Five Greatest American Military Victories

A few days ago, we wrote about the greatest American defeats in the history of the military.  Now it is time for the greatest victories.  Everyone loves a winner and here in America, we love to remember the times we’ve won the battle.   These battles go through many wars and I’ve chosen the ones I thought were historic and significant battles.  Would you have picked these five?

The Battle of San Juan Hill (Spanish-American War)
This fight was also known as the Battle of San Juan Heights and it occurred on July 1, 1898.  The name that we know it by is the name it was given by the Americans.  It was a decisive battle in the Spanish-American War and made a national hero out of Theodore Roosevelt who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions there with his command, the Rough Riders.  In actuality, the American forces outnumbered the Spanish by nearly 25:1  (19,000 Americans vs. 800 Spaniards) and lost over 1000 men, but they were attacking a hilltop fortress.  Most of the heavy fighting, completely overlooked by the press, were a company of African-Americans, known as the “Buffalo Soldiers”.  One of their young officers was a Lieutenant named John “Black Jack” Pershing, who would later be commander of the American forces in World War One.  Some of the myths behind this battle were that the Rough Riders were actually riding something.  Only Teddy Roosevelt was on a horse – the rest ran and it wasn’t San Juan Hill.  It was nearby Kettle Hill.  In any case, the hard fought battle eventually led to the capture of Santiago, kicking the Spanish out of Cuba.  The Rough Riders gained notoriety in the United States, which helped Roosevelt get into politics and eventually help his cousin, Franklin D. win the Presidency years later.

Yorktown (Revolutionary War)
This American victory in 1781 was the last major land battle of the Revolutionary War and led to the surrender of British General Lord Cornwallis to George Washington and prompted the British to enter into peace negotiations.  The Americans were joined by the French, under the command of General Comte de Rochambeau.  Nearly 20,000 American and French forces fought nearly 9000 British forces.  The original plan was to assault New York City, but the French convinced Washington that attacking the smaller British force in Virginia would be easier.  In the meantime, the French navy was able to contain the British in Chesapeake Bay, blocking all chances of Cornwallis escaping by sea.  There actually wasn’t much of a fight – the Americans and French basically bombarded Cornwallis’ men with cannons and mortars until they gave up.  The results were pretty good: 88 Americans and French died, while the British had over three hundred killed and nearly 8200 wounded or captured.  Cornwallis didn’t show up for the surrender.  He sent one of his officers claiming that he wasn’t feeling well.  This fight helped to cause the defeat of the British over the American colonies and helped the United States become a nation.

Iwo Jima (World War Two)
Iwo Jima was a month long battle in the Pacific campaign of World War Two fought in 1945, five months before the Japanese surrender.  What makes this battle important is that it was the first attack on Japanese soil and gave the Americans access to two airfields which allowed for easier attacks on the main island and capital of Tokyo.  What makes this battle so terrible is the Japanese unwillingness to surrender or leave the island.  Of the 18,000 Japanese troops that defended the heavily fortified island, only 216 were willing to be taken captive.  The rest died on the island.  It wasn’t without a fight, though.  Once again, the American forces attacked with a much larger force of 70,000 men and took the island with 6822 losses and about 20,000 wounded.  There were no Japanese wounded.  Accomplishments of taking the island included the two airfields and the capturing of Mount Suribachi, which overlooked the Southeast end of the island, where the famous raising of the flag took place early on in the battle.  The significance of this battle is that there were radar emplacements on the island that let the Japanese know of incoming American planes – like the ones that dropped the atomic bombs just a few months later.  It was also a possible set off point for these bombs, however, Tinian Island was used instead.  Sadly, it also taught the Americans that the need to use heavier bombardment on an island is essential and they corrected that mistake during the battle of Okinawa, just a few weeks later.

Midway (World War Two)
Another World War Two battle this fight is widely regarded as the most important naval battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II.  The battle started just six months after Pearl Harbor in 1942 and was a revenge on the Japanese Navy.  Because of this battle, the Imperial Japanese Navy learned that they could be beaten.  The original plan was to finish off the American navy, once and for all, and kick the U.S. out of the Pacific war.  Had they succeeded, the entire West Coast of the United States would have been open to Japanese attack.  Luckily for America – this didn’t happen.    The Japanese goal was to lure the United States’ few remaining aircraft carriers into a trap and occupy Midway Island – which appropriately stands in the middle of the Pacific between Hawaii and Japan – and put a stop to any more instances like the famous Doolittle Raid that bombed Tokyo in April of 1942.  This time, the American troops were outnumbered, but succeeded in giving the Japanese a clock ringing.  While American troops killed were just over 300, the Japanese lost a whopping 2000+ men and all four of the aircraft carriers they used in the attack.  Because of this defeat, it is sometimes referred to as the “turning point in the War of the Pacific”.  How did the Americans escape the trap set up by the Japanese and give them a sound thumping?  They cracked the Japanese code and knew they were coming.  The Battle of Midway permanently damaged the Japanese Navy’s striking power and, in essence, helped to allow the Americans to win this part of World War Two.

The Battle of New Orleans (War of 1812)
The funny thing about this battle is that it actually occurred during peace time.  America and Britain had signed The Peace Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve in December of 1814.  The Battle of New Orleans took place in December-January 1814-1815.  Oops…News was slow in those days and no one heard they should stop fighting until a month later.  The Battle of New Orleans was important because it made General Andrew Jackson a hero (and later President, much to the American Indians dismay) and it helped make the Americans think they repelled a force of 25,000 troops.  What it really did was to stop the British from access to the Mississippi River and turn Jackson into a household name.  The Battle was really a siege that Jackson beautifully mastered.  He was vastly outnumbered and was sent into New Orleans to build an army of militia.  There weren’t enough and the redcoats were coming.  So Jackson did what any good leader who thinks outside the box would do: He hired pirates.  Jean Lafitte, to be exact.  The pirates, who were used to fighting on the high seas, were feeling the heat from the British in most ports of call at this time.  Plus that, they had cannons.  So, Jackson offered them amnesty if they made their stand against the British empire.  They did and the rest is history.  The battle wasn’t huge, by any means, but it was definitely a psychological thriller. Eleven thousand Brits stood against 4000 Americans (and pirates) and when the smoke cleared, 2500 British lay dead or wounded, while the Americans had only 55 people killed.  It became such a big deal that tall stories were written about it and Johnny Horton had a hit song in the 1960s based on this battle.