The sad ballad “St. Clair’s Defeat” commemmorates the battle on November 4, 1791 when Little Turtle and his allied warriors killed 25% of the US Army. (Which at that point meant 800-900 guys died, but it was still a major military disaster for our young country. A lot of camp followers and civilian contractors died, too.) When the battlefield remains were exhumed and moved to a cemetery monument, they found more than 1200 American dead. (The allied tribes lost about 20 people. Yeah, don’t get caught in an ambush.)
It’s a good song. I learned it from Anne Grimes’ 1957 album Ohio State Ballads. The tune is “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” aka “Napoleon Crossing the Rhine,” aka “Napoleon Crossing the Alps.” This version uses both halves of the fiddle tune.
Here’s a different version with more about General Butler, and a different version of the tune on an 1960 recording by Bob Gibson and Bob Camp.
Butler County, Ohio is named after Major Gen. Butler, and Darke County, Ohio is named for Lt. Col. William Darke.
This Russian band, Sherwood, sings it in Russian! They follow the Gibson version more than the Ohio version.
All this happened up by where Fort Recovery is today. General “Mad” Anthony Wayne built the fort there in 1793 and named it Recovery, as a sign that America would recover from St. Clair’s Defeat. He also built Fort Defiance a little further north. And then he went up north to beat the pants off the allied tribes at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, and got them to sign the Treaty of Greenville. (Both the Mad River and Wayne County are named for him, as well as Waynesville, Ohio and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Most Wayne stuff in the US is after him… including Bruce Wayne. Yes, in the DC Universe, Batman is descended from Mad Anthony! Must be where he got all the climbing and sneaking genes….)
Some versions of the song talk about “the river St. Marie.” Actually, it’s the Wabash. It’s smaller because it’s very close to the source. The St. Mary’s River is the next county over. So is the town of St. Mary’s, although maybe we’re talking canal days when Grand Lake St. Mary’s was a really important landmark.