Cannonball Alters History of Waterloo

It suggests French army reached British field hospital before defeat
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 18, 2019 9:38 AM CDT
Point at Which Napoleon Nearly Won Waterloo Found
Re-enactors take part in the commemoration of the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo near Waterloo, Belgium, on June 20, 2015.   (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Rare human remains—specifically, amputated leg bones—have been discovered at the site of the 200-year-old battle that marked Napoleon's final defeat. Archaeologists were combing the site of farm buildings that were used as a British field hospital during the Battle of Waterloo in what is now Belgium when three amputated leg bones surfaced. The Telegraph notes the remains are "extremely rare as many of the mass graves were plundered and bones ground to be used as fertilizer" in the years that followed. But archaeologists made a find that may be even bigger: 58 musket balls and a 6-pound cannonball believed to have been fired by the French army—all suggestive of a previously unknown firefight "at the very doors" of the hospital, which sat about 0.3 miles behind the Allied front line, says lead archaeologist Tony Pollard.

"It represents the point at which Napoleon came closest to winning the Battle of Waterloo, so it's an amazing discovery," Pollard tells Reuters. The Prussian army arrived in time to turn the tide against Napoleon, but not before 6,000 soldiers were treated at the hospital in Mont-Saint-Jean. Hundreds of amputations were carried out, typically without anesthetic, per the Telegraph. Pollard notes the discovered bones offer "a very poignant connection with the people who suffered here in 1815, a connection that has not been lost" on the 25 current and former soldiers who joined British and Dutch archaeologists for the dig. "Working with people who have actually fought in wars gives this sort of project a totally different dimension," Pollard tells the BBC. "And in a way it brings it to life." (Some blame Napoleon's defeat on a volcano.)

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