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Battle of Vukovar
The Battle of Vukovar was an 87-day siege of Vukovar in eastern Croatia by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), supported by various paramilitary forces from Serbia, between August and November 1991. Before the Croatian War of Independence the Baroque town was a prosperous, mixed community of Croats, Serbs and other ethnic groups. As Yugoslavia began to break up, Serbia's President Slobodan Milošević and Croatia's President Franjo Tuđman began pursuing nationalist politics. In 1990, an armed insurrection was started by Croatian Serb militias, supported by the Serbian government and paramilitary groups, who seized control of Serb-populated areas of Croatia. The JNA began to intervene in favour of the rebellion, and conflict broke out in the eastern Croatian region of Slavonia in May 1991. In August, the JNA launched a full-scale attack against Croatian-held territory in eastern Slavonia, including Vukovar.
- Expulsion of Croat and other non-Serb civilians from Vukovar
- Vukovar incorporated into SAO Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia
- Yugoslav Ground Forces
- Yugoslav Navy
- Yugoslav Air Force
Republic of Serbia Territorial Defence Forces
- Croatian National Guard (to November 1991)
- Croatian Army (from November 1991)
Vukovar was defended by around 1,800 lightly armed soldiers of the Croatian National Guard (ZNG) and civilian volunteers, against as many as 36,000 JNA soldiers and Serb paramilitaries equipped with heavy armour and artillery. During the battle, shells and rockets were fired into the town at a rate of up to 12,000 a day.  At the time, it was the fiercest and most protracted battle seen in Europe since 1945, and Vukovar was the first major European town to be entirely destroyed since the Second World War.   When Vukovar fell on 18 November 1991, several hundred soldiers and civilians were massacred by Serb forces and at least 20,000 inhabitants were expelled.  Most of Vukovar was ethnically cleansed of its non-Serb population and became part of the self-declared proto-state Republic of Serbian Krajina. Several Serb military and political officials, including Milošević, were later indicted and in some cases jailed for war crimes committed during and after the battle.
The battle exhausted the JNA and proved a turning point in the Croatian war. A ceasefire was declared a few weeks later. Vukovar remained in Serb hands until 1998, when it was peacefully reintegrated into Croatia with the signing of the Erdut Agreement. It has since been rebuilt but has less than half of its pre-war population and many buildings are still scarred by the battle. Its two principal ethnic communities remain deeply divided and it has not regained its former prosperity.
Battle of Vimeiro-Pennisular War - History
November 6, 1860 - Abraham Lincoln, who had declared "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free. " is elected president, the first Republican, receiving 180 of 303 possible electoral votes and 40 percent of the popular vote.
December 20, 1860 - South Carolina secedes from the Union. Followed within two months by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.
Auction and Negro sales, Atlanta, Georgia.
February 9, 1861 - The Confederate States of America is formed with Jefferson Davis, a West Point graduate and former U.S. Army officer, as president.
March 4, 1861 - Abraham Lincoln is sworn in as 16 th President of the United States of America.
April 12, 1861 - At 4:30 a.m. Confederates under Gen. Pierre Beauregard open fire with 50 cannons upon Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The Civil War begins.
Fort Sumter after its capture, showing damage from the Rebel bombardment of over 3000 shells and now flying the Rebel "Stars and Bars" - April 14, 1861.
April 15, 1861 - President Lincoln issues a Proclamation calling for 75,000 militiamen, and summoning a special session of Congress for July 4.
Robert E. Lee, son of a Revolutionary War hero, and a 25 year distinguished veteran of the United States Army and former Superintendent of West Point, is offered command of the Union Army. Lee declines.
April 17, 1861 - Virginia secedes from the Union, followed within five weeks by Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina, thus forming an eleven state Confederacy with a population of 9 million, including nearly 4 million slaves. The Union will soon have 21 states and a population of over 20 million.
Map of Allegiances of the States - 1861.
April 19, 1861 - President Lincoln issues a Proclamation of Blockade against Southern ports. For the duration of the war the blockade limits the ability of the rural South to stay well supplied in its war against the industrialized North.
April 20, 1861 - Robert E. Lee resigns his commission in the United States Army. "I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children." Lee then goes to Richmond, Virginia, is offered command of the military and naval forces of Virginia, and accepts.
July 4, 1861 - Lincoln, in a speech to Congress, states the war is. "a People's contest. a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men. " The Congress authorizes a call for 500,000 men.
July 21, 1861 - The Union Army under Gen. Irvin McDowell suffers a defeat at Bull Run 25 miles southwest of Washington. Confederate Gen. Thomas J. Jackson earns the nickname "Stonewall," as his brigade resists Union attacks. Union troops fall back to Washington. President Lincoln realizes the war will be long. "It's damned bad," he comments.
Ruins of the Stone Bridge over which Northern forces retreated until it was blown up by a Rebel shell adding to the panic of the retreat, with the Federals returning to Washington as "a rain-soaked mob."
July 27, 1861 - President Lincoln appoints George B. McClellan as Commander of the Department of the Potomac, replacing McDowell.
McClellan tells his wife , "I find myself in a new and strange position here: President, cabinet, Gen. Scott, and all deferring to me. By some strange operation of magic I seem to have become the power of the land."
September 11, 1861 - President Lincoln revokes Gen. John C. Frémont's unauthorized military proclamation of emancipation in Missouri. Later, the president relieves Gen. Frémont of his command and replaces him with Gen. David Hunter.
November 1, 1861 - President Lincoln appoints McClellan as general-in-chief of all Union forces after the resignation of the aged Winfield Scott . Lincoln tells McClellan, ". the supreme command of the Army will entail a vast labor upon you." McClellan responds, "I can do it all."
November 8, 1861 - The beginning of an international diplomatic crisis for President Lincoln as two Confederate officials sailing toward England are seized by the U.S. Navy. England, the leading world power, demands their release, threatening war. Lincoln eventually gives in and orders their release in December. "One war at a time," Lincoln remarks.
January 31, 1862 - President Lincoln issues General War Order No. 1 calling for all United States naval and land forces to begin a general advance by February 22, George Washington's birthday.
February 6, 1862 - Victory for Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Tennessee, capturing Fort Henry, and ten days later Fort Donelson. Grant earns the nickname "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.
February 20, 1862 - President Lincoln is struck with grief as his beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, dies from fever, probably caused by polluted drinking water in the White House.
March 8/9, 1862 - The Confederate Ironclad 'Merrimac' sinks two wooden Union ships then battles the Union Ironclad 'Monitor' to a draw. Naval warfare is thus changed forever, making wooden ships obsolete. Engraving of the Battle
The Monitor at dock, showing damage from the battle.
In March - The Peninsular Campaign begins as McClellan's Army of the Potomac advances from Washington down the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay to the peninsular south of the Confederate Capital of Richmond, Virginia then begins an advance toward Richmond.
President Lincoln temporarily relieves McClellan as general-in-chief and takes direct command of the Union Armies.
April 6/7, 1862 - Confederate surprise attack on Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's unprepared troops at Shiloh on the Tennessee River results in a bitter struggle with 13,000 Union killed and wounded and 10,000 Confederates, more men than in all previous American wars combined. The president is then pressured to relieve Grant but resists. "I can't spare this man he fights," Lincoln says.
April 24, 1862 - 17 Union ships under the command of Flag Officer David Farragut move up the Mississippi River then take New Orleans, the South's greatest seaport. Later in the war, sailing through a Rebel mine field Farragut utters the famous phrase "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"
May 31, 1862 - The Battle of Seven Pines as Gen. Joseph E. Johnston 's Army attacks McClellan's troops in front of Richmond and nearly defeats them. But Johnston is badly wounded.
June 1, 1862 - Gen. Robert E. Lee assumes command, replacing the wounded Johnston. Lee then renames his force the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan is not impressed, saying Lee is "likely to be timid and irresolute in action."
June 25-July 1 - The Seven Days Battles as Lee attacks McClellan near Richmond, resulting in very heavy losses for both armies. McClellan then begins a withdrawal back toward Washington.
Young Georgia Private Edwin Jennison, killed in the Seven Days Battles at Malvern Hill - the face of a lost generation.
July 11, 1862 - After four months as his own general-in-chief, President Lincoln hands over the task to Gen. Henry W. (Old Brains) Halleck .
Second Battle of Bull Run
August 29/30, 1862 - 75,000 Federals under Gen. John Pope are defeated by 55,000 Confederates under Gen. Stonewall Jackson and Gen. James Longstreet at the second battle of Bull Run in northern Virginia. Once again the Union Army retreats to Washington. The president then relieves Pope.
September 4-9, 1862 - Lee invades the North with 50,000 Confederates and heads for Harpers Ferry , located 50 miles northwest of Washington.
The Union Army, 90,000 strong, under the command of McClellan, pursues Lee.
September 17, 1862 - The bloodiest day in U.S. military history as Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Armies are stopped at Antietam in Maryland by McClellan and numerically superior Union forces. By nightfall 26,000 men are dead, wounded, or missing. Lee then withdraws to Virginia.
Confederate dead by the fence bordering Farmer Miller's 40 acre Cornfield at Antietam where the intense rifle and artillery fire cut every corn stalk to the ground "as closely as could have been done with a knife."
September 22, 1862 - Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves issued by President Lincoln.
President Lincoln visits Gen. George McClellan at Antietam, Maryland - October, 1862
November 7, 1862 - The president replaces McClellan with Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside as the new Commander of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln had grown impatient with McClellan's slowness to follow up on the success at Antietam, even telling him, "If you don't want to use the army, I should like to borrow it for a while."
December 13, 1862 - Army of the Potomac under Gen. Burnside suffers a costly defeat at Fredericksburg in Virginia with a loss of 12,653 men after 14 frontal assaults on well entrenched Rebels on Marye's Heights. "We might as well have tried to take hell," a Union soldier remarks. Confederate losses are 5,309.
"It is well that war is so terrible - we should grow too fond of it," states Lee during the fighting.
January 1, 1863 - President Lincoln issues the final Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in territories held by Confederates and emphasizes the enlisting of black soldiers in the Union Army. The war to preserve the Union now becomes a revolutionary struggle for the abolition of slavery.
January 25, 1863 - The president appoints Gen. Joseph (Fighting Joe) Hooker as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing Burnside.
January 29, 1863 - Gen. Grant is placed in command of the Army of the West, with orders to capture Vicksburg.
March 3, 1863 - The U.S. Congress enacts a draft, affecting male citizens aged 20 to 45, but also exempts those who pay $300 or provide a substitute. "The blood of a poor man is as precious as that of the wealthy," poor Northerners complain.
May 1-4, 1863 - The Union Army under Gen. Hooker is decisively defeated by Lee's much smaller forces at the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia as a result of Lee's brilliant and daring tactics. Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson is mortally wounded by his own soldiers. Hooker retreats. Union losses are 17,000 killed, wounded and missing out of 130,000. The Confederates, 13, 000 out of 60,000.
"I just lost confidence in Joe Hooker," said Hooker later about his own lack of nerve during the battle.
Confederate soldiers at the Sunken Road, killed during the fighting around Chancellorsville.
May 10, 1863 - The South suffers a huge blow as Stonewall Jackson dies from his wounds, his last words, "Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees."
"I have lost my right arm," Lee laments.
June 3, 1863 - Gen. Lee with 75,000 Confederates launches his second invasion of the North, heading into Pennsylvania in a campaign that will soon lead to Gettysburg.
June 28, 1863 - President Lincoln appoints Gen. George G. Meade as commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing Hooker. Meade is the 5th man to command the Army in less than a year.
July 1-3, 1863 - The tide of war turns against the South as the Confederates are defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.
Union soldiers on the Battlefield at Gettysburg.
July 4, 1863 - Vicksburg , the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, surrenders to Gen. Grant and the Army of the West after a six week siege. With the Union now in control of the Mississippi, the Confederacy is effectively split in two, cut off from its western allies.
July 13-16, 1863 - Anti-draft riots in New York City include arson and the murder of blacks by poor immigrant whites. At least 120 persons, including children, are killed and $2 million in damage caused, until Union soldiers returning from Gettysburg restore order.
July 18, 1863 - 'Negro troops' of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment under Col. Robert G. Shaw assault fortified Rebels at Fort Wagner, South Carolina. Col. Shaw and half of the 600 men in the regiment are killed.
August 10, 1863 - The president meets with abolitionist Frederick Douglass who pushes for full equality for Union 'Negro troops.'
August 21, 1863 - At Lawrence, Kansas, pro-Confederate William C. Quantrill and 450 pro-slavery followers raid the town and butcher 182 boys and men.
