25 Battles That Changed The World

Posted by , Updated on June 23, 2014

The battlefield is a strange place. It’s one of the few places where violence, betrayal, and unspeakable horror live side by side with honor, courage, and virtue. This dissonant harmony is evident in the legends and stories that we tell of fallen heroes, glorious victories, and bloody losses. For better or for worse, our history has been shaped and molded by the sacrifices and selfish pursuits of men during war time. Although every conflict changes history to some extent, today, we are going to look at 25 battles that changed the world.

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25

Battle of Thermopylae: 480 BC

Battle of Thermopylae: 480 BC

Despite their defeat in 490 BC to the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon, the Persians led by King Xerxes were still determined to conquer Greece though they had control of almost the entire world. Led by King Leonidas of Sparta, the Athenians and Spartans combined forces with other 29 city-states with only 10,000 warriors to fight off the invading colossal armies of King Xerxes. This battle became an epic story when due to treachery, the Persians were able to go behind the Greek lines, forcing Leonidas along with 300 Spartans, 900 Helots, 400 Thebans and 700 Thespians to give their last stand against the massive Persian forces in a pass in Thermopylae.

24

The Battle of Gaugamela: 331 BC

The Battle of Gaugamela: 331 BC

October 1, 331 BC marked one of the finest victories of Alexander the Great. Also known as the “Battle of Arabela,” it resulted in the crucial victory of the Macedonians under Alexander’s rule against the Persian Empire under Darius III. The 47,000 strong Greek force routed a Persian army over twice its size.

23

The Battle of Zama: 202 BC

The Battle of Zama: 202 BC

On October 19, 202 BC, the battle of Zama, an ancient town in North Africa, was the final and decisive encounter that ended the Second Punic War. It also marked the end of Hannibal, the most famous general of Carthage, who was able to defend his country for 16 years out of the 60 years that the Romans and Carthaginians were fighting for world power.

22

The Battle of Pharsalus: 48 BC

The Battle of Pharsalus: 48 BC

A crucial battle of Caesar’s Civil War, it was fought by two great military tacticians who were once allies – Pompey Magnus (“Pompey the Great”) who had the backing of Roman senators, and Gaius Julius Caesar. Pompey, who was fighting for the people and the Republic against Caesar’s aim of aristocratic rule, was defeated by the well-rested and tactically placed Caesar’s army. This battle has historical significance as it paved the way for the Roman Republic to become an empire.

21

The Battle of Tours: 732 AD

The Battle of Tours: 732 AD

One of the most important eras in the history of the world, the battle of Tours or the ‘Battle of Poitiers,’ occurred in October 732 AD in north central France near the city of Tours. The battle was between the 20,000 combined Frankish and Burgundian forces led by Charles Martel against the 50,000 soldiers of Abdul Rahman al Ghafiqi, who was intent on bringing Islam to Europe. The victory of Charles Martel led to the preservation of Christianity in Europe, which may not have been the case given a different outcome to this critical battle.


20

The Battle of Hastings: 1066 AD

The Battle of Hastings: 1066 AD

Also made famous as the battle that ended successful foreign invasions of the British isles, it took place at Senlac Hill on October 14 between the opposing armies of France’s Duke William of Normandy and King Harold II of England. The battle, which resulted in Harold’s death and the succession to the throne of the first Norman ruler as King William I, established the supremacy and effectiveness of using cavalry, infantry, and archers in combined arms attack.

19

The Battle of Agincourt: 1415

The Battle of Agincourt: 1415

The most well-known battle of the Hundred Years’ War, it happened during the celebration of St. Crispin’s Day on October 25, 1415. This was one of the greatest victories of the English armies, which were led by King Henry V himself, as opposed to the armies of the ailing King Charles VI of France who was incapable of actively being in command. It also became famous for the English use of the longbow; and legends have it that the ‘two-fingers salute’ or ‘V sign,’ was derived from the motion of the longbow men fighting.

18

The Siege of Orleans: 1428 – 1429

The Siege of Orleans: 1428 – 1429

A crucial battle in the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, it was led by the fabled Joan of Arc and was her first military victory at the height of English power. It was also the first major success of the French army since their defeat in Agincourt. Though it culminated in the death of 4,000 English and 2,000 French, it was a well-known fact that Joan of Arc has rescued her country from succumbing to the same fate as the Irish.

