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November 4, 2007

Retreat Along the Wabash
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:50 PM * 83 comments

‘Twas November the fourth in the year of ‘91
We had a strong engagement near to Fort Jefferson
Saint Clair was our commander as it may remembered be
For we left nine hundred lying in that curséd territory.

St. Clair’s Defeat

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It was the worst defeat under arms ever suffered by the US Army. Out of some 1,100 men who answered muster on the night of November 3rd, 1791, only 27 were unwounded at sunset on the 4th. 90% were dead. The camp followers, the artillery, all were lost.

In just over three hours on that bloody morning General Arthur St. Clair lost 60% of all the men then under arms in the service of the United States.

St. Clair was no bumbler. He had been recognized for valor on the Plains of Abraham, where Britain took Quebec from the French. When the Revolution broke out he was a magistrate in Pennsylvania, where he raised a regiment. He crossed the Delaware with Washington. Shortly afterward he came up with the plan, and led the column, that took Princeton in a daring night march around the British lines. After the war, he became the 9th President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation. As President, he put down Shays’ Rebellion. He convened the Constitutional Convention that gave us our current Constitution, and sent that Constitution to the states to be ratified.

So, what happened?

Out on the Western Frontier of the United States (as it was in those days) there’d been peace between the Europeans and the Native Americans for quite some time. Then the Revolution happened, and when it was over the new United States felt that any treaties between King George and the Indians were no longer valid. The Indians, as you’d expect, were all “What the hey?!” about that.

Low-Intensity Conflict (as we’d call it these days) broke out in Ohio. Henry “Hair Buyer” Hamilton, Lieutenant-Governor of Canada at Detroit, offered bounties for European scalps, but none for living prisoners. He also supplied the native forces with powder and firearms.

St. Clair’s wasn’t the first army to go west in an attempt to end the situation. General Harmar had tried in 1790 with spectacularly bad results. (Among other things he sent a detachment forward; it ran into an ambush. He refused to send a relief party or make an assault himself. Some said that he was drunk at the time.)

President Washington sent for his old friend Arthur St. Clair to clean up the situation. St. Clair, with a militia, was to make his way northwest from Kentucky. He had been ordered to cut his way through the forest and build a fort after he had defeated the Indians; for this purpose he had been issued just 15 hatchets, 18 axes, 12 hammers and 24 handsaws. The troops had light-weight uniforms and tents. Much of the money that had been appropriated for equipping the militia had instead been spent on land speculation by Henry Knox, then Secretary of War.

The militia itself was poorly trained. Many of the men did not even know how to load and fire a musket. The horse-master “had never been in the woods in his life.” St. Clair spent the summer of 1791 training them, and on 17 September, with the weather deteriorating, headed out from Ft. Washington (near present-day Cincinnati) to find and destroy the Indian forces.

The march was plagued by cold weather, desertions, and the friction between St. Clair and his second in command, General Richard Butler (the man who had received Cornwallis’s sword at Yorktown). By the evening of the 3rd of November the two men were not on speaking terms. When Butler heard the word from the scouts that a large band of Indians was massing nearby, he neglected to tell St. Clair.

General St. Clair himself was old, tired, and sick. He made the march being carried on a stretcher due to his gout. He made errors. First, he divided his forces, putting half on one side of a river, half on the other. He had send off a strong party of his most reliable troops to round up deserters and supplies. Second, he placed his artillery where it couldn’t support his line (an error made earlier in Scotland by General Sir Henry Hawley at Falkirk and by General Sir John Cope at Prestonpans with equally bad results). These two things, elementary errors as they were, didn’t ensure the disaster. His failure to build breastworks and stand-to at first light (despite his experiences at Trenton and Princeton when he’d been on the offensive) left him in a very bad position indeed.

Before dawn on the 4th somewhere between 1,400 and 2,000 Miamis (under Little Turtle), Delawares (under Buckongahelas), and Shawnees (under Blue Jacket and his adopted brother Tecumseh) attacked the camp, taking it by surprise.

Says Colonel Gibson to his men, my boys, be not dismayed,
I’m sure that true Virginians were never yet afraid;
Ten thousand deaths I’d rather die, than they should gain the field,
With that he got a fatal shot, which causéd him to yield.

The powder the American militia had (provided by William Duer, described as “an unscruplous New York financier,” and Henry Knox’s partner) was woefully bad. A soldier described musket balls striking the Indians and bouncing off.

Says Major Clark, “My heroes, we can no longer stand.
We must strive to form in order and retreat the best we can.”

Forming in order proved difficult. Retreat turned into rout then into headlong flight. Men threw away their arms and equipment in order to run faster. The Indians only chased the army for three miles or so—about a half-hour.

When the news reached the capitol in Philadelphia, President Washington called together all his advisers. Some say that occasion marked the first Cabinet meeting. There was an investigation—the first time Congress ever investigated the Executive branch. President Washington invented “Executive Privilege” for the occasion (a precedent that has haunted us to this day), making secret documents that touched on state security, and claiming that among those that were handed over to the legislative branch that only copies—not the originals—would be submitted.