September 19/20, 1863 - A decisive Confederate victory by Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee at Chickamauga leaves Gen. William S. Rosecrans ' Union Army of the Cumberland trapped in Chattanooga, Tennessee under Confederate siege.
October 16, 1863 - The president appoints Gen. Grant to command all operations in the western theater.
November 19, 1863 - President Lincoln delivers a two minute Gettysburg Address at a ceremony dedicating the Battlefield as a National Cemetery.
Lincoln among the crowd at Gettysburg - Nov 19, 1863
November 23-25, 1863 - The Rebel siege of Chattanooga ends as Union forces under Grant defeat the siege army of Gen. Braxton Bragg. During the battle, one of the most dramatic moments of the war occurs. Yelling "Chickamauga! Chickamauga!" Union troops avenge their previous defeat at Chickamauga by storming up the face of Missionary Ridge without orders and sweep the Rebels from what had been though to be an impregnable position. "My God, come and see 'em run!" a Union soldier cries.
March 9, 1864 - President Lincoln appoints Gen. Grant to command all of the armies of the United States. Gen. William T. Sherman succeeds Grant as commander in the west.
May 4, 1864 - The beginning of a massive, coordinated campaign involving all the Union Armies. In Virginia, Grant with an Army of 120,000 begins advancing toward Richmond to engage Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, now numbering 64,000, beginning a war of attrition that will include major battles at the Wilderness (May 5-6), Spotsylvania (May 8-12), and Cold Harbor (June 1-3).
In the west, Sherman, with 100,000 men begins an advance toward Atlanta to engage Joseph E. Johnston's 60,000 strong Army of Tennessee.
A council of war with Gen. Grant leaning over the shoulder of Gen. Meade looking at a map, planning the Cold Harbor assault.
June 3, 1864 - A costly mistake by Grant results in 7,000 Union casualties in twenty minutes during an offensive against fortified Rebels at Cold Harbor in Virginia.
Many of the Union soldiers in the failed assault had predicted the outcome, including a dead soldier from Massachusetts whose last entry in his diary was, "June 3, 1864, Cold Harbor, Virginia. I was killed."
June 15, 1864 - Union forces miss an opportunity to capture Petersburg and cut off the Confederate rail lines. As a result, a nine month siege of Petersburg begins with Grant's forces surrounding Lee.
The 13-inch Union mortar "Dictator" mounted on a railroad flatcar at Petersburg. Its 200-pound shells had a range of over 2 miles.
July 20, 1864 - At Atlanta, Sherman's forces battle the Rebels now under the command of Gen. John B. Hood , who replaced Johnston.
August 29, 1864 - Democrats nominate George B. McClellan for president to run against Republican incumbent Abraham Lincoln.
September 2, 1864 - Atlanta is captured by Sherman 's Army. "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won," Sherman telegraphs Lincoln. The victory greatly helps President Lincoln's bid for re-election.
October 19, 1864 - A decisive Union victory by Cavalry Gen. Philip H. Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley over Jubal Early's troops.
November 8, 1864 - Abraham Lincoln is re-elected president, defeating Democrat George B. McClellan. Lincoln carries all but three states with 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 of 233 electoral votes. "I earnestly believe that the consequences of this day's work will be to the lasting advantage, if not the very salvation, of the country," Lincoln tells supporters.
November 15, 1864 - After destroying Atlanta's warehouses and railroad facilities, Sherman, with 62,000 men begins a March to the Sea. President Lincoln on advice from Grant approved the idea. "I can make Georgia howl!" Sherman boasts.
December 15/16, 1864 - Hood's Rebel Army of 23,000 is crushed at Nashville by 55,000 Federals including Negro troops under Gen. George H. Thomas . The Confederate Army of Tennessee ceases as an effective fighting force.
December 21, 1864 - Sherman reaches Savannah in Georgia leaving behind a 300 mile long path of destruction 60 miles wide all the way from Atlanta. Sherman then telegraphs Lincoln, offering him Savannah as a Christmas present.
January 31, 1865 - The U.S. Congress approves the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, to abolish slavery. The amendment is then submitted to the states for ratification.
February 3, 1865 - A peace conference occurs as President Lincoln meets with Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens at Hampton Roads in Virginia, but the meeting ends in failure - the war will continue.
Only Lee's Army at Petersburg and Johnston's forces in North Carolina remain to fight for the South against Northern forces now numbering 280,000 men.
March 4, 1865 - Inauguration ceremonies for President Lincoln in Washington. "With malice toward none with charity for all. let us strive on to finish the work we are in. to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations," Lincoln says.
March 25, 1865 - The last offensive for Lee's Army of Northern Virginia begins with an attack on the center of Grant's forces at Petersburg. Four hours later the attack is broken.
At Petersburg, Virginia, well supplied Union soldiers shown before Grant's spring offensive.
April 2, 1865 - Grant's forces begin a general advance and break through Lee's lines at Petersburg. Confederate Gen. Ambrose P. Hill is killed. Lee evacuates Petersburg. The Confederate Capital, Richmond , is evacuated. Fires and looting break out. The next day, Union troops enter and raise the Stars and Stripes.
A Confederate boy, age 14, lies dead in the trenches of Fort Mahone at Petersburg.
April 4, 1865 - President Lincoln tours Richmond where he enters the Confederate White House . With "a serious, dreamy expression," he sits at the desk of Jefferson Davis for a few moments.
April 9, 1865 - Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders his Confederate Army to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Grant allows Rebel officers to keep their sidearms and permits soldiers to keep horses and mules.
"After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources," Lee tells his troops.
General Lee surrendered in the parlor of this house.
Lee posed for this photo by Mathew Brady shortly after the surrender.
April 10, 1865 - Celebrations break out in Washington.
Final portrait of a war weary president - April 10, 1865
April 14, 1865 - The Stars and Stripes is ceremoniously raised over Fort Sumter. That night, Lincoln and his wife Mary see the play "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater. At 10:13 p.m., during the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth shoots the president in the head. Doctors attend to the president in the theater then move him to a house across the street. He never regains consciousness.
April 15, 1865 - President Abraham Lincoln dies at 7:22 in the morning. Vice President Andrew Johnson assumes the presidency.
April 18, 1865 - Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrenders to Sherman near Durham in North Carolina.
Funeral Procession on Pennsylvania Ave. - April 19, 1865
April 26, 1865 - John Wilkes Booth is shot and killed in a tobacco barn in Virginia.
May 4, 1865 - Abraham Lincoln is laid to rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery, outside Springfield, Illinois.
In May - Remaining Confederate forces surrender. The Nation is reunited as the Civil War ends. Over 620,000 Americans died in the war, with disease killing twice as many as those lost in battle. 50,000 survivors return home as amputees.
A victory parade is held in Washington along Pennsylvania Ave. to help boost the Nation's morale - May 23/24, 1865.
December 6, 1865 - The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, is finally ratified. Slavery is abolished.
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Battle of Vimeiro-Pennisular War - History
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8 Reasons Why the Battle of Hue Was So Pivotal in the Vietnam War
Until 1945, the Vietnamese city of Hue was the capital of the country and a shining jewel in its history. The old imperial capital stood largely untouched after 150 years, even as the United States ramped up its involvement in Vietnam.
On Jan. 30, 1968, Hue became the site of one of the longest, bloodiest battles the Americans would fight against the North Vietnamese Army, or NVA, and its Viet Cong guerrillas living in South Vietnam. As part of a much larger and costly offensive, it became a turning point, as public opinion in the United States began to turn against the war.
To understand why, however, there are a few critical things to understand about the battle and its aftermath.
1. Hue was untouched by the war until 1968.
After the French withdrew from Indochina, and the country was divided into a "democratic" south and a communist north, the city of Hue fell south of the demilitarized zone. As the United States increased its involvement and committed to combat actions, the city became an important part of the U.S. strategy in the country. It was an important supply point for the U.S. Navy and part of the Army's supply chain.
Until 1968, the communists were largely unable to hit major urban centers because they didn't have enough men, supplies or support inside South Vietnam's cities to make such attacks effective. They would soon change that perception.
2. The North Vietnamese weren't just a ragtag bunch of farmers.
Although the Viet Cong -- also known as the VC, they were South Vietnamese who actively supported the communist north -- had their share of peasant soldiers, North Vietnam's armed forces were much more sophisticated than popular perception allows. The north had a talented air force, weapons supplied by China and the Soviet Union, tanks, APCs, artillery and more.
More importantly, the Vietnamese had been at war against outside rule for so long, they could boast multiple generations of veteran soldiers fighting on their home turf.
3. The Battle of Hue was part of the Tet Offensive.
On Jan. 30-31, 1968, North Vietnam launched a massive, coordinated assault on nearly every city, town and military installation in South Vietnam. The communists believed it would be followed by a massive uprising against the corrupt, repressive South Vietnamese government of President Nguyen Van Thieu.
Thieu's mismanagement of the military made it much easier for the North Vietnamese Army to surprise and hit the south. As a result, Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) forces took the brunt of the casualties. Still, it was the first time the north brought the war to the cities in any meaningful way. Some 14,300 civilians were killed, with another 24,000 wounded and 630,000 forced to flee their homes.
With his disgraceful response to the Tet Offensive, Thieu's government lost popular support in the countryside, which leaned toward the communists.
4. The United States knew an offensive was coming.
North Vietnam massed 80,000 troops and the supplies needed to launch the Tet Offensive in the days before Jan. 31, 1968. That kind of reinforcement and troop movement is hard to hide, especially when the CIA is watching the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In their history of the war, Clark Dougan and Stephen Weiss wrote that the commander of American forces in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, told Washington that he expected a "countrywide effort" from the NVA soon.
Despite the mounting evidence, in the last months of 1967, the United States and South Vietnam didn't believe an attack of the scale and scope of the Tet Offensive was possible, and were caught completely off guard.
5. Tet is a Vietnamese New Year celebration.
Vietnam has its own calendar, a lunar calendar, in which Tet marks the first day of the year. It's also one of the most important holidays in the country, on which most Vietnamese people return to their homes and immediate families to celebrate together and pay homage to their ancestors.
Launching a major offensive during the Tet holiday meant that many ARVN soldiers wouldn't be at their regular posts, and many were actually on leave at the time. When the attack came, leave was canceled, but the cancellations came too late and many soldiers went on leave anyway. To make matters worse, Westmoreland believed the focus of the attack was on Khe Sanh, when it was really Saigon.
6. It did not go well for North Vietnam.
As far as traditional military thought goes, the North Vietnamese were soundly beaten. Almost overnight, the tide turned against the communists. American and ARVN forces pushed them out of most major cities and towns. Within two weeks, an estimated 32,000 NVA troops had been killed. No South Vietnamese uprising ever came, and the Americans and South Vietnam suffered only around 1,500 and 2,700 casualties, respectively.
But not in Hue, the ancient capital city and the least likely target of an NVA attack. American and South Vietnamese defenders were caught completely off guard, and the North Vietnamese were able to quietly capture the city with few major firefights. In journalist Mark Bowden's book "Hue 1968," the author says the city was captured in four hours, save for a small ARVN contingent inside the city's citadel and the American Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) base, where "400 American troops . were basically holed up like the Alamo."
7. Hue was the single bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War.
According to Bowden's research, the Americans believed Hue was held by a handful of die-hard communist troops and sent small units of U.S. Marines to clear them out. The Marines were instead facing a dug-in and heavily armed NVA stronghold -- and took heavy casualties doing it. The Marines were able to come to the aid of the MACV compound and other MACV elements, but not all of them.
For an entire month, U.S. Marines and soldiers, along with ARVN troops, waged battles throughout the city, often going house-to-house to remove Hue from North Vietnamese control. It was the first time Marines had engaged in urban combat since the Korean War. They were so unprepared for fighting in a major city that Col. Ernie Cheatham, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines in Hue City, had to look up how to do it in an old Marine Corps field manual.
8. Hue was a loss for North Vietnam, but it marked the beginning of the end.
Even Americans who initially supported the war in Vietnam were shocked by the bloodiness of the Tet Offensive, especially the fighting in Khe Sanh (which raged on for months) and in Hue. One of those Americans was journalist Walter Cronkite, who had accepted what the government told him about the war.
It was after he landed in Hue to see the war for himself that he delivered the broadcast that many believe is the reason the United States could not achieve its objectives in Vietnam:
"[I]t seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. … [I]t is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could."
VIDEO: Battery H Of The 3rd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery At Gettysburg
Civil War Times Editor Dana Shoaf shares the story of how Battery H of the 3rd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery found itself in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg. .
