The LeMat Grape Shot Revolver – Two for the Price of One

In 1856, a New Orleans doctor, Jean LeMat designed and created a truly unique weapon: a pistol that was both revolver and buckshot weapon in one. The original LeMat revolver was 13¼” long with a 6 ¾” barrel, weighed 3 pounds-8 ounces, and sported a .44 caliber nine-shot revolver. Other calibers were later produced, primarily .40 caliber. But what made it unique was the 20-gauge, 5 7/8” smooth bore barrel mounted beneath, originally designed to fire buckshot.

Dr. LeMat started production of his pistol at a Philadelphia armory, but the outbreak of the Civil War—and the subsequent order of 5000 LeMats by the Confederacy—had him moving production overseas.  Reports suggest nearly 2500 of the cavalry revolvers were smuggled through the Union blockade into service with the Confederate cavalry.

Manufactured from 1856 to 1865, the LeMat revolver was carried by such notable figures as Major General Braxton Bragg, General Richard H. Anderson and flamboyant Confederate cavalry officer J.E.B. Stuart.

“The LeMat revolver is similar to the standard black-powder sidearms of the time in several ways. The LeMat is classed as a “horse pistol” (meaning it was big enough and heavy enough that a soldier tended to leave it in his saddle sheath rather than carry the revolver on his belt).”

Note the ring on the base of the grip–that was for a lanyard so the pistol could be tied to the saddle and not be lost.

What I think is most interesting is that both barrels—the revolver and the buckshot—were fired with a single pivoting striker (see the “bump” on the top of the hammer in the pic to the right). That means a lever on the hammer (the part you pull back to fire) was flipped to allow the other barrel(s) to be fired. Or the shooter could flip it back and forth as the situation warranted.

There were a few downsides, though. The LeMat was single action so the hammer had to be pulled back or cocked manually between each shot. And the pistol had to be reloaded one cylinder at a time—all 10 of them. That meant it took as much as 60 seconds PER CHAMBER. Six minutes to reload it! No wonder the dragoons and cavalry officers carried as many LeMat revolvers as they could afford.

The smooth bore shotgun barrel formed the center of the revolver cylinder and could be filled with buckshot, shrapnel or a single, very large, lead ball. And the spread of the buckshot was about 6 inches at 20 feet—which made it a formidable weapon.

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11 thoughts on “The LeMat Grape Shot Revolver – Two for the Price of One”

  1. Extremely interesting post, Tracy! I always enjoy your posts on guns and knives. :o) I can’t imagine spending 6 minutes to reload a weapon, especially in the heat of battle. As you mentioned, no wonder the carried other pistols.


  2. Once more a very interesting post! This is one gun neither my husband or I had ever heard of. Thanks for the facinating posts!

  3. Hi Tracy!

    I love this post. How interesting, about the weapon — I’d never heard of this weapon either. Love this!

  4. Tracy, what a great post. I wasn’t familiar with that particular gun in the least. Thanks for sharing. Sorry, I’m so late leaving a comment, but this is the “First Day of School” busy day. Again, great post. Hugs, P

  5. Tracy, I love your gun posts. I have heard of the LeMat gun, but didn’t know what made it so unique. You’d really have to be adept at it to be able to use it adequately, I’d think–and in the blaze of a firefight, it might be hard to remember everything! LOL But by the same token, what better weapon to have with you? Great post. I really enjoyed it.

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