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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 '16 at 15:37
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    Do horses count? – gerrit Jan 19 '16 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 '16 at 22:45
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    @RBarryYoung: I understand one surivor in a way like "Last man standing"-battle. – Zaibis Jan 20 '16 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 '16 at 3:09
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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 '16 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 '16 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 '16 at 21:31
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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 '16 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. – Gwen Jan 19 '16 at 5:49
  • Also over decades dozens of white men claimed to be the single survivor of Custer's detachment, and there is a very slight possibility that one of those claims could be correct. (Obviously only one could be correct, since if two or more men told the truth about surviving there would be more than a single survivor!) – MAGolding Jun 17 '18 at 16:38
  • @Gwen The Battle of the Little Bighorn is not equivalent to Custer's Last Stand. It includes Reno's valley fight, Reno's retreat, the fight of Custer's detachment, and the Reno-Benteen fight on Reno Hill on June 25 to June 26. The fight of Custer's detachment was spread over a wide area and may have included sub fights. We can imagine it might have included Custer's 4th Stand, Custer's 5th Stand, and so on up to Custer's Last Stand, the fight of 30 to 50 men whose bodies were found near Custer's. – MAGolding Jun 17 '18 at 16:45
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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 agreed 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 '16 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 '16 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 '16 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 '16 at 3:30
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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. 26, 1942 floating around the internet. Due to length, I'm only linking to a copy of it.

7

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.

  • An infantry battalion is roughly 500 men at nominal strength - it would often be only 1/2 or 1/3 of that by a campaign's end, so there is no reason to guarantee that 3 battalions mid-campaign comprises > 1000 men. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 28 at 19:04
2

If the legend is to be believed, Horatius Cocles once fought an army (mostly) on his own and survived, even achieving his tactical goals.

It was disaster. If the Etruscans crossed the bridge, they would take Rome. Horatius, a young Roman soldier, called to his friends, “Come on! We’ll hold the bridge while the others chop it down.” His friends froze. They were terrified at the thought of facing an entire army. “Then at least chop the bridge down while I hold them off alone,” Horatius pleaded.

He stood on the bridge and faced the Etruscan army alone. “Who among you is brave enough to face a Roman soldier,” he shouted. The Etruscans threw spears at him. But they were some distance away, and the bridge itself gave Horatius protection. Horatius stood firm, fighting like a hero. When the Etruscans tried to cross the narrow bridge, Horatius cut them down. Two of his friends rushed out to help him. Behind them, other young soldiers were frantically sawing at the heavy cords that held the bridge.

Horatius felt the bridge give way. “Go back,” he shouted at his friends. His friends raced for the protection of the walled city. It was hopeless, they thought. One man cannot stop an entire army. Only the gods could save them now. But Horatius was right. The bridge was giving way. As the bridge began to fall, Horatius turned and dived into the Tiber. The gods were with him. He swam back to Rome safely, and received a hero’s welcome.

Assuming the legend is true (sounds fantastic to me), one could argue that he was the sole "survivor".

1

Would the battle of the Alamo count. From wikipedia

" Of the Texians who fought during the battle, only two survived: Travis's slave, Joe, was assumed by the Mexican soldiers to be a noncombatant,[9] and Brigido Guerrero, who had deserted from the Mexican Army several months before, convinced the Mexican soldiers that he had been taken prisoner by the Texians "

Though this states 2 people survived, I dont think I would count Joe as a combatant because he was a Travis' slave and not really there by his own volition.

Another very close answer to this question could be the Dade massacre that was part of the Seminole Wars. Only 3 soldiers survived the attack and one was killed by a Seminole scouting party shortly after the battle, and before he could return to camp.

the wikipedia page states, "Only three U.S. soldiers were reported to have survived the attack. Private Edward Decourcey, who had been covered by dead bodies, and Ransom Clark who appeared "dead enough" with five wounds and bleeding cuts on his head. The next day, a Seminole pursued them on horseback and Decourcey was killed after they had split to avoid joint capture. Clarke made it back to Fort Brooke, collapsing within a mile of the Fort and being helped all the way back by a friendly Indian woman. Clarke provided the only narrative from the Army's side of what had occurred. A third soldier, Private Joseph Sprague, also returned to Fort Brooke and continued serving in the Army. He was illiterate, and did not leave a report of the battle"

  • The Alamo defenders numbered only between 185 and 260 - far less than the 1000 or so requested by OP. Santa Anna's Mexican force was only about 1800 strong. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 28 at 19:06
  • @PieterGeerkens - 1800 + 200 = 2000 , which is greater than 1000 according to my math. I didnt see a qualification of 1000 per side. Now the Dade massacre didnt quite meet this qualification with about 400 total participating, but i thought it was interesting and worth a mention. – ed.hank Oct 28 at 21:39
1

Question: Has there ever been a battle with only a single survivor?

  • Battle of Little Big Horn, When re-reinforcements arrived they found General George Armstrong Custer and his 200+ soldiers were wiped out. The sole survivor was a horse Comanche found on the battle field. He was the mount of Captain Myles Keogh of the 7th Cavalry, and became a celebrety of sort after the battle.

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  • Battle of Midway in WWII. Ensign George Gay Jr off the USS Hornet was the sole survivor of the 15 aircraft ( 30 men) of devastator 8 torpedo squadron who attacked the Japanese at the battle of midway. Ensign Gay (pilot) was wounded and his radio man was killed prior to his torpedo run. Gay was subsequently shot down and spent 30 hours in the ocean prior to being picked up. During his time afloat he had a front row seat to one of the greatest navy battles of WWII and the sinking of 3 Japanese aircraft carriers.
    enter image description here

  • Aristodemus of Sparta (previously mentioned but not named).... was one of two Spartan survivors of the battle of Thermopylae. When Leonidas and his 298 other Spartan's died to the last man to slow Xerxes and his Persians from invading Greece. The other Spartan ordered by Leonidas to stand down was Eurytus.
0

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.

  • That's more like a duel that had only one survivor. – C Monsour Oct 30 at 0:04

protected by Pieter Geerkens Dec 31 '17 at 13:54

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