice President of the United States

See also


  1. Flayderman, Norm (17 December 2007). Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values. Iola, Wisconsin: F+W Media, Inc. p. 643. ISBN 0-89689-455-X.
  2. Chicoine, David (2005). "The LeMat Revolver". Guns of the New West: A Close Up Look at Modern Replica Firearms. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications. pp. 61–63. ISBN 0-87349-768-6.
  3. Adler, Dennis (28 March 2011). Guns of the Civil War. Zenith Imprint. pp. 205–206. ISBN 978-0-7603-3971-8.
  4. Cumpston, Mike (July 2005). "A Hail of Lead-the Confederate LeMat". Percussion Pistols and Revolvers: History, Performance and Practical Use. iUniverse. pp. 138–146. ISBN 978-0-595-35796-3.
  5. Konstam, Angus (2004). The Pocket Book of Civil War Weapons. Edison NJ: Chartwell Books, Inc. p. 89.
  6. Taffin, John (2005). Single Action Sixguns. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications. pp. 187–188. ISBN 1-4402-2694-6.
  7. Lewis, Russell E. (4 March 2010). Warman's Civil War Collectibles Identification and Price Guide. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications. pp. 331–333. ISBN 1-4402-1522-7.
  8. Shideler, Dan (10 May 2011). The Gun Digest Book of Guns & Prices 2011. Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. pp. 555–556. ISBN 1-4402-1890-0.
  9. "Firefly - Jayne Cobb's pistol 'Boo'". Archived from the original on 7 June 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  10. Axler, James (1 September 2011). Prodigal's Return. Worldwide Library. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-4592-1257-2.
  11. Frazier, Charles (1997). Cold Mountain. Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 246. ISBN 978-0-87113-679-4.
  12. Michener, James A. (21 January 2014). Centennial: A Novel. Random House Publishing Group. p. 582. ISBN 978-0-8041-5159-7.
  13. Jess Nevins (10 March 2002). "Notes on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #1". Enjolrasworld.com. Retrieved 2 November 2013.
  14. "Westworld (2016 TV Series)". The Internet Movie Firearms Database. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  15. "Red Dead Online Beta: The Road Ahead". Rockstar Games. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  16. "RDR2 Title Update 1.09 Notes (PS4 / Xbox One)". Rockstar Games Customer Support. Retrieved 18 May 2019.


  • The Confederate LeMat Revolver, Doug Adams, Mowbray Publishing, 2005.
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