5 Grisly Facts About The Battle Of Waterloo

In 1815, on a soggy field in Belgium, the fate of Europe was forged in blood. We delve into some of the gory details of Waterloo.

Battle of Waterloo

1. THE LEGENDARY LEG

One of the great cavalry commanders on the British side was Lord Uxbridge, who was clearly unfazed by the carnage all around him - even when he was caught in the firing line of a cannon. On realising he was badly injured, he turned to the Duke of Wellington and reportedly said, "By God sir, I've lost my leg!". To which Wellington replied, "By God, sir, so you have!"

Uxbridge's leg was amputated without anaesthetic. Instead of going mad from the pain, he simply observed that "the knives appear somewhat blunt". After it was removed, Uxbridge worried that he'd lost it unnecessarily, and asked a friend to go check its condition. The friend checked the shattered limb and reassured him it was "better off than on". The leg was buried in Waterloo and became a tourist attraction thanks to its very own tombstone, which read "Here lies the leg of the illustrious and valiant Earl Uxbridge".

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2. WATERLOO TEETH

The Battle of Waterloo left a sea of corpses. And for canny businessmen, corpses meant a bonanza of teeth. Dentistry was a booming trade in the 19th Century, with poor people even selling their teeth to be used in dentures for the rich. So it's not surprising that local scavengers knew there was easy money to be made from the killing fields of Waterloo, and used pliers to yank thousands of teeth from the dead bodies of British, French and Prussian soldiers. These were then carefully sorted according to shape and size to create full sets of teeth. The flood of dentures that resulted became known as "Waterloo teeth".

3. LURID LOOTING

It wasn't just teeth that were taken from Waterloo. Looting was widespread and immediate. In the actual heat of battle, as shots from cannons whizzed lethally around them, soldiers would scramble to swipe whatever they could from men dying. To give just one example, when British officer General Picton (described as a "foul-mouthed devil" by Wellington) was shot from his horse, a member of his own infantry division quickly nabbed a purse and spectacles from his fresh corpse. There are even accounts of soldiers going so far as to steal the gold lacing from the uniforms of the dead.

Statue of Napoleon Bonaparte, Ajaccio, France.

Statue of Napoleon Bonaparte, Ajaccio, France.

4. BURNING THE BODIES

The slow, gory task of disposing of thousands of dead bodies fell to surviving soldiers and local peasants, who dragged and dumped them into huge pits. Dead, horses had their metal shoes ripped off for re-selling before being arranged in vast pyres and set alight. The scene was made even more hellish by the stacks of unburied human bodies that lay around for days afterwards, literally going black in the scorching heat of the June sun. The only thing to do was burn the men just as they did the horses - according to one source, "they have been obliged to burn upwards of a thousand carcasses, an awful holocaust to the War-Demon".