I probably didn't need to remind you that today is the 174th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, where Sam Houston led the Texas Army to victory over the forces of General Antonio López de Santa Anna. The battle brought an end to the bloody Texas Revolution, and made siestas unfashionable for decades.
Houston's victory is even more impressive when you consider the casualty totals, for while the two armies weren't all that far apart numbers-wise (the Mexican Army numbered 1360 against some 900 for Texas), Santa Anna's forces suffered over 800 casualties compared to nine KIA on the Texas side (and 30 wounded). So crushing was the defeat that Mexico was forced to sign the Treaties of Velasco and misinformed citizens of our fine state still use it as a rallying cry for their idiotic secession movement.
Of course, as impressive as 39 to 800 is, it pales when you look at some of the more lopsided military victories of all time.
5. Battle of Rossbach (1757)
At the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, Prussia was surrounded (France and Austria to the west and south, Sweden and Russia to the north and east). Frederick II (the Great) moved decisively, going on the offensive and scoring a victory at Lobositz, forcing the surrender of the Saxon army. The allied forces of France, Austria, and the Holy Roman Empire were mobilizing to attack in strength when they met the Prussian army near Rossbach. Acting quickly to take advantage of Allied hesitation and confusion, Frederick scored a stunning victory, suffering 550 casualties vs. 10,000 killed or captured on the Allied side. This against an army twice the size of Prussia's.
Frederick would continue to demonstrate his military acumen (see also the Battle of Leuthen), and by the end of the Seven Years' War, Prussia had survived the Allied campaign stronger than ever, and the seeds had been sown for the modern German state, which would spend the 20th century working to bring about peace and goodwill towards people of all creeds and colors.
4. Battle of Tsushima (1905)
Most people would pick Trafalgar as the greatest naval battle of all time, and it may very well be, but wasn't everyone pretty much tired of Europeans getting all the best fights? Tsushima marked the first major defeat of a Western (European) power by an Asian one, and is one of the greatest battles of the 20th century. When the two day battle off the Korean coast ended, Russia's navy had been decimated (34 ships lost, 10,000 killed or captured vs 600 Japanese casualties) and the Russo-Japanese War decided in the latter's favor, with Japan firmly set on a path to world war.
3. Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC)
Alexander of Macedonia had penetrated deep into Persian territory with his force of 45,000 while Darius III assembled an army of some 100,000 (according to modern estimates). The two armies met on a flat plain near modern-day Mosul, Iraq, where Alexander's (admittedly) better trained troops held the Persian wings at bay and exploited a gap in their defenses, crushing the center and sending Darius fleeing. The Persian king was planning to assemble another army, but was murdered by his own men.
Alexander had gained half of Persia for Macedon, the once mighty Achaemenid Empire was no more, and the way was paved for Colin Farrell to make the whole thing look like Braveheart meets the the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V in a crappy Oliver Stone movie 2300 years later.
2. Battle of Cannae (216 BC)
Hannibal crossed the Alps into Rome during the Second Punic War, scoring some early decisive victories. The Romans, none too pleased at this, raised eight legions to send against him. After Hannibal seized the crucial supply depot at Cannae, the battlefield was set. The Roman Army numbered almost 90,000 against some 55,000 Carthaginians. Using the unheard tactic of encirclement against the Roman phalanxes, Hannibal scored a total victory, destroying the Roman army and driving its citizenry into such a panic they actually committed human sacrifices. Ultimately, Hannibal was unable to capitalize on his great victory, eventually losing to Scipio Africanus. Carthage would become a Roman client-state.
Hannibal can take some posthumous comfort in the fact that his name (and Carthage's) would live on as towns in the state of Missouri, which is definitely a better legacy than conquering the know world.
1. Battle of Narva (1704)
Less world-shaking than Cannae, this early battle in the Great Northern War was actually more numerically impressive. Sweden's Charles II (with the help of a timely blizzard) drove off a Russian force three times his army's size that was laying siege to the town of Narva. Charles' army lost around 900 soldiers, while Russian dead numbered nearly 10,000. Peter the Great's army (Peter himself had left a few days earlier, assuming his commanders wouldn't have a problem dealing with the smaller Swedish army) was stripped of virtually all its supplies and equipment. However, in a familiar refrain, Charles neglected to capitalize on his victory, which is just one reason why "U.S.S.R." never stood for "Union of Swedish Socialist Republics."
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