17

The Siege of Vienna: 1529

The Siege of Vienna: 1529

The futile siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks was the turning point in the decline of the Ottoman Empire. This is also one of the reasons why Christianity is the dominant religion in Central and Western Europe instead of Islam. On April 10, 1529, Suleiman II, the tenth sultan of the Ottoman Empire, led his army of 120,000 with 200,000 support personnel from Constantinople to demand the surrender of Vienna, capital of Austria. However, the military forces of Vienna took advantage of the weeks prior to the arrival of the Turks by preparing their artillery, fortifying their walls, and razing buildings and dwellings so they could have full use of their cannons and muskets. The cold winds of winter also worked in their favor, and though these did not decrease the power of the Turks, the walls of Vienna were considered their “waterloo.”

16

The Battle of Cajamarca: 1532

The Battle of Cajamarca: 1532

This battle started the Spanish conquests of Peru against the Inca natives on the night of November 16, 1532 in a surprise attack against the royal entourage of Atahualpa. The ambush, led by Francisco Pizarro led to the death of 2,000 Incan followers and the capture of 5,000 more including Atahualpa himself. The Spaniards charged using cavalry and cannons with which the natives had no way of competing.

15

The Battle of Gravelines: 1588

The Battle of Gravelines: 1588

Most popularly known as the “defeat of the great and mighty Spanish Armada,” this was led by the Duke of Medina Sidonia in an attempt to overthrow Elizabeth I of England. Queen Elizabeth decided to fight off the invading fleet due to the ardent decision by Philip of Spain to lead Protestant England back into the Catholic faith by force. On July 29, a naval battle ensued where the English emerged victorious though the Spanish Armada only sustained minor losses. However, due to the unpredictable English weather, most of the Spanish fleets ran aground leaving only half of their ships to sail back to Spain.

14

The Battle of Naseby: 1645

The Battle of Naseby: 1645

This key battle, which marked the end of the first English Civil War, was fought by the core army of King Charles I against the Parliamentarian New Model army led by Oliver Cromwell and Sir Thomas Fairfax on June 14, 1645. In this battle, the king had lost his veteran infantry along with all his artillery against the sheer number of Parliamentarian troops. The battle is also well-remembered for the brutal slaughter of all the fleeing Royalists who were pursued by the Parliamentarians. The First English Civil War was also notable not only for the Parliamentarian victory, but also for the public execution of King Charles I, which had never before happened to a ruling monarch.

13

The Battles of Lexington and Concord: 1775

The Battles of Lexington and Concord: 1775

The first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War happened on April 19, 1775 within the towns of Lexington and Concord, in Massachusetts. About 700 British troops led by General Thomas Gage conducted a raid in Boston to capture the American patriots Samuel Adams and John Hancock and then destroy their armory. The armed American colonists called ‘Minutemen’ were warned beforehand, however, and managed to successfully ward off the British. The fighting ended with the “Declaration of Independence” of the Americans from British rule on July 4, 1776.

12

The Battle of Yorktown: 1781

The Battle of Yorktown: 1781

Also known as the “Siege of Yorktown,” it took place on October 19, 1781 when the combined forces of the American troops and French Army fought the British Army, which also included some German troops. The end of the Yorktown Campaign was the climax of the American Revolutionary War and resulted in the independence of the United States of America. This battle not only affected America, but France as well and eventually led to the beginnings of the French Revolution.

11

The Battle of Trafalgar: 1805

The Battle of Trafalgar: 1805

The most decisive British naval victory during the Napoleonic Wars, it was fought by the British Royal Navy against the combined forces of the French Navy and Spanish Navy off the coast of Cadiz on October 21, 1805. Napoleon’s attempted invasion of England was thwarted by the tactics of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died in the ensuing battle but earned the title of  “Britain’s greatest naval hero”. Though the British forces’ losses were heavy, they were still able to establish their naval supremacy in the 18th century.

10

The Battle of Leipzig: 1813

The Battle of Leipzig: 1813

Also known as the “Battle of the Nations” due to the coalition of armies from Sweden, Russia, Austria, and Prussia against the French army of Napoleon, it took place on October 16 to 19, 1813 at Leipzig, Saxony. One of history’s most influential battles, it is the grand finale to the fall campaign in 1813 that involved 600,000 soldiers, the largest number prior to World War I. Napoleon’s army also included Polish, Italian, and German troops from the Confederation of the Rhine, but it did not guarantee victory as he was compelled to return to France after his defeat. The battle also led to his defeat in Paris, his exile in Alba and his last stand at Waterloo.

