'The hell kind of pistol is that?' the man said, his eyes fixed on the two big mismatched bores...


A brief history of the Le Mat

The Le Mat's revolver is one of the most identifiable firearms of the era. Invented by the French physician Jean Alexandre Francois LeMat in 1856, the Le Mat's revolver combined nine shots of .36 or .42 ball, and one 16g shotgun load, making it one of the deadliest side arms in close combat.

Though not particularly commercially successful, the Le Mat revolver was smuggled past the Union blockade to be used by Confederate forces during the American Civil War. Only 2500 were delivered, so the revolver would not have been a common sight on the battlefield, though the Le Mat's iconic looks and stopping power cemented it's place in firearms history. Carried by generals, such as PGT Beauregard, and made famous by novels such as Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, the Le Mat revolver is undoubtedly one of my favourite guns of the 19th century.

Pietta Le Mat Revolver

In a war where breech loading firearms were rare, and practical revolving small arms only a recent invention, the ability to carry 10 rounds offered the soldier carrying it a distinct advantage over regular line infantry who were by and large still armed with single shot muskets and bayonets.

Whilst never designed as a precision firearm, 9 shots of regular pistol ball and a 16g barrel loaded with buckshot would could have proven invaluable formidable in close quarter battle. With an unloaded weight of 1.6kg, half a kilo heavier than the Colt model of 1851, the Le Mat is cumbersome to carry and shoot.

The Pietta Reproduction Le Mat Revolver

The Pietta reproduction Le Mat revolver is, as with all Italian reproduction guns, as close to the original as you're likely to get. Given the ever-increasing cost and scarcity of original Le Mat revolvers, the Pietta reproduction offers the ability to fire this iconic handgun at a fraction of the cost of an original. As mentioned, the original Le Mat revolvers were chambered in .42 and 16g, whereas the Pietta is in .44 and 20g. I cannot imagine this makes much difference to how well the gun shoots, though it is probably the most important distinction between the reproduction and the original.

Pietta Le Mat Specifications

Barrel Length 6 ¾
Calibre .44 and 20g
Capacity 9 + 1
Weight (unloaded) 3.5lbs/1.5kg
Finish Blued, chequered walnut grips
Sights Colt-style notch and post

Pietta Le Mat on test

There is no doubt the Pietta Le Mat is a weighty piece of kit, weighing close to half a pound more than the Remington 1858 and Colt 1851. As it has two barrels, the weight is rather muzzle forward, rather than being more balanced over the hand, and this can lead to shooting low.

On paper at 25 yards, the Le Mat is an average shooter, if you can handle the weight, then it can hold it's own next to more popular pistols. Recoil is also conversely rather light, given the overall weight of the piece, it handles fairly stout .44 loads with ease. The 20g shotgun barrel is quite a blast and doesn't really have much practical use besides novelty value, though it does work and patterns acceptably within 15 yards or so. It could be loaded if ball if required, though given the precarious positioning of the nipple for this barrel and risk of double discharge, it's not something I'd want to load along with the cylinder.

Loading is simple, the gun can be loaded either on the gun by use of the side mounted loading lever (incorporating ramrod for shotgun barrel), or on a loading press, the balls must be swaged into the cylinder as normal to ensure a tight fit.

The gun, heavy as it is, feels nice in the hand. The grip is well chequered and fits the hand well. The sights are about as easy to use as a Colt open-frame, and the weight isn't so far forward as to make shooting particularly difficult.

Final thoughts

The Pietta Le Mat revolver is an excellent gun, in it's own right as much as a reproduction. It's so different than other muzzle loading revolvers, so a comparison with Colts and Remingtons is not entirely fair.

It's a well made gun, the excellent blued finish and hand chequered grip certainly gives it an aesthetic edge over more conventional muzzle loading revolvers. It is a large and heavy gun without a doubt, but carries 10 shots and is great fun to shoot. I have a feeling the Le Mat, along with other large guns like the Colt Walker, are a bit of an acquired taste, and it is not the cheapest revolver, though it's just so iconic and fun to handle and shoot that it's certainly earned it's place as one of the most iconic revolvers ever made.