5 Classic Military Battles That Changed The World

The Battle of Hastings

In October of 1066, the Norman conquest of England reached its final climax. The English army—under the leadership of King Harold II—was defeated by William II, Duke of Normandy. He became King of England, and is referred to as William, The Conqueror. The Norman rulers replaced the old English aristocracy. This battle would mark the last time that England would be conquered by another nation.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by The U.S. Army

The Battle of Saratoga (October 7, 1777)

This pivotal Colonial Army win achieved more than just a victory in the British-held Northern colonies; it proved to the French that the colonists had some military might. The entry of the French in the American Revolution as allies of the colonial army is regarded as factor that led to British defeat.

Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815)

The Napoleonic wars raged for 22 years, and were some of the most brutal and costly in military history. Napoleon—one of the greatest generals and military strategists in history—seemed unstoppable. The Duke of Wellington’s army had fought long and hard. At Waterloo, they made the final stand that elevated England, not France, to the ultimate control of the European continent. Napoleon was humiliated and his military career was ended.

Gettysburg (July 1-4, 1863)

For three days, a tremendous battle raged in the hills to the north of the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Union Army of the Potomac—commanded by General George Meade—clashed with Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. General Robert E. Lee sought to achieve a decisive Confederate victory on Union soil.

The confrontation started initially as a small dismounted cavalry clash that escalated into a battle when the infantry from both sides arrived. On the first day, the Union Army managed to retain the strategic advantage of being entrenched on the hills. Lee recognized this, and much of the second day involved trying to drive his enemy off the hills. By the third day, Lee felt that he should attack what he perceived as the enemy’s week spot, and ordered an infantry charge with artillery support. Pickett’s Charge failed. A few remaining attackers reached a wall at the Union lines, but were captured. This part of the battlefield is called “The high-water mark of the Confederacy,” because it marks where the tide of war turned in favor of the Union.

Battle of Stalingrad

German Chancellor Adolf Hitler was warned about conducting a military campaign in Russia just before the harsh winter months were due to settle in. Hitler dismissed his advisors’ words, and insisted that the German war machine would break Stalin’s Red Army before the season changed. In the winter of 1942-43 the Germans invaded and were initially successful; the Russian army was devastated. The Germans had softened up the Russian defense during the prior Operation Barbarossa in 1941. The plan was for the Wehrmacht to launch a three-prong attack on Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad.

In September, they attacked the city of Stalingrad upon Hitler’s orders, although nothing stood in the way of the Sixth Army reaching their goal of the Caucasus oil fields. Stalin responded by insisting that the city should not fall. The siege became a street-to street battle that fell into brutal hand-to-hand combat. The Germans could not take the city and winter arrived. The Russians launched a counter attack and surrounded the city, trapping the German Sixth Army there with no supplies. Freezing, starving and unable to fight, the German Army was crushed. Over 91,000 were taken prisoner. The loss tuned the tide in favor of the Allies in the World War II European Theater.

Colin Richards is a military historian and guest author at MilitaryEducation.org, a site with information and guides such as this one to help students choose a military friendly college.

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