9

The Battle of Waterloo: 1815

The Battle of Waterloo: 1815

The final battle of Napoleon Bonaparte, which ended his rule as the Emperor of France, occurred on June 18, 1815 in Brussels, Waterloo (today’s Belgium) against the Seventh Coalition. This also marks the end of his “Hundred Days” return from exile. After the battle, Napoleon was exiled once again this time to St. Helena until his death in 1821. “Waterloo” also became an idiom, which means “crushing defeat.”

8

The Battle of Antietam: 1862

The Battle of Antietam: 1862

This battle, which was fought on September 17, 1862 at Antietam Creek as part of the Maryland Campaign during the American Civil War, is considered the bloodiest single-day battle ever fought on the continent of North America. The first major battle that took place on Union soil claimed the lives of 22,717 men including those who were missing or wounded from both sides. The Confederates Army was doomed the moment they withdrew from Antietam Creek since they lack outward support, though it still took two-and-half years for the war to end.

7

The Battle of Gettysburg: 1863

The Battle of Gettysburg: 1863

The turning point of the American Civil War happened on July 1, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which incurred the highest number of casualties. During the four-year war, America was divided between the Northern Union states and Southern Confederate states over the abolition of slavery. The Union army led by General George Gordon Meade had defeated the southern forces of General Robert E. Lee, who was a military legend in the south. The three-day battle, which had a death toll of 50,000 Americans, was the inspiration for the famous speech of then President Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address.

6

The Battle of Britain: 1940

The Battle of Britain: 1940

This was a series of aerial dog fights between the German Luftwaffe and the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II. On, September 7, 1940, Germany launched a heavy night time air attack against England after several daytime attacks had proven unsuccessful. It continued for 57 nights with 200 planes blasting the city with high explosives. Though the air raids resulted in the death of 43,000 people, the British RAF proved their superiority and repelled the invaders.

5

The Battle of Stalingrad: 1942–1943

The Battle of Stalingrad: 1942 – 1943

This was a major and crucial battle of World War II as the Soviet forces fought off the Germans and maintained control of Stalingrad from August 23, 1942 until February 2, 1943. Considered one of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, it involved constant close-quarters combat with combined casualties reaching nearly 2 million. After battle, the German forces were unable to recover and attained no further victories.

4

The Battle of Guadalcanal: 1942-1943

The Battle of Guadalcanal: 1942-1943

Though there were so many battles that ensued during World War II, the battle of Guadalcanal or the “Guadalcanal Campaign” occurred 1,000 miles off the coast of Australia from August 7, 1942 to February 9, 1943 between Allied and Japanese forces. Paving the way for the Allied forces’ victory in the South Pacific, it was also the first major offensive on land, air, and sea that the Allied forces made against the Japanese during the war.

3

Atomic Bombings of Japan: 1945

Atomic Bombings of Japan: 1945

The bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the American and Allied forces near the end of World War II were the only time in world history when nuclear weapons were used. Even when the war in Europe ended on May 8, the war in the Pacific still continued and this resulted in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945 threatening Japan with utter destruction if they did not surrender. The Japanese government chose to ignore the warning, so the United States deployed the nuclear weapons: “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima, and “Fat Man” on Nagasaki on August 6, 1945 which caused the death of nearly 300,000 people in both cities. It did not only hasten the war with Japan, but also established the US as the sole world superpower until the Soviet Union developed its own atomic bombs.

2

The Battle of Huaihai: 1948–1949

The Battle of Huaihai: 1948–1949

The final battle in the Chinese Civil War between the opposing armies of the Chinese Communist Party and the Nationalist Party of Kuomintang (KMT), it resulted in the death of more than half a million of the KMT forces, while the others were either captured or converted. It is also the reason why China is still under Communist rule today. The two groups, which were the major ruling parties in 1923 under their leaders Mao Zedong of the CCP and Chiang Kai-shek of the KMT began to have a shaky alliance due to their opposing views regarding the Soviet Union and starting in 1927 they had been fighting for control. The victory of the CCP also led to the defection and creation of the People’s Republic of China in Taiwan.

1

The Tet Offensive: 1968

The Tet Offensive: 1968

The decisive battle in the Vietnam War, this was launched by the Viet Cong of North Vietnam against South Vietnam, the United States and their allies on January 30, 1968 during the Vietnamese New Year or “Tet.” The offensive, which occurred prior to a ceasefire, had the Viet Congs disguised as revelers in a countrywide and well-coordinated attack with more than 80,000 Communist troops striking 100 towns and cities, and was considered the largest military operation conducted by either side during the war. Since the War of 1812, this was the first time that American forces were unable to gain victory.

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