The 12 Most Famous and Largest Battles in History

Historic battles have played pivotal roles in human history, from the fall of Rome to World War II. These famous historic battles are known far and wide, and their effects are still felt today in politics, economics, military strategy, and more. Here’s our list of the 12 most famous and largest battles ever fought in the history of Earth.

War Between the States – The Battle of Gettysburg

largest battles in history - The Battle of Gettysburg

The battle of Gettysburg occurred from July 1 to July 3, 1863. It was an American Civil War battle fought in Pennsylvania that resulted in a victory for Union forces under General George Meade over Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee. The battle is considered one of the most important military engagements of all time because it ended Lee’s attempt to invade the North and caused his subsequent retreat back into Virginia with much fewer resources than he had to go into Pennsylvania. In fact, almost 75% of his army was gone after Gettysburg as they were either casualties or surrendered of their own accord.

WW1 – The Battle of Ypres

Largest battles in History - The Battle of Ypres

The Battle of Ypres (First Battle of Flanders) was a battle during World War I. It occurred from October 19 to November 22, 1914, between French, Canadian and British forces on one side and German forces on the other. It involved troops from Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and New Zealand. The battle’s objectives were to prevent German troops from capturing Ypres and to force them to stop interfering with regular trade between England and France. This resulted in one of Germany’s rare defeats at that time.

WW2 – The Battle of Stalingrad

the battle of stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad was the biggest battle in World War II. It raged for 199 days, destroying the city and claiming more than 1 million lives. The battle ended with one of the single bloodiest fights in modern history, as hundreds of German soldiers surrendered to an overwhelming Russian force. The Battle of Stalingrad stands as a harrowing testament to the resilience of human life, even when faced with death on such a massive scale.

WW2 – The Battle of Midway

Largest battles in History -

The Battle of Midway was a decisive battle for control of an entire ocean, which helped bring about an Allied victory over Japan. On June 4, 1942, U.S. naval forces under Admiral Chester Nimitz ambushed an Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) attack force built around four aircraft carriers off Midway Atoll in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The two opposing battle groups met when aircraft from Midway and USS Enterprise bombed IJN carriers as torpedoes from their accompanying submarines hit them. With damage to all four carriers, IJN officers cancelled a planned air attack against Midway Island on June 5; it is commonly considered to be one of the turning points of World War II.

American Civil War – The Battle of Antietam

The Battle of Antietam

The Battle of Antietam (called Sharpsburg in Southern accounts) was a major battle of the American Civil War, fought on September 17, 1862, between Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) and Union forces under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The site is now part of Antietam National Battlefield, maintained by the National Park Service as a memorial to that conflict. It was one of only two battles during the four-year war that was fought on Union soil (the other being Gettysburg), although non-contiguous to it; geographically it is separated from it by some 50 miles.

American Civil War – The Battle of Shiloh

largest battles in history - The Battle of Shiloh

The Battle of Shiloh was fought April 6–7, 1862, as part of the Western Theater of the American Civil War. The battle was waged between a Union army, led by Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and a Confederate army, commanded by Generals Albert Sidney Johnston (killed in action) and P.G.T Beauregard (wounded). Located near Pittsburg Landing on an unnamed creek east of Pittsburg Road [present-day U.S. Highway 45] and south of Savannah, Tennessee, it is sometimes referred to as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing or Battle of Shiloh Church. Troops under Beauregard attacked Grant’s Army at Shiloh, forcing them to fall back to prepared positions; however, Johnston’s arrival resulted in a Confederate victory late that afternoon. On April 7th Grant counterattacked and delivered multiple assaults upon the Confederates’ position along a sunken road now known as the Hornet’s Nest, resulting in heavy casualties for both sides.

American Civil War – The Battle of Chancellorsville

The Battle of Chancellorsville

The Battle of Chancellorsville was probably one of the largest battles in the history of the American Civil War. Battle of Chancellorsville (also known as Battle of Chancellorsville) was a major battle in May 1863 during the American Civil War. A Confederate victory is often regarded as one of General Robert E. Lee’s finest achievements during that conflict. The battle has been referred to as Lee’s perfect battle because his risky decision to divide his army resulted in a significant Confederate triumph. It also represented a turning point for both armies, although for very different reasons: for much of 1863 Union Maj. Gen.

Ancient World – The Battle of Thermopylae

largest battles in history - The Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Thermopylae was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I over ten days in August 480 BC. It took place simultaneously with battles at Artemisium and Salamis. Xerxes’ invasion failed, giving way to a Greek victory—which effectively ended Greco-Persian Wars. The battle is significant for being one of the very few large battles between primarily infantry forces, as opposed to actions involving cavalry. It is also notable for having historical significance beyond its military results; it played a crucial role in inspiring many later political leaders including Pericles and Philip II during his campaigns against Greeks.

Napoleonic Wars – The Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was a series of engagements fought on June 18, 1815, near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. A French army under Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by combined armies of mostly Prussians under Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher and an Anglo-Dutch force under Wellington. The battle resulted in a decisive victory for the Coalition Army, which led to Napoleon’s abdication four days later.

20th Century – Battle of Verdun

Battle of Verdun

The Battle of Verdun was fought during World War I (1914-1918 A.D.) from 21 February 1916 to 19 December 1916 A.D. The battle was primarily fought on the hills north of Verdun-sur-Meuse in northeastern France, along a stretch of the front line only 25 km long. In essence, three generations of soldiers clashed at Verdun: Father versus son, grandfather versus grandson; even brother pitted against brother… It’s been said that more artillery shells were fired over these 10 months than throughout all other battles of WWI combined!

Ancient World – The Battle of Marathon

The Battle of Marathon

The Battle of Marathon was a decisive Greek victory over invading Persian forces, led by Darius I, in 490 B.C.E., ending Darius’ first invasion of Greece. It is considered to be one of the greatest and largest battles fought between ancient Greek city-states and foreign invaders in the history of Greece. The Spartans had been sent to defend Athens against a Persian army under Darius I which marched through Boeotia at that time when Sparta was preoccupied with an internal conflict known as the Corinthian War; however, it was not until after they had arrived that they were informed that Athens also needed defending after having been attacked by a Persian fleet at Marathon Bay. Little did either side know how much their lives would change due to events unfolding on that day almost 2,500 years ago at these two locations.

Ancient World – Battle of Cannae

Battle of Cannae

The Battle of Cannae was fought on August 2, 216 BC between Carthage under Hannibal and Rome under Marcus Claudius Marcellus. The battle was a resounding Roman defeat with more than 60,000 killed or captured. Leading historians have recognized that Hannibal’s victory at Cannae was one of the greatest battlefield successes in all of military history. It is one of only five battles given neither victor nor vanquished designations by future historians — historically documented as having no clear winner. While there were a number of reasons for his great victory over an army many times larger than his own (including his far superior tactics), these fifteen are notable.

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