Dan Bullock: The youngest American killed in the Vietnam War
Pfc. Dan Bullock died at age 15 in 1969 and efforts to recognize the young African-American Marine continue and are highlighted in this Military Times documentary. (Rodney Bryant and Daniel Woolfolk/Military Times).
One of the Biggest Air Battles in History – the Battle Of Britain in 38 Great Images
It may be almost impossible to imagine today, but not long before the Nazi campaign against Britain got underway, Hitler mused that England might capitulate to Germany without putting up much of a fight at all.
Apparently he underestimated Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, much the same way he would later underestimate Josef Stalin, when he invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
Britain wasn’t about to give up control of the skies easily, quietly or quickly. Although Germany had the Luftwaffe, which was equipped with excellent aircraft, when up against the fighter planes of the Royal Air Force (RAF) it was no contest.German Heinkel He 111 bombers over the English Channel. 1940. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 141-0678 CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Nonetheless, Hitler ordered the bombing of Britain to commence on July 10 th , 1940, and the two countries fought almost constantly until October 31 st , when victory went decidedly to Great Britain. It became known as the Battle of Britain, an aerial campaign that was, in some respects, a fight for Britain’s very soul as a military champion on the right side of history.
By the time the conflict subsided, almost 3,000 civilians had lost their lives.
It was a gruelling campaign for both sides. But the RAF had Spitfires and Hurricanes and skilled pilots to steer them, and it wasn’t long before Germany’s fantasies of an easy fight evaporated like so much dust in a sandstorm.
The Battle of Britain is not only an example of the RAF’s skill. It was the first battle fought solely in the air, a battle that cost Germany more than 1,500 fighter planes. Hermann Goering, chief of the Luftwaffe had mistakenly, just like his boss, thought that Britain would be quickly and easily defeated.
He soon realized Germany was in for the fight of its life, a fight that of course it wound up losing, in 1945 when it completely surrendered to the Allies.
A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by by Pilot Officer J D Bisdee, as he dives on a formation of Heinkel He IIIs of KG 55 which had just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. 1940. [© IWM (CH 1826)] A still from camera gun film shows tracer ammunition from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by Flight Lieutenant J H G McArthur, hitting a Heinkel He 111 on its starboard quarter. These aircraft were part of a large formation from KG 53 and KG 55 which attacked the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s works at Filton, Bristol, just before midday on 25th September 1940. [© IWM (CH 1823)] Messerschmitt Bf110 fighter of Zerstörergeschwader 76 heavy fighter squadron over the English Channel, Aug 1940. These were the first fighters with the shark’s mouth that inspired the RAF in Africa and the AVG in China.
A flight of German Do-17 Z bombers of Kampfgeschwader 3 over France or Belgium, possibly en route to Britain, September-October 1940. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-343-0679-14A / Gentsch / CC-BY-SA 3.0] Supermarine Spitfire Mark Is of No. 610 Squadron based at Biggin Hill, flying in ‘vic’ formation, 24 July 1940. [© IWM (CH 740)] Hawker Hurricanes of No 1 Squadron, Royal Air Force, based at Wittering, Cambridgeshire, followed by a similar formation of Supermarine Spitfires of No 266 Squadron, during a flying display for aircraft factory workers, October 1940. [© IWM (CH 1561)] A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by by Pilot Officer J D Bisdee, as he dives on a formation of Heinkel He 111s of KG 55 which have just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. The rearmost aircraft of the leading ‘staffel’ receives a burst of machine gun fire from Bisdee, as shown by the streaks of light from the tracer bullets. Its port engine is also on fire. [© IWM (CH 1827)] A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I, flown by the Commanding Officer of No. 609 Squadron RAF, Squadron Leader H S Darley, as he opens fire amongst a formation of Heinkel He 111s of KG 55 which have just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. [© IWM (CH 1829)] A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by Flying Officer Tadeusz “Novi” Nowierski (formerly Polish Air Force) as he closes in on a formation of Dornier Do 17Zs of KG3 south-west of London at approximately 5.45 pm on 7 September 1940, the first day of the Blitz. Tracer bullets from the intercepting Spitfires can be seen travelling towards the enemy aircraft which were heading back to their base after bombing East London and the docks. [© IWM (CH 1820)] A Dornier Do-17 medium bomber dropping a string of bombs on London. 20 September 1940.
A portrait of Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park while commanding RAF squadrons on Malta, September 1942. In Germany, he was supposedly known as “the Defender of London”. [© IWM (CM 3513)] A Spitfire aircraft going down after being hit by a German Heinkel III in a dog fight. [© AWM 044727] A Spitfire pilot of No. 610 Squadron recounts how he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110, Biggin Hill. September 1940. [© IWM (HU 104450)] Bf-109 after an emergency landing on its way back to France across the English Channel. 1940. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-344-0741-30 Röder CC-BY-SA 3.0] Bomb with sign Extra-Havanna für Churchill. August 1940. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-342-0615-18 Spieth CC-BY-SA 3.0] British fighter Supermarine Spitfire flies in front of the cab of the German Heinkel He 111.
British pilots running towards their fighters (Spitfires) on the air-raid alarm.
Camera gun footage of a Ju 87 Stuka being shot down by an RAF fighter, 1940. [© IWM (C 2418)] Destroyed German bomber Heinkel HE 111 [Av Franz Hollerweger CC BY-SA 2.0] German Do 17 bomber and British Spitfire fighter in the sky over Britain. December 1940. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1969-094-18 Speer CC-BY-SA 3.0] German Heinkel He 111 flying towards their targets in the United Kingdom.
German Heinkel He 111s which went into service in 1937. Some 6000 Heinkel He 111s were built but were found to be a poor match for Hurricanes and Spitfires during the Battle of Britain.
German Officer examines the bullet holes on the fuselage of Heinkel He 111. The damage was caused by 7.69mm machine guns of British aircraft. [Via] Ground staff refueling a Messerschmitt Bf 110. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-404-0521-19A Koster CC-BY-SA 3.0] Hawker Hurricane Mk I aircraft of No 85 Squadron, Royal Air Force on patrol during the Battle of Britain. [© IWM (CH 1510)] Hawker Hurricane Mk Is of No. 242 Squadron during the Battle of Britain, 1940.
Hawker Hurricanes of No. 85 Squadron RAF, October 1940. [© IWM (CH 1500)] Heinkel HE-111 aircraft of the Luftwaffe being shot down during the Battle of Britain. [Canada. Dept. of National Defence Library and Archives Canada PA-] Hurricanes of No. 85 Squadron in flight in search of the enemy, October 1940. [© IWM (CH 1499)] Sergeant Schnell Siegfried of the 4.JG2 Squadron presents the marks of victories on the tail of his Messerschmitt fighter Bf 109E. [Via] KG 76 on their way to the target, 18th August 1940.
Pattern of condensation trails left by British and German aircraft after a dog fight. [© IWM (H 4219)] Spitfire pilots pose beside the wreckage of a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which they shot down as it was attacking a Channel convoy, 1940. [© IWM (CH 2064)] Supermarine Spitfire Mark Is of No. 610 Squadron based at Biggin Hill, flying in ‘vic’ formation, 24 July 1940. [© IWM (CH 740)] Supermarine Spitfire Mk VBs of No. 131 Squadron RAF being prepared for a sweep at Merston, a satellite airfield of Tangmere, Sussex. June 1942. [© IWM (CH 5879)] The Crew and a ground staff of the Luftwaffe prepare the start of the bomber Junkers Ju-88. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-402-0265-03A Pilz CC-BY-SA 3.0] The front of a Heinkel He-111 medium bomber in flight during a bombing mission to London. November 1940.
Two Dornier Do 17Z of the KG76 Squadron on London’s West Ham sky.
Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia and the Battle of Adwa: A Pictorial History
In Ethioipia today, few figures are as revered as Menelik II (1844-1913), the second-to-last reigning monarch of Ethiopia. Like Menelik I of the 10th century BC, the legendary son of King Solomon from whom he took his regal name, Menelik II traced his descent to the Solomonic line of kings. But it is his role in the history of Ethiopia for which Menelik II is most revered to this day, for it was he who defeated a European nation – Italy – on the field of battle, to defend Ethiopian independence.
Menelik II was crowned King of Kings and Emperor of Ethiopia on November 3, 1889, with the additional royal sobriquet of “the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” The coronation, which took place in the great Entotto Mariam Church in Addis Ababa, was captured for posterity by the Italian artist Pio Joris (1843-1921) and subsequently reproduced in chromolithograph images, today exceedingly rare. In the painting below, the artist depicted the entire royal entourage in gorgeous color and detail. On the left and right, we see the two leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith: the Archbishop of Alexandria and the Bishop of Ethiopia the two lions of Judah, traditional symbol of the Solomonic line of kingship and the “negarit” drums* and the drummers. On the left we see the lesser king and princes congratulating the Emperor, and flanking the Emperor are the various ministers of his cabinet. Among those present during the coronation in the Entotto Mariam Church are Ras Dargie, uncle of Menelik Dejazmach Dereso, General of the king Tekle Haimanot, King of Gojjam Ras Mikael, governor of eastern and parts of southern Wollo and Ras Mengesha-Atikim, governor of Damot, Agawmeder, Qwarra and adjacent areas.
Coronation of King of Kings Menelik II. Chromolithograph of the painting by Italian artist Pio Joris in 1890 (Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division, Ethiopian Collection).
Illustration published in “L’Illustrazione Italiana,” after a painting by the artist E. Zemenes, 1889 (Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division, Ethiopian Collection).
The illustration seen here commemorates the Wuchale Peace Treaty May 1889, by which the King sought to come to an agreement with Italy and avert warfare. In the upper left-hand corner we see a Star of Solomon with a cross in the middle two important symbols signaling the marriage between the Old and New Testament in Ethiopian culture. The peace talks failed, however, and ultimately led to the famous Battle of Adwa.
The Battle of Adwa as painted by Shibru Nuru, 1975 (Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division, Ethiopian Collection).
The year 1896 was a crucial year for Europe as a whole, and for Italy in particular. In that year, Italy was defeated by Ethiopia at the Battle of Adwa, signaling the end of the “might is right” era assumed by the European powers of the day. The defeat of the Italians was a major blow to the industrial world because it heralded the beginning of resistance against the industrial powers and the struggle for independence by the colonized African nations. In the painting shown here, St. George appears at the very apex, a reference to the proverbial Ethiopian belief that the Italians were defeated thanks to divine intervention. The drums used to herald the coronation of the King of Kings here become the battle drum that reverberates through the hills of Adwa, shaking the morale of the enemy.
Menelik II by Charles Leandre (1864-1922) (Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division, Ethiopian Collection).
Not surprisingly, some European artists rushed to the defense of colonialism. French artist Charles Leandre,) painted the caricature of Menelik that we see above. At the top right the artist wrote, “The benevolent Negus [i.e., King] takes advantage of the victory, but he never abuses it.” The underlying message, of course, is that the “beastly” and “barbarian” king is going to shame Europe (i.e., Italy), here represented by the helpless, naked woman.
In the aftermath of the war, Pope Leo XIII and King Menelik exchanged letters to effect the release of Italian Prisoners of War, and the Vatican turned to the Church of Alexandria for help with mediation. Trade cards of the day reflect current event in brightly colored images. Here we see Monsignor Macaire of the vicar of the Egyptian Coptic Church approaching Emperor Menelik on behalf of the Pope of Rome a prudent example of religious diplomacy since the King of Kings and Monsignor Macaire both belonged to the Orthodox faith.
Monsignor Macaire of the vicar of the Egyptian Coptic Church approaching Emperor Menelik on behalf of the Pope of Rome. 1896 (Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division, Ethiopian collection of Trade Cards).
Letter from the Holy Father Leon XIII to Menelik and his reply to his Holiness. (Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division, Ethiopian Collection of Trade Cards.)
Negotiations between the two dignitaries bore results. On November 20, 1896, the Emperor released 200 Italian POWs in honor of the Queen of Italy’s birthday, and successive releases were effected in February and June of 1897, when the last of the Italian POWs left the country.
Illustration of the jubilant prisoners of war when released. [Supplement Illustre du Petit Journal, Nov. 29, 1896]. (Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division, Ethiopian Collection)
Every year in March, Ethiopians celebrate their victory at the Battle of Adwa. The hero of that battle, Menelik II, remains a venerated figure in Ethiopian society, and indeed worldwide.
