Although the above cliché might have applied to the recent elections in two Georgia United States Senate runoffs the term actually arose in the 16th century.
Trench warfare was the popular method of combat and, when an army attacked a walled city or fortress, it would advance by digging a series of ditches for protection until they were close enough to storm the walls.
If the enemy mounted a successful counterattack the attacking army would retreat by attempting to hold each trench in the reverse order from which they had advanced.
When they had been forced back until the army found itself fighting from the “last ditch” and if that defense failed to hold, the battle was lost.
The similar phrase “to die in the last ditch” has been ascribed to William of Orange (1650-1702) who supposedly used it in 1672 when he declined the offer to be made Sovereign Prince of Holland in return for capitulation to England and France. He intimated that he would “die defending the Liberties of his Country.”
The Georgia Senate runoffs probably caused both the Republican and Democratic candidates to feel the same!
(Excerpts from “The Little Book of Answers” – Author – Doug Lennox – (2003) – MJF Books – New York, NY 1001.)