The Civil War witnessed a technological revolution in
weaponry. This was highlighted by a changeover in hand-held
and shoulder-fired weapons from single shot smooth bore
firearms that had to be loaded through the muzzle to rifledbarrel
repeating firearms, some of which loaded at the breech.
Unfortunately for the common soldier, tactics did not advance
as quickly as technology. Napoleonic tactics from earlier in
the century now combined with more accurate, faster-firing
weapons to result in catastrophic casualty figures throughout
The Confederacy, whose economic and industrial base was far
weaker than the Union's when the war began, accomplished
a great feat by establishing a viable arms-manufacturing
capability in short order. It was also the fact that most gun
manufacturers in the South were small, family-run businesses
operating generally from a single building, and staffed by a
dozen skilled workers at most. This is why there are so many
different "brands" of Confederate arms with "CSA" on them.
These small "cottage industry" shops would bid for a contract,
stating that they would deliver so many musketoons, or
revolvers, based on an estimate of their own capacity.
The North's industrial machine also swung into high gear
to produce huge quantities of weapons and ammunition.
But there is a huge difference between Sam Colt turning out
proprietary Navy and Army revolvers as fast as they could on
already-existing assembly lines, and Spiller & Burr contracting
to build 5,000 copies of the Colt 1851 "Navy" revolver,
basically in batches of at most a dozen at a time, mostly with
hand tools, in a "factory" built in a disused tobacco shed. It
is amazing that the Southern makers turned out as many
arms as they did, and that more of them weren't as inferior
and dangerous as the Dance Brothers (TX) Dragoon copy or
the Richmond (VA) Sharps copy. Gen. Lee stated that the
Richmond Sharps copy was more of a danger to its user than it
was to his intended target.
Jean Alexandre François LeMat
Additionally, agents from both the Union and the Confederacy
scoured the shelves of European arms-dealers to supplement
domestic production. One of the most ubiquitous of the
foreign sourced weapons was the LeMat revolver. Jean
Alexandre François LeMat, a French physician living in New
Orleans, patented the LeMat revolver in the United States on
October 21, 1856.
Dr. LeMat hoped to market his adaptable revolver as a
primary sidearm for cavalry and other mounted troops. He
entered into a partnership with P.G.T. Beauregard (at that
time a major in the U.S. Army) in April 1859 to market his
handgun to the U.S. Army. Beauregard, besides being LeMat's
cousin, was one of the first U.S. Army officers to resign and
join the Confederacy.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, with the help of Beauregard,
LeMat secured a contract from the Confederate Ordnance
Department to provide 5,000 of the pistols, and he traveled
to the safety of Paris to begin manufacturing them. However,
roughly 2,900 were produced, with approximately 2,500 used
by the Confederacy. The first shipments of these pistols passed
through the Union blockade into the Confederacy during
the summer of 1862. Although these LeMats were originally
intended for Confederate naval officers, many ended up in the
hands of cavalry officers and other high-ranking Confederates.
This fearsome weapon fired nine .42 or .36 caliber shots from
a top barrel, while the lower barrel delivered a massive single
16 gauge shotgun blast. Effective range of the LeMat was 40
yards with a maximum range of 100 yards. Manufactured from
1856 to 1865, with approximately 2,900 being produced, the
LeMat was considered the most lethal of all smalls arm during
close range combat.
The LeMat revolver didn't change the outcome of the war and
it didn't turn the tide of a single battle, but to the soldier who
owned it, there was a sense of empowerment, a psychological
This fearsome weapon fired nine shots from a top barrel, while the lower barrel delivered a massive single shotgun blast.
advantage, and confidence and exuberance unmatched
by those without the revolver. Some of the most famous
Confederate Generals, Stonewall Jackson, J. E. B. Stuart and
P. G. T. Beauregard, carried LeMat pistols.
It is General Beauregard's personal LeMat revolver, bearing
SN 8, that serves as the cornerstone of the renowned Donald
Bryan Collection of Confederate Revolvers, which will be
sold in its entirety at auction by James D. Julia on March 15,
2016. In fine historical treatise on the subject The Confederate
LeMat Revolver by Doug Adams, on pg. 37 refers to this exact
pistol: "Serial number eight deserves special mention. It is
one of the finest surviving First Models known. It was also
Beauregard's original pistol, which, in his haste to return to
Charleston, SC, he left it at the home of Thomas Henderson
in 1862. Family correspondence indicates that rather than
retrieve the pistol, he simply made it a gift to his long-time
friend." This extraordinary pistol is accompanied by the finest
known LeMat holster and carries a presale auction estimate of
$200,000-$300,000. In total, nineteen of the rarest and finest
condition examples of Confederate revolvers extant will be
offered in this historic, once in a lifetime, opportunity.
The complete catalog description with illustrations will be
available on line at www.jamesdjulia.com or in the printed
version of the March 15, 2016 auction catalog.
Historic Presentation Confederate LeMat ID'd to General
P.G.T. Beauregard, SN 8. The condition of this pistol is one of
the finest of any known Confederate revolver by any maker.
(Est. $200,000-300,000) (The Don and Kathlee Bryan Coll.)