Monument of Menelik II riding into battle. Addis Ababa Erected, 1930. (Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division, Ethiopian Photograph Collection)
In marked contrast to the caricature shown above, Emperor Menelik II was often depicted as a noble and dignified figure in the art of his own time, as we see in this Trade Card here:
Imagination of a Spanish artist of the triumphant emperor, Menelik II (1896). (Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division, Ethiopian Collection of Trade Cards)
The King’s call for arms against Italy resonates powerfully to this day:
Now an enemy that intends to destroy our homeland and change our religion has come crossing our God-given frontiers. Now, with the help of God I will not allow him to have my country. You, my countrymen, I have never knowingly hurt you, nor have you hurt me. Help me, those of you with zeal and will power those who do not have the zeal, for the sake of your wives and your religion, help me with your prayers. (Gebre Selassie, Tarika zaman Zadagmawi Menilek Negusa Nagast ZeItyopya, 1966, p. 225.)
Menelik’s wife, the Princess Taitu, also commands respect in popular memory, and is often depicted as falling to her knees in prostration when the battle began and praying for victory. It was she who warned the Emperor about suspicious activities on the part of the Italian emissaries, scenting out political ploys under the cover of peace negotiations. Most important of all, she played a very strategic role by controlling the sources of water from the enemy.
Sehafe Te’ezaz Gebre Selassie, an eyewitness to the Battle of Adwa, concludes in his memoirs that no matter how organized an army may be, and no matter how sophisticated its arsenal of weapons, victory is only possible through God-given valor and skill. And in the Battle of Adwa, Menelik II proved the moral imperative in the struggle of Ethiopia against colonialism.
For more information resources about this topic at the Library of Congress, contact the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room (AMED) through the AMED’s Ask-a-Librarian inquiry form.
*A “negarit” drum is a special drum beaten to herald the approach of a monarch or the announcement of a decree.
Well done Ato Fnatahun! I hope Ethiopian artists and historians will, one day, develop Fantahun’s work into a book. The book, in addition to collections of photographs, can be supplemented with an artistic rendition of important personalities, places, and discourses with blurbs–like what we find in comic books. Such books will immensely contribute to teaching children about their history. Thank you
Very well written and a good collection of art surrounding Atse Menelik II and the Ethiopian victory at Adwa. I will come and see these artifacts first hand as soon as I can.
Nicely articulated. It gives pride and responsibility to shoulder the rich history.
Quite moving and uplifting story of our forefathers!
I kindly suggest for the King’s call be completed! I felt it has missed even very critical sections.
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Battle of Vimeiro-Pennisular War - History
The Top Ten Battles of All Time
By Michael Lee Lanning
Lt. Col. (Ret.) U.S. Army
Battles win wars, topple thrones, and redraw borders. Every age of human history has experienced battles that have been instrumental in molding the future. Battles influence the spread of culture, civilization, and religious dogma. They introduce weapons, tactics, and leaders who dominate future conflicts. Some battles have even been influential not for their direct results, but for the impact of their propaganda on public opinion.
The following list is not a ranking of decisive engagements, but rather a ranking of battles according to their influence on history. Each narrative details location, participants, and leaders of the battle, and also provides commentary on who won, who lost, and why. Narratives also evaluate each battle's influence on the outcome of its war and the impact on the victors and losers.
Battle # 10 Vienna
Austria-Ottoman Wars, 1529
The Ottoman Turks' unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1529 marked the beginning of the long decline of their empire. It also stopped the advance of Islam into central and western Europe, and ensured that the Christian rather than the Muslim religion and culture would dominate the region.
In 1520, Suleiman II had become the tenth sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which reached from the Persian frontier to West Africa and included much of the Balkans. Suleiman had inherited the largest, best-trained army in the world, containing superior elements of infantry, cavalry, engineering, and artillery. At the heart of his army were elite legions of Janissaries, mercenary slaves taken captive as children from Christians and raised as Muslim soldiers. From his capital of Constantinople, the Turkish sultan immediately began making plans to expand his empire even farther.
Suleiman had also inherited a strong navy, which he used with his army to besiege the island fortress of Rhodes, his first conquest. Granting safe passage to the defenders in exchange for their surrender, the Sultan took control of Rhodes and much of the Mediterranean in 1522. This victory demonstrated that Suleiman would honor peace agreements. In following battles where enemies did not surrender peacefully, however, he displayed his displeasure by razing cities, massacring the adult males, and selling the women and children into slavery.
By 1528, Suleiman had neutralized Hungary and placed his own puppet on their throne. All that now stood between the Turks and Western Europe was Austria and its Spanish and French allies. Taking advantage of discord between his enemies, Suleiman made a secret alliance with King Francis I of France. Pope Clement VII in Rome, while not allying directly with the Muslim Sultan, withdrew religious and political support from the Austrians.
As a result, by the spring of 1529, King Charles and his Austrians stood alone to repel the Ottoman invaders. On April 10, Suleiman and his army of more than 120,000, accompanied by as many as 200,000 support personnel and camp followers, departed Constantinople for the Austrian capital of Vienna. Along the way, the huge army captured towns and raided the countryside for supplies and slaves.
All the while, Vienna, under the able military leadership of Count Niklas von Salm-Reifferscheidt and Wilhelm von Rogendorf, prepared for the pending battle. Their task appeared impossible. The city's walls, only five to six feet thick, were designed to repel medieval attackers rather than the advanced cast-cannon artillery of the Turks. The entire Austrian garrison numbered only about 20,000 soldiers supported by 72 cannons. The only reinforcements who arrived in the city were a detachment of 700 musket-armed infantrymen from Spain.
Despite its disadvantages, Vienna had several natural factors supporting its defense. The Danube blocked any approach from the north, and the smaller Wiener Back waterway ran along its eastern side, leaving only the south and west to be defended. The Vienna generals took full advantage of the weeks before the arrival of the Turks. They razed dwellings and other buildings outside the south and west walls to open fields of fire for their cannons and muskets. They dug trenches and placed other obstacles on avenues of approach. They brought in supplies for a long siege within the walls and evacuated many of the city's women and children, not only to reduce the need for food and supplies but also to prevent the consequences if the Turks were victorious.
One other factor greatly aided Vienna: the summer of 1529 was one of the wettest in history. The constant rains delayed the Ottoman advance and made conditions difficult for the marching army. By the time they finally reached Vienna in September, winter was approaching, and the defenders were as prepared as possible.
Upon his arrival, Suleiman asked for the city's surrender. When the Austrians refused, he began an artillery barrage against the walls with his 300 cannons and ordered his miners to dig under the walls and lay explosives to breach the defenses. The Austrians came out from behind their walls to attack the engineers and artillerymen and dig counter-trenches. Several times over the next three weeks, the invaders' artillery and mines achieved small breaches in the wall, but the Viennese soldiers quickly filled the gaps and repelled any entry into the city.
By October 12, the cold winds of winter were sweeping the city. Suleiman ordered another attack with his Janissaries in the lead. Two underground mines near the city's southern gate opened the way briefly for the mercenaries, but the staunch Viennese defenders filled the opening and killed more than 1200. Two days later, Suleiman ordered one last attack, but the Viennese held firm once again.
For the first time, Suleiman had failed. Scores of his never-before-defeated Janissaries lay dead outside the walls. The Turkish army had no choice but to burn their huge camp and withdraw back toward Constantinople, but before they departed they massacred the thousands of captives they had taken on the way to Vienna. Along their long route home, many more Turks died at the hands of raiding parties that struck their flanks.
The loss at Vienna did not greatly decrease the power of the Ottoman Empire. It did, however, stop the Muslim advance into Europe. Suleiman and his army experienced many successes after Vienna, but these victories were in the east against the Persians rather than in the west against the Europeans. The Ottoman Empire survived for centuries, but its high-water mark lay somewhere along the Vienna city wall.
Following the battle for Vienna, the countries of the west no longer viewed the Turks and the Janissaries as invincible. Now that the Austrians had kept the great menace from the east and assured the continuation of the region's culture and Christianity, the European countries could return to fighting among themselves along Catholic and Protestant lines.
If Vienna had fallen to Suleiman, his army would have continued their offensive the following spring into the German provinces. There is a strong possibility that Suleiman's Empire might have eventually reached all the way to the North Sea, the alliance with France notwithstanding. Instead, after Vienna, the Ottomans did not venture again into Europe the Empire's power and influence began its slow but steady decline.
Battle # 9 Waterloo
Napoleonic Wars, 1815
The Allied victory over Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 brought an end to French domination of Europe and began a period of peace on the continent that lasted for nearly half a century. Waterloo forced Napoleon into exile, ended France's legacy of greatness, which it has never regained, etched its name on the list of history's best known battles, and added a phrase to the vernacular: "Waterloo" has come to mean decisive and complete defeat.
When the French Revolution erupted in 1789, twenty-year-old Napoleon left his junior officer position in the King's artillery to support the rebellion. He remained in the military after the revolution and rapidly advanced in rank to become a brigadier general six years later. Napoleon was instrumental in suppressing a Royalist uprising in 1795, for which his reward was command of the French army in Italy.
Over the next four years, Napoleon achieved victory after victory as his and France's influence spread across Europe and into North Africa. In late 1799, he returned to Paris, where he joined an uprising against the ruling Directory. After a successful coup, Napoleon became the first consul and the country's de facto leader on November 8. Napoleon backed up these aggrandizing moves with military might and political savvy. He established the Napoleonic Code, which assured individual rights of citizens and instituted a rigid conscription system to build an even larger army. In 1800, Napoleon's army invaded Austria and negotiated a peace that expanded France's border to the Rhine River. The agreement brought a brief period of peace, but Napoleon's aggressive foreign policy and his army's offensive posturing led to war between France and Britain in 1803.
Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France in 1804 and for the next eight years achieved a succession of victories, each of which created an enemy. Downplaying the loss of much of his navy at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Napoleon claimed that control of Europe lay on the land, not the sea. In 1812, he invaded Russia and defeated its army only to lose the campaign to the harsh winter. He lost more of his army in the extended campaign on the Spanish peninsula.
In the spring of 1813, Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Sweden allied against France while Napoleon rallied the survivors of his veteran army and added new recruits to meet the enemy coalition. Although he continued to lead his army brilliantly, the stronger coalition defeated him at Leipzig in October 1813, forcing Napoleon to withdraw to southern France. Finally, at the urging of his subordinates, Napoleon abdicated on April 1, 1814, and accepted banishment to the island of Elba near Corsica.
Napoleon did not remain in exile for long. Less than a year later, he escaped Elba and sailed to France, where for the next one hundred days he struck a trail of terror across Europe and threatened once again to dominate the continent. King Louis XVIII, whom the coalition had returned to his throne, dispatched the French army to arrest the former emperor, but they instead rallied to his side. Louis fled the country, and Napoleon again claimed the French crown on March 20. Veterans as well as new recruits swelled Napoleon's army to more than 250,000.
News of Napoleon's return reached the coalition leaders while they were meeting in Vienna. On March 17, Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia agreed to each provide 150,000 soldiers to assemble in Belgium for an invasion of France to begin on July 1. Other nations promised smaller support units.
Napoleon learned of the coalition plan and marched north to destroy their army before it could organize. He sent part of his army, commanded by Emmanuel de Grouchy, to attack the Prussians under Gebhard von Bluecher in order to prevent their joining the Anglo-Dutch force near Brussels. Napoleon led the rest of the army against the British and Dutch.
The French army won several minor battles as they advanced into Belgium. Although the coalition commander, the Duke of Wellington, had little time to prepare, he began assembling his army twelve miles south of Brussels, just outside the village of Waterloo. There he arrayed his defenses on high ground at Mount St. Jean to meet the northward-marching French.
By the morning of June 18, Napoleon had arrived at Mount St. Jean and deployed his army on high ground only 1300 yards from the enemy defenses. Napoleon's army of 70,000, including 15,000 cavalrymen and 246 artillery pieces, faced Wellington's allied force of about 65,000, including 12,000 cavalry and 156 guns, in a three-mile line. Both commanders sent word to their other armies to rejoin the main force.
A hard rain drenched the battlefield, causing Napoleon to delay his attack as late as possible on June 18 so that the boggy ground could dry and not impair his cavalry and artillery. After ordering a sustained artillery bombardment, Napoleon ordered a diversionary attack against the allied right flank in the west in hopes of getting Wellington to commit his reserve. The British defenders on the west flank, including the Scots and Coldstream Guards, remained on the reverse slope of the ridge during the artillery bombardment and then came forward when the French advanced.
