LeMat Revolver

LeMat Confederate Grapeshot Revolver. From the Confederacy, to France, and Smuggled Back into the Confederacy.
Hammer switch on LeMat Revolver

The most unique Confederate pistol used in the American Civil War (1861-1865) is the famous LeMat Revolver, often referred to as the "grapeshot pistol.  The successful pistol made by the Confederacy, was joined only by the "Cap and Ball" percussion revolver made by Griswold & Gunnison, near Macon, Georgia as sidearms produced for the South. 

The LeMat Revolver has its origins in New Orleans, where in 1856, Dr. Jean Alexandre LeMat invented the innovative firearm that was both a Cap and Ball percussion revolver built around a small, handheld shotgun, or "Grapeshot" pistol.  Having not one, but two functioning barrels, the LeMat pistol served as both, earning Jean LeMat a US Patent.

LeMat received support by partnering with his father-in-law and a major in the US Army, Pierre Beauregard, and was hopeful of entering into a contract to produce the pistol for the US Army's mounted troops.   The Army did not express much interest in the LeMat, probably considering it more of a novelty.  The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 changed things  considerably.  Beauregard sided with the Confederacy early on, and later was to become a general in the CSA Army.  At about this time, LeMat was given a contract to produce the pistols for the Confederacy, but due to lack of materials and other wartime concerns--something Griswold & Gunnison knew all about--decided to produce the weapon overseas in France, and import it into the American South.  Of course in order to achieve this, Confederate gun runners would first have to make it past the Union Naval Blockade, thereby adding another layer of complications to the process.  Some 2,500 of the pistols made it into the Confederacy, and were deployed.

Before the outbreak of the Civil War, the first LeMat pistols were produced in small numbers in Philadelphia.  When war broke out, the LeMat revolvers were produced in Paris, France by Charles F. Girard & Son.  After the guns were made in Paris, they were routed through Birmingham, England and "proofed" or stamped, before being smuggled overseas to the Confederacy.  By this time, France and England were on better terms, having been at war with one another off and on since medieval times.  Since the proofing took place in England, many mistakenly thought the LeMat was produced there.  Major quality issues surfaced with the LeMats made in Paris, and some of the production was  transferred to  British factories, presumably Birmingham Small Arms, and possibly some by London Armoury.


The truly unique features of the LeMat are, of course, the two barrels, each serving a different function.  A 9-shot cylinder rotated around a center barrel, which was basically a handheld, smoothbore, miniature sawed-off shotgun, which was used to fire grapeshot (buckshot) or a lead ball, or whatever else one could blast out with black powder.   The revolver holes lined up with a barrel above the center barrel, and used the more modern system of a percussion revolver.  These used lead projectiles loaded on top of a measure of black powder, and fired by having the hammer strike percussion nipple caps made with mercury fulminate.  The resulting spark would then ignite the black powder in the barrel.  A moveable striker lever on the hammer allowed the user to select between firing the revolver or the center smoothbore barrel.  When fully loaded, the user could get off nine shots from the revolver, and one big shot with the center barrel.  This made the LeMat a very effective weapon for close-in use. 

Like most percussion revolvers, the LeMat had a loading lever, in this case, mounted alongside the upper barrel, used to tamp down the bullets onto the powder charge.  It was said to be a little flimsy, easily flipped up from recoil, and prone to break off.  They could even jam the cyilnder, which may have resulted in the lever being broken off by overwhelmed soldiers while busily occupied in combat.   A large number of the surviving LeMats are reportedly missing the original loading lever. 

The original LeMats were made for .40 or .42 caliber percussion and .60 caliber shotgun.  The models made during the Civil War used .35 caliber percussion, and  .50 caliber shotgun.  Unfortunately, these were non-standard calibers, so the users had to cast their own bullets, not unlike many soldiers of the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.  Improvements were made by changing the caliber to a more standard size, but these changes, in addition to the problem of the Union Blockade came too late to be of any benefit to the South.  This further typifies the problems the Confederacy had with material and supply logistics, which eventually allowed the Union to grind them down.

Firearm Type: Percussion Revolver built around a smoothbore grapeshot pistol
Nation Of Manufacture: USA, France, England
Military Service Dates : 1861-1865
Variations: Pre-Civil War, Ci vil War, Post-Civl War Pin-fire, others
Ammunition: .40, .42, .35, 18 and 28-gauge grapeshot
Wars: American Civil War
Recent Prices at Auction for Originals: US $12,000 to $40,000

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