General St. Clair demanded a trial by courts-martial to defend his honor. Washington refused to convene one, instead dismissing St. Clair from the Army.

The Indian problem on the frontier continued, but it was obvious by now that the militia (raised on each occasion for a specific purpose then disbanded) wasn’t up to the job. Congress created a standing Army, and, under the command of General Anthony Wayne, that army headed west two years later, in 1793. Wayne, taking a page from Caesar’s book, built a road as he went and built a fort every night.

The army finally came face-to-face with the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (20 August, 1794). The fight was one-sided. The Indians fell back seeking entrance to the British fort at Fort Miami. The British, their allies and suppliers up to then, turned them away. It isn’t hard to understand why, from the British point of view. Detroit was a long way off, England farther still (when St. Clair was defeated along the Wabash it had taken a full seven months for the news to reach London), and relief and reinforcements were unlikely to arrive, while Mad Anthony Wayne might prove perfectly willing to reduce a British fort, he was there, he had the capability to do so; no need to give him a reason. Wayne went on to build the fort on the Maumee River as St. Clair had originally been ordered to do.

And that, my friends, is why Fort Wayne, Indiana, is called “Fort Wayne” rather than “Fort St. Clair.”

That too is where we got a standing army, and where the doctrine of “Executive Privilege” comes from.


Tell the truth to a man you trust,
The truth to a man you fear.
Lie to a woman because you must.
But since whatever you do or say
He’ll never believe you anyway -
Lie, lie, lie to a General
Lie to a Brigadier.

—Martha Keller
Comments on Retreat Along the Wabash:
#1 ::: Gabriele Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 05:20 PM:

Interesting post, thank you.

I admit that while I know a lot about European and Ancient history, my knowledge of the US history is sadly lacking except for some outstanding events. I should dig up that old YA novel about Tecumseh I read as kid and look how the battle is presented there.

What I find fascinating is that Wayne obviously knew Caesar's works and made use of them.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 05:48 PM:

The road Anthony Wayne built from Cincinnati (Cincinnati was named by Arthur St. Clair) to Lake Erie in 1793 was called The Great Road. The Battle of Fallen Timbers took place near modern-day Toledo, Ohio.

#3 ::: Gabriele Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 05:55 PM:

Thanks. I'll try to find a map and look that up. I've a faible for military history; it's one of the reasons I write about the Romans. :)

#4 ::: LizT ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 05:57 PM:

Thanks for this. So much I was never taught and don't even know to look for, but I stumble across these things all the time here, and am better for it. Much appreciated.

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 06:13 PM:

What became of Major General Richard Butler?

He died that morning on the banks of the Wabash. Years later, Chief Little Turtle returned General Butler's Order of the Cincinnati to his widow, and told her that, regardless of what she'd heard, that General Butler's heart had not been eaten.

His sword, stained with his own blood, had been carried from the field. That sword eventually passed to his nephew, Edward George Washington Butler, who went on to sign the Articles of Secession for Louisiana at the outbreak of the Civil War.

#6 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 06:23 PM:

Getting militia to move (especially back) is always difficult. It seems that the lessons of this war weren't taken to heart. During the War of 1812 various western politicians attempted to use militia to conquer Canada.

As one can see, the results, while not a spectacular as under St. Clair, were not what was desired.

#7 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 06:30 PM:

What interests me is the information that St. Clair was the ninth president under the Articles of Confederation. I have to admit it never occurred to me to wonder whether we had presidents under the Articles, or who they were.

History is big. It's amazing how many important things the history classes back in school ignored, or glossed over, or swept under the rug, which I've only learned about many years later.

Now I'm curious: does anyone know of a good general history of that period?

#8 ::: Laurie D. T. Mann ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 06:38 PM:

Here in Western PA, we have Upper St. Clair and Butler county. And, just over the Ohio River in Ohio, there's St. Clairsville. I'm surprised these places seem to have been named after people who lost so spectacularly.

#9 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 07:14 PM:

St. Clair was the governor of the Northwest Territories until 1802, ending a long career in public service and government.

Aside from one spectacularly bad day St. Clair was part of the Early American First String. That was part of what made his defeat so stunning.

Here are some references:

Arthur St. Clair

Early America's Bloodiest Battle

Native American Ways

#10 ::: spiralsheep ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 07:18 PM:

"The Indian problem on the frontier continued."

No, the white invader colonisation problem on the frontier continued.

#11 ::: Emmelisa ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 08:22 PM:

(Emerging from the shadows of lurkerdom)--Wesley at #7, I suggest that you try the books of Allan W. Eckert. I can especially recommend That Dark and Bloody River, and A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh.

Eckert specializes in the history of the colonial frontier. Having grown up in close proximity to the only Revolutionary War fort in Ohio (didn't know there was one, did you?), I can attest to his very thorough research.

Be warned though, the books are dense and "chewy"--not quick reads. But they bring to life many of the people and events of the era.

#12 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 08:23 PM:

"The Indian problem on the frontier continued."

Somehow, I don't think that the aboriginal inhabitants of the region thought in those terms.

