LeMat Revolver

My example is the Navy Arms/Pietta reproduction. This particular one is the Cavalry model, with engraving on the cylinder. Unlike the original, this model is chambered for a standard .44 cal round ball, and 16 gauge on the shotgun barrel. Navy Arms has them on sale right now.

And a close up of the muzzle, showing the shotgun barrel under the normal pistol barrel.

Operating the LeMat.

Loading is about the same as any black powder revolver of the period, with extra time for the 3 additional cylinders. The loading lever works reasonably well .15 grains of FFF, with a .44 round ball seated on top. Loading the shotgun barrel is a bit tedious, using the short ramrod provided. No handle on the end, so you're advised to have a piece of wood handy to press the charge home.

Firing characteristics: Not the most accurate black powder pistol, but reasonably so. The grip is a bit awkward, being rather narrow for such a large pistol. Definitely does not have the fine balance of the early Colts. I haven't had a loading lever jam, but I'm usually careful to stow the lever away. Cocking is a bit strenuous, and the cylinder can hang up if you don't completely cock it before letting off of the hammer. This particular model is reluctant to fire the shotgun barrel. More often than not, it takes two clicks to get it to go off. I'm not sure if that's a limitation of the design, or this particular revolver. As might be expected, the shotgun barrel is strictly a scattergun, effective for maybe 10 to 15 feet. Load it with 32 cal. balls, and you get more range, but the balls tend to be flung in a wide pattern. Recoil with the conventional barrel is mild. With the shotgun barrel, it definitely has more punch, though not in the painful range.

Cleaning afterwards is a bit lengthy, due largely to the extra three cylinders. I always remove the nipples for additional cleaning. The shotgun barrel is easy to clean, the toughest part is finding a 16 gauge cleaning jag.

History of the LeMat Revolver.

In the 1850s, the new rapid fire revolver pistol gained increasing attention from farsighted military officers. Not enough attention, as neither the revolver, nor Oliver Winchester's repeating Henry rifle were used much during the war. However, those few officers who saw the advantage of a repeating pistol had been busy negotiating deals in hopes of persuading the Army to adopt these as standard sidearms.

One such negotation took place between Major P.T. Beauregard ,then of the US Army, and Jean Alexander Francois LeMat, a French gun designer, and, by coincidence (or maybe not), Major Beauregard's son in law. When war broke out, Beauregard became a general in the Confederate army, and sought to have the LeMat revolver produced in Europe and sent past the blockade.

Unlike the Colt revolver, with it's cylinder lock on the outside of the cylinder, LeMat used a pin at the back of the cylinder to lock it in place. Not as rugged as Colt, but Colt held the patent on that design, and LeMat had to make do as best he could. To increase the utility of the revolver for military use, LeMat built a 9 shot cylinder - three extra shots. He chambered it for 40 caliber, giving it a bit more punch than the .36 bullet used by Colt, though this did make getting bullets a bit more difficult.

And then there was the 10th shot, for which the LeMat revolver is most often remembered. LeMat put a second barrel under the normal 44 caliber barrel, and had the cylinder revolve around that barrel. The second barrel was a single shot .65 caliber 18 gauge shotgun. Short, very little range, but up close, it was a nasty weapon, effectively a sawed off shotgun hidden in the middle of the pistol. It was your backup, or desperation shot. The shogun barrel was fired by a primer that sat directly under the hammer. Flip a lever down on the end of the hammer, and the hammer will strike the shotgun primer instead of a cylinder primer. For this reason, this type of pistol in general is referred to as a grapeshot revolver. As the photos show, the LeMat is also remembered for it's unusual appearance.

LeMat revolvers were built first in France, and then farmed out to gunmakers in England, due to quality problems with the French built models. BSA is reported to have been the primary contractor. About 2,500 were thought to have actually made it past the blockade and into the CSA army's hands.

Today, an original LeMat revolver commands a high price: $20k - $40k. Many have lost their loading levers, due to one of the LeMat's shortcomings. If not properly secured, the loading lever can flip up from the recoil of the pistol. It's piston will be pushed into a cylinder, and the pistol will jam when the shooter cocks it for the next shot. Many a soldier must have wrenched the loading lever off in the heat of battle, when trying to clear this jam.

An interesting pistol. Not the most accurate, nor the most rugged. Prone to hanging up if you're careless in rapid cocking. And the shotgun barrel is as much a novelty as an effective weapon.

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