Video: Civil War’s Unique LeMat Revolver

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Combining a pistol and shotgun into one compact package, the LeMat Revolver was meant to arm the South's cavalry with overwhelming firepower.

As with any conflict, the American Civil War saw great leaps forward in firearms technology. In this crucible, the repeating rifle and pistol gained wide-spread renown, the self-contained cartridge came into its own and the proto-machinegun (the Gatling Gun) made its appearance. It was a busy time for those who had the next big idea in firearms, even it did little to jostle time-test concepts – such as Springfield Model 1861 rifled-musket – off the battlefield.

Like any time of innovation, the Civil War not only enjoyed the good but also the bad, mediocre and the downright odd. Of these classifications, the LeMat Revolver most certainly falls into the latter most.


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Mainly used by the Confederates, the pistol was designed to give cavalry soldiers overwhelming firepower. Though, that only started with the cap-and-ball’s 9-round cylinder. On top of pitching .42-caliber balls, the LeMat had a surprise up its sleeve in that its cylinder rotated around a 20-gauge shotgun barrel. Quite a shock for anyone caught at the wrong end of the payload if they were within range.

Simple enough to operate, the LeMat – also know as the Grapeshot Revolver – jumped between rifled and smooth bores through an adjustable hammer. Clever as it was, the handgun had a short lifespan, thanks in part to one of the dominant firearms technologies gaining traction at the time – self-contained cartridges. Reasonable in size as a cap-and-ball revolver, it evolved to absurd proportions as a cartridge gun – mainly its cylinder.
In the end, the backup scattergun wasn’t enough to keep it competitive with the sleek six shooters coming to dominate the market.

Even so, the LeMat continues to stir the imagination and is a Hollywood prop-room favorite. Most recently, Ed Harris’ character in HBO’s Westworld toted what appeared to be a Grapeshot Revolver – though not a true-to-life version. Eh, it’s Tinsel Town, what do you expect?

It’s a hard trudge if you want a LeMat of your very own, at least an original. Only around 3,000 were made. However, a number of black-powder replicas are available from companies such as Taylor & Company and Pietta of Italy.

For more information on the NRA Museum, please visit: www.nramuseum.org.


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