A question for US history buffs

What, where, and when is the greatest massacre of US citizens by the US military?  For this purpose, Indians were not considered citizens before 1924 (the Snyder act), nor were Confederates during the recent unpleasantness between the states.

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Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.

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  1. Can this include any agent of the state or does it specifically need to be military? (e.g.: could police, etc count)

    Likewise, is this limited to direct acts of violence? or do intentional but indirect acts that resulted in significant loss of life count? (i’m thinking maybe some of the occasions where the U.S. performed tests on its own people might get you a high body count)

  2. Ah, the second part I forgot to ask: does mistaken identity count? Does it count if the victims are also members of the military?

  3. Vnend: Intentional.

    jascha: Yes, any agent of the state.

    Vnend: Mistaken identity does not count; it does count of the victims are also members of the military.

  4. First thought isn’t military, but it is US Federal Government (ATF): Waco. 76 died, 24 British citizens, 52 US. The deaths were not intentional, but…

  5. How picky do you want to be on “massacre”? For instance, the Draft Riots in 1863 killed between 150 and 2,000 depending on who you ask, but that was an ugly mob of rioters that were armed and also beating and lynching black people, among other things.

  6. It’s stretching the definition a bit, but Waco is a possible answer if you believe that the fires were said by the attack and not by the Branch Davidians.

    That said, since the US government never recognized the Confederate states as having the right to secede, I think you could argue that Confederates were considered U.S. citizens.

  7. Wikipedia lists 19-25 deaths at the Ludlow Massacre.

    “The deaths occurred after a day-long fight between strikers and the Guard. The massacre resulted in the violent deaths of between 19 and 25 people”

  8. Probably not what you were thinking of, but all the more horrific even so: The Tuskegee syphilis experiment.


    “By the end of the study in 1972, only 74 of the test subjects were alive. Of the original 399 men, 28 had died of syphilis, 100 were dead of related complications, 40 of their wives had been infected and 19 of their children were born with congenital syphilis.”

    The U.S. Public Health Service.

  9. Rock Springs Massacre: white immigrant miners kill 28 Chinese miners.
    Ludlow Massacre; Colorado National Guard killed 20, 11 of whom were children.
    Lattimer Massacre: 19 stiking miners killed (most shot in the back).
    Huan’s Mill Massacre: Regulators kill 19 Mormons.

    All taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_events_named_massacres.

    Sort of eye opening. No matter the skin color, religion or politics, human beings are willing to massacre one another for very little reason, objectively speaking.

  10. Rock Springs wasn’t a governmental authority doing the killing. It was a race riot.

    If Waco counts, that’s the answer. Hard to believe that the answer to this question would be something that happened in our lifetimes.

  11. Possibly the Battle of Blair Mountain? It was a combined force of professional strikebreakers, US Army, and local/state police doing the killing, and records are sketchy, but it might qualify.

    Note that, like Waco, the incident lasted for days. During one shootout, fewer than ten people died, but soon after, somewhere between 20-40 people were killed, and the estimates of ensuing deaths just continue to rise as the violence increased. There are lots of accounts available on YouTube and other sites, if you want more information; I think CNN did a special about it once, during a series on labor relations in America.

    Or you could just go with Waco. It has the advantage of being better-documented.

  12. I would not have considered Waco because neither the BATF nor FBI are part of the US military. If you want to expand it to “violence on behalf of the US government,” then it counts, but the Tuskegee syphilis experiment is far worse.

  13. Good call, Scott! I had forgotten that the National Guard came in at the end. Certainly, for race riots, look to the summer of 1919. The police/military were involved, officially or un-, in many of them.

  14. Hmm. If Tulsa Race Riots count then the Draft Riots would as well. In both cases the military was used to restore control. The challenge with each is really identifying how many were killed by the military vs. by the rioters. Well, that and getting agreement on any numbers at all.