The attack against the Allied right flank failed to force Wellington to commit his reserve, but Napoleon pressed on with his main assault against the enemy center. As the attack progressed, Napoleon spotted the rising dust of Bluecher's approaching army, which had eluded Grouchy's, closing on the battlefield. Napoleon, disdainful of British fighting ability, and overly confident of his own leadership and the abilities of his men, continued the attack in the belief that he could defeat Wellington before the Prussians joined the fight or that Grouchy would arrive in time to support the assault.
For three hours, the French and the British fought, often with bayonets. The French finally secured a commanding position at the center at La Haye Sainte, but the Allied lines held. Late in the afternoon, Bluecher arrived and seized the village of Plancenoit in Napoleon's rear, which forced the French to fall back. After a brutal battle decided by bayonets, the French forced the Prussians to withdraw. Napoleon then turned back against Wellington.
Napoleon ordered his most experienced battalions forward from their reserve position for another assault against the Allied center. The attack almost breached the Allied defenses before Wellington committed his own reserves. When the survivors of Napoleon's best battalions began to withdraw from the fight, other units joined the retreat. The Prussians, who had regrouped, attacked the French flank, sending the remainder running in disorder to the south. Napoleon's last few reserve battalions led him to the rear where he attempted, without success, to regroup his scattered army. Although defeated, the French refused to give up. When the Allies asked a French Old Guard officer to surrender, he replied, "The Guard dies, it never surrenders."
More than 26,000 French were killed or wounded and another 9,000 captured at Waterloo. Allied casualties totaled 22,000. At the end of the one-day fight, more than 45,000 men lay dead or wounded within the three-square-mile battlefield. Thousands more on both sides were killed or wounded in the campaign that led to Waterloo.
Napoleon agreed once again to abdicate on June 22, and two weeks later, the Allies returned Louis to power. Napoleon and his hundred days were over. This time, the British took no chances they imprisoned Napoleon on remote St. Helena Island in the south Atlantic, where he died in 1821.
Even if Napoleon had somehow won the battle, he had too few friends and too many enemies to continue. He and his country were doomed before his return from Elba.
France never recovered its greatness after Waterloo. It returned territory and resumed its pre-Napoleon borders. With Napoleon banished, Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria maintained a balance of power that brought European peace for more than four decades--an unusually long period in a region where war was much more common than peace.
While a period of peace in itself is enough to distinguish Waterloo as an influential battle, it and Napoleon had a much more important effect on world events. While the Allies fought to replace the king of France on his throne, their leaders and individual soldiers saw and appreciated the accomplishments of a country that respected individual rights and liberties. After Waterloo, as the common people demanded a say in their way of life and government, constitutional monarchies took the place of absolute rule. Although there was post-war economic depression in some areas, the general plight of the common French citizen improved in the postwar years.
Through the passage of time, the name Waterloo has become synonymous with total defeat. Napoleon and France did indeed meet their Waterloo in southern Belgium in 1815, but while the battle brought an end to one age, it introduced another. Although the French lost, the spirit of their revolution. and individual rights spread across Europe. No kingdom or country would again be the same.
Battle # 8 Huai-Hai
Chinese Civil War, 1948
The Battle of Huai-Hai was the final major fight between the armies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party of Kuomintang (KMT) in their long struggle over control of the world's most populous country. At the end of the battle, more than half a million KMT soldiers were dead, captured, or converted to the other side, placing China in the hands of the Communists who continue to govern today.
Struggles for the control of China and its provinces date back to the beginnings of recorded history. While some dynasties endured for many years and others for only short periods of time, the Chinese had fought among themselves and against foreign invaders throughout history only to find themselves divided once again at the start of the twentieth century. Political ideologies centered in Peking and Canton. Divisions in the country widened when the Japanese invaded in 1914. During World War I, the Chinese faced threats from within, from the Japanese, and from the newly formed Soviet Union.
When World War I finally ended, the Chinese continued their internal struggles with local dictators fighting to control small regions. In 1923, the country's two major parties, the CCP under Mao Zedong and the KMT controlled by Chiang Kai-shek, joined in an alliance to govern the country. The two sides had little in common, and in less than five years, the shaky alliance had come apart when their leaders' views on support from the Soviet Union clashed. Mao encouraged Soviet support while Chiang opposed it.
By 1927, the two parties were directly competing for control of China and its people. Mao focused on the rural areas while Chiang looked to the urban and industrial areas for his power. From 1927 to 1937, the two sides engaged in a civil war in which Chiang gained the upper hand through a series of successful offensives. Chiang almost destroyed the CCP army in 1934, but Mao and 100,000 men escaped before he could do so. For the next year, the Communists retreated from the Nationalists across 6,000 miles of China to Yenan, a retreat that became known as the Long March. Only 20,000 survived.
In 1937, Chiang and Mao once again put their differences aside to unite against another invasion by Japan. Mao and his army fought in the rural northern provinces, primarily employing guerrilla warfare. Mao also used this opportunity to solidify his support from the local peasants while stockpiling weapons provided by the Allies and captured from the Japanese. His army actually gained strength during the fighting. Meanwhile Chiang faced stronger Japanese opposition in the south, which weakened his army.
Despite efforts by the United States to mediate an agreement, the Communists and Nationalists resumed their armed conflict soon after the conclusion of World War II. In contrast to their weaker position prior to the war, the Communists now were stronger than the Nationalists. On October 10, 1947, Mao called for the overthrow of the Nationalist administration.
Mao, a student of Washington, Napoleon, and Sun Tzu, began to push his army south into the Nationalist zone. Whereas the Nationalists often looted the cities they occupied and punished their residents, the Communists took little retribution, especially against towns that did not resist. Now the Communists steadily achieved victories over the Nationalists. During the summer of 1948, the Communists experienced a series of victories that pushed the major portion of the Nationalist army into a cross-shaped area extending from Nanking north to Tsinan and from Kaifeng east through Soochow to the sea.
Mao decided that it was time to achieve a total victory. On October 11, 1948, he issued orders for a methodical campaign to surround, separate, and destroy the half-million-man Nationalist army between the Huai River and the Lung Hai Railway--the locations that gave the resulting battle its name. Mao divided his battle plan into three phases, all of which his army accomplished more smoothly and efficiently than anticipated.
The Communists divided the Nationalist-held territory into three areas. Then beginning in November, they attacked each in turn. Early in the campaign, many Nationalists, seeing no hope for their own survival, much less a Nationalist victory, defected to the Communists. Chiang, who also was encountering internal divisions within his party, attempted to reinforce each battle area, but poor leadership by the Nationalist generals, combined with Communist guerrilla activities, made his efforts ineffective. Chiang even had air superiority during the entire battle but was unable to coordinate ground and air actions to secure any advantage.
Over a period of two months, the Communists destroyed each of the three Nationalist forces. Support for Chiang from inside and outside China dwindled with each successive Communist victory. The United States, which had been a primary supporter, providing arms and supplies to the Nationalists, suspended all aid on December 20, 1948. U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall stated, "The present regime has lost the confidence of the people, reflected in the refusal of soldiers to fight and the refusal of the people to cooperate in economic reforms."
Within weeks of the U.S. announcement, the Communists overran the last Nationalist position and ended the Battle of Huai-Hai. Of the six highest-ranking Nationalist generals in the battle, two were killed in the fighting and two captured. The remaining two were among the few who escaped. By January 10, 1949, the half-million members of the Nationalist army had disappeared.
Within weeks, Tientsin and Peking fell to the Communists. On January 20, Chiang resigned his leadership of the Nationalists. The remaining Nationalist army and government continued to retreat until they finally withdrew to the island of Formosa. On Formosa, renamed Taiwan, Chiang regained power and developed the island into an Asian economic power. Mainland China, however, remained under the control of Mao and his Communists, who are still in power today.
The Communist takeover of China achieved by the Battle of Huai-Hai greatly influenced not only that country but the entire world. Over the next two decades, Mao focused almost exclusively on wielding complete control over his country. He ruthlessly put down any opposition and either executed or starved to death more than 20 million of his countrymen in order to bring to China the "joys" and "advantages" of Communism. Fortunately for the rest of the world, Mao remained focused on his own country. He disagreed with the Soviets on political and philosophical aspects of Communism, and the two nations viewed each other as possible opponents rather than allies.
China's internal struggles and its conflicts with its neighbors have restricted its active world influence. Even though it remains today the largest and strongest Communist nation and the only potential major Communist threat to the West, China remains a passive player, more interested in internal and neighboring disputes than in international matters.
Had the Nationalists been victorious at Huai-Hai, China would have played a different role in subsequent world events. There would have been no Communist China to support North Korea's invasion of the South, or North Vietnam's efforts to take over South Vietnam. Had Chiang, with his outward views and Western ties, been the victor, China might have taken a much more assertive role in world events. Instead, the Battle of Huai-Hai would keep China locked in its internal world rather than opening it to the external.
Battle # 7 Atomic Bombing of Japan
World War II, 1945
The United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 to hasten the end of World War II in the Pacific. Although it would be the first, and to date the only, actual use of such weapons of "mass destruction," the mushroom clouds have hung over every military and political policy since.
Less than five months after the sneak attack by the Japanese against Pearl Harbor, the Americans launched a small carrier-based bomber raid against Tokyo. While the attack was good for the American morale, it accomplished little other than to demonstrate to the Japanese that their shores were not invulnerable. Later in the war, U.S. bombers were able to attack the Japanese home islands from bases in China, but it was not until late 1944 that the United States could mount a sustained bombing campaign.
Because of the distance to Japan, American bombers could not reach targets and safety return to friendly bases in the Pacific until the island-hopping campaign had captured the Northern Mariana Islands. From bases on the Mariana Islands, long-range B-29 Superfortresses conducted high altitude bombing runs on November 24, 1944. On March 9, 1945, an armada of 234 B-29s descended to less than 7,000 feet and dropped 1,667 tons of incendiaries on Tokyo. By the time the fire storm finally abated, a sixteen-square-mile corridor that had contained a quarter million homes was in ashes, and more than 80,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, lay dead. Only the Allied fire bombing of Dresden, Germany, the previous month, which killed 135,000, exceed the destruction of the Tokyo raid.
Both Tokyo and Dresden were primarily civilian rather than military targets. Prior to World War II, international law regarded the bombing of civilians as illegal and barbaric. After several years of warfare, however, neither the Allies nor the Axis distinguished between military and civilian air targets. Interestingly, while a pilot could drop tons of explosives and firebombs on civilian cities, an infantryman often faced a court-martial for even minor mistreatment of noncombatants.
Despite the air raids and their shrinking territory outside their home islands, the Japanese fought on. Their warrior code did not allow for surrender, and soldiers and civilians alike often chose suicide rather than giving up. By July 1945, the Americans were launching more than 1200 bombing sorties a week against Japan. The bombing had killed more than a quarter million and left more than nine million homeless. Still, the Japanese gave no indication of surrender as the Americans prepared to invade the home islands.
While the air attacks and plans for a land invasion continued in the Pacific, a top-secret project back in the United States was coming to fruition. On July 16, 1945, the Manhattan Engineer District successfully carried out history's first atomic explosion. When President Harry Truman learned of the successful experiment, he remarked in his diary, "It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful."
Truman realized that the "most terrible thing" could shorten the war and prevent as many as a million Allied casualties, as well as untold Japanese deaths, by preventing a ground invasion of Japan. On July 27, the United States issued an ultimatum: surrender or the U.S. would drop a "super weapon." Japan refused.
In the early morning hours of August 6,1945, a B-29 named the Enola Gay piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets lifted off from Tinian Island in the Marianas. Aboard was a single atomic bomb weighing 8,000 pounds and containing the destructive power of 12.5 kilotons of TNT. Tibbets headed his plane toward Hiroshima, selected as the primary target because of its military bases and industrial areas. It also had not yet been bombed to any extent, so it would provide an excellent evaluation of the bomb's destructive power.
At 8:15 A.M ., the Enola Gay dropped the device called "Little Boy." A short time later, Tibbets noted, "A bright light filled the plane. We turned back to look at Hiroshima. The city was hidden by that awful cloud . boiling up, mushrooming." The immediate impact of Little Boy killed at least 70,000 Hiroshima residents. Some estimates claim three times that number but exact figures are impossible to calculate because the blast destroyed all of the city's records.
Truman again demanded that Japan surrender. After three days and no response, a B-29 took off from Tinian with an even larger atomic bomb aboard. When the crew found their primary target of Kokura obscured by clouds, they turned toward their secondary, Nagasaki. At 11:02 A.M . on August 9, 1945, they dropped the atomic device known as "Fat Man" that destroyed most of the city and killed more than 60,000 of its inhabitants.
