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Less Common Guns

in the Civil War

LeMat

The unique LeMat revolver has always captured the hearts of some Civil War enthusiasts.  It is the only Civil War era revolver invented by a Southerner.  This very unusual pistol carries ten shots; most revolvers only carry five or six.

Packing ten full power shots into one revolver makes it heavy at 3 1/2 pounds, and wide.  It would be bulky carried under a taylored coat.  Most of the originals had a cylinder with nine 42 caliber bullets revolving around a short 20 gauge shotgun barrel. The rifled pistol barrel is 6-3/4" long; the shotgun barrel located underneath is 5" long.

The LeMat was invented in 1856 by Dr. Jean Alexandre Francois LeMat of New Orleans and manufactured at various times from 1856 to 1865 in Liege, Belgium; Paris, France; and a very few in Birmingham, England.  Many of the European made LeMats may carry British proof marks as they were shipped to England for the voyage across the Atlantic.

Most (but not all) of the 2,800 or so made were shipped to the Confederacy, but only part of those shipped would have made it through the blockade.  Battlefield and other losses make original LeMats rare and extremely expensive on the collectors market.  So expensive, that three versions of the LeMat are available as a modern made replica, including from Dixie Gun Works.  The newly made ones come in 44 caliber instead of the 42 caliber of the original.  In the dozen years newly made LeMats have been available, more new ones may have been made then the total original production.

It was loaded with loose blackpowder and a bare bullet referred to as "cap and ball," or with paper cartridges. Loading a cap and ball revolver is from the front of the cylinder.  The short 20 gauge shotgun barrel is also loaded from the front.  Keeping the buckshot in the central barrel in place with the barrel pointed down while being jarred on a galloping horse must have been an art form.  Both pistol and shotgun loadings are fired with percussion caps.

There is a pivoted part in the hammer nose to select whether to fire a chamber in the cylinder or whether to fire the central barrel.

LeMat attempted to sell his invention the US Army in 1859 before the Civil War on his invention for the dragoons, but they couldn't see it.  It wasn't until the going got rough in the Civil War that some cavalry units, especially in the Confederacy, took to having each cavalry trooper carrying several revolvers.  It just wasn't practical to reload a cap and ball revolver while riding a galloping or prancing horse.  The Remington is easier to reload by switching cylinders then the Colt, and the imported LeMats just didn't come through the blockade with many extra cylinders, or the Remington's ease of switching cylinders.

Instead of selling the Army, the then Major P.G.T. Beauregard was interested, and LeMat's father in law.  Beauregard became a Confederate General and was a participant in having the LeMat made in Europe for the Confederacy.

The 42 caliber of the original LeMat is an odd size to American thinking.  Owners would have to cast or buy their own bullets, or I suspect, have an especially heavy hand swaging 44 lead bullets down when loading.  I might have been able to do that as a teenager or young adult, but I wouldn't want to undertake any such task now.  Either my hand, my wrist or the revolver might suffer from the experience.  I can see putting the 44 bullet on top of a cylinder, push it slightly to mark the diameter, and then shave off excess lead with a pocket knife.  But not in the heat of battle.

The LeMat cylinder could be made or modified for pinfire revolver cartridges, but how to reliably fire a percussion central barrel from the same hammer was another task.

The rarest of the rare LeMats is the scaled down version now called a Baby LeMat.  It is a 32 caliber nine shot revolver using a 4-1/2" barrel with a 41 caliber smooth bore very short (2-1/2") center barrel.

For more information, consult "Flayderman's Guide To Antique American Firearms" by Norm Flayderman.

Technical Information

Length 14 Inches
Weight 3-1/2 pounds
Caliber (original version) 42 and 20 gauge
Bullet Weight 128 grains
Power Charge 28 grains
Muzzle Velocity 775 feet per second
Muzzle Energy 170 foot pounds

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