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Do we have record of any large scale battle (for example more than 1000 combatants) where only one person survived? I just thought of it randomly and wondered whether it may have ever happened.

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Quite probably impossible to know. Most battles tend to rout before they achieve 40% casualties. Given that desertion is generally a capital crime, many of the "survivors" have a vested interest in appearing to be dead. Even today we don't have casualty counts that are reliable at the single individual level. Check the margin of error in reports of casualties in modern battles; we'll never know down to the individual level. – Mark C. Wallace Jan 19 at 15:37
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Do horses count? – gerrit Jan 19 at 20:06
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Do you mean only one survivor on the losing side, or only one survivor total? – RBarryYoung Jan 19 at 22:45
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@RBarryYoung: I understand one surivor in a way like "Last man standing"-battle. – Zaibis Jan 20 at 10:57
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Just one thing: in a battle large number of people injured, and die latter. It is true even today, but even more typical for ages with worse logistics and worse surgery/health care. Moreover battles generally do not happen overnight, so if they are part of a larger war, most probably significant part of the army is already injured, sick, and hanging around and about to die. See Napoleon wars (Russia, Egypt), Russo-Japanese war etc. So to have a battle where everyone died (not just injured), except one (who has only minor, non-infected injury) is pretty unique. Also, hard to define wheater – Greg Jan 21 at 3:09

The British Army left in Kabul, Afghanistan after the First Anglo-Afghan War, was to leave after an Afghan uprising.

The main contingent of some 16,000 troops and associated civilians was attacked throughout their journey to Jalalabad, eventually only a single survivor Assistant Surgeon William Brydon. He was asked upon arrival what happened to the army, to which he answered "I am the army".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1842_retreat_from_Kabul#Retreat_and_massacre

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Brydon was the only one to make it back uncaptured, but a substantial number were taken prisoner during the retreat, including (to my surprise) some of the 44th Foot during their famous last stand - there's a list at wiki.fibis.org/index.php/Captivity_of_the_Hostages – Andrew Jan 19 at 20:13
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I don't know if this was a battle rather than a massacre, where Afghan tribesmen fired upon Major-General Elphinstone's column as it marched through passes along the Kabul River. Actually only about 4,500 were military personnel - the rest were women & children. – RobertF Jan 19 at 20:33
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According to Wikipedia there were thousands of survivors (as captives), not just a single survivor. Also a large number of their opponents survived, at least until later battles. – RedGrittyBrick Jan 19 at 21:31

I am not aware of any large battles with only a single survivor out of all the combatants, but there was at least one major battle that had only a single survivor on the losing side.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn (or Custer's Last Stand) led to a slaughter of the American forces. Every American soldier who was present when the battle began was killed, except for one scout who left mid-battle and a single horse.

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Hundreds of Sioux warriors survived. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 19 at 5:46
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@PieterGeerkens At no point did I say otherwise. The first sentence of my post noted that my answer is only a battle for which the losing side had a single survivor. – Gwenn Jan 19 at 5:49

Yes, there was a battle between the Spartans and Argives described by Herodotus. They decided to solve the dispute in a "fair way" without risking their full armies, so 300 soldiers were chosen from each side, and it was decided that the side that loses would recognize its defeat. The result was one Spartan and two Argives surviving. The Argives rushed back to report their victory, but the Spartans made the argument that the battlefield remained at their disposal because this one soldier remained. So the war continued.

The same Herodotus says that there was one Spartan, surviving the battle of Thermopylae. He was very ashamed of this. He was killed at Plataea. His name was Aristodem.

References: Herodotus, Histories, Chap. II sect. 81-82, and Chap IX, sect 71.

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there was one Spartan surviving the battle of Thermopylae There were a few thousands of greek allies survived, plus one Spartan. And they all survived because they didn't participate in the last rearguard battle. – Matt Jan 19 at 18:25
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@Matt: The allies left on the day before the last battle. One Spartan who survived was from those who took the last stand, after all allies withdrew. – Alex Jan 19 at 23:01
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"The result was one Spartan and two Argives surviving." So that would be three survivors, no? – David Richerby Jan 20 at 0:47
    
@David Richerby: sorry, I counted only Spartans in both cases. I do not know how many Persians survived Thermopylae. Probably very many. – Alex Jan 20 at 3:30
    
One Spartan who survived was from those who took the last stand, after all allies withdrew I write by memory, yet as far as I remember, he was wounded long before that, and he was left in the village nearby, together with another Spartan, who (de facto) committed suicide after the battle was lost. Also there were surviving helots, who do not count, of course. – Matt Jan 20 at 7:39

As a counterpoint to @Gwenn 's answer: At one point during the Battle of Guadalcanal; Mitchell Paige was the only surviving member on the American side of a key portion of the front line during a major Japanese counter attack.

His Medal of Honor Citation:

PLATOON SERGEANT MITCHELL PAIGE

UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, in combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands Area on October 26, 1942. When the enemy broke through the line directly in front of his position, Platoon Sergeant Paige, commanding a machine-gun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all his men were either killed or wounded. Alone, against the deadly hail of Japanese shells, he manned his gun, and when it was destroyed, took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing his withering fire against the advancing hordes until reinforcements finally arrived. Then, forming a new line, he dauntlessly and aggressively led a bayonet charge, driving the enemy back and preventing a break through in our lines. His great personal valor and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

/S/ FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

There's also a longer somewhat dramatized version of the events of the night of Oct. 25, 1942 floating around the internet. Due to length, I'm only linking to a copy of it.

