November 4th, 1791 was a black day in American history. General Arthur St. Clair’s army encountered an Indigenous military force in what is now western Ohio.
In just three hours at what is known as St. Clair’s defeat, the Battle of the Wabash, or the Battle of a Thousand Slain, St. Clair’s force sustained the greatest loss ever inflicted on the United States Army by Native Americans — a total nearly three times larger than that incurred in the more famous Custer fight of 1876.
The Native Americans were led by Little Turtle of the Miamis, Blue Jacket of the Shawnees, and Buckongahelas of the Delawares (Lenape). Their force numbered more than 1,000, including many Potawatomis from eastern Michigan. The opposing force of about 1,000 Americans was taken by surprise at dawn.
Of the 1,000 officers and men that St. Clair led into battle, only 24 escaped unharmed. It was the greatest proportional loss by any American army in the nation’s history and over six hundred corpses littered an area of about three and one half football fields laid end to end. Still more bodies were strewn along the primitive road used by hundreds of soldiers as they ran for their lives.
As a result, President George Washington’s first administration, which had been in office for only two years, forced St. Clair to resign his post, and Congress initiated its first investigation of the executive branch.
The new book Field of Corpses: Arthur St. Clair and the Death of an American Army (Knox Press, 2023) by Alan Gaff tells the story of this stunning defeat by the Indigenous nations of the Northwest Territory, where in three hours St. Clair lost one half of his soldiers as well as his reputation.
Alan D. Gaff received a bachelor’s degree in history from Indiana University in 1979 and a master’s degree in American history from Ball State University in 1980. A lifelong resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana, he retired from the United States Postal Service in 2009 after nearly thirty years of service.
Since 1984, Mr. Gaff has been President of Historical Investigations a research firm specializing in history, archaeology, and environmental research. Successful and respected authorities on American military history, Alan and his wife Maureen have authored and edited eleven books. On Many a Bloody Field was a selection of the History Book Club and a University Press National Bestseller.
If This Is War and Our Boys: A Civil War Photograph Album won awards of merit from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Blood in the Argonne: The “Lost Battalion” of World War I was a finalist for the Distinguished Writing Award from the Army Historical Foundation.
Gaff and his son Donald have recently edited four books, George Kimball’s A Corporal’s Story, Charles Curtis’ Ordered West, two unique Civil War narratives, Damon Runyon’s Amid the Ruins, and James Freaner’s From the Halls of the Montezumas. In March of 2018 Alan Gaff was honored with the Distinguished Scholar Award from Lourdes University.
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