For some reason, I'm reminded of Gore Vidal.

#13 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 08:57 PM:

I'm sure I'm not the only one with Juanita Coulson's voice in my head now singing Martha Keller's words. Damn, are we ever going to get that CD of Keller songs that Roper keeps promising us?

James, wasn't that other general's name Harmar rather than Hamar? Seems I recall a Fort Harmar near Marietta.

James Alexander Thom's novel Panther in the Sky is a good read about Tecumseh. He's a novelist, not a historian, but he seems to do pretty thorough research for his books.

#14 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 09:05 PM:

It was the worst defeat under arms ever suffered by the US Army.

Just so I can win this one when it comes up in Trivia Pursuit, is this the worst single battle, or the most lives lost in a single day, is it based on percentage lost of the total army or absolute numbers, or what?

Didn't something like 2,500 American troops die on D-Day?

#15 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 09:10 PM:

Greg London #14: If you go back to Jim's second paragraph you'll get your answer: 60 percent of the forces under the flag of the United States were wiped out.

#16 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 09:18 PM:

Fragano, I saw that. I just wasn't sure that was how it qualified as "worst defeat". I was wondering maybe somethign like D-Day didn't count as a single "battle" or something, maybe it was per-beachhead. I don't know. That's why I was asking.

So, "worst defeat" == Biggest loss as a percent of the total size of army in a single battle.

Got it. And china is in eastern europe. Check.

OK. I think I'm all squared away.

#17 ::: Nathan ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 09:25 PM:

Also, I'm not sure anyone defines D-Day as a "defeat"...worst or otherwise.

#18 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 09:37 PM:

Greg London @ 16

Give it a few years, and Europe will be in Western China.

#19 ::: Gabriele Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 09:40 PM:

Emmelisa # 11
Thanks, I'll check those out. I really need to cover up some of those holes I have re. US history. :)

Fragano #15
For the trivia, I can come up with another really bad defeat: the Roman general Varus lost his entire army (3 legions and several auxiliary cohorts) in the battle of the Teutoburg Forest against the German tribes under Arminius in 9 AD - 15.000-18.000 men, depending on whether the legions were full strength or not. Varus and most of his staff fell upon their swords when they realised everything was lost. It was the most spectacular defeat the Roman army ever suffered.

And the reason we speak German today, not French. *grin*

Though compared to the entire strength of the Roman army at the time, the loss was less severe than in case of Wabash.

#20 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 09:44 PM:

I protest. Surely the Roman defeat by Hannibal at Cannae was worse - 80K Roman dead, some say. Or how about Carrhae in 53 BCE? 40K dead, and an unknown number taken prisoner by the Parthians.

#21 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 09:45 PM:

Jim, this is a fascinating account of a bit of history I was totally ignorant of. Thanks very much for posting it.

#22 ::: Gabriele Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 09:54 PM:

Dave you caught me there. Cannae was worse indeed (that's what I get for concentrating on imperial times), but I'm not sure about Carrhae. 40K seems a bit high. I have to check how many legions Crassus had, but I think it was 4, and probably understrength. Plus the auxiliaries, but I don't think those would have amounted to 16.000 men.

#23 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 10:03 PM:

Whatever the problem was, Indian or expansionist, it continued.

In the great scheme of things, I think the Indians had the right on their side in the continuing mess in Ohio. Not that Hair-Buyer Hamilton, sitting up in Detroit and playing a great game of "Let's you and him fight," was helping anything much.

Think of this as the US Army's Isandlwana.

After the Fallen Timber, hostilities ceased for a while with the Treaty of Greenville, signed by everyone except Tecumseh.

As for worst US defeat under arms: St. Clair lost 90% of the troops under his command (KIA), all of his artillery and logistics, and left the field in a headlong rout.

About 73,000 US troops participated in D-Day. For an equivalent defeat they would have had to have suffered 65,700 KIA, and left the beach by swimming back to England.

#24 ::: Gabriele Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 10:05 PM:

In fact, Arausio in 105 BC had a higher death count than the Varus battle as well. I thus remedy me statement: it was the worst defeat for an Imperial army, and surely the one with the most important consequences.

Hannibal got kicked out in the end, the Cimbri and Teutones were annihilated, and the Parthians conquered albeit for a limited time, but Germany never became a Roman province. ;)

One could argue that Shapur taking the emperor Valerian captive was an important event, but the empire didn't care much who was emperor at that time, so the impact was less stunning than Varus' defeat.

#25 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 10:24 PM:

Nathan @17: Also, I'm not sure anyone defines D-Day as a "defeat"...worst or otherwise.

Worst victory?

#26 ::: Gabriele Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 10:51 PM:

Dave,
well, Wikipedia gives 6 legions for Carrhae (about 35.000 men), plus 4000 cavarly and another 4000 auxiliary infantry. Next time I'm in the library I'll check with Ritterling if I can find the numbers of the legions involved; and maybe I can find out if Crassus had indeed 4 alae horse. I don't trust Wikipedia without cross-checking.

The number of dead is given with about 20.000, plus 10K captured, which would leave another 10K Cassius Longinus got out of the mess and into the province Syria.

