From the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War, certain battles stand out for their historical significance or for claiming the lives of many thousands (or even tens of thousands) of soldiers and civilians. Some of the battlefields now house memorials and monuments, allowing people from all over the globe to learn about what happened on the land and how it impacted both the local area and the rest of the world. Others continue to experience war and its devastating consequences. Here are 15 historic battlefields — then and now.
Trenton, New Jersey: Then
The 1776 Battle of Trenton was a victory for the Americans in the Revolutionary War. It took place on Christmas night, when George Washington ferried his army down the Delaware River to attack the Brits who had set up camp for the freezing winter in Trenton, New Jersey. Some British soldiers managed to escape, but many were wounded or captured by Washington’s men.
Trenton, New Jersey: Now
John Godzieba, left, as Gen. George Washington, marches with his men in New Jersey on Dec. 25, 2016, after crossing the Delaware River during a re-enactment of Washington’s daring Christmas 1776 crossing of the river, the trek that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War. During the crossing, boats ferried 2,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 18 cannons across the river, and the troops marched eight miles downriver before battling Hessian mercenaries in the streets of Trenton.
Battle Of Baltimore: Then
The Battle of Baltimore in 1814 was one of the most significant battles in the War of 1812. In fact, the sight of the American flag flying over Fort McHenry, the city’s main guardian, after U.S. soldiers endured nonstop British attacks from both land and sea, inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” The lyrics were later used to create “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Battle Of Baltimore: Now
Today, Fort McHenry is classified as a National Monument and Historic Shrine. Every year it gets hundreds of thousands of visitors who learn about the fort’s history, not just in the War of 1812 but in every major battle. In World War II, Fort McHenry was used as a training site for the United States Coast Guard.
Pittsburg Landing: Then
Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River in Tennessee was a major docking area, which made it an appealing location for both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War (1861-1865). This site became an entry point for the Union army’s attack on Corinth, Mississippi, resulting in more than 23,000 casualties. The Northern newspapers referred to the two-day affair as the “Battle of Pitsburg Landing” while Southern papers referred to it as the “Battle of Shiloh,” which is how it’s remembered.
Pittsburgh Landing: Now
Pittsburg Landing is still an important river docking area. The area has many memorials and museums dedicated to the Civil War and the Battle of Shiloh, such as the Shiloh National Military Park.
Sharpsburg, Maryland: Then
One of the deadliest one-day battles in U.S. military history is the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam, also called the Battle of Sharpsburg. Within 24 hours, more than 22,000 Americans were dead, wounded or missing. When the Confederates retreated, President Abraham Lincoln claimed victory, and he issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation five days later.
Sharpsburg, Maryland: Now
The Antietam battlefield in the tiny town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, hasn’t changed much since the devastating battle there during the Civil War. The site’s visitor center opened in 1963, and key places of interest include Dunker Church and the National Cemetery. The area remains of great interest to visitors from around the world.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Then
Another famous Civil War battle took place in 1863, when Union and Confederate soldiers fought in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest Civil War battle in terms of total casualties — the Union claimed victory, but at a cost of more than 51,000 deaths. This battle inspired President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Now
Gettysburg National Military Park, operated by the National Park Service, offers various tours and educational programs. Places of interest include the home of Gettysburg attorney David Wills, where President Lincoln put the finishing touches on his Gettysburg Address.
Manila Bay, Philippines: Then
In 1898, the Battle of Manila Bay gave Commodore George Dewey an overwhelming victory over the entire Spanish fleet anchored in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War (April 21 to August 13 1898). Spanish losses were estimated at more than 370 soldiers; American deaths numbered fewer than 10. The U.S. went on to win the war, taking ownership of Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines.
Manila Bay, Philippines: Now
Nowadays, Manila Bay sees a steady stream of tourists, serving as a harbor for the busy capital city of Manila. The harbor is almost completely landlocked and spans an area of 770 square miles, with a 120-mile circumference. Today, the Philippines is an independent republic after centuries of Spanish colonization, followed by a short period of U.S. rule.
Saint-Mihiel, France: Then
The 1918 Battle of Saint-Mihiel was one of the United States’ first large-scale combat operations in World War I, waged to protect Paris as it became more and more vulnerable to a German attack. It was also the first major operation for the brand new U.S. Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the Air Force. The Americans claimed victory over their German opponents in northeastern France in a battle that resulted in 7,000 U.S. casualties; at least 17,500 Germans were killed or captured.
Saint-Mihiel, France: Now
Saint-Mihiel lies on the bank of the Meuse River, 22 miles southeast of Verdun. The town is full of historical buildings, including a Benedictine abbey that now houses a school and a library, and the churches of Saint-Michel and Saint-Étienne. The Saint-Mihiel American Cemetery contains the remains of 4,153 U.S. service personnel, most of whom died at the 1918 battle itself.
Battle of Belleau Wood, France: Then
During the German Spring Offensive in World War I, the 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood took place near the Marne River in France. The U.S. troops were joined by British and French armies to stop the German advancement toward Paris in what is considered to be one of the most ferocious battles fought by the Americans in The Great War. On June 30, 1918, the Commanding General of the French 6th Army officially renamed Belleau Wood “Wood of the Marine Brigade” in honor of the U.S. Marines’ courage.