Conventional bombing raids were also conducted against other Japanese cities on August 9, and five days later, 800 B-29s raided across the country. On August 15 (Tokyo time), the Japanese finally accepted unconditional surrender. World War II was over.
Much debate has occurred since the atomic bombings. While some evidence indicates that the Japanese were considering surrender, far more information indicates otherwise. Apparently the Japanese were planning to train civilians to use rifles and spears to join the military in resisting a land invasion. Protesters of the Atomic bombings ignore the conventional incendiaries dropped on Tokyo and Dresden that claimed more casualties. Some historians even note that the losses at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were far fewer than the anticipated Japanese casualties from an invasion and continued conventional bombing.
Whatever the debate, there can be no doubt that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan shortened the war, The strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only air battles that directly affected the outcome of a conflict. Air warfare, both before and since, has merely supplemented ground fighting. As confirmed by the recent Allied bombing of Iraq in Desert Storm and in Bosnia, air attacks can harass and make life miserable for civilian populations, but battles and wars continue to be decided by ground forces.
In addition to hastening the end of the war with Japan, the development and use of the atomic bomb provided the United States with unmatched military superiority--at least for a brief time, until the Soviet Union exploded their own atomic device. The two superpowers then began competitive advancements in nuclear weaponry that brought the world to the edge of destruction. Only tentative treaties and the threat of mutual total destruction kept nuclear arms harnessed, producing the Cold War period in which the U.S. And the USSR worked out their differences through conventional means.
Battle # 6 Cajamarca
Spanish Conquest of Peru, 1532
Francisco Pizarro conquered the largest amount of territory ever taken in a single battle when he defeated the Incan Empire at Cajamarca in 1532. Pizarro's victory opened the way for Spain to claim most of South America and its tremendous riches, as well as imprint the continent with its language, culture, and religion.
Christopher Columbus's voyages to the New World offered a preview of the vast wealth and resources to be found in the Americas, and Hernan Cortes's victory over the Aztecs had proven that great riches were there for the taking. It is not surprising that other Spanish explorers flocked to the area--some to advance the cause of their country, most to gain their own personal fortunes.
Francisco Pizarro was one of the latter. The illegitimate son of a professional soldier, Pizarro joined the Spanish army as a teenager and then sailed for Hispaniola, from where he participated in Vasco de Balboa's expedition that crossed Panama and "discovered" the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Along the way, he heard stories of the great wealth belonging to native tribes to the south.
After learning of Cortes's success in Mexico, Pizarro received permission to lead expeditions down the Pacific Coast of what is now Colombia, first in 1524-25 and then again in 1526-28. The second expedition experienced such hardships that his men wanted to return home. According to legend, Pizarro drew a line in the sand with his sword and invited anyone who desired "wealth and glory" to step across and continue with him in his quest.
Thirteen men crossed the line and endured a difficult journey into what is now Peru, where they made contact with the Incas. After peaceful negotiations with the Incan leaders, the Spaniards returned to Panama and sailed to Spain with a small amount of gold and even a few llamas. Emperor Charles V was so impressed that he promoted Pizarro to captain general, appointed him the governor of all lands six hundred miles south of Panama, and financed an expedition to return to the land of the Incas.
Pizarro set sail for South America in January 1531 with 265 soldiers and 65 horses. Most of the soldiers carried spears or swords. At least three had primitive muskets called arquebuses, and twenty more carried crossbows. Among the members of the expedition were four of Pizarro's brothers and all of the original thirteen adventurers who had crossed their commander's sword line to pursue "wealth and glory."
Between wealth and glory stood an army of 30,000 Incas representing a century-old empire that extended 2,700 miles from modern Ecuador to Santiago, Chile. The Incas had assembled their empire by expanding outward from their home territory in the Cuzco Valley. They had forced defeated tribes to assimilate Incan traditions, speak their language, and provide soldiers for their army. By the time the Spaniards arrived, the Incas had built more than 10,000 miles of roads, complete with suspension bridges, to develop trade throughout the empire. They also had become master, stonemasons with finely crafted temples and homes.
About the time Pizarro landed on the Pacific Coast, the Incan leader, considered a deity, died, leaving his sons to fight over leadership. One of these sons, Atahualpa, killed most of his siblings and assumed the throne shortly before he learned that the white men had returned to his Incan lands.
Pizarro and his "army" reached the southern edge of the Andes in present day Peru in June 1532. Undaunted by the report that the Incan army numbered 30,000, Pizarro pushed inland and crossed the mountains, no small feat itself. Upon arrival at the village of Cajamarca on a plateau on the eastern slope of the Andes, the Spanish officer invited the Incan king to a meeting. Atahualpa, believing himself a deity and unimpressed with the Spanish force, arrived with a defensive force of only three or four thousand.
Despite the odds, Pizarro decided to act rather than talk. With his arquebuses and cavalry in the lead, he attacked on November 16, 1532. Surprised by the assault and awed by the firearms and horses, the Incan army disintegrated, leaving Atahualpa a prisoner. The only Spanish casualty was Pizarro, who sustained a slight wound while personally capturing the Incan leader.
Pizarro demanded a ransom of gold from the Incas for their king, the amount of which legend says would fill a room to as high as a man could reach--more than 2,500 cubic feet. Another two rooms were to be filled with silver. Pizarro and his men had their wealth assured but not their safety, as they remained an extremely small group of men surrounded by a huge army. To enhance his odds, the Spanish leader pitted Inca against Inca until most of the viable leaders had killed each other. Pizarro then marched into the former Incan capital at Cuzco and placed his handpicked king on the throne. Atahualpa, no longer needed, was sentenced to be burned at the stake as a heathen, but was strangled instead after he professed to accept Spanish Christianity.
Pizarro returned to the coast and established the port city of Lima, where additional Spanish soldiers and civilian leaders arrived to govern and exploit the region's riches. Some minor Incan uprisings occurred in 1536, but native warriors were no match for the Spaniards. Pizarro lived in splendor until he was assassinated in 1541 by a follower who believed he was not receiving his fair share of the booty.
In a single battle, with only himself wounded, Pizarro conquered more than half of South America and its population of more than six million people. The jungle reclaimed the Inca palaces and roads as their wealth departed in Spanish ships. The Incan culture and religion ceased to exist. For the next three centuries, Spain ruled most of the north and Pacific coast of South America. Its language, culture, and religion still dominate there today.
Battle # 5 Antietam
American Civil War, 1862
The Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history, stopped the first Confederate invasion of the North. It also ensured that European countries would not recognize the Confederacy or provide them with much-needed war supplies. While the later battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg would seal the fate of the rebel states, the defeat of the rebellion began along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862.
From the day the American colonies gained their independence at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, a conflict between the United States North and South seemed inevitable. Divided by geographical and political differences, and split over slavery and state's rights issues, the North and South had experienced mounting tensions during the first half of the nineteenth century. Finally, the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860 provided the spark that formally divided the country. Although Lincoln had made no campaign promises to outlaw slavery, many in the South viewed him as an abolitionist who would end the institution on which much of the region's agriculture and industry depended. In December 1860, South Carolina, acting on what they thought was a "state's right" under the U.S. Constitution, seceded from the Union. Three months later, seven other southern states joined South Carolina to form the Confederate States of America.
Few believed that the action would lead to war. Southerners claimed it was their right to form their own country while Northerners thought that a blockade of the Confederacy, supported by diplomacy, would peacefully return the rebel states to the fold. However, chances for a peaceful settlement ended with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on April 12-14, 1861. Four more states joined the Confederacy a few days later.
Both sides quickly mobilized and aggressive Confederate commanders achieved success against the more reluctant and cautious Union leaders. While warfare on land favored the Confederates, they lacked a navy, which allowed the U.S. Navy to blockade its shores. This prevented the South from exporting their primary cash crop of cotton, as well as importing much-needed arms, ammunition, and other military supplies that the meager Southern industrial complex could not provide.
In May 1862, General Robert E. Lee took command of what he renamed as the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee soon became one the most beloved commanders in history. Yet, while his men adored him, his critics noted his inability to control his subordinate leaders.
Despite his shortcomings, Lee outmaneuvered and out-generaled his opponents in his initial battles. He turned back the Union march on Richmond and then moved north to win the Second Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia, on August 30, 1862. Both Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis realized, however, that the South could not win a prolonged war against the more populous and industrialized North. To endure and succeed, the South would need war supplies and naval support from Britain, France, and possibly even Russia. While these countries were sympathetic with the Southern cause, they were not going to risk bad relations or even war with the United States unless they were convinced the rebellion would succeed.
Following their victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Lee and Davis devised a plan that would meet their immediate needs for supplies as well as their long-range goal of European recognition. They would take the war into the North. On September 6, the Army of Northern Virginia crossed into Maryland with the intention of raiding and gathering supplies in southern Pennsylvania.
Union General George B. McClellan paralleled Lee, keeping his army between the invading rebels and Washington, D.C., where Lincoln feared they would attack. On September 9, 1862, Lee issued Order Number 191, calling for half of his force to move to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to control the region's rail center, while the other half marched to Harpers Ferry to capture the town's gun factory and to secure lines back to the South. Four days later, a Union soldier discovered a copy of the order in a field, wrapped around three cigars. He kept the cigars, but Lee's order was shortly in McClellan's hands.
Even though McClellan now possessed the complete Confederate battle plan and his forces outnumbered the rebels 76,000 to 40,000, he remained cautious because his own intelligence officers incorrectly warned that the Confederates' force was far larger. On September 14, McClellan began to close on Lee's army only to be slowed by small forces in passes in South Mountain. The brief delay allowed Lee to form his army along a low ridge near Antietam Creek just east of Sharpsburg, Maryland.
McClellan finally attacked on the morning of September 17, but his characteristic hesitation and poor communications caused the battle to be composed of three separate fights rather than one united effort. The battle began with a murderous artillery barrage, followed by an infantry assault on the Confederate left. Attacks and counterattacks marked the next two hours, with neither side able to maintain an advantage. Meanwhile, at midmorning, Union troops assaulted the rebel center that stood protected in a sunken road. By the time the rebels withdrew four hours later, the depleted, exhausted Union force was unable to pursue past what was now known as the "Bloody Lane."
In the afternoon, still another Union force attacked the rebel right flank to secure a crossing of Antietam Creek. Even though the waterway was fordable along much of its banks, most of the fight was concentrated over a narrow bridge. After much bloodshed, the Union troops pushed the Confederates back and were about to cut off Lee's route back south when rebel reinforcements arrived from Harpers Ferry. Even so, the third battlefront, like the other two, lapsed into a stalemate.
On the morning of September 18, Lee and his army withdrew back to Virginia. Since he was not forced to retreat, Lee claimed victory. McClellan, overly cautious as usual, chose not to pursue, although it is possible that if he had done so he could have defeated Lee and brought the war to a quick conclusion.
Between the two armies lay more than 23,000 dead or wounded Americans wearing either blue or gray. A single day of combat produced more casualties than any other in American history--more dead and wounded than the U.S. incurred in its Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War combined. Casualties at Antietam even outnumbered those of the Longest Day, the first day of the Normandy Invasion, by nine to one.
The influence of Antietam reached far beyond the death and wounds. For the first time, Lee and the rebel army failed to accomplish their objective, and this provided a much-needed morale boost for the Union. More importantly, when France and England learned of the battle's outcome, they decided that recognition of the Confederate States would not be advantageous.
The battle also changed the objectives of the United States. Prior to Antietam, Lincoln and the North had fought primarily to preserve the Union. Lincoln had waited for the opportunity to bring slavery to the forefront. Five days after Antietam, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the Proclamation did not free slaves in Union states and, of course, had no power to do so in areas controlled by the rebels, it did advance the freeing of slaves as an objective of the war.
Prior to the battle and the Proclamation, European nations, although opposed to slavery, still had sympathies for the Southern cause. Now with slavery an open issue and the Confederate's ability to win in question, the South would have to stand totally alone.
While it took two-and-a-half more years of fighting and the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg to finally end the war, the Confederate States were doomed from the time they withdrew southward from Antietam Creek. An improving Union army, combined with a solid refusal of outside support for the Confederacy, spelled the beginning of the end.
