A Very Rare French 6 inch Howitzer Round Shot Iron Cannon Ball. Recovered From Waterloo, Weighing Considerably More Than 24 Pounds
Very rare piece indeed, in that the Howitzer were sparsely used at Waterloo, due to there size, with 6 regular cannon, used in support, by the French artillery, for every two Howitzers used, and each Howitzer was operated with a 13 man crew. And of course, more than half of all the Howitzer six inch rounds were explosive, and thus detonated, leaving no residual cannonball to recover.
What an amazing, large and impressive historical centrepiece for any collector or collection. Imagine the family gatherings or dinner parties that would be enlivened by such an incredible historical artefact and conversation piece! To speculate the incredible hours of battle, with hand to hand combat and the frantic melee that this cannonball was involved within, fired by a French Howitzer crew at the heroic British infantry, or our valiant Prussian volunteer allies of the Kings German Legion, during the glorious defence of La Haye Saint, or the British Guards regiments defenders of Hougemont
The artillery of the French army was almost completely redesigned by Jean Baptiste Grimbeauval from 1765 onwards, standardising gun calibres and making gun carriages lighter and easier to transport, allowing for more flexible and efficient manoeuvring. A typical French artillery battery during the Napoleonic Wars was made up of four to six cannons with the support of two 6-inch howitzers. The shell we discovered would have had a maximum range of around 1100m and would have been most deadly at a range of 640m
Our shell would have been shot from a 6-inch howitzer, that fired, either hollow cast or solid round shot cannonballs. Around 24lb in iron weight for a hollow cast exploding mortar, and around 30lb in weight for round shot. It was the largest of the 3 sizes of howitzer used by the French during the Battle of Waterloo, which would have required 4 horses to draw it and 13 crewmen to fire it – an efficient team would have been able to fire one round ever minute.
A cannonball is a solid ball of metal, known as round shot, which could smash through the ranks of soldiers, causing massive devastation. In contrast, an explosive mortar howitzer shell is a hollow iron sphere filled with gunpowder, with a slow burning fuse fitted to the case. Once lit, it was intended to explode above the heads or at the feet of the Allied soldiers, causing enormous amounts of damage to their formations. A howitzer throws it shells high into the air with a sharp trajectory, and is designed to bring ‘indirect fire’ down on enemy formations either in buildings as at Hougoumont, or, as here, behind a ridge and out of direct sight. While the shell discovered at Mont Jean is known as a 6-inch howitzer shell, an Old French inch is actually equivalent to 1.066 modern inches, so the dug up shell was in fact 6.4 inches in diameter but with size losses due to surface erosion.
We show in the gallery the 6 inch French Howitzer cannon ball recently recovered at Mont St Jean at Waterloo, that when fired, impacted deep underground, and was latterly recovered from the dig. the engraving photographed in our galler shows the farm house of Mont St. Jean. This house being close to the rear of the action, it was much dilapidated by random shot (1815). Engraver James Rouse. Note the round shot impacts through its walls.