I'll get back to you one of these days. :)

#27 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 11:20 PM:

Makes me wonder, if he had won would that death rate suddenly be acceptable and worth it?
What is the ratio of defeats to victories for the history of the U.S.?

#28 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 11:29 PM:

Natha@17: I'm not sure anyone defines D-Day as a "defeat"

Ah. True. Though, it ain't "victory" till it's over. So far, we've had several years of "victories" in Iraq, and I'll be damned if that means squat in the end. We could win every battle and still lose the war.

But really, I was just thinking that given the death tolls we've had in various wars that maybe somewhere we had a defeat worse than 1,100 killed. The D-Day numbers just told me that it was at least concievable that a WW2 battle could lose more than a thousand American lives.

Philipines, WW2, maybe? Though I don't know any specific numbers there. Bataan death march killed 14,000 total, though I don't know how many were American. And it wasn't a battle. 6,000 killed taking Iwo Jima, but that was over a month long battle, so I'm not sure how that measures. Per day? Per battle? Or for the whole island?


#29 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2007, 11:56 PM:

I suppose I could be impish and remark that the worst defeat ever suffered by the forces of the United States was probably Chancellorsville. I agree that this would not be to the point.

The first two weeks of the October offensive on the Argonne, France, 1918, maybe? Those attacks eventually succeeded as the German army crumbled under the weight of the entire Allied offensive, but they were very costly, and were they considered alone might well be thought a failure.

#30 ::: Gabriele Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 12:13 AM:

Greg, I think WW1 is a candidate for that, too. The Hundred Day Offensive cost some 125,000 American lives, if I remember correctly, and there were several pitched battles during that (2nd Somme, Amiens, Hindenburg Line, etc.) which implies more than a thousand might have fallen during a single battle.

One single battle, that of the Somme 1916, saw about 165,000 Germans dead; the number of the allied losses must have been in the same range (though no US soldiers in that one).

(And I finally remembered to use comma, not a full stop in the numbers :)

#31 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 12:17 AM:

Anne Sheller @13:

I've got Moonwulf, rather than Juanita, on the in-brain radio, but otherwise yes. And I'd queue up (or, more meaningfully, pre-order) the Keller album if/when it materializes. On the other hand, Roper spent the year occupied with a) a blown knee and the surgeries and recoveries appurtenant thereto, and b) a brand-new daughter. He's a little pre-occupied :)

#32 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 12:23 AM:

It's been discussed on this board several times what else has produced casualty figures to match some of WW I numbers - mostly Caesar and the Helvetians.

If the militia be distinguished from the standing army then IIRC Korea produced the worst defeats and greatest single action casualties in the history of the US Army - often redlegs fighting as infantry and such - ask Dr. Pournelle.

Frex: http://www.korean-war.com/TimeLine/1950/11-23to12-31-50.html

December 1

The 2nd ID's 23rd Regimental Combat Team, which is the 23rd Infantry Regiment and the 15th Field Artillery, acts as the rear guard for the division's withdrawal.
......
The Chinese virtually wipe out the 9th and 38th Infantry Regiments on the retreat route. The 23rd RCT then withdraws to the east to escape the slaughter.
........
By the time the remnants of the 2nd ID reach the British lines, nearly a third of its strength is gone, about 4,940 soldiers.
........
Task Force Faith, part of the Seventh Division and named for its commander, Lt. Col. Don Faith, begins to fight its way from the east bank of the Chosin Reservoir to Hegari at the south end of the reservoir to join up with the 1st Marine Division.
.........
.....Only 385 of the original 3,200-man task force [Faith] make it to U.N. lines. Faith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor....

Stories abound

#33 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 01:05 AM:

Jim, thanks for recounting this fascinating bit of our usually-hidden history.

Rob @ #25: How about "costliest victory?"

All: Regarding WWI losses, I've seen several articles that suggested the number of casualties in WWI battles and operations were nearly always inflated by troop losses because of disease, usually influenza. The staggering losses suffered during certain actions of the Korean "conflict" were doubtless caused by enemy action, not microscopic flora and fauna.

Now that a few Conservatalk Radio demagogues have undertaken the revision of the Viet Nam war, I've been amazed to hear of some of "our" impressive victories. While it was all happening, I used to snort at the occasional news report of a victory by our troops and allies, since it was so obvious that there was only one outcome to be expected.

#34 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 01:33 AM:

#33 - Now that a few Conservatalk Radio demagogues have undertaken the revision of the Viet Nam war, I've been amazed to hear of some of "our" impressive victories. While it was all happening, I used to snort at the occasional news report of a victory by our troops and allies, since it was so obvious that there was only one outcome to be expected.

obs SF author's comments to Rolling Hot (Baen) : For those of you who weren't around at the time, the Viet Cong made a massive win-the-war attack on US and South Vietnamese forces during the truce declared for the Lunar New Year holiday, Tet. Politically, it won them the war: Tet proved that President Johnson and the US generals had been lying when they claimed the VC was nearly finished as a fighting force. Such public support for the war as had previously existed vanished abruptly.