  15. Okay, this one I just couldn’t sit out. The Great Strike of 1877 began with railroad workers in either Maryland or West Virginia (accounts differ) on 14 July and spread cross-country and across several labor categories over the course of about 45 days before being put down by a combination of Federal troops, state militia, and local police forces. All told, the most common body count I’ve seen is “more than 100” men, women, and children (unfortunately, that total might also include government troops). Among the better-known single incidents: at least 20 m/w/c killed by troops in Pittsburgh on 21 July; at least 10 m/w/c in Baltimore on 20 July alone, with another 50 over the course of the next few days (again, the latter number may include government forces); at least 18 “workers” in St. Louis after what had been until the very last days a bloodless citywide strike; and—apparently the largest “single” death count—30 “workers” in Chicago’s Battle of the Viaduct on 26 July (I’m hedging on this one because some accounts specify only 18 workers, but some also indicate that “the battle” may in fact have been a series of confrontations at three or four sites in a concentrated area).

    In 1887, we have the Thibodaux Massacre, in which members of the Louisiana State Militia slaughtered a minimum of 35 black sugar cane workers and related family members. That “official” total is based on a newspaper account of the time, but the reporter was very careful to specify it as the immediate count; the usual “several sources” note that additional bodies were turning up in shallow graves and other out-of-the-way locations for weeks after the 23 November slaughter, so “unofficial” counts—including some from reputable historical authorities—run as high as 300. Billed at some sites as “the second bloodiest labor dispute in US History.”

    And then we have the 1894 Pullman Strike, during which President Cleveland sent Federal troops to Chicago over the Illinois governor’s protests. Between 7 July and the end of the month, several sources cite 34 angry strikers shot by troops in various actions. Other sources, I should add, decline to even guess at the death count. Not likely to beat Waco, though.

  16. knob_e: ‘Billed at some sites as “the second bloodiest labor dispute in US History.”’

    What do those sites bill as the bloodiest?

  17. I’m going to jump in unasked and attempt to answer that last question: Probably the labor dispute surrounding The Ludlow Massacre.

    I didn’t mention it in my original answer, though, because it wasn’t a single incident; the total number of deaths were spread out for more than a year and more than forty miles.

    General problems that we’re having answering the question is that when our government has killed its own citizens in the past, they often haven’t kept extremely detailed records of it. I don’t think that’s shame; I think that’s a combination of chaos and (as in the case of the Tulsa Riots) just flat out thinking that the people they’d killed weren’t important enough to count.

  18. Do we want to count death caused by indifference or stupidity?

    In 1935 , Florida there was a WPA work camp where army veterans died by the hundreds because, despite warnings, the government did not order/assist in the evacuation when they knew of a massive Hurricane. This despite access to railroad trains that if used early on could have saved them.

    Reminds of the later stupidity in New Orleans where you had all those buses not used.

  19. Junglejim, the problem with riots is that it is sometimes hard to tell which side killed someone; we can’t automatically blame it on The Man. Second, in most riots it is the police, not the Federal Government, reacting.

    At Kent State the national guard (dispatched by the Gov., not the US Gov.) killed 4. Not as high on the list by magnitude as it is by infamy.

  20. Do militias count? If so, Mountain Meadows is at least a strong contender. (Utah militia versus a large wagon train, originally attempting to blame it on indians and then adopting a ‘no survivors’ policy once that plan failed. 100-150 dead.)

  21. If you consider the US President to be “military” since he is the CinC, if you will include for this exercise allowing others to do the killing, and if you believe the conspiracy theories that claim FDR allowed the Pearl Harbor attack to happen in spite of being forewarned; then you could blame the US military for 2402 deaths on Dec. 7, 1941 (though I suspect some of those 2402 were not citizens). But that 3rd “if” is a rather big one.

  22. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) estimates ~17,000 fatalities in the US due to cancer caused by nuclear testing fallout from worldwide aboveground tests performed in the 50’s and 60’s. The US would be responsible for some fraction of those; say half.