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Not really one survivor, but pretty close. Olshansky's marines group.

On 26th March 1944 Soviet marines group consisting of 68 men (as only 55 names are known, some people argue that there were only 55 of them) landed in Nikolaev (now Ukraine) sea port. They fought against Germans for three days: 26-28 March 1944. At the end there were only 11 survivors, all wounded (one died later in the hospital). In the morning of 28th March Germans had to withdraw, because the Red Army had entered the city of Nikolaev from north and east.

The exact number of Germans fighting in the port is unknown, but there were three infantry battalions, which is far more than 1000 men. Germans had 18 attempts of assault, but all were unsuccessful. The losses of Wehrmacht were really significant, as at least one battalion was fully defeated.

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The battle between the Horatii and Curatii in ancient Rome, but it is a borderline case because of two reasons:

  1. It was in a time period where history and mythology cannot be fully separated from each other, so its authenticity might be accepted by some, and debated by others.

  2. Only 6 people took part in the fight proper. However, both armies (likely above 1000) did meet each other on the battlefield, and only there was it proposed to decide the battle with a trial by champion. So, depending on how we define "battle" and "fight", this might or might not count.

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In 1987, Indian army's 13 Sikh Light Infantry detachment was annihilated down to a single soldier by LTTE rebels (Sri Lanka) in an 18 hour battle. That soldier survived due to being captured and later released by the rebels.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaffna_University_Helidrop

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikh_Light_Infantry#IPKF_and_Sri_Lanka

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The question is about battles with more than 1000 combatants. – Yannis Feb 3 at 14:52
    
@Yannis Oh yeah, didn't realise that. My bad. – a20 Feb 10 at 2:07

Disclaimer at bottom

In The Book of Mormon, Coriantumr is reported to be the only survivor of a war that ended the Jaredite nation see Ether 15:20-30 (pasted below) and Ether 15:32.

20 And it came to pass that they fought all that day, and when the night came they slept upon their swords.

21 And on the morrow they fought even until the night came.

22 And when the night came they were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine; and they slept again upon their swords.

23 And on the morrow they fought again; and when the night came they had all fallen by the sword save it were fifty and two of the people of Coriantumr, and sixty and nine of the people of Shiz.

24 And it came to pass that they slept upon their swords that night, and on the morrow they fought again, and they contended in their might with their swords and with their shields, all that day.

25 And when the night came there were thirty and two of the people of Shiz, and twenty and seven of the people of Coriantumr.

26 And it came to pass that they ate and slept, and prepared for death on the morrow. And they were large and mighty men as to the strength of men.

27 And it came to pass that they fought for the space of three hours, and they fainted with the loss of blood.

28 And it came to pass that when the men of Coriantumr had received sufficient strength that they could walk, they were about to flee for their lives; but behold, Shiz arose, and also his men, and he swore in his wrath that he would slay Coriantumr or he would perish by the sword.

29 Wherefore, he did pursue them, and on the morrow he did overtake them; and they fought again with the sword. And it came to pass that when they had all fallen by the sword, save it were Coriantumr and Shiz, behold Shiz had fainted with the loss of blood.

30 And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little, he smote off the head of Shiz.

According to the Book of Mormon, the Jaredite nation was present before 1000 BC.

(Disclaimer: The Book of Mormon is a religious text. People of the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints generally believe it to be comparable historically to the Bible, in that the central message is religious and the writing is often done in hindsight such that historical facts are of second priority. Some historical facts have no current historical support or evidence other than from the book itself.)

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The Book of Mormon is not considered a reliable historical source by independent scholars. That aside, this answer at least has the virtue of fitting in the parameters of the question (assuming "became as if he had no life" doesn't mean he actually died too. Annoying archaic phrasing.) – T.E.D. Jan 19 at 14:53
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(...) What also makes this answer questionable, is that while everyone accepts the existence of events like the Babylonian captivity (from the Bible) and the Trojan war (from the Iliad), and the existence of the ancient Israelites and other ethnic groups from the Bible, the existence of ancient Greeks and Trojans etc., the existence of the Jaredites are, as far as I know, not accepted by most secular historians. – vsz Jan 19 at 16:16
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I'm not sure I'd consider 1827 "a time period where history and mythology are strongly intermixed", but I guess YMMV. – T.E.D. Jan 19 at 18:43
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@brichins I'm afraid I have to agree with TED, no fictional battles please. "Claiming to be historical" is not the bar we want to set for our sources. This is History.SE, not scifi.se, authenticity matters, no in-universe answers please. – Nathan Cooper Jan 20 at 12:00
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@brichins Authenticity of sources if very much in the scope of History.SE else we're just making stuff up. The BoM is, at very best, a derivative work written centuries after the fact by a non-historian who cites no sources. The Smithsonian and NatGeo both reject it as a historical document. You can improve the answer by replacing the questionable source with the better/original sources for this story you say are available. – Schwern Jan 20 at 20:05

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