What 25 historic battlefields look like today
The United States has fought 12 major wars in its 244-year history. That’s an average of a major war every 20 years. The early ones were fought right here at home, but for the last century and a half or so, America’s armed forces have played only away games. During that time, the country has gone from not even being a country at all to securing its status as the mightiest nation in the history of the world.
Through its military, the United States can project its awesome power anywhere in the world at any time under any circumstances. Sometimes those circumstances involve stopping bloodthirsty conquerors like Adolph Hitler. Other times, war is necessitated by attacks on America’s allies. In the most unfortunate chapters in its history, the U.S. dumped resources and human lives not into wars of necessity, but wars of choice. When the bloodshed starts, however, none of that matters to the people on the ground and combat is what it’s always been—human beings fighting for their own survival and that of the people next to them on the field of battle.
Some battlefields have been actual fields. Others have been distant beaches, dense forests, lush jungles, barren deserts, soaring mountains, ancient villages, or frozen lands of ice and snow. Every single one of those places wasn’t a battlefield until the fighting began and every single one of them ceased to be a battlefield after the last shot was fired.
The following is an examination of what became of the sites where America waged its most important and often most brutal campaigns of war. Using a variety of sources, Stacker selected 25 of the most historically significant battlefields in American history. For each one, Stacker investigated what happened there when the battles raged as well as what became of those hallowed grounds when the fighting stopped.
These are the battlefields that defined the United States military’s journey from upstart Colonial rebels to invincible global war machine.
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Then: Trenton, New Jersey (1776)
With winter setting in and his army reeling from a string of bruising defeats near New York City, Gen. George Washington devised a plan to turn the tide of the Revolutionary War and reinvigorate his forces. In one of the most celebrated moments in U.S. military history, Gen. Washington secretly ferried his men across the frigid Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776 to attack the British-loyal Hessian garrison that was camped for the winter in Trenton, New Jersey. The Americans prevailed in the Battle of Trenton, killing or capturing large numbers of soldiers and supplies and, most importantly, boosting morale and spurring a new wave of enlistments.
Now: Trenton, New Jersey
Today, Trenton is the capital city of New Jersey—although for a short while in 1784, it was the capital of the United States. The Trenton Battle Monument and the Old Barracks Museum are just a few of the sites dedicated to the improbable and ingenious victory that George Washington engineered there at the dawn of America’s existence.
Then: Saratoga, New York (1777)
A crucial turning point in the Revolutionary War came in 1777 when American troops surrounded and defeated forces led by British Gen. John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga. The decisive American victory thwarted British plans to divide the fledgling country and separate New England from the rest of the colonies. Representing a crucial turning point in the war, the colonists’ success at Saratoga convinced France and other major world powers that the young country was worth supporting against their British adversaries.
Now: Saratoga, New York
Saratoga County, particularly Saratoga Springs, is a major Upstate New York tourist destination famous for its mineral springs, manicured parks, racetrack, bustling downtown, nature preserves, nightlife, dining, and other hospitality offerings. Among the attractions are several historical monuments to the Battle of Saratoga and the Colonial era in New York.
Then: Tripoli (1805)
Although two Barbary Wars would be fought a decade apart, it was the First Barbary War that memorialized “the shores of Tripoli” in the Marines’ Hymn. Pirates from the four states of the Barbary Coast—Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco—had spent years terrorizing and seizing American merchant ships, stealing cargo, and killing, impressing, and kidnapping American sailors for ransom. The Barbary rulers demanded the U.S. send treasure and tribute to make it stop—Thomas Jefferson sent the Marines instead.
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In the time of the Barbary pirates, Tripoli—which means “Three Cities”—was an autonomous state that was loosely organized as part of the Ottoman Empire. Today, it’s the capital city of the North African nation of Libya.
Then: Fort McHenry, Baltimore (1814)
The sight of the American flag flying over Fort McHenry after its American defenders endured relentless British naval shelling during the Battle of Baltimore inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.” For two days in 1814 between Sept. 14-15, the outmatched Americans repelled both land and sea attacks by the British, defended Fort McHenry, and secured control of the crucial Baltimore Harbor in one of the most pivotal battles in the War of 1812.
Today: Fort McHenry, Baltimore
Today, Fort McHenry is classified as a National Monument and Historic Shrine. Hundreds of thousands of visitors file through it every year to immerse themselves in the fort’s history, which is by no means limited to the War of 1812. Built during the Revolution, Fort McHenry played a role in America’s primary coastal defenses through World War II.
Then: Palo Alto, Texas (1846)
Long-simmering tensions with Mexico had come to a boil by 1846, a time when America was led by President James K. Polk, a radical expansionist guided by the concept of Manifest Destiny, which he believed was a mandate from God that the United States should stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. The problem was that much of the West that Polk wanted for the United States was Mexican territory, including modern California, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Texas. The first real battle of the Mexican-American War was staged at Palo Alto, where U.S. Gen. Zachary Taylor defeated a superior Mexican force and eventually crossed the Rio Grande to take the fighting to Mexican soil.
Now: Palo Alto, Texas
The Battle of Palo Alto was the first fight in a war that would dramatically alter the map of North America forever. The town is located in southwestern Nueces County in Texas, near Corpus Christi. Tourists who go there can visit the Palo Alto Battlefield, which is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service.2018 All rights reserved.