Posted by Lewis on March 21, 2005
In Reply to: Last ditch effort posted by Billy Thomas on March 20, 2005
: The phrase does indeed originate in the war between the States. Southern soldiers, mostly country boys, didn't know a lot about the terminology of warfare and therefore "trenches", but they did know about digging ditches, and used the word ditch in place of trench. Under siege at Petersburg Virginia, they vowed to fight the yankees to the "last ditch", refering to the in-depth system of trenches. They dug these "ditches", and were prepared to fight to the last [innermost] one.
Sorry to rain on the parade, but this has been discussed at length. The word 'ditch' was used in military terms centuries before the American civil war, indeed "mound and ditch" was the word used to describe fortifications back to the Bronze Age. You may have unearthed the first US use of 'last ditch' which would hardly be surprising as the US Civil war was probably the first trench-warfare on the continent, but I strongly suspect that you will find that the 'last ditch' has an European origin - perhaps from the 100 Years War, but perhaps as far back as the Crusades.
Much of the documentation pre-publishing is not online to search, so one cannot assume that relatively modern published works are going to be first use, even if they are the first printed/googled ones.