Militarily what happened is that the guerrillas came out in large numbers where US firepower slaughtered them. The Blackhorse was tasked to recover the huge Bien Hoa airbase, and that's just what happened. One platoon sergeant showed me his snapshots of VC bodies in windrows on the concrete runways where cal fifties and canister rounds from tank main guns had laid them.

It takes a heap of bodies to make windrows.

#35 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 01:46 AM:

Antietam has the greatest number of total dead for a single, US, battle.

Greg: re the "worst"

The effect of the battle was to make the entire armed force of the US, effectively, hors de combat The whole army was combat ineffective for some while until the losses could be made good.

There are any number of ways to define, "worst" but had England, for example, known of it, and wanted to send Redcoats south from Canada, there would have been damn-all to stop them.

At no other time in the national history have we actually been so vulnerable, in terms of forces available.

#36 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 01:47 AM:

I'm pretty sure that 'worst' is being defined here by percentage, rather than numbers.

And thanks, all, for the pointers to learning parts of history I'd never read about.

#37 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 01:47 AM:

Antietam has the greatest number of total dead for a single, US, battle.

Greg: re the "worst"

The effect of the battle was to make the entire armed force of the US, effectively, hors de combat The whole army was combat ineffective for some while until the losses could be made good.

There are any number of ways to define, "worst" but had England, for example, known of it, and wanted to send Redcoats south from Canada, there would have been damn-all to stop them.

At no other time in the national history have we actually been so vulnerable, in terms of forces available.

#38 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 02:10 AM:

#34: That's true. But it doesn't much matter when there are entire fields of moving, enraged bodies to replace them, especially when they're convinced they hold the moral high ground, which by that time "we" couldn't claim.

#39 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 02:12 AM:

*koff* Wouldn't D-Day be counted as a defeat for the Germans?

I don't think anyone has yet mentioned King Pyrrhus of Epirus†, whose linguistic legacy is probably relevant to this discussion.

† I first typed in Epiduris. Quite a different area, that.

#40 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 02:13 AM:

Gabrielle: I doubt that you will find the numbers or names of the Legions destroyed at Carrhae. As far as I know - and I had to research this for a bo(cough)ok - the only Legions at this date known by name and number were the ones from Caesar's Gallic War, because he wrote the history.

But if you do find them, please let me know. It will mean that I'll have to backpedal fast.

#41 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 04:35 AM:

Re Carrhae:

My main Roman history book (M .Cary and H.H. Scullard, A History of Rome, which attempts to cover all of Roman history, and so is not guaranteed to get all the details right) says that the Romans had "not less than 35,000 men ... consist[ing] almost wholly of legionary infantry." It also says that "a bare 10,000, breaking away in detachments, regained the Roman frontier." Which implies the loss of about 25,000 men, though there's no attempt to break that down into dead versus captured.

The Roman commander, Crassus, was killed during the battle or immediately afterwards. The victorious Parthian commander, Surenas (who had won with something like 10,000 men, mostly mounted archers), was subsequently executed by the Parthian king, who was worried that Surenas might now have ambitions to displace him.

#42 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 04:44 AM:

Jim,

Thanks for the fascinating account; it's something I'd never heard of.

Is there, by the by, an "official" name for the battle?

#43 ::: spike ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 06:06 AM:

The bloodiest battle I have heard of was the Battle of Towton (wikipedia.org) where it is estimated that 1% of all English men were killed.

#44 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 06:11 AM:

So far as I'm aware the official name is "St. Clair's Defeat.

#45 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 07:06 AM:

1. St. Clair was, actually, a bumbler. He was the commander who bugged out of Fort Ticonderoga (northern New York) early in the Revolutionary War, allowing "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne to occupy it without firing a shot and head off to Albany. That one could have cost the U.S. the Revolution.

http://www.fort-ticonderoga.org/history/timeline1700.htm

2. D-Day was certainly a victory, not a defeat. By comparison, the number killed at D-Day for the American Army was the *average* number of Soviets killed per day from 1941-45.

#46 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 07:40 AM:

I think James' point is that St. Clair's defeat involved the bulk of the US' army at the time, so he basically lost the army in one battle.

However, if all you're looking at is "the most men lost from those engaged in the battle", I'd put both the surrender at Corregidor in 1942, and the surrender of two regiments of the 106th Infantry Division at the start of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. All of the men (except for MacArthur's little party) at Corregidor were lost (killed or captured), while only isolated parts of the two 106th's regiments got away in 1944.

#47 ::: Gabriele Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 08:15 AM:

Dave, so I suppose you found what's avaliable in English. I'll check with some German material in addition - there is one rather comprehensive, if somewhat dated, essay about the legions and their whereabouts.

#48 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 08:46 AM:

The bloodiest battle I have heard of was the Battle of Towton (wikipedia.org) where it is estimated that 1% of all English men were killed.

I wonder whether that means English men or English people. Wikipedia (whence spike quotes, I think) uses the word "Englishmen", which is ambiguous.