Battle of Belleau Wood, France: Now
Today, Belleau Wood is the site of a U.S. military cemetery and memorial dedicated to the troops who fought and died there. In the middle of the road running through the woods is a flagpole and marine monument, which was erected by the U.S. Marine Corps. The remains of trenches, shell holes and other war relics are still in the surrounding area.
Normandy, France: Then
The D-Day invasion of Normandy in German-occupied France was a huge turning point in World War II and signaled the beginning of the end of the Nazi party. On June 6, 1944, American, British and Canadian troops obliterated 50 miles of German coastline defenses. Code-named Operation Overlord, it was the largest maritime attack in military history.
Normandy, France: Now
Several memorials draw tourists to the site of the D-Day attacks, including the Normandy American Cemetery, Utah Beach Museum and the Overlord Museum in Arromanches. You can also take an educational tour that follows the tracks of the soldiers themselves. Various bunkers, entrenchments, utility roads and other reminders of the gruesome battle that took place exist to this day, and visitors from around the world turn out to commemorate D-Day there.
Ardennes, Belgium: Then
The so-called Battle of the Bulge was Germany’s last major offensive on the Western Front during World War II. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than 1 million Allied troops, including 500,000 Americans, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, with around 19,000 soldiers killed in action, 47,500 wounded and 23,000-plus missing. During 16 relentless weeks of fighting, about 100,000 Germans were killed, wounded or captured.
Ardennes, Belgium: Now
The picturesque town of Ardennes boasts huge swaths of forest and beautiful lakes, making it a scenic tourist attraction. It’s also home to various museums and memorials dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge. The American Cemetery and Memorial is the final resting place for 5,317 Americans, 65 percent of whom were fallen airmen of the U.S. Army Air Forces. Their headstones are arranged in straight rows that make the shape of a Greek cross.
Iwo Jima, Japan: Then
The Battle of Iwo Jima was a major World War II battle and one of the most epic in American military history. It saw the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy capture the island of Iwo Jima, located 750 miles off the coast of Japan, from the Imperial Japanese Army. The battle lasted for five weeks and resulted in tens of thousands of casualties on both sides.
Iwo Jima, Japan: Now
Decades after the war, Iwo Jima hasn’t moved on from the atrocities that took place there. It’s not unusual for workers and visitors to uncover human remains. In 2006, actor and director Clint Eastwood made two movies about the events on Iwo Jima — “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima,” the latter of which depicts the battle from the Japanese perspective.
Battle Of Okinawa: Then
The Battle of Okinawa (code name; Operation Iceberg), was the last major battle of World War II, as well as one of the most ferocious in the Pacific campaign. Fought by the U.S. Marine and Army forces against the Imperial Japanese Army, Okinawa resulted in more than 100,000 civilian casualties as well as the loss of 12,520 U.S. troops and about 110,000 Japanese soldiers. Japanese troops often chose to die by suicide rather than be taken prisoner by the Americans.
Battle Of Okinawa: Now
Today, Okinawa thrives as a tourist hotspot. It still has a huge American military presence, but as part of a collaboration with modern Japan rather than an occupying force. Many memorials, monuments and museums are dedicated to the battle and serve to honor the many civilians who were collateral damage of the brutal fighting.
Battle of Huế: Then
The 1968 Battle of Huế, also called the Siege of Huế, was one of the longest, most brutal campaigns of the Vietnam War. Launched by North Vietnam and the Việt Cộng in the Tết Offensive, it lasted for several weeks and had a profound effect on public opinion of the war — both in the U.S. and in South Vietnam. Nonetheless, the Vietnam War continued for another seven years.
Battle of Huế: Now
The city of Huế, located along the Perfume River, is now a destination of fascination for visitors to Vietnam. A place of natural beauty and rich culture, it’s home to tourist attractions like the Forbidden Purple City (once the emperor’s home), a replica of the Royal Theater and the palaces and shrines of the Imperial City. The Meridian Gate, also known as the South Gate, was built in 1833 by emperor Minh Mang and is at the entrance to the Imperial City.
Baghdad, Iraq: Then
In 1991, during the Gulf War, U.S., British and allied troops launched bombs and missiles at various targets across Iraq. Baghdad, the capital city, was heavily hit, with many civilian casualties. Overall, the Iraqi death toll from the 1990-1991 war is estimated to be 60,000 to 200,000 soldiers, plus another 100,000 to 200,000 civilians.
Baghdad, Iraq: Now
Following another invasion of Iraq in 2003, which toppled Saddam Hussein’s government, the country remains in a state of conflict. Baghdad is still a place of great political turmoil, with a high threat of terrorist attacks and kidnapping. In November 2020, protesters against government corruption gathered throughout the city demanding resignations.
Sangin, Afghanistan: Then
The Afghan War began in 2001, when the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York by members of Islamist militant group Al-Qaeda (most of whom were Saudi nationals). The Taliban was driven from power, but only after numerous bloody battles. One of the most deadly was in Sangin, one of the most heavily-populated districts in Helmand Province, where American and British forces both lost more than 100 service people.
Sangin, Afghanistan: Now
In 2017, the Taliban finally managed to capture and hold Sangin, after many years of fighting. However, the attacks continued, and in 2019, at least 40 security force members were killed in Sangin District. A new government was formed in May 2020, but it seems that peace and security are still years away for this nation.