  23. Well there was Port Chicago…

    “The Port Chicago disaster was a deadly munitions explosion that occurred on July 17, 1944, at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in Port Chicago, California, United States. Munitions detonated while being loaded onto a cargo vessel bound for the Pacific Theater of Operations, killing 320 sailors and civilians and injuring 390 others. Most of the dead and injured were enlisted African-American sailors.”


    Interesting, only two people died when they threw the Bonus Army out of Anacostia.


  24. I would sat Waco, but not for body count. The massacres during the various labor strikes through out the late 1800’s- early 1900’s are mostly forgotten. In most History books they are skipped.

    I have never heard of Waco being skipped over. The memory of it hasn’t even begun to disappear.
    But that’s just my 2 cents.

  25. skzb @ 20 None of those folks SAY what labor dispute they consider bloodier than Thibodaux. So far, no joy trying to find it on my own, either; nobody seems to want bragging rights. The Ludlow Massacre does get regular billing on “among the bloodiest” lists, per Samanth Joy @ 21. I haven’t yet found all the references she seems to have picked up on, but I’d say it’s a good contender.

    BTW, I HAVE found a lot of sources disputing the claim that state militia were involved in the actual massacre. They were indeed active early in the strike, but “official” sources say they were recalled before the shooting started, and any references to “militia” participating in the bloodbath are to private troops. Sorry about that.

  26. Final updates on Thibodaux and “second deadliest labor dispute in US history.”

    Be damned if I even can find where this claim originated, let alone what supposedly takes first place. My actual wording was “second bloodiest” rather than second deadliest, but your swap-in generates the best fit I’ve been able to find. Title of a 2008 book about the Colorado miners’ strike that culminated in the Ludlow Massacre–*Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War.* The Thibodaux claim predates the Ludlow book, and Thibodaux’s death toll range of 35-300 maxes out above the book’s claim 69-199 (which also includes deaths on the company side of the strike), but never mind. Good enough for me. Nothing else even comes close. Forget the Wikipedia death counts for Blair Mountain–there’s no documentation to support those claims; the widely-accepted authority on the Battle of Blair Mountain puts the count closer to 12 miners and 4 of Chafin’s troops.

    As for the government versus private troops at Thibodaux, you’ll have to decide for yourself, skzb. According to *The Encyclopedia of US Labor and Working Class History, Volume I*, events break down as follows: 1) the state militia was withdrawn; 2) State Judge Taylor Beattie (who was also a local landowner) declared martial law on 21 November, at which time, official pickets and patrols were set up to keep the peace; 3) on 22 November, one or two of the official picket dudes were shot, strikers were blamed, and the blow-up began; 4) a mix of authorized-by-judge’s-order patrol units and plain old vigilantes began the serious shooting on 23 November; 5) state militia units returned at some point “but did little to stop the slaughter”; and 6) by 25 November, “the worst was over,” but some of the shooters continued chasing fugitives through the bayous for days. Martial law, judge’s order, authorized manpower–whether that count as a government massacre depends on how you plan on using the information, I guess.

  27. As a Canadian, I have to say, “Wow. Is that the best you can do?” You’re listing tens and hundreds. How about a little perspective:

    India, 1984 Sikh riots: 2700-10000 dead
    China, Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries: 600000 est. dead
    USSR, Stalin’s Campaign of Terror: 700000 est. dead
    Vietnam, NVA Occupation of Hue: 2800-6000 civilians murdered
    Vietnam, post-War counter-revolutionary purges: 200000-1000000 dead, 3 million refugees fled country
    North Korea: If we only knew.
    Japan, Nanking Massacre: 40000-200000 dead (You may not feel this quaifies, but this was captured area where the government was Japanese, not much different from a US territory)
    France, Reign of Terror: 16500 guillotined as counter-revolutionaries
    (And I’ll end there, with no shortage of more.)

