Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 207: Confederate General Braxton Bragg LeMat Revolver

Auction Date: December 3, 2021

Historic Parisian LeMat "Grapeshot" Percussion Revolver Attributed as Owned and Carried by Confederate General Braxton Bragg

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $40,000 - $60,000

Historic Parisian LeMat "Grapeshot" Percussion Revolver Attributed as Owned and Carried by Confederate General Braxton Bragg

Manufacturer: Le Mat
Model: Percussion
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 42 cal/ 16 ga
Barrel: 6 3/4 inch octagon and 6 5/8 inch round
Finish: blue
Grip: walnut
Item Views: 2762
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 99
Class: Antique

The LeMat is one of the most distinctive and famous of all 19th century revolvers thanks to its unusual central smoothbore "grape shot" barrel plus its use by well-known Confederate military officers. They were and are very rare and relatively few actually made it to the Confederates during the war which makes any surviving example with identified Confederate use particularly sought after and valuable, especially those identified as owned and carried by well-known Confederate officers. Very few genuine Confederate officer LeMats remain, and nearly all of them that survive are in institutional collections. The LeMat revolver was designed by Jean Alexandre LeMat of New Orleans but mainly manufactured in Liege, Belgium, and Paris, France. Period advertisements for the revolvers refer to them as "LeMat's Grape Shot Revolvers." As shown in "Confederate Handguns" by Albaugh, Benet, and Simmons, future Confederate General Braxton Bragg was one of the men that endorsed the adoption of the LeMat revolver as early as March 2, 1859, and page 121 lists "1273-Carried by General Braxton Bragg, CSA" in their list of "Serial Numbers Known to the Authors." Page 111 of "The Confederate LeMat Revolver" by Adams also includes a list of "LeMat Percussion Revolver with Reported Confederate Use and Association" and lists 1273 and owned by General Braxton Bragg. The authors of "Confederate Handguns" were clearly confident in their attribution as they do not qualify the claim whereas other identified revolvers in their list include qualifiers such as "supposedly" and "said to have been." The difference in the terms used is specifically called out in the included provenance document which notes the above authors' identification of this revolver as owned by General Bragg. It also states: "this revolver is the ONLY LeMat known that was carried by a General Officer that, today/currently, is in the public arena and NOT in a museum or other such conservatory. Of all the military officers to carry a LeMat, Bragg was the one carrier with the highest rank and the only one to have a major military base named after him." With that said, P.G.T. Beauregard, LeMat's cousin by marriage, was also a known promoter and user of the LeMat (#427, see page 39 of "The Confederate LeMat Revolver") and, like Bragg, was one of just seven men that held the rank of full general in the Confederate States Army. However, Beauregard's LeMat is contained within the collection of The Museum of the Confederacy, while General Bragg's revolver remains in private hands and is now publicly available. The important matching serial number, "1273," is marked on the barrels, loading lever, barrel latch, cylinder, and frame. Part of the matching serial number is visible on the side of the trigger. The hammer has a "0" assembly marking. This LeMat has an interesting Parisian configuration found in this serial number range with the assembly latch pivoting on a pin on the barrel lug rather than the frame and thus locking into a slot in the frame rather than a slot in the barrel. The rifled barrel has a triangular blade front sight, "Col LeMat Bte s-g-d-g Paris" inscribed on top with an engraved border and fleur-de-lis style finials, and "*/LM" on the right by the serial number. The screws and nuts have some simple engraving accents, the grips are checkered, and a lanyard ring loop is integral with the butt. A folder of information on General Braxton Bragg (1817-1876) is included. Like many of the Confederacy's most talented officers, Bragg began his military career in the U.S. Army in the antebellum era and was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating 5th among the 50 cadets in the Class of 1837. He served first as an artillery officer in the Second Seminole War in Florida. During the Mexican-American War, he established himself has a professional though unpopular officer. At the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847, his artillery was crucial in defeating the Mexican forces. Famously, General Zachary Taylor reportedly ordered, "A little more grape, Captain Bragg" which became one of the most famous lines from the war even if it was never actually uttered during the battle and helped launch Bragg to national fame. Though famous, he was not popular. Later that year, his men attempted to assassinate him twice, including exploding a 12-pound artillery shell under his cot. Nonetheless, he was received by many back in the U.S. as a hero and married a wealthy sugar heiress in 1849. The newly weds were first stationed at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis before being sent to Fort Gibson in Indian Territory and then Fort Washita. After unsuccessfully lobbying then U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis for a reassignment off the frontier, he resigned from the U.S. Army at the end of 1855 and settled on his plantation near Thibodaux, Louisiana, west of LeMat in New Orleans, where he used over 100 slaves mainly in cultivating sugar. Though a slave owner, he was opposed to secession, but as with many southerners, when it came to choose sides for the Civil War, he donned the uniform of the Confederacy. When the war broke out, Bragg was a colonel in the state militia. He forced the surrender of the federal arsenal at Baton Rouge on January 11, 1861, and made the commander of the state's army before transferring to