Most Important Battlefield Sites in the United States
Many people in the United States love to visit historic battlefield sites from the Revolutionary War, Civil War and other wars we have had in this country. What I am listing here are the five most important battlefield sites in the United States. Along with explanations as to why they are the most important.
I have personally been to all of these battlefield sites, and have found them all fascinating, and sad, places to visit. The cost of freedom can be measured in the blood that soldiers have sacrificed for us. Visiting battlefield sites is a good way for everyone to remember that.
Most Important Battlefield Sites in the United States
1. Battle of Saratoga
The Battle of Saratoga is the most important battle in our nation's history. Without the victory at Saratoga, the outcome of the American Revolution would have been decidedly different. By defeating a large force of British soldiers at Saratoga, the Americans were able to convince the French to openly enter the war against England. Critical for two reasons.
Image Source (Battle of Chesapeake, made possble by victory at Saratoga)
One, the British were forced to divert resources around the world to defend territories against the French. Two, the French Navy provided the Americans with a way to oppose the British at sea. The Battle of Yorktown, which convinced the British to sue for peace and effectively ended the war, would never have happened had the French Navy not defeated (or at least forced off) the British Navy in the Battle of the Chesapeake. Had the British Navy been able to reach and rescue the British forces of Cornwallis at Yorktown, the war would have continued on.
Image Source (Brisitsh surrender at Saratoga)
The Battle of Saratoga is actually two battles. In both battles, the American forces were led by General Benedict Arnold. In the first battle, which occurred on September 19, 1777, Arnold would have defeated the British had he been given the reinforcements he continually asked for. But the American General in charge, Horatio Gates, refused to commit more troops.
In the second battle, fought on October 7, 1777, Arnold, who had been stripped of his command after the first battle, charged onto the battlefield on his horse and took command of the American forces anyway. He led the Americans to a resounding defeat of the British, which culminated with the capture of British redoubts. While capturing one of the redoubts at the end of the battle, Arnold was shot in the left leg, the same leg he was also shot in while attempting to capture the city of Quebec on New Year's Eve in 1775.
After Arnold went over to the British in 1780, his name became synonymous with traitor. When monuments were erected at Saratoga, what Arnold achieved here could not be ignored. So a statue was erected to honor just the wounded leg of Benedict Arnold at the Saratoga National Historic Park (see photo above).
2. Battle of Valcour Bay
The Battle of Valcour Bay was fought on October 11th and 12th, 1776, on Lake Champlain in Upstate New York in Valcour Bay. Valcour Bay is an inverted J shaped bay that lies in the narrow strait between Valcour Island and the New York shoreline. The battle was ultimately won by the British, but what happened prior to the battle, saved the war for the Americans.
Image Souce (view of Lake Champlain from Fort Ticonderoga)
After fighting broke out between the British and Americans at Lexington and Concorde in 1775, Colonel Benedict Arnold hurried to British held Fort Ticonderoga in Upstate New York on the shores of southern Lake Champlain. Arnold rushed to Ticonderoga ahead of his men, and joined forces with Ethan Allen to capture the fort on May 10. Allen and his men proceeded to get drunk, while Arnold, with his arriving men, proceeded to capture all the British Naval vessels on the lake. Thus securing the important Lake Champlain waterway for the Americans.
When the British decided to invade New York State from Canada in 1776, they were forced to build a fleet first to retake Lake Champlain. Arnold got wind of what the British were up to, and built his own fleet to add to the vessels he already captured in 1775. By October of 1776 the two fleets were ready for battle.
Arnold was badly outgunned, and rather than taking the British on in the middle of the lake where he would be annihilated, he placed his squadron in a semi-circle around Valcour Bay. Valcour Island shielded the American Fleet from the British, and on October 11, 1776 they sailed right on past the Island and American Fleet. When the British realized the Americans were anchored in Valcour Bay, they were forced to tack back against the wind to the bay.
Because the entrance to Valcour Bay is relatively narrow, the British could not bring the full force of their fleet against the Americans. The American Fleet, led by Arnold (a sea captain by trade), fought the British to a standstill as darkness fell.
Arnold knew that the next day the British would be able to sail ships up past Valcour Island and attack him from front and rear. In the middle of the night, under cover of fog, he sailed his fleet south right past the British. In the morning the British were stunned to find the Americans gone. They set sail south and eventually caught remnants of the American Fleet, including Arnold's flagship. Arnold fought a delaying action and eventually beached and set fire to his ship on the eastern (Vermont) shoreline, and he and his sailors made their way back to the American lines by foot. Some other American ships were captured or sunk, while a handful successfully made it back to the safety of Fort Ticonderoga.
The British had won the Battle of Valcour Bay, but due to the lateness of the season, British Commander Sir Guy Carleton withdrew back to Canada. So by forcing the British to build a fleet before they could invade from the north, Benedict Arnold prevented the British from splitting the colonies in 1776. When the British attempted to split the colonies along the same route in 1777, Arnold defeated them at the Battle of Saratoga.
There is only a plaque along Route 9 on the New York shoreline across from Valcour Island to mark the battle site. I've kayaked around Valcour Island many times. It's a beautiful spot, and one would never guess a battle took place here in 1776.
3. Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1 to July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Prior to the battle, Confederate General Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania from the south seeking supplies and hoping to scare the north into suing for peace. The United States Army, commanded by General George G. Meade (who built lighthouses in New Jersey for the Army Corp of Engineers prior to the war) moved to intercept.
Image Source (Pickett's charge, where Lee wasted his best men)
The two great armies met at Gettysburg, where for some unknown reason, Lee decided to waste some of the best of his troops by having them charge straight into the teeth of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge. The Confederates were repulsed with massive losses under withering artillery and rifle fire. Possibly Lee thought that if he could break through the Union line and rout the Union Army here, Lincoln would be forced to sue for peace. The Union line held and the Confederates were forced to retreat south.
The Union Army should have pursued and attacked, and possibly ended the war by capturing Lee and his army, but Meade was a cautious man, and did not pursue with any haste. Both sides had casualty numbers above 23,000.
Image Source (There is Nothing glorious about war)
The site of the Battle of Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania is a huge tourist attraction, and is reportedly the most haunted site in the United States.. Monuments of all types are all over the grounds representing various units, both North and South, and where they were during the battle.
4. Battle of Vicksburg
In many ways the Battle of Vicksburg, and what it meant, was far more important than the Battle of Gettysburg. The capture of the city of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, and the silencing of the big Confederate guns stationed there overlooking the Mississippi River, completed the Anaconda Plan that Union Commanding General Winfield Scott drew up for for winning the Civil War, when war first broke out in 1861.
Scott's plan called for the South to be isolated and cut in half by Union Naval Forces blockading all Southern ports, and capturing all forts along the Mississippi River. By blockading the South and cutting it into two along the Mississippi, the North was able to cripple the economy in the South. In the end, this is what ended the war. Had the South been able to continue trading its cotton overseas for money and supplies, and continue receiving supplies from the west, the war could have continued.
Vicksburg was the last Confederate fortress along the Mississippi River that the Union Navy and Army had not captured. When the city fortress surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863, the South was effectively cut into two, and it was only a matter of time before the North inevitably won the war.
5. Pearl Harbor
The Battle of Pearl Harbor brought the United States full force into WW II. Visitors to the battle site can visit the USS Arizona Memorial in the middle of the harbor that honors all the Americans killed on that horrific day of December 7, 1941. I've been here, and believe every American who visits Hawaii should take the boat to the memorial to remember what happened here, and how it changed the world.
Note: Sources are linked throughout the article.
For more see How the Federal Reserve Caused WW II