Cannonballs and Armor Do Not Mix

France – -(AmmoLand.com)- If your interests are anything like my own – and since you’re here, they probably are – then you’re probably intrigued by all-things “firearms-adjacent.” In this case, it means you’ve also got a soft spot in your heart for suits of armor, armor plates, horse armor, chain mail, and, well, just about anything that’s designed to protect you from being shot – all while looking quite stylish, I might add.

So, with that said, it’s quite likely that you’ve seen photos floating around the internet of this piece of armor that has sustained devastating damage from a cannonball. Like a car accident, it’s hard to look away. The desire to know more about it is great, but many outlets simply note it as a piece of armor damaged at the battle of Waterloo. If you’re lucky, it’ll also tell you where it’s located.

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Paris and visit the Musee de l’Armee, where this piece is on display. The carnage is evident in photos, but to see it in person really drives home just how terrible a wound this really was. Truthfully, the only saving grace in this injury is that it most likely resulted in instant death.

Don't bring armor plate to a cannon fight.

Of course, objects are cool, but provenance is better. So what, exactly, is the story behind this object (aside from the whole “don’t bring plate armor to a cannon fight.”)

First off, this piece of armor has a specific name: cuirass, which was used to describe a breastplate and a backplate that were joined together. This cuirass was worn by François-Antoine Fauveau, and we’re lucky enough that history had preserved his story. A butter maker by trade, Fauveau was born on January 18, 1792. His military service record notes his appearance: “Long face, open forehead, blue eyes, aquiline nose, small mouth, dimple chin, brown hair and eyebrows; his face was marked with foxing (or, freckles).”

A cannonball blew out the back of this 19th century cuirass.

He stood 5’ 8” and was assigned on May 21, 1815, to the 2nd regiment of riflemen. As fate would have it, Fauveau found himself at the now-iconic battle of Waterloo less than a month after the beginning of his service. On June 18, 1815, this devastating wound took his life on the field of battle. He was just 23.

The carnage also tells a tale of Fauveau’s last moments. We know that he was facing the enemy and galloping at a full charge with his fellow riders. They were attempting to attack a British square formation when Fauveau was struck at a slight angle by the cannonball, and given the angle and location of distortion, we know that it went right through him, blowing fragments of the cuirass into his chest and then out and away from his body as it passed through him completely.

The piece was recovered from the field by a farmer not long after the battle in 1815, and it was held in private collections before making its way to the Musee de l’Armee. There, it stands as a testament to the bravery of soldiers in battle – and to the slow progress in defensive protection against the ever-increasing speed and lethality of offensive weaponry.


About Logan MeteshLogan Metesh

Logan Metesh is a historian with a focus on firearms history and development. He runs High Caliber History LLC and has more than a decade of experience working for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Park Service, and the NRA Museums. His ability to present history and research in an engaging manner has made him a sought after consultant, writer, and museum professional. The ease with which he can recall obscure historical facts and figures makes him very good at Jeopardy!, but exceptionally bad at geometry.

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Logan MeteshWild BillAutsin Miller IIIHeed the Call-upKnute Recent comment authors
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Bill
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Bill

Of course, cannonballs were hard on individuals, whatever their body protection, since the beginning of cannons. I would guess that they still are!

Knute
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Knute

Yes, they still are … and here’s the evidence:

It couldn’t defeat the modern armor… so it just pushed the whole plate straight through the dummy. That would’ve had to hurt.

Wild Bill
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Wild Bill

@Knute, Holy crap that is the most entertaining evidence that I have seen in a long time!

Heed the Call-up
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Heed the Call-up

Yes, that was pretty sick with the cannon, it did defeat the armor, though, it broke it apart and pushed it into the gel dummy. As to those other rounds, the various long guns, the armor worked, but I would believe that if not seriously injured due to the concussive forces, one might likely still have died. I am not sure how well the human body could handle the energy transfer of those shots.

Will
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Will

That is a definite kink in that mans armor.

Hankus
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Hankus

That should buff right out.

MS-Steve
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MS-Steve

YEEEOUCH……. That’s gonna leave a mark

Vern
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Vern

I saw the body of a person hit with a mini-gun outside the perimeter while in Nam, you could not tell if the person was male or female, and barely that it was a person.

Ej harbet
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Ej harbet

Well that had to hurt! For a nanosecond!

Autsin Miller III
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Autsin Miller III

Thanks for sharing this. How could a butter maker afford that armor? Would love to know the rest of the story.

Deplorable Bill
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Deplorable Bill

Certainly it was a quick death. As is the case with every soldier I ever served with, the battlefield wish is for an honorable death. Most people, thank GOD, have no idea of the carnage and the smells and the waste of human life related to combat. One of the blessings in my life is my wife and children have no idea whatsoever about truly evil people and their dedication to murdering any American, Christian or Jew. One of the banes to my existence is that my wife and kids have no idea whatsoever about truly evil people and their… Read more »

Finnky
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Finnky

@DB – Nice summary of your blessing & bane. We strive to protect our loved ones from exposure to evil, yet need for them to understand (preferably in detached academic sense) so that they can participate in ensuring their own safety – and carry on when we are gone. Trust your wife, she is strong. Love the children and keep them safe, their resilience grows from consistent parental love & protection.

Knute
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Knute

Because this, like almost everything else, is a double edged sword. Most things have both advantages and disadvantages. This is why there is no “perfect” rifle, caliber, optic, etc. It all depends upon the task of the moment. .22RFs are “perfect” for small game but suck as a deer rifle, a .460 WBY makes a great rhino gun but sucks to shoot doves with, etc. Its great to protect one’s family, but if one protects them from everything, forever, then there is no way for them to ever grow up. It’s what AvE called in a video, a “vile bargain”.… Read more »