#49 ::: mazianni ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 09:17 AM:

Total @ #45

Another way to look at St. Clair's abandonment of Ticonderoga is that he preserved his army, which was insufficient to hold Ticonderoga anyway. Even if Burgoyne hadn't been able to surprise everyone by hauling artillery up Mount Defiance, it's extremely likely he would've taken Ticonderoga and St. Clair's army in relatively short order.

As it is, St. Clair was able to fight a delaying action in the woods and the remnants of his force eventually joined in the victory at Saratoga.

#50 ::: spike ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 09:56 AM:

As best I can discover (here), the population of Britain at the time was between 3.5 million and 6 million. Taking off .75 - 1 million for Scotland/Wales gives an estimate of 3.8 million people. Assuming that adult males form 25% of the population gives ~1 million men. 25,000 casualties = .25% of total adult men. Of course, the errors on this are huge, as I have made various wild assumptions, so the 1% of all adult men could be accurate, and is certainly more likely than 1% of total population. If any historians could polish the numbers I would be very grateful.

#51 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 04:47 PM:

For numbers of military deaths, a good resource is Matthew White's Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century; in particular his list of the Bloodiest Battles of the 20th Century.

In White's list, the nine bloodiest battles of the twentieth century were from the German–Soviet war of 1941–1945, then at number ten is the Somme, 1916. The bloodiest battle of the twentieth century in which U.S. soldiers took part is #22 in the list: Okinawa, 1945.

White has a good summary of US deaths in war. Some measure of the relative savagery of theatres of war is that his figure of about 1.3 million U.S. soldiers dead in all wars since 1775 is less than the number of Soviet soldiers and civilians killed in the siege of Leningrad, 1941–1944, just one of the many bloody battles on the eastern front.

#52 ::: jayskew ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2007, 06:01 PM:

While my distant cousin Gen. St. Clair is a hero to the Sinclair clan, the other side holds a different view of the Battle of the Wabash:

``...the greatest victory ever won by Indians over English-speaking opponents. On 4 November 1791, in a cold inclement dawn, one thousand warriors under Blue Jacket, Little Turtle, and Buckongahelas intercepted the United States Army under Arthur St. Clair, as it came to attack their towns. Although inferior in strength, the Indians overran the American camp on the Wabash and inflicted almost a thousand casualties, putting the survivors into a panic-stricken flight.'' —John Sugden, Tecumseh: A Life, Owl Books, 1997.

Regarding famous defeats, I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the Battle of Adrianople of 9 August AD 378 in which Emperor Valens lost his entire army of 40,000 men and his own life.

http://www.roman-empire.net/army/adrianople.html

Valens lost to a bunch of barbarians, whom he himself had first let into the empire, and then let be mistreated until they revolted. Some historians seem to consider this the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.

In other defeats, if I'm not mistaken, the Battle of Gettysburg was the largest battle in terms of numbers of participants ever fought in the Americas, the one with the highest number of casualties during its war, and of course a famous defeat for the CSA that is usually considered the turning point after which the south lost the war.

#53 ::: Kevin Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 01:10 AM:

Thanks for the clarifications based on percentage (St Clair) or actual casualties (Antietam). It's certainly worth taking care in defining who Americans were, though, as some have noted the true natives might consider the battle with St Clair's their finest win.

As far as being at our most vulnerable, that was rather a persistent woe in the post-Revolution period. in fact, if I recall correctly, we pretty much lost every battle in the 1812 War. The Brits basically demonstrated that they could defeat us, then withdrew because the process of governing us no longer held much appeal. They simply wanted to dispel any notion that canada could be ours.

As for more recent history, people who served in Nam continue to assert that we actually did win every battle, if viewed on standard terms like most casualties. But we lost the war anyways, which isn't uncommon when the native population - even in the south - is hostile to the foreign forces.

There really were three different mindsets at work with three different incentives for the battle. The natives wanted native rule and liberation from foreign occupation. The US was playing dominoes, fighting Communist expansionism. The South Vietnamese government was composed of capital interests, trying to retain control of their assets and power that communism threatened. But much of the population of the south had interests more closely aligned with the former than the latter two.

#54 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 01:43 AM:

Nifty article. I wonder how 100-some shoeless routed guys survived to tell the tale, walking through the deep woods in November?

Bit of a side note, it's my understanding (and wikipedia's) that most modern people who are part of indian tribes prefer the term "American Indians" to "Native Americans". Thus American Indian Movement. "Native Americans" was apparently invented in the 60s by external anthropologists. To my mind it's less clear as well.

#55 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 01:46 AM:

I understand "native" to mean someone born in that place. We have a sort of lodge, the Australian Natives' Association, where full members have to be born in Australia. It doesn't imply Aboriginality. I qualify, but never wanted to join, it being my experience that many full members of lodges are often very full indeed.

#56 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 06:08 AM:

if I recall correctly, we pretty much lost every battle in the 1812 War

The U.S. had significant victories at Queenston Heights, Lundy's Lane, Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, and New Orleans, plus a number of minor successes like Sacket's Harbor, Baltimore, single-ship actions in the Atlantic, and commerce raiding around the world.