Antietam ranks as one of history's most influential battles because if the South had been victorious outside Sharpsburg, it is very possible that France, England, and possibly even Russia would have recognized the new country. Their navies would have broken the Union blockade to reach the cotton needed for their mills and to deliver highly profitable war materials. France, who already had troops in Mexico, might have even provided ground forces to support the South. Lincoln most likely would not have issued his Emancipation Proclamation and might have been forced to make peace with the rebels, leaving the country divided. Although future events, such as the two World Wars, would likely have made the former enemies into allies, it is doubtful that, in their state of division, either the United States or Confederate States would have been able to attain the level of world influence or to develop into the political, trade, and military power that the unified United States would become.
Battle # 4 Leipzig
Napoleonic Wars, 1813
The allied victory over Napoleon at Leipzig in 1813 marked the first significant cooperation among European nations against a common foe. As the largest armed clash in history up to that time, Leipzig led to the fall of Paris and the abdication of Napoleon.
After the Russian army and winter had handed Napoleon a nasty defeat in 1812, Europeans felt confident that peace would prevail after more than a decade of warfare. They were wrong. As soon as Napoleon returned to France from icy Russia, he set about rebuilding his army, conscripting teens and young men. He strengthened these ranks of inexperienced youths with veterans brought back from the Spanish front.
While Napoleon had been weakened by Russia, he believed that the other European countries were too distrustful of each other to ally against him. In early 1813, he decided to advance into the German provinces to resume his offensive. Just as he had done before, he planned to defeat each army he encountered and assimilate the survivors into his own force.
European leaders were correct to fear that Napoleon could accomplish his objectives, but they remained reluctant to enter into alliances with neighbors who were former, and possibly future, enemies. Karl von Metternich, the foreign minister of Austria, saw that neither his nor any other European country could stand alone against the French. Even though he had previously negotiated an alliance with Napoleon, he now began to assemble a coalition of nations against the French emperor.
Metternich's diplomacy, combined with the massing of the French army on the German border, finally convinced Prussia, Russia, Sweden, Great Britain, and several smaller countries to ally with Austria in March 1813. Napoleon disregarded the alliance and crossed into Germany with the intention of defeating each opposing army before the "allies" could actually unite against him.
Napoleon won several of the initial fights, even defeating the Prussians at Lutzen on May 2. He soon realized, however, that his new army was not the experienced one he had lost in Russia. More importantly, he had not been able to replace much of his cavalry lost in the Russian winter, limiting his reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
When Napoleon learned that armies were marching toward Dresden from the north, south, and east against him, he negotiated a truce that began on June 4. Metternich met with Napoleon in an attempt to reach a peace settlement but, despite generous terms that allowed France to retain its pre-war borders and for him to remain in power, Napoleon refused to accept the agreement.
During the negotiations, both sides continued to add reinforcements. On August 16, the truce ended and combat resumed. For two months, the Allies harassed the French but avoided a pitched battle while they solidified their plans for a major attack. Napoleon's army, forced to live off the land and to rapidly march and countermarch against the multiple armies around them, steadily became more exhausted.
In September, the Allies began a general offensive in which the French won several small battles. Yet the Allies forced them back to Leipzig in October. Napoleon had 175,000 men to defend the town, but the Allies massed 350,000 soldiers and 1,500 artillery pieces outside his lines.
On the morning of October 16, 1813, Napoleon left part of his army in the north to resist an attack by the Prussians while he attempted to break through the Russian and Austrian lines in the south. The battle raged all day as the front swept back and forth, but by nightfall both sides occupied the same positions as when the battle began.
Little action took place on October 17 because both sides rested. The battle on October 18 closely resembled that of two days earlier. Nine hours of furious combat accomplished little except to convince Napoleon that he could not continue a battle of attrition against the larger Allied force. The odds against him increased when the Swedish army arrived to join the Allies and a unit of Saxons deserted the French to join the other side.
Napoleon attempted to establish another truce, but the Allies refused. During the night, the French began to withdraw westward by crossing the Elster River. A single stone bridge, which provided the only crossing, soon created a bottleneck. Napoleon deployed 30,000 soldiers to act as a rear guard to protect the crossing, but they were stranded when the bridge was destroyed. A few swam to safety, but most, including three senior officers, were killed or captured.
Once again, Napoleon limped back toward Paris. Behind him he left 60,000 dead, wounded, or captured French soldiers. The Allies had lost a similar number, but they could find replacements far more quickly and easily than Napoleon. Other countries, including the Netherlands and Bavaria--which Napoleon had added to his confederation by conquest--now abandoned him and joined the Allies. On December 21, the Allies invaded France and, following their victory at Paris on March 30, 1814, forced Napoleon into exile on Elba.
Napoleon soon returned, but after only one hundred days he suffered his final defeat by the Allies at Waterloo on June 18, 1815 . Metternich continued his unification efforts and signed most of the Allies to the Concert of Europe, which provided a balance of power and a peace that lasted until the Crimean War in 1854. Most of the alliance survived another three decades until the ambitions of Germany brought an end to European peace.
The Battle of Leipzig was important because it brought Napoleon a defeat from which he could not recover. More important, however, was the cooperation of armies against him. This alliance is so significant that Leipzig is frequently called the Battle of the Nations. For these reasons, Leipzig ranks as one of history's most influential battles.
Leipzig also eclipses Waterloo in its influence. While the latter was certainly more decisive, a victory by Napoleon at Leipzig would likely have broken the alliance and placed the French in a position to once again defeat each of the other nation's armies. A French victory at Leipzig would have meant no defeat of Napoleon at Paris, no abdication to Elba, and no return to Waterloo.
Battle # 3 Stalingrad
World War II, 1942-43
Stalingrad was the last great offensive by the German Nazis on the Eastern Front. Their defeat in the city on the Volga River marked the beginning of a long series of battles that would lead the Russians to Berlin and Hitter's Third Reich to defeat. The Battle of Stalingrad resulted in the death or capture of more than a quarter million German soldiers, and denied the rich Caucasus oil fields to the Nazis.
Despite the lack of success by the German army to capture the cities of Moscow and Leningrad in their blitzkrieg offensive in the fall and winter of 1941, Hitler remained determined to conquer Russia in order to destroy Communism and gain access to natural resources for the Third Reich. With his army stalled outside the cities to the north, Hitler directed an offensive against Stalingrad to capture the city's industrial assets and to cut communications between the Volga and Don Rivers. Along with the attack against Stalingrad, German columns were to sweep into the Caucasus to capture the oil fields that would fuel future Nazi conquests.
In the spring of 1942, German Army Group A headed into the Caucasus while Group B marched toward Stalingrad. Initially both were successful, but the German army, depleted by the battles of the previous year, was too weak to sustain two simultaneous offensives. The Germans might have easily captured Stalingrad had Hitler not continued to redirect units to the Caucasus. By the time he concentrated the offensive against Stalingrad, the Soviets had reinforced the area. Stalin directed the defenders of the city that bore his name, "Not a step backward." Hitler accepted the challenge and directed additional forces against the city.
On August 23, 1942, more than a thousand German airplanes began dropping incendiary and explosive bombs. More than 40,000 of the 600,000 Stalingrad civilians died in the fiery attack. The survivors picked up arms and joined the soldiers in defense of their city. The next day, the Sixth German Army, commanded by General Friedrich Paulus, pressed into the edge of the town and assumed victory when they found it mostly in ruins. They were wrong. Soldiers and civilians rose from the rubble to fight back with small arms and even hand-to-hand combat as they contested every foot of the destroyed town.
Elements of the Soviet Sixty-second Army joined the fight. Clashes over the city's Mamaev Mound resulted in the hill changing hands eight times as the battle line advanced and retreated. Near the center of the city, the Stalingrad Central Railway station changed hands fifteen times in bitter, close infantry combat. German artillery and air power continued to pound the city, but the Russians maintained such close contact with their opponents that much of the ordinance exploded harmlessly to their rear.
By September 22, the Germans occupied the center of Stalingrad, but the beleaguered Russian soldiers and civilians refused to surrender. They provided Soviet General Georgi Zhukov time to reinforce the city's flanks with additional soldiers, tanks, and artillery pieces. On November 19, the Russians launched a counter-offensive against the north and south flanks of the Germans.
The two attacks focused on lines held by Romanian, Italian, and Hungarian forces who were allied with the Germans, rather than the better trained and disciplined Nazi troops. On November 23, the two pincers linked up west of Stalingrad, trapping more than 300,000 German soldiers in a pocket thirty-five miles wide and twenty miles long.
General Paulus requested permission from Hitler to withdraw prior to the encirclement, but he was told to fight on. Reich Marshal Hermann Goering promised Hitler that he could supply the surrounded Paulus with 500 tons of food and ammunition per day. Goering and his Luftwaffe failed to deliver even 150 tons a day while the Russians destroyed more than 500 transport aircraft during the supply effort. A relief column led by General Erich von Manstein, one of Hitler's finest officers, attempted to reach the surrounded army but failed.
The Russians continued to reduce the German perimeter. By Christmas, the Germans were low on ammunition, nearly out of food, and freezing in the winter cold. On January 8, 1943, the Russians captured the last airfield inside the German lines and demanded the surrender of the entire army. Hitler radioed Paulus, "Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their position to the last man and last round. " He also promoted Paulus to field marshal and reminded him that no German of that rank had ever surrendered on the battlefield.
The Germans did not hold out to the last round or the last man. By January 31, their numbers had plummeted to 90,000, many of whom were wounded. All were hungry and cold. Units began to give up, and within two days all resistance ceased. Field Marshal Paulus surrendered himself, 23 generals, 90,000 men, 60,000 vehicles, 1,500 tanks, and 6,000 artillery pieces.
Of the 90,000 Germans captured at Stalingrad, only about 5,000 survived the harsh conditions of the Soviet prisoner-of-war camps. Those who were not worked to death died of starvation and disease. Paulus, however, was not harshly treated by his captors but remained under house arrest in Moscow for eleven years. He was allowed in 1953 to return to Dresden in East Germany, where he died in 1957.
The siege of Stalingrad provided sufficient time for the German Army Group A to withdraw from the Caucasus. The loss of Army Group B in the rubble of Stalingrad and the toll experienced by Army Group A before its withdrawal, however, weakened the German army on the Eastern Front to the point where it could never again mount a major offensive. More than two years would pass before the Red Army occupied Berlin, but Stalingrad opened the way to the future victories that led to Hitler's Bunker and the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Victory at Stalingrad did not come easily or cheaply for the Russians. Nearly half a million soldiers and civilians died in defense of the city. Almost all of its homes, factories, and other buildings were destroyed. But the Russians had won, and that victory united the Russian people, giving them the confidence and strength that drove them on to Berlin.
Stalingrad proved to the Russians and their allies that they could both stop and defeat the great German army. The battle was the turning point of World War II. Victory at Stalingrad for the Germans would have led to victory in the Caucasus Mountains. With the oil and other resources from that area, the German army would have been able to turn more of their power to the Western Front. If the German armies in the east had survived to face the British, the Americans, and their Allies in the west, the war definitely would not have concluded as quickly. Perhaps even the eventual allied victory might have been in doubt.
While Stalingrad was the turning point of World War II, and the valor of its defenders will never be in doubt, the Soviet brand of Communism in whose name the battle was fought has not survived. Stalingrad did not even survive to see the demise of the Soviet Union. In the purge of all references to Stalin after his death, the city was renamed Volgograd. Yet, the brave defenders of Stalingrad, who fought for themselves and their city, deserve recognition as fighting one of history's most decisive and influential battles.
Battle # 2 Hastings
Norman Conquest of England, 1066
The Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was the last successful invasion of England--and the first and only since the Roman conquest a thousand years earlier. Its aftermath established a new feudal order that ensured that England would adopt the political and social traditions of continental Europe, rather than those of Scandinavia. The single battle also gained the country's crown for the Norman leader William.
Prior to the Battle of Hastings, the Vikings ruled Scandinavia, Northern Europe, and much of the British Isles. Areas they did not directly control were still vulnerable to their constant raids. Earlier Viking victories in France had led to intermarriage and the creation of a people who called themselves the Normans. Other Vikings conquered the British Isles and established their own kingdoms. Royal bloodlines ran through the leaders of all of the monarchies, but this did not prevent them from fighting each other.
Claims of crowns and territories reached a state of crisis with the death of Edward the Confessor, the King of England in 1066, who had left no heir. Three men claimed the throne: Harold Godwin, brother-in-law of Edward William, the Duke of Normandy and a distant relative of Edward's and King Harald Hardrada of Norway, the brother of Harold Godwin.
Both Harald and William assembled armies to sail to England to secure their claims. Godwin decided that William presented more of a threat and moved his English army to the southern coast across from Normandy. Weather, however, delayed William, and King Harald's ten thousand Vikings arrived first. On September 20, the Vikings soundly defeated the local forces around the city of York and seriously weakened the English army in the region.
