Dug LeMat Revolver Cylinder



Dug LeMat Revolver Cylinder – We have never encountered a dug LeMat cylinder, much less any excavated parts from the famed, nine-shot, combination, .42 caliber revolver and .63 caliber, smoothbore, grapeshot barrel, seated beneath the rifled, revolver barrel. We had a rarely excavated cache of LeMat revolver bullets, found in the Sayler’s Creek Battlefield area, yet this cylinder, which remains in excellent, dug condition, is a significant first, for us. The nine-shot cylinder retains all of its percussion cap nipples and exhibits some ground action and resultant pitting, but is generally quite clean; all cylinder chambers are open, as well. Stamped on the cylinder is a serial number, which appears to be “36”. We are not sure if the cylinder was part of a 1st or 2nd Model LeMat. This rare artifact was amongst a group of artifacts and memorabilia we recently obtained, from a large collection, in Petersburg.

Markings on Lemat revolvers did include serial numbers on the right flat by the cylinder (with what appears to be a stylized script LM) and on the bottom just forward of the shot barrel. Serial numbers also appeared on the right side of the frame above the trigger guard, on the cylinder and on the left side of the loading lever. Only about 1,000 First Model revolvers were produced, coupled with the production of another 2,000 Second Model pistols.

The most famous LeMat owner was the Confederate cavalryman, General J.E.B. Stuart. General Stuart was carrying a LeMat revolver when he was mortally wounded at the battle of Yellow Tavern, Virginia in 1864. In addition, famed, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard also carried a LeMat.

Courtesy of Tim Prince – College Hill Arsenal:

There is no revolver that is more instantly recognizable and synonymous with the Confederate military and the American Civil War than the LeMat “Grapeshot” Revolver. Even people with only a passing interest or knowledge of small arms used during the American Civil War will recognize the massive LeMat revolver that was about 14” in overall length and weighed in about 3 ½ pounds! For those who saw the movie or read the book Cold Mountain, the LeMat revolver carried by the protagonist through much of the story was practically a character in and of itself.

The LeMat was the invention of Louisiana Dr. Jean Alexander Francois LeMat who developed a uniquely powerful revolver that combined a 9-shot cylinder with a 6 ¾” .42 caliber octagonal barrel that revolved around a 5” long, .63 caliber (approximately 20 gauge) shotgun barrel that served as the cylinder arbor. By flipping a small lever on the end of the pivoting hammer nose, the shooter could determine whether the single action revolver was firing the standard pistol rounds from the cylinder or the shotgun barrel. While the shotgun barrel was short and held a relatively light load of shot, or a .63 caliber slug, it must have been a truly devastating weapon at close range. The total of ten shots without reloading made the LeMat an awesome amount of firepower in a period when the typical revolver held only five or six charges. With the LeMat all of this firepower, practically double a normal revolver’s round count, could be held in one hand. A Confederate cavalry trooper armed with a pair of LeMat revolvers could lay down more fire than two Yankee troopers each armed with a Colt pistol and a single shot carbine, and just one shot less than three troopers so armed! Approximately 2,900 full-sized LeMat percussion revolvers of all models, not counting the “Baby LeMat”, were produced between 1859 and 1865. Of those, at least 1,500 of them were directly contracted for by the Confederacy; 900 for the Confederate army and 600 for the Confederate the navy.

The LeMat revolver went through two distinct model variations, with a number of “transitional” guns produced in between. The First Model revolvers were produced in Belgium circa 1862 in the approximate serial number range of 1-450. These guns featured a loading lever on the right side of the barrel, a pronounced trigger guard spur and large rotating lanyard ring in the butt. The Second Model revolvers were produced in Paris circa 1864-65 and featured a loading lever on the left side of the barrel, a rounded trigger guard without the spur and a small, and a fixed lanyard ring in the butt of the pistol. These guns appear in approximate serial number range of 451-2500. Eventually the production of the LeMat revolver moved to England, where the balance of the pistols produced were manufactured in their own, somewhat eccentric, serial number ranges. This move was an attempt to improve the overall quality of the guns being produced, but it was done so close to the end of the war that most of the English produced guns almost certainly never got into Southern hands for use.  It is not uncommon to find mixture of 1st Model and 2nd Model features on many of the earlier, Paris made, 2nd Model production range pistols, which collectors refer to as “Transitional” LeMats.