#57 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 06:49 AM:

(Oops, for Lundy's Lane I mean the Thames.)

The most significant victory for the U.S. in the War of 1812 was the destruction of Tecumseh's confederation and the killing of Tecumseh himself at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813.

Tecumseh was among the victors over St Clair in 1791, and after the war ended in 1794 he continued to organize resistance against U.S. settlement of the northwest frontier, threatening to kill U.S. citizens who tried to settle on the lands acquired by William Henry Harrison in the Treaty of Fort Wayne, 1809.

With Tecumseh dead and the confederation dead and dispersed, there was no-one to prevent the U.S. settlement of Indiana and its accession as a state in 1816.

#58 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 06:50 AM:

(Oops, for Lundy's Lane I mean the Thames.)

The most significant victory for the U.S. in the War of 1812 was the destruction of Tecumseh's confederation and the killing of Tecumseh himself at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813.

Tecumseh was among the victors over St Clair in 1791, and after the war ended in 1794 he continued to organize resistance against U.S. settlement of the northwest frontier, threatening to kill U.S. citizens who tried to settle on the lands acquired by William Henry Harrison in the Treaty of Fort Wayne, 1809.

With Tecumseh dead and the confederation dead and dispersed, there was no-one to prevent the U.S. settlement of Indiana and its accession as a state in 1816.

#59 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 09:38 AM:

Dave Luckett @ 55

And no doubt being mindful of Mark Twain's comment that he wouldn't want to join a club that would be willing to have him.

#60 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 10:50 AM:

Total at #45 - yeah, count me as another defender of St. Clair's abandonment of Fort Ti. The Continentals (...well, the Green Mountain Boys...) seized it by surprise, but nobody thought through what a defense of it might entail.

Certainly, Ti controls the lake - unless somebody brings a whole damn army down from Quebec, dragging a few 12-pounders with them - and then hoists the big guns 700 feet UP Mount Defiance. No one had had that much artillery - or thought they could get it up the heights - in the previous sieges during the previous war. (I wonder if there had been a significant technical improvemnt in artillery in the intervening years?)

But once Burgoyne's troops dragged big guns into position shooting down into the fort, St. Clair was completely pw4ned.

Yes, he narrowly escaped court-martial for abandoning the position - most of his men got out to fight another day - but St. Clair had been placed in literally an indefensible position, and he was acquitted.

#61 ::: Katherine ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 12:29 PM:

I'm surprised there hasn't been more discussion of the US Civil War in this thread. It produced quite a few horribly bloody battles, many of which were Union defeats. WWI and WWII killed more people, but also had many more people engaged.

http://www.civilwarhome.com/Battles.htm

#62 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 02:12 PM:

spike@43: The bloodiest battle I have heard of was the Battle of Towton where it is estimated that 1% of all English men were killed

I was wondering if someone would mention Towton. When asked, most English people would assume the greatest single loss of English lives in a battle occurred at the Somme, but Towton has that dubious honour. And yet, I doubt if the vast majority of the populace has even heard of it.

#63 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 03:13 PM:

Katherine @60:

While the Civil War battles were definitely bloody, none of them resulted in a loss of nearly all the men that fought. Antietam probably comes the closest; Lee's army was nearly destroyed after that battle but he still had roughly 50% of his force left.

If we're just talking about the total # of American casualties, then certainly several of the CW battles qualify, such as Gettysburg, Shiloh, Antietam and Chickamauga, and several others.

#64 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 05:45 PM:

When asked, most English people would assume the greatest single loss of English lives in a battle occurred at the Somme, but Towton has that dubious honour.

About 100,000 British soldiers died at the Somme. So I'm guessing you're restricting the comparison to the first day of the battle (1 July 1916) when about 20,000 British soldiers died.

#65 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 05:48 PM:

Gdr #56: I was under the impression that Queenston Heights and Lundy's Lane were *Canadian* victories.

#66 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 06:24 PM:

Yes, I wrote "Lundy's Lane" but meant "the Thames". At Queenston Heights it was the death of Isaac Brock that was the significant result for the U.S. Brock had organized the defence of Upper Canada and inspired his troops in a way that none of his successors were able to. It's hard to imagine Brock mismanaging the retreat from Amherstburg in the way that Proctor did.

#67 ::: Gdr ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 06:29 PM:

(Which is a long-winded way of say that you're quite right.)

#68 ::: Terry O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 11:11 PM:

A very interesting post, Jim, especially since this is local history for me.

I don't remember which of the two expeditions it was, but one of them had their own cannon captured and used against them.

Another point is that Little Turtle had information from his spies about Mad Anthony: he called him "the general who never sleeps" and refused to send his forces against General Wayne.

#69 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 11:40 PM:

Bruce @ 58, I have always before heard that observation attributed to Groucho Marx.

Possibly a sly reference to 'restricted' clubs and his Jewishness.

#70 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2007, 02:04 AM:

When asked, most English people would assume the greatest single loss of English lives in a battle occurred at the Somme, but Towton has that dubious honour.

gdr @63: About 100,000 British soldiers died at the Somme. So I'm guessing you're restricting the comparison to the first day of the battle (1 July 1916) when about 20,000 British soldiers died.

