10 Most Important Battles in American History and Why: Part II
By RU Twisted
If you missed part one of the 10 Most Important Battles in American History and Why, please do check it out. If you don’t, then it will be tough to follow along because coming into the middle of a list is basically against nature. And science.
Here we bring you part two of this critically acclaimed* series. Enjoy.
The Battle of Fort Sumter:
Just go ahead and start typing that hate mail now because there’s absolutely no way to write about the Civil War without pissing off a large number of people. But remember, this is a top ten list and we’re only at number four.
In 1860, following South Carolina’s secession from the Union, Fort Sumter was occupied by a Major Anderson—not to be confused with “Mister Anderson” from The Matrix—which began a standoff with South Carolina’s militia. President Lincoln then announced that he would resupply the unfinished fort, prompting Confederate General P.G.T. (Pierre Gustave Toutant) Beauregard, aka “the little Creole” to mount an attack. The following 34 hours consisted of a lopsided artillery battle that saw Major Anderson and his men surrendering the fort to the Confederates.
Why it’s important: This is where American history gets….messy. And rather confusing for someone starting on the journey towards understanding how we got where we are.
Yes, it is true that there were no casualties during the exchanges at Fort Sumter (one Union soldier died after the surrender from an accident), which makes it seem rather insignificant in light of a war that cost the lives of so many. However, it was not a “war” at all until the events in the Charleston harbor.
The Battle of Fort Sumter kicked off what would be both the bloodiest war in American history as well as its most influential. Many historians argue that it was the events of that battle which prompted other states to secede and that the bombardment of Union forces by the Confederacy gave the North all the reason it needed to go on the offensive. Either way, once the shots were fired, it was on like Donkey Kong, as they say. Secession was no longer seen as just a difference of opinion but as an act of war by those holding the seats of power in Washington.
Battle of Manila Bay/Battle of San Juan Hill.
I’m placing these two battles as a tie because A) they were equally important, and B) this period of American history is often overlooked yet highly influential in historical significance.
On May 1, 1898, under the command of Commodore George Dewey, the American Navy wiped out the entire Spanish Pacific Squadron in the matter of a few hours, effectively ending Spanish colonialism in the Philippines while taking only one American fatality. The next day, Dewey landed a group of Marines to do what Marines do best by Hulk-smashing the rest of the Spanish fleet.
Two months later, on July 1, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, along with the “Buffalo Soldiers” of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments charged Kettle Hill and then San Juan Hill in Cuba. Despite heavy losses, the American forces captured the hills and, from their crests, were able to lay siege to the city of Santiago.
Why they were important: It’s important to realize that, prior to the Spanish-American War, the United States was not seen as a major world power. The idea that the American Navy could wipe out an entire Spanish fleet would have been viewed as ludicrous even a couple years prior. When a major player in world affairs is utterly decimated, a shift in the way things work is inevitable.
What is perhaps most significant about these battles is the role they played in the major world events that followed. It could be argued without much difficulty that, had the outcomes of either of these battles been reversed, the United States may very well have said “nah, we’re gonna sit this out” when World War I came along. As it was, bolstered by the confidence of those victories, America became a major factor in geopolitical action.
The jingoism of Teddy Roosevelt (who, incidentally, stepped down as Secretary of the Navy to be second in command of the Rough Riders) and others set the tone for a strong nationalism that shaped a great deal of policy both at home and abroad. If either the victory at Manila Bay or San Juan Hill been brutal defeats, America’s foreign policy may have looked very different. And you might not have snuggled with a “teddy” bear at all as child. Think about that for a minute.
The Battle of Belleau Wood
In June of 1918, the Germans launched their Spring Offensive, which came very close to breaking the lines that protected major Allied cities like Paris. The Russians had pulled out of the war, enabling the Germans to move a great many of soldiers to the Western Front so they could stop stealing vodka and start partaking in cheese and wine. The job of stopping these advancing Storm Troopers was given to the U.S. Army’s 2nd and 3rd Divisions—a large portion of which was made up of United States Marines from the Corps’ 4th Brigade. Marine Corps marksmen earned legendary status by picking off German machine gunners while the infantry continued to advance despite heavy losses and French urges to retreat (do I really need to make a joke here or is it automatic?). In less than a month, the Germans had lost what was believed to be a very strong and strategically important position.
Why it’s important: from a solely military perspective, it is difficult to overstate the significance of Belleau Wood. Over one thousand Americans lost their lives during the battle that has earned its place in Marine Corps lore, especially. Leaders like General “Black Jack” Pershing achieved legendary status, as did the Marine Corps Rifleman, which came to be seen as the “most dangerous weapon in the world” by many.
When viewed in light of a geopolitical framework, the battle becomes all the more important. Whereas the battles of the Spanish-American War had emboldened the United States to jump into the fray of international conflict, the battle of Belleau Wood solidified the notion that America not only could get involved, but was damn good at it and should remain a major factor from that point forward.
It is difficult to study World War II without studying World War I and its outcome, and it is tough to view that outcome without understanding the impact of the Battle of Belleau Wood.
Well, that leaves us with four out of ten spots to still discuss. I anticipate numerous references to Sesame Street in the next installment, as that is where I got most of my American history knowledge.
*I know a guy who is pretty critical, and he said it was good on his Facebook page, so that counts, right?