    Now, I can add one event to your tally. It’s one that gets missed in many US History books, it seems (since some of the Americans I talk to don’t seem to know about it). It happened right after the end of the American Revolutionary War. The victims were called “Loyalists”. These were the people that supported British rule during the War. Many of these people suffered the punishment of “Tar and Feathering” by their neighbors, in which they were coated in tar then feathers. Painful and embarrassing, but not lethal. Many had their property nationalized (something like 50% of downtown Boston rightfully belongs to the Canadian descendents of these Loyalists). Thousands fled to Canada. But few, if any, were murdered. Many pledged allegiance to the new government and stayed to become prominent citizens. So this is an example of how the US government, placed in the same position as other contemporary governments, declined the opportunity to be immoral and merciless, instead ignoring only relatively minor embarrassments to many that had opposed the new government.

    The record of the US government is remarkably clean, for a nation of so much power. Yes, it has made its mistakes, but the alternatives have demonstrated far more brutality, so you’re kidding yourselves if you think you’ve got a better system in mind.

  28. Besides Brust being a Communist /Trotskyist? I would have thought that explained everything.

  29. I’d bet on a more Imperial reason for this curiosity. The Easterners (while maybe not technically citizens) rebellion is far from resolved, and skzb has been known to include flashbacks and entire books out of chronological order. You don’t have to look far in Dragaera to find revolting people, unprovoked injustice, well deserved justice, or whatever interesting thing he’s planning for us.

  30. No mystery. My friend Martin asked me, and I didn’t know, so I passed the question on to y’all. Thanks for the replies.

  31. If the poice facilitate, egg-on, provide some help, but aren’t all the killers? How about Rosewood? Damn embarrassing that almost no one knows about it.

  32. Good ****, don’t turn this into a 9/11 thread. That conspiracy has been so totally debunked, it’s nuts.

  33. An intriguing question, Martin. Thanks for the fun mental workout.

    Heh, and now the plausible deniability to go along with it.

  34. Why none of your books is available outside of the US on Kindle? this is ridiculous. Can’t buy the books around And I certainly don’t want to spen outrageous amount of money for international shipping.

    Authors and publishers should get on with the times.

  35. Sagi.

    I had this exact problem myself.

    What you do is:
    – log on to your Amazon account;
    – go to “Your Account”
    – under “Seetings”, click “Add a New Address”. Make it some semi plausable street address in the US and continue in the prompts to say that is where you currently resisde. Amazon thinks you and your Kindle are in America. After your purchases you can then revert to your default address under “Manage your address book”

    Should work

  36. Perhpas, a different twist on this question. Define massacre.

    Can a massacre be many deaths from a single motive spread out over time and geography?

    Or must it be a single incident though it might span consecutive days?

    Between 1942 and 1961 alone, 160 members of the military were executed for various crimes.

    Who knows how many were executed during the Civil War and the Revolutionary War fpr various crimes.

    And, for those interested in conspiracies, how many people have the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. made disappear over the years?

  37. The victims were called “Loyalists”. These were the people that supported British rule during the War. Many of these people suffered the punishment of “Tar and Feathering” by their neighbors, in which they were coated in tar then feathers.

    About thirty percent of the population at the time was loyalist. Many moved to Canada after the end of the war, but a lot more stayed. I suspect, but can’t prove, that some of my ancestors were Loyalists. (I also suspect, but can’t prove, that some of my more recent ones were Chartists.)

  38. “And, for those interested in conspiracies, how many people have the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. made disappear over the years?”

    Unless you have evidence? None. Okay, there is evidence that since 9/11 several terrorists captured in foreign countries disappeared into Gitmo, so that one I’ll give you, but I’ll also insist that these are (foreign) mass murderers that would not be punished where they lived and would continue to murder Americans, so despite the illegality, it is a form of self-defense against tactics that are considered vile under the Geneva Conventions and Rules of War.

    But as for Americans inside America that have “disappeared”? Do you have any idea how many Americans fled secretly to Canada to avoid the draft during Vietnam? Are you include those as “disappeared” by the FBI? If some of your friends from the 60’s and 70’s disappeared, I suggest you start in Lanark county near Ottawa.