Yes. I should've been clearer. Biggest loss in a single day.

#71 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2007, 12:38 PM:

Terry O'Brien @67:

I don't remember which of the two expeditions it was, but one of them had their own cannon captured and used against them.

That was St. Clair's expedition. As Martha Keller put it:

Licked, defeated and put to rout -
But he wouldn't be shook nor shaken,
Wouldn't hark to an Indian scout,
Wouldn't be putting of pickets out
Till all of his guns was taken

From my read of the situation, St. Clair was as stupid on the banks of the Wabash as General Custer on the Greasy Grass...

#72 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2007, 12:50 PM:

34 Clark Meyers

Read Ronald Spector's The Year After Tet

The VC were flat on their back, but not defeated-- quiescent in the rural areas. But the evidence is they were still out there, and rebuilding from their losses. Only the US policy of wholesale bombing of rural areas, to drive the peasants into refugee camps, proved to be an effective counterinsurgency tactic.

The North Vietnamese Army kept on pushing: the 12 months after Tet were the bloodiest 12 months for the US in the entire war. US ground forces were effectively stalemated.

Since victory usually goes to those who hold the field of battle, the NVA won after Tet. Tet was an operational disaster, but a strategic victory.

#73 ::: Suzanne F ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2007, 09:47 PM:

I recently visited the National Museum of the American Indian in DC and this battle was featured there as the only real victory at arms for native folks in the early republic.

#74 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2007, 08:48 AM:

A.J. Langguth's Union 1812 is a recent and very good history of the whole tangled mess leading up to the War of 1812, starting with the first contacts between Indians and white people in New England and definitely including the transitional era Jim's on about here. He draws a lot of recent scholarship together and has a nice touch with the capsule biography, an important element for this kind of history.

#75 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2007, 11:28 AM:

I'm a little sceptical about the upper end of the range of army sizes given for Towton. 40 thousand men is a lot to manouver. Add the baggage train, take into account the time needed to strike camp and set up camp again, and I wonder if there is ever going to be enough road space between camps.

OK, the march from Ferrybridge to Towton, roughly 14km, wouldn't have needed the baggage train. And a medieval army didn't have the space-consuming components of later armies--a battery of artillery takes up a huge amount of roadspace. But did England have the rosources to field 80,000 men at Towton, after the battles of the previous year: Wakefield, Northampton, St. Albans, Mortimer's Cross... The trouble is, the numbers in those previous battles are very uncertain.

#76 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2007, 10:35 AM:

St. Clair's performance at Ticonderoga has its defenders, but it always seemed to me that if the Fort was undefensible, St. Clair should have been able to figure that out, and to retreat in better order, at least. The vulnerability of Ticonderoga to artillery was known from post-mortems of the unsuccessful British attack on the fort in 1758--note that Montcalm successfully defended the fort against greater odds than faced by St. Clair.

St. Clair was a close political ally of Washington, but note that Washington did not entrust St. Clair with an active combat command for the remainer of the Revolutionary War after Ticonderoga . . .

#77 ::: Juan Arlidge-Rodriguez ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 10:45 AM:

Jim: You note that St. Clair became the 9th (and last) President of the United States but I do believe that it was Cyrus Griffin who was the tenth and last President under the Articles.

#78 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 11:12 AM:

Hmmm... Juan, I believe you are correct: http://www.cyrusgriffin.com/

I'll fix the post.

#79 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:04 PM:
Broken down by nationality, the usual D-Day casualty figures are approximately 2700 British, 946 Canadians, and 6603 Americans. However recent painstaking research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has achieved a more accurate - and much higher - figure for the Allied personnel who were killed on D-Day. They have recorded the names of individual Allied personnel killed on 6 June 1944 in Operation Overlord, and so far they have verified 2499 American D-Day fatalities and 1915 from the other Allied nations, a total of 4414 dead (much higher than the traditional figure of 2500 dead).
...
The total German casualties on D-Day are not known, but are estimated as being between 4000 and 9000 men.

--http://www.ddaymuseum.co.uk/faq.htm

#80 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:20 PM:

Jim @79, the same page says:

"Between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed, mainly as a result of Allied bombing."

Counted, I assume, over the whole "Battle of Normandy", including heavy bombing of towns where civilians attempted to shelter. Antony Beevor's just-published D-Day: The Battle for Normandy has a lot of up-to-date research.

#81 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 12:17 PM:

A working link to the song:

St. Clair's Defeat

#82 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2011, 09:20 PM:

Looking at the Constitution: St. Clair had a lot to be proud of.

#83 ::: Rosemary Moore ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 02:52 PM:

I am from the town of Fort Recovery. Knowing the history of the town, it is quite haunting. I was at Valley Forge. I stood beside the great statue of Anthony Wayne, walked the grounds and looked inside the empty soldiers barracks. I read Butler's name on the wall. I have also read the sign many times in Fort Recovery, General Butler died here under a tree. It is so much alive but yet haunting.

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