Sometimes I come across something and I’m not sure if it’s absurdly awesome, or an example of the creative mind staggering into an intellectual quagmire. It can be a fine line, like tight rope walking over a tankful of piranhanas, it only takes one slight mistep to turn a unique idea into something henious.
To illustrate my point I recently learned about the LeMat pistol. Essentially, this handgun was invented by a doctor from New Orleans named Jean Alexandre LeMat. Yeah, that’s right a doctor invented this t hing, let the irony sink in it for a minute. Prior to the war, the federal government rejected his idea and once the war broke out he ended up getting contracts with the Confederacy to make/distribute the revolver. The gun was used primarily by Confederate officers during the Civil War, most famously his cousin Gen. Beauregard.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘So what?” Well, unlike the single action pistols made by Colt and Remmington that gained popularity during the Civil War, the LeMatt pistol was unique because for starters it had nine shot cylinder, as opposed to your ordinary revolver like the Colt and Remmington -those guys only had a piddly six shot cylinder. In other words it could be fired nine times before having to be reloaded. That alone should have been enough to make it stand out from the crowd of pistol packers, but oh no! Good old Dr. LeMat decided to add a smoothbore barrel to the pistol, allowing it fire buckshot – as in a shotgun. Back then they referred to it as grapeshot. The user of a LeMatt revolver had the option of firing either the buckshot or shooting it as a revolver by flipping a lever on the end of the hammer.
In a lot of ways this is rather ingenious, the extra shots of the revolver and the added carnage of grapeshot would make anyone using it rather informidable in battle, right? Kinda. You see a major problem with the LeMat wasn’t in its design but rather that it had to be made overseas, mainly in France, because the Confederate states lacked the resources/facilities to build the guns themselves. That would not have been a problem, except for the fact that the Union had a blockade around the coast of the Confederacy. A few gunrunners were able to get a few shipments through the blockade, but only about 5,000 or so. The pistol grip of the gun is rather odd as well, but it makes up for this since its weight allows it to compensate for recoil rather well. But another problem with the LeMat was that it used odd caliber of ammunitions that pretty much required an owner to make his own bullets.
And oh yeah, it had the problem of exploding in your hands – I’m sure that was hard to get used to. Apparently this was due to the cheap materials it was made from.
Regardless of the flaws, the LeMatt Revolver was touted by Gen. Beauragard and other famous officers in the Confederate military.
Both conceptually and visually, the LeMat is a fascinating piece. If the Confederacy had been able to mass produce these weapons and put them in the hands of their dragoon and other mounted troops it could have had a big impact on the war. But it’s now just a curious footnote in the history of the Civil War and firearms.
Interestingly, the gun is still available for purchase today, there are some companies out there that make replicas of the guns that do fire, although I’m guessing they took out the whole ‘explode in your hand’ flaw of the original. Hopefully.
The LeMat has also been reborn in Hollywood as well, if you ever watched the show FireFly, or the related movie Serenity, the character Jane has a pistol that is based/influenced by the LeMat revolver. It also appears in the video game Red Dead Revolver. There are other examples of where it has been used in television, literature and movies, making it a bit of a pop culture curio.
In the end I’m not entirely sure that I would include the LeMat revolver in the novel I am currently working on. For starters the LeMat was pretty rare during the time period, and used exclusively by Confederate officers. I suppose I could work it in somehow, but not for my protagonist since he’s a Yankee and also the Colts and Remmingtons of the day were considered much more reliable and accurate. Although I could possibly include it in my book, just in the hands of say a Confederate bushwhacker or some such. Someone that doesn’t mind it blowing up in their hands….hrmmm…ideas…ideas…