    People will “disappear” themselves, so we really do need solid evidence before blaming anyone for a disappearance.

  39. By the terms laid out, I’d say the largest “massacre of US Citizens by the American Military” would probably be the Battle of Gettysburg.

    Over 23,000 Union soldiers died. Not all of these soldiers were US citizens at the time of their death. However, the vast majority were.

    Certainly, you could argue that a battle, especially one the Union won, was not a “massacre”. However, when you consider the blind arrogance of the Generals during the Civil War, and their failure to grasp the changing effect of the rifled musket on battlefield tactics, the fact that the soldiers were lined up in rows to march straight into enemy fire without cover… That’s a “massacre” in my book. Horrific stuff.

  40. @ Kreistor.

    I don’t need to have my nose up someone’s butt to know that they have farted.

    Evidence is needed to prove things scientifically and in courts of law. Anyone with any bit of sense knows that our government and probably every government ever has killed people that they perceived as needing killing. Our history (American) is rife with atrocities committed by the government that we do admit to. What have they done they won’t admit to?

    Wake up and smell what you are shovelling. Whether or not my assertion is a legitimate part of the conversation, it is unthinkable that our government has not arranged, provided for and covered up the deaths of various American citizens in its history. I highly doubt that anyone could even reliably count how many.

    By the way, having been born in 1971, I don’t have any friends that avoided Vietnam by fleeing to Canada. In your view, I would be a young conspiracy theorist. I’ ll refrain from insulting you by telling you what my view of you is.

  41. Mass murder of US civilians by US military, excluding First Nations? That gets difficult, because so many incidents of that sort take place in the vicinity of wars, in situations where no one has a monopoly on violence. In a sense, you wind up counting well-defined incidents where someone audibly gave well-defined orders, and missing instances where no explicit orders were needed.

    You also get into the question of who was or wasn’t military. Look at Bleeding Kansas, the postwar re-suppression of the South’s black population, the multiple acts of terrorism that drove the Mormons out of Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, the extremely nasty small-scale warfare in the Southern colonies during the Revolutionary War, or the many incidents where strikers and/or union organizers were killed. Who exactly was responsible for what gets very hazy.

    Timothy McVeigh believed he was operating under the laws and rules that govern militias. If that counts, then the bombing of the Murragh Building in Oklahoma City wins: 168 killed, 680 injured. If it doesn’t count, then neither does the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

    The first problem with the Waco Siege is that most of the besieging personnel were non-military. If you include law enforcement, there’s still the problem of figuring out who’s responsible for which deaths. I was watching the news as it happened, and I remember on-site reporters saying the law enforcement people there were surprised and dismayed by the fire. I can’t dismiss that, since “surprised, dismayed, really not expecting that” is something you can observe, not just something you’re told.

    If you count as massacres incidents where there may have been negligence, but there was no clear intention to kill, you’ve included a long list of messy events. It includes a string of ammunition explosions that killed hundreds of civilians at a time, and the many failures of official response to Hurricane Katrina.

    If you exclude the original indigenous population, the single biggest cause of US civilian deaths at the hands of the US military is ammunition explosions.

    Another issue is the responsibility for the deaths by shooting at the Waco Siege. Some number of those were Branch Davidians shooting themselves and/or other members of the sect. I also have real trouble with the assertion that agents were picking off unarmed BD members as they attempted to flee from the siege. There were too many people there, and too many organizations, to get away with something like that; and it’s wrong for the shape of the event, if that makes any sense.

    Thus, while it might be appropriate to call final act of the Waco Siege a massacre on the basis of the body count, if you mean a massacre intentionally committed by members of official organizations acting officially, the actual Waco death toll is considerably lower.

  42. Even though it happened during the War Between the States, the New York City Draft Riots were supressed by Federal troops with casualties as high as 2,000 people. Certainly the only case I can remember where artillery fire was called in on American citizens by American troops. Since it’s not Confederate casualties, I think it still counts.

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