June 19 1815: Lord Uxbridge’s Amputation

On June 19 1815, Deputy Inspector John Hume writes a description of the amputation of Lord Uxbridge’s right leg above the knee after it had been struck by a grape shot the day before at the Battle of Waterloo. On being hit, Lord Uxbridge famously exclaimed, “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”, to which the Duke of Wellington, riding beside him, replied “By God, sir, so you have!”  In fact, the leg had not been severed, but had been so severely damaged that it had to be amputated. The saw used is pictured above.The glove is brown with Lord Uxbridge’s blood. I do not know the exact date of the amputation, but the amputation was described by Dr. Hume as follows:

… his lordship made his appearance [in the village of Waterloo] in a gig or Tilbury supported by some of his aides-de-camp. I followed him to his quarters and found on inspection that a grape shot had struck him on the right knee to the lower edge of the patella and entered on the inside of the ligament, and having torn open the capsular ligament had made its exit behind, externally fracturing the head of the tibia end, cutting the outer hamstring in two. The capsular ligament was filled with fragments of bone and cartilage like gravel, but there was no swelling whatever of the joint or limb. His lordship was perfectly cool, his pulse was calm and regular as if he had just risen from his bed in the morning and he displayed no expression of uneasiness though his suffering must have been extreme; but what struck me as most remarkable was his excessive composure though he had been on horseback during the whole day and personally present in almost every one of the many charges made by the cavalry during the battle, he was neither heated nor did he display the least agitation. There could ‘hardly be a doubt of the expediency of amputating the leg but as I was not personally known to his lordship I conceived it was a duty I owed to his family and to himself to do nothing rashly or without evincing to all the world chat amputation was not only necessary but unavoidable. I therefore without giving a decided opinion applied a piece of lint wee with cold water over the knee and having desired his lordship co repose himself for a little I went out co endeavour to collect as many medical officers as I could meet [with] that they might see the wound and assist me in the operation.

I could find no staff surgeon or any other surgeon of the line but I met with several surgeons of artillery who were kind enough to accompany me and from one of them I borrowed a knife that had never been used as my own had been a good deal employed during the day. We entered Lord Uxbridge’ s quarters together, his lordship was lying in the same posture as when I left him, and with the most placid smile I ever beheld he said ‘Good evening, gentlemen!’ I went up to him and… removed the piece of lint which covered the wound … Lord Uxbridge who was attentive to everything that passed [said] ‘I put myself under your charge and I resign myself entirely to your decision, at the same time whilst I observe to you that I feel as any other man would naturally do, anxious to save my limb, yet my life being of infinitely more consequence to my numerous family I request that you will without having regard to anything else act in such a way as to the best of your judgment is most calculated to preserve that.’

… There was but one opinion amongst us, so having prepared the dressings etc, we returned into the room where I announced to Lord Uxbridge that the operation being found necessary the sooner it was performed the better, He said ‘Very well I am ready.’ I disposed the assistants as I thought best calculated to avoid confusion and having applied the tourniquet I took the knife in my hand. Lord Uxbridge said ‘Tell me when you are going to begin.’ I replied ‘Now, my Lord.’ He laid his head upon the pillow and putting his hand up to his eyes said ‘Whenever you please.’ I began my incision without retracting the integument nor in the usual way with one circular sweep, but with my knife I made one cut above from within outwards describing a small segment of a circle and i n the same manner below, beginning at the inner point or horn of the upper and keeping as nearly parallel as possible … With one stroke of the knife I divided the muscles all round to the bone and having retracted them on both sides I took the saw. I had sawn nearly through the femur but the person who held the leg being over apprehensive of splintering the bone raised up the limb so that the saw being confined could not be pushed backwards or forwards. I did not perceive what was the cause and said angrily ‘Damn the saw’, when Lord Uxbridge lifting up his head said with a smile ‘What is the matter?’ These were the only words he spoke and during the whole of the operation he neither uttered groan or complaint nor gave any sign of impatience or uneasiness. I had only two arteries to tie, namely the femoral and a small cutaneous branch. The stump was dressed in the usual manner and his Lordship having drank a very small quantity of weak wine and water was undressed and made as comfortable as the miserable bed upon which he was stretched would allow him to be. His skin was perfectly cool, his pulse which I was curious enough to count gave only 66 beats to the minute, and so far was he from exhibiting any symptoms of what he had undergone in his countenance that I am quite certain had anyone entered the room they would have enquired of him where the wounded man was.

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