the Confederate Army in March. His strict disciplinarian nature that had long made him unpopular with troops under him also led to his forces being among the best disciplined and trained in the Confederate Army. At Shiloh, Bragg commanded a corps initially under General Johnston until the latter was killed and then was second in command under General P.G.T. Beauregard. After the battle, he received his promotion to full general in the Confederate Army, one of just seven men to hold the rank during the Civil War. He then took command of the Western Department of the Confederate Army. After initial success at the Battle of Perryville, he withdrew his troops back to Knoxville and was then ordered by President Jefferson Davis to report to Richmond to explain himself and answer to the complaints of the officers under his command. Bragg had seen no advantage in risking his army trying for a complete victory at Perryville and instead was saving it for a more important task, but permanent damage had been done to his relationship with the subordinate officers. He remained in charge of his army and fought again at the Battle of Stones River in late 1862 and early 1863 where he again withdrew after initial success, and his adversaries within the army again complained directly to Davis in Richmond. Though General Joseph E. Johnston was sent to investigate conditions in Bragg's army, Bragg was not removed from command in part because his army was found to be in excellent condition thanks to Bragg's leadership. He gave up Chattanooga in September 1863 when confronted by Union troops under Burnside and Rosecrans. Though still undermined by his own officers, Bragg defeated Rosecran's forces at the Battle of Chickamauga in what is widely considered the most significant victory for the Confederacy in the Western Theater of the war, and he then laid siege to Chattanooga. Infighting within his army continued however, and he removed multiple officers from command. They in turn again complained to Davis, but instead of removing Bragg, Davis denounced Bragg's subordinate officers. During all this turmoil, the fighting was still going on, and Bragg faced a new adversary, Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant who had taken command of the Union forces during the Battles for Chattanooga, and Bragg was defeated. He offered his resignation which was promptly accepted, and he acted as an advisor for Davis and continued to fight with other Confederate officers though he remained on good terms with General Robert E. Lee. He finally returned to a field command in the fall of 1864 when he was sent to the southeast and took command of the defenses against Sherman's famous March to the Sea. He failed to hold off Sherman and lost Wilmington, North Carolina, to the Union Army by mid January of 1865 thus costing the Confederacy its last Atlantic port. He fell from favor but continued to fight as a corps commander until he was captured in Georgia on May 9, 1865. After the war, he struggled to find a new calling and place to all home having lost his plantation to the Union Army during the war. He worked in insurance with Jefferson Davis briefly and also found civic work in the South and with the railroads. He died suddenly at the age of 59 in Galveston, Texas. Many of his contemporaries and subsequent historians have blamed Bragg in part for the Confederacy's dismal performance in the West in part caused by his constant fighting with his subordinate officers. Bragg's name remains prominent thanks to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, his home state. Fort Bragg began as Camp Bragg in 1918 during World War I and was renamed Fort Bragg in 1922. Today it is one of the world's largest military bases. As a result of the controversies around the naming of U.S. military institutions after Confederate officers who waged war against the United States, the Naming Commission established this year by Congress will rename Fort Bragg by 2023 unless other congressional action is taken. It may rename Fort Bragg but instead officially be named after Bragg's cousin Edward S. Bragg who fought in the Union Army as the commander of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry in the famous Iron Brigade noted for its tenacity in the fighting in the Eastern Theater as the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, I Corps. They suffered the most casualties proportionately of any brigade in the Civil War fighting for the Union. Bragg was in command of the Iron Brigade from June 7, 1864, to February 10, 1865, during the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign and was later a Wisconsin state senator, congressman and chair of the House Military Affairs Committee, and U.S. Minister to Mexico. Regardless of the fate of the fort's name, hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women have trained and been stationed at Fort Bragg over the last century, and it remains one of the United States' most important military bases and is the home of the 18th Airborne Corps, Joint Special Operations Command, and U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

Rating Definition:

Good with mostly gray patina, some minor oxidation, scattered patches of mild pitting, period refinished cylinder with light scattered pitting, and moderate overall wear appropriate for a Confederate sidearm. The revarnished grips are very good and have well-defined checkering with mild wear, some small loss at the edges, and light scratches and dings. The hammer hangs-up at the half-cock notch, and the striker falls down to the nipple for the shot barrel. Otherwise, the revolver is mechanically fine. This is an incredibly rare opportunity to get your hands on a LeMat revolver identified as owned by Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Opportunities like this are exceedingly rare, and like the other Confederate officer LeMat revolvers, this revolver may soon be permanently removed from the public market and ensconced behind museum glass if you don't get your hands on it now.

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