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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The LeMat Combination Revolver/Shotgun

Here's a strange gun that saw a fair amount of use in the Confederate army.

Called the LeMat pistol, it was patented in 1856 by Jean Alexandre LeMat of New Orleans. It featured a nine-shot cylinder, rifled barrel, and a smoothbore shotgun underneath. This was fired by a pivoting striker on the hammer that could be rotated so that it struck a percussion cap on the lower barrel, thus firing the buckshot.

The advantages of this pistol over regular six-shooters is obvious. Reloading black powder weapons is a slow business and not at all fun in the middle of a battle. Many bushwhackers compensated by carrying more than one pistol, or extra loaded cylinders that could be snapped into place. Extra guns or cylinders weren't always available, however, especially to regular army units, so having more shots in the same gun came in handy.

One disadvantage of the gun was that revolver part originally fired .35, .40, or .42 bullets, all nonstandard sizes. Quartermasters had to stock special bullets or the troops were forced to cast their own. Later versions were made to fire .36 or .44 caliber bullets, the standard for both Union and Confederate armies.

New Orleans was captured early in the war and LeMat fled to France, where he had his special guns produced by French, Belgian, and English manufacturers. About 3,000 slipped through the Union blockade to make it into the hands of rebel troops.

I have found no record of these weapons seeing service west of the Mississippi so they won't be featuring in my next Missouri Civil War novel. I do have plans to write some Westerns some day and I probably won't be able to resist the urge to outfit at least one character with a LeMat!

Here's a look at the business end of this fearsome weapon. I took both photos at the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford. For more on this interesting gun check out this website by some Florida Reenactors.


  1. Although I've never seen one first-hand, I've always been fond of the LeMat. Most often, combination guns are considered gimmicky and impractical, but this is one that actually saw quite a bit of use, and although a non-standard caliber pistol, I imagine the user found that extra "surprise" under the barrel comforting in certain tight circumstances!

  2. Wow. That's the first time I've seen anything like that. It's really unique that it's dual purpose - shotgun/revolver. Thanks for the info. :-)

  3. Now that's a firearm I've never heard of!

  4. Interesting. I had no idea such a gun existed back then. I wonder how long they were in common use?


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