The new HBO science-fiction series titled “Westworld” stars Ed Harris as a mysterious villain. In this West-meets-technology dystopia, Harris carries an unusual-looking revolver that has gotten viewers – and gun enthusiasts – wondering just what kind of cool weapon it is. It turns out that it’s a modern cartridge conversion of a Confederate LeMat grapeshot revolver.
In this video, Forgotten Weapons does a quick discussion on the Harris revolver. These were used primarily by the Confederacy during the American Civil War. It’s a 9-shot, .42-caliber, muzzle-loading revolver that also happens to have an 18-gauge shotgun barrel as the central axis of the cylinder. There were about 3,000 of these made, and a few companies might still be making reproductions of them.
The original LeMat isn’t quite what Harris is carrying in the series, as he’s clearly using cartridges, and reloading the gun with .38 short Colt cartridges. So, is it a cartridge-firing LeMat? The answer is sort of, but not really.
There was an actual cartridge-firing version of the LeMat, which was quite bulky and looked quite different from the original. The reason the original LeMat guns couldn’t be stuffed with cartridges is because the rims of the cartridges would overlap with each other. The cartridge LeMats are even rarer than the original ones; very few were made because they were not commercially successful.
What Harris appears to be carrying is a cartridge-converted LeMat. These are done on a commercial basis by a company called Kirst Converters, and what they basically do is cut the cylinder a little bit short and add a back plate. So cartridges can now be chambered in that cylinder and there’s a firing pin on the back plate. The firing pin allows the percussion hammer to detonate center-fire primers.
It’s a really cool system that Kirst makes for all percussion-type revolvers, except for the LeMat. It doesn’t quite work the same way. So when Harris disassembles his gun on the show, the shotgun barrel comes off with the regular revolver barrel and the cylinder, and that’s not how the gun actually comes apart. In reality, the shotgun barrel is affixed to the frame of the gun and is a muzzle-loading piece.
The conversion being used in the show makes the cylinder acts as if it comes off with the regular barrel. So there have been some custom modifications to that LeMat, and Harris loads a center-fire shotgun shell into it, which would not have been possible with the original guns. On the cartridge-firing LeMat revolvers, there is a loading gate but it would not have been practical to convert.
One of the cool things that’s correct about the LeMat on the show is how the shotgun barrel is used – Harris can be seen doing it in the second episode. All in all, it’s a cool show and the gun is a pretty cool conversion revolver.