The "LeMat" was an American Civil War (1861-1865) revolver emerging from the resources-strapped Confederate States of America. The LeMat was a private venture development begun in 1855 intended as a heavy weapon for mounted (cavalry) officers with design attributed to Dr. Jean Alexander Francois LeMat of New Orleans, Louisiana. He secured a U.S. patent for the revolver in 1856. LeMat partnered with Dr. Charles F. Girard of the Paris-based Girard and Company manufacturing firm to develop the new pistol for the Confederacy.
The LeMat revolver consisted of a 9-shot revolving cylinder (chambered for "cap and ball" ammunition) coupled with a 16-gauge buckshot barrel held underneath the primary 7-inch barrel. This allowed the user to open combat using his conventional ammunition stock at range and close in to finish off opponents (or to equally defend himself) with the available buckshot round. The firing operation of the weapon was single-action requiring the hammer to be manually cocked prior to firing each chamber. Percussion caps were used to actuated the black powder load. The operator need only to manage a lever found on the hammer itself to a secondary position to fire the buckshot round from the bottom barrel. Either action utilized the same hammer movement, the hammer containing the pivoting striker lever. With the lever in the "down" position, the standard 9-shot cylinder barrel was fired. With the lever in the "up" position, the lower shotgun barrel was cleared. Due to the buckshot capability, the LeMat revolver earned itself the nickname of "Grape Shot Revolver" from Confederate forces.
Dr. LeMat was helped with pushing his revolver into production by U.S. Army Major P.G.T. Beauregard who would later serve the Confederacy throughout the war. As the South lacked much in the way of local manufacturing capabilities to produce indigenous firearms for the vast war effort ahead, overseas sources were tapped with production of the sidearm in quantity. Some original forms of the revolver did, in fact, originate from Philadelphia and were completed by John Krider though other LeMats arrived from workshops in London, England and Paris, France. The LeMat went on to see only limited service during the American Civil War as many arriving guns were claimed during the effective Union Blockade. Notable owners of LeMat guns included Confederate generals P.G.T. Beauregard, J.E.B. Stuart, and Braxton Bragg.
Design-wise, the LeMat proved a very large, heavy and cumbersome sidearm to wield in action. It weighed 3lbs and sported an overall length of 356mm (13.25 inches). It was particularly noted for its inaccuracy at distance for the weapon held an effective range out to just 40 yards with a muzzle velocity of 620 feet per second. Maximum range was an ambitious 100 yards. However, as with most any pistol design, it was at close range that the value of the LeMat was truly understood for its devastatingly destructive firepower. Interestingly (and to a certain extent detrimentally), LeMat owners were required to fashion their own .42 caliber bullets due to the uniqueness of the firearm - the revolver did not accept the regulation-standar .44 caliber cartridge in Confederate service. The overall finish was of a cool steel blue with walnut grips. The frame was of an open design with the hammer spur set within reach of the primary hand. The revolving cylinder was centrally set in the usual way. The upper barrel was octagonal in its shape (as with other revolvers of the period) while the lower barrel was rounded externally and of a smoothbore design internally. Reloading cap-and-ball ammunition was an inherent limitation of many percussion-based revolvers of the time and this proved no different in the LeMat. A primer compound was loaded prior to the ball ammunition and, after this, percussion caps were affixed. The lower barrel was of single-shot design, requiring a complete reload after firing. Sighting was by way of a rear notch with a front post.
Approximately 2,900 LeMat Revolvers were produced from 1856 to 1865 though later manufacturing came from Britain and Belgium - though only half of the lot were ever to reach their intended operators. A lighter version was produced towards the end of the Civil War in .36 caliber with a 28-gauge buckshot barrel. Some LeMats were also modified for "pinfire" operation to coincide with the growing popularity of the French-originated self-contained cartridge ammunition (no longer requiring separate primer and ball). A carbine version included a longer barrel and a full rifle stock for more accurized fire.
In the post-war world, the LeMat revolved continued production though interest in the design waned and the gun fell into oblivion - today it remains a sought-after collector's item (particularly the carbine form) and can fetch hefty prices.