Hearing of the battle, Godwin turned his army north and covered the two hundred miles to York in only six days. At Stamford Bridge, he surprised the Vikings and soundly defeated them. The retreating Viking survivors filled only twenty-four of the three hundred ships that had brought them to England.
Godwin had inflicted the most decisive defeat on the Vikings in more than two centuries, but there was no time to celebrate. A few days later, he learned that the Normans had landed at Pevensey Bay in Sussex and were marching inland. Godwin hurried back south with his army and on October 1 he arrived in London, where he recruited additional soldiers. On October 13, Godwin moved to Sussex to take defensive positions along the Norman line of march on Senlac Ridge, eight miles northwest of the village of Hastings. He did not have long to prepare because William approached the next day.
Godwin possessed both advantages and disadvantages. He had the advantage of the defense, and his army of 7,000 was about the same size as that of the Normans. Only about 2,000 of his men, however, were professionals. These housecarls, as they were known, wore conical helmets and chain-mail vests and carried five-foot axes in addition to metal shields. The remaining Saxons were poorly trained militiamen known as fyrds, who were basically draftees levied from the shires. Many of the fyrds, and most of the housecarls, were exhausted from their march as well as from the fierce battle with the Vikings.
William's army contained about 2,000 cavalrymen and 5,000 infantrymen, equally armed with swords or bows or crossbows. Despite the lack of numerical superiority and an enemy defense that would only allow for a frontal assault, William attacked.
The Normans advanced behind a rain of arrows from their archers, but the Saxon shields turned aside most of the missiles. Several direct attacks by the infantry fared no better. William then personally led a cavalry charge but was turned back by marshy ground and the Saxon defenses. Defeat, or at best stalemate, appeared to be the outcome of the battle for the invaders. The Normans were further demoralized when a story swept the ranks that William had been killed.
When the Norman leader heard the rumor, he removed his visor and rode to the head of his army. His soldiers, seeing that he was alive, rallied and renewed the assault. William also ordered his archers to fire at a high angle rather than in a direct line in order to reach behind the Saxon shields. The battle remained in doubt until William's cavalry turned and wildly fled from the battlefield. Whether the cavalry was retreating from fright or as a ruse, it had the same results. The Saxons left their defenses to pursue, only to be struck by the Norman infantry. At about the same time, an arrow hit Godwin in the eye, and he was killed by the advancing infantry. The leaderless Saxons began to flee.
William, soon to be known as the Conqueror, pursued the retreating Saxons and seized Dover. With little resistance, he entered London on December 25, 1066, and received the crown of England as King William I. Over the next five years, William brutally put down several rebellions and replaced the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy with his own Norman followers. Norman nobles built castles from which to rule and defend the countryside. Norman law, customs, traditions, and citizens intermingled with the Saxons to form the future of England as a nation.
Later the adage would declare, "There'll always be an England." The fact remains that the England that eventually came to exist began on the Hastings battlefield, and 1066 became a schoolbook standard marking the expansion of English culture, colonization, and influence around the world.
Battle # 1 Yorktown
American Revolution, 1781
The Battle of Yorktown was the climax of the American Revolution and directly led to the independence of the United States of America. While others may have been larger and more dramatic, no battle in history has been more influential. From the days following their victory at Yorktown, Americans have steadily gained power and influence up to their present role as the world's most prosperous nation and the only military superpower.
The idea that a group of poorly armed, loosely organized colonists would have the audacity to challenge the massive, experienced army and navy of their rulers seemed impossible when the revolution's first shots rang out at Lexington and Concord in 1775. The rebels' chances of success seemed even more remote when the American colonies formally declared their independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776.
Despite the huge imbalance of power, the Americans understood that time was on their side. As long as George Washington and his army remained in the field, the newly declared republic survived. Washington did not have to defeat the British he simply had to avoid having the British defeat him. The longer the war lasted, the greater the odds that the British would become involved in wars that threatened their own islands and that the British public would tire of the war and its costs.
During the first year of the war, Washington had lost a series of battles around New York but had withdrawn the bulk of his army to fight another day. Many British commanders had unintentionally aided the American effort with their military ineptness and their belief that the rebels would diplomatically end their revolt.
Participants on both sides, as well as observers around the world, had begun to take the possibility of American independence seriously only with their victory at Saratoga in October 1777. The poorly executed plan by the British to divide New England from the southern colonies by occupying New York's Hudson River Valley had resulted not only in the surrender of nearly six thousand British soldiers but also in the recognition of the United States as an independent nation by France. The American victory at Saratoga and the entrance of the French into the war also drew Spain and the Netherlands into the fight against England.
By 1778, neither the British nor the Americans could gain the upper hand, as the war in the northern colonies had come to a stalemate. The British continued to occupy New York and Boston, but they were too weak to crush the rebel army. Washington similarly lacked the strength to attack the British fortresses.
In late 1778, British commander General Henry Clinton used his superior sea mobility to transfer much of his army under Lord Charles Cornwallis to the southern colonies, where they occupied Savannah and then Charleston the following year. Clinton's plan was for Cornwallis to neutralize the southern colonies, which would cut off supplies to Washington and isolate his army.
Washington countered by dispatching Nathanael Greene, one of his ablest generals, to command the American troops in the South. From 1779 to 1781, Greene and other American commanders fought a guerrilla-like campaign of hit-and-run maneuvers that depleted and exhausted the British. In the spring of 1781, Cornwallis marched into North Carolina and then into Yorktown on the Virginia peninsula flanked by the York and James Rivers. Although his army outnumbered the Americans two to one, Cornwallis fortified the small town and waited for additional men and supplies to arrive by ship.
Meanwhile, more than seven thousand French infantrymen, commanded by Jean Baptiste de Rochambeau, joined Washington's army outside New York, and a French fleet led by Admiral Paul de Grasse waited in the Caribbean, preparing to sail northward. Washington wanted de Grasse to blockade New York while the combined American-French armies attacked Clinton's New York force.
Rochambeau and de Grasse proposed instead that they attack Cornwallis. On August 21, 1781, Washington left a few units around New York and joined Rochambeau to march the two hundred miles to Yorktown in only fifteen days. Clinton, convinced that New York was still the rebels' primary target, did nothing.
While the infantry was on its march, the French navy drove away the British ships in the area at the Battle of Chesapeake Capes on September 5. De Grasse then blockaded the entrance to Chesapeake Bay and landed three thousand men to join the growing army around Yorktown.
By the end of September, Washington had united his army from the north with the rebel Southerners. He now had more than 8,000 Americans along with the 7,000 French soldiers to encircle the 6,000 British defenders. On October 9, 1781, the Americans and French began pounding the British with fifty-two cannons while they dug trenches toward the primary enemy defensive redoubts.
The American-Franco infantry captured the redoubts on October 14 and moved their artillery forward so they could fire directly into Yorktown. Two days later, a British counterattack failed. On October 17, Cornwallis asked for a cease-fire, and on the 19th he agreed to unconditional surrender. Only about one hundred and fifty of his soldiers had been killed and another three hundred wounded, but he knew that future action was futile. American and French losses numbered seventy-two killed and fewer than two hundred wounded.
Cornwallis, claiming illness, sent his deputy Charles O'Hara to surrender in his place. While the British band played "The World Turned Upside Down," O'Hara approached the allies and attempted to surrender his sword to his European peer rather than the rebel colonist. Rochambeau recognized the gesture and deferred to Washington. The American commander turned to his own deputy, Benjamin Lincoln, who accepted O'Hara's sword and the British surrender.
Several small skirmishes occurred after Yorktown, but for all practical purposes, the revolutionary war was over. The upheaval and embarrassment over the defeat at Yorktown brought down the British government, and the new officials authorized a treaty on September 3, 1783, that acknowledged the independence of the United States.
Yorktown directly influenced not only the United States but also France. The French support of the United States and their own war against Britain wrecked France's economy. More importantly, the idea of liberty from a tyrant, demonstrated by the Americans, motivated the French to begin their own revolution in 1789 that eventually led to the age of Napoleon and far greater wars.
The fledgling United States had to fight the British again in 1812 to guarantee its independence, but the vast area and resources of North America soon enlarged and enriched the new nation. By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States had become a world power by the end of the twentieth, it was the strongest and most influential nation in the world.
Before Yorktown, the United States was a collection of rebels struggling for independence. After Yorktown, it began a process of growth and evolution that would eventually lead to its present status as the longest-surviving democracy and most powerful country in history. The American Revolution, beginning at Lexington and Concord and drawing strength from Saratoga, culminated at Yorktown in the most influential battle in history.
Copyright 2005 Michael Lee Lanning All Rights Reserved
Michael Lee Lanning retired from the United States Army after more than twenty years of service. He is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, where he served as an infantry platoon leader and company commander. The 'Top Ten Battles' article presented here is from his latest book: "The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History's Most Influential Battles," illustrated by Bob Rosenburgh. Lanning has written fourteen books on military history, including "The Military 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Military Leaders of All Time."
Revolutionary War Battles of Trenton (Dec. 26) and Princeton (Jan. 3) Changed History Forever, Explains Historian
While Dec. 25 has prominent religious and cultural significance around the globe, it is relatively unknown that the next day holds great historical significance in the United States, says Andrew Shankman.
The Rutgers University–Camden historian explains that, on the morning of Dec. 26, 1776, George Washington crossed the Delaware from Pennsylvania into New Jersey – an image famously depicted in Emanuel Leutze’s painting – and led the Continental Army in a surprise attack on the Hessians in the Battle of Trenton. Another pivotal battle would take place in Princeton on Jan. 3.
The battles did little to turn the tide of the war, says the professor of history, but they had a far greater impact on the future of the Continental Army and, ultimately, the very fate of the United States.
“As far as military achievements go, the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton a few days later were not very notable,” he explains. “However, as far as convincing the Continental Army to stay in the field and give people one national institution to rally around and support, there were perhaps no greater battles in the history of the American Revolution.”
Up until that point, explains Shankman, “things go really, really badly” for Washington and his men in 1776. The superior British forces succeed in pushing them out of New York, across New Jersey, and eventually onto the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River that fall. Throughout that time, the men – who had enlisted on one-year commitments – were deserting.
“So morale is getting really bad for the Continental Army and these one-year enlistments under Washington were about to be up,” says the Rutgers–Camden researcher.
There was likewise a sense of futility growing in the Continental Congress. In fact, Thomas Jefferson had already written a letter saying that the rebels should try to bargain with the British for the best deal possible.
The stage was then set for Washington to do something “heroic and bold.”
“He needed to convince these men who were left to reenlist for another year,” says Shankman. “If the men didn’t reenlist, there wouldn’t even be an army and they would lose the war.”
But that wasn’t all, he says the victories would also have lasting consequences for “winning the hearts and minds of the people.”
For a variety of reasons, he explains, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had the largest populations of potentially loyalist or controlled people in the 13 colonies. The merchant class in Philadelphia at the time was very much dependent on the British Empire. As the British were pushing and pursuing the rebel army across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, they distributed “loyalty oaths,” which were signed by thousands of local residents swearing allegiance to the king.
Map of New Jersey and Pennsylvania from “Atlas of the Battles of the American Revolution,” printed in 1845.
After the battles of Trenton and Princeton, the British decided to pull back from small outposts in these occupied areas, leaving the people who hadn’t signed these oaths the chance to release their anger – and even hatred – on those who had signed.
“What that means, going forward, is that anyone who would have been wavering or even harboring loyalist sentiment was far less willing to express it,” he says. “That becomes really important, because it shifts the momentum to people who were much more committed to the independence movement.”
So, what would the American Revolution have looked like without these pivotal battles?
Shankman posits that the Continental Army would have “disintegrated” in 1777. Moreover, the British most likely would have occupied the Mid-Atlantic region, where many people had signed loyalty oaths, and brought it back into the empire.
“Even if Virginia remained committed to the cause, there would’ve been a major British base splitting the northern and southern regions,” he says. “Many people in the Mid-Atlantic probably would have welcomed the invitation and then slowly other people may have reconciled to that fact.”
Shankman further notes that New York and Philadelphia were faring much better economically than Boston. With New York and Philadelphia receiving assistance of the British Empire, that disparity would have been compounded.
“I don’t know how long Boston could have been shut out of the empire while New York and Philadelphia were allowed to flourish they probably may have bargained to come back in,” he says.
So ironically, says the Rutgers–Camden researcher, while the battles of Trenton and Princeton did little to change the course of the fighting, they did change the course of history.