The United States of America has fought in numerous armed conflicts. The country has been involved in as many as 12 wars in the past 250 years. However, not all the wars fought by the US were conclusive.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, numerous diseases posed significant threats to soldiers not on the battlefield. For example, medical conditions such as dysentery and smallpox plagued the soldiers due to inadequate sanitation.
Bloodiest US Wars
In recent centuries due to modern technological advances, the chances of wounded soldiers recovering are much higher than before. Previously, soldiers often died after facing combat injuries. However, they have a better chance of survival due to preventive care, battlefield medicine, evacuation practices, and personal protective equipment.
The following is a list of American soldier war casualties since 1775, ranked from least to most fatalities:
Gulf War (1990-1991)
> Fatalities: 258
When Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait to seize its oil-producing capacity, the US decided to initiate the Gulf War. President Bush united 35 Western and Arab nations to eliminate Iraq from the Arabian peninsula.
On January 17, the coalition started Operation Desert Storm, which commenced a five-week aerial and naval bombardment. A ground assault followed on February 24. Around 258 Americans were killed during this war, making it America’s most one-sided battle.
Spanish American War (1898)
> Fatalities: 2,446
The Spanish American War was one of the most decisive yet unmemorable wars of the 19th century. It marked the emergence of the US as a world superpower.
Spain surrendered in August of 1898, giving up its claim to Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, and other islands in the Pacific. Even though America won the war, they had to pay a heavy price for this glory. 2,446 Americans were killed during the war.
A myth associated with the 19th century is that it was a highly peaceful era. However, the collapse of the Spanish, Napoleonic, Holy Roman, and Mughal empires tells a different story.
Mexican-American War (1846-1848)
> Fatalities: 13,233
The Mexican-American war witnessed the successful US capture of Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. About 78,718 people served the US during this war. The biggest killer wasn’t the fighting however, for approximately 11,500 soldiers suffered diseases and non-combat injuries.
War of 1812 (1812-1815)
> Fatalities: 15,000
The United States and Great Britain fought the War of 1812 over British violations of US maritime rights. American armies invaded Canada in 1812 at three points, but all three campaigns failed and Britain easily won the war.
Approximately 15,000 Americans were killed as a result of the War of 1812. Unfortunately, there are no accurate records of casualties during the war; hence the actual number could differ.
American Revolutionary War (1775-1783)
> Fatalities: 25,000
This war had the highest death percentage among all the wars the US has ever fought. The war caused around 25,000 fatalities, including 4,435 battle deaths suffered by the Americans. Diseases such as dysentery, malaria, or smallpox were responsible for the remaining deaths.
Korean War (1950-1953)
> Fatalities: 36,516
The Korean War was the first time the Soviet Union and the United States engaged in a ‘proxy war’ in another country. In addition, the Americans faced freezing temperatures during the North Korean Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Due to the intensity of the cold on the battlefield, soldiers suffered from frostbite and hypothermia.
Vietnam War 1955- 1975 (U.S Involvement 1965-1973)
> Fatalities: 58,209
The Vietnam War is the most divisive conflict in American history. Political leader Ho Chi Minh led the rebellion against the occupying forces of Japan and France. However, the country got divided into north and south when both parties lost. The Soviet Union backed the North Vietnamese , while the US heavily supported the South Vietnamese.
The US started sending its soldiers in great numbers to Vietnam in 1965 and kept them there until 1973. More than 58,000 soldiers were killed during the war, including both men and women. Most soldiers were young, as studies claim that 60 percent of service members were younger than 21.
World War One 1914-1918 (U.S Involvement 1917-1918)
> Fatalities: 116,516
The era of World War I was one of the most tragic times in human history. Millions of people were killed during the conflict, but a large number also perished because of disease. For example, the Spanish flu was actually more deadly than the war itself. Over 50 million passed away during the Spanish Flu pandemic, whereas 20 million were killed in World War I. Sadly, around 45,000 American servicemen perished from the flu.
The casualties of America were modest compared to other nations. Around 116,516 Americans died during the war, while more than 300,000 returned home wounded. Moreover, a total of 4.7 million men served in the U.S army during the war; hence the Americans were lucky enough to see millions of soldiers returning home unharmed.
World War Two 1939-1945 (U.S Involvement 1941-1945)
> Fatalities: 405,399
World War II was one of the most devastating wars ever. The war involved the vast majority of the world’s countries—including all of the great powers— forming two opposing alliances: the Allies and the Axis. In six years, the conflict took more lives and destroyed more property worldwide than in all previous wars.
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The US fought against Germany, Italy, and the Japanese Empire in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific war theater. The casualties in World War Two were destructive because all of the world’s greatest powers clashed. More than fifty nations around the globe fought during the war, with more than 100 million soldiers deployed in total.
An estimated 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 people were killed during World War Two. Although Americans didn’t suffer as much as other countries, more than 400,000 Americans lost their lives during the war. The USSR was the biggest sufferer of the war, as more than 18 million people were killed directly in the war.
Around 11-17 million, civilians were killed directly or indirectly during the war. In addition, many people lost their lives outside the battlefield for the first time.
The assault on Pearl Harbor was a military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service on the United States. It was one of the most devastating surprise attacks executed against the US. The Japanese Navy destroyed or damaged nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships and more than 300 aircraft.
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The attack caused the deaths of more than 2,400 Americans, including civilians. Around 1000 additional people sustained wounds. Initially, The US was not part of World War II. However, Germany sank numerous American merchant ships around the British Isles forcing the US to join the war.
The war increased the Soviet Union’s control in nations of Eastern Europe and enabled a Communist movement to achieve dominance in China. It also helped the Soviet Union emerge as a great power worldwide.
American Civil War (1861-1865)
> Fatalities: Estimated at between 620,000 –1,000,000
The Civil War is the costliest war ever for the Americans. The war resulted in between 620,000 – 1,000,000 deaths, counting disease and combat. However, J. David Hacker considered that the actual number of fatalities could be higher. According to the estimates of J. David Hacker, 20% of men killed in the war were aged 20-24.
Bloodiest US Wars
The leading causes of the Civil War were disagreements over slavery, state versus federal rights, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the economy. However, the main reason was slavery and its economic consequences.
Barbara Kingsolver, a famous author, noted the cause of the war, “History is nuanced. Economics divided an industrializing north from the rural south, where cotton plantations exploited enslaved labor for their solvency. Most white southerners, of course, didn’t own plantations or other humans. So for the interests of wealthier men, poor farmers and sharecroppers were brutally forced to fight.”
According to experts, the casualties of the Civil War are equal to the combined sum of US casualties in the Revolutionary War, the Mexican War, the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, World War One, World War Two, and the Korean War. Thus, making it the biggest bloodbath in American history.
A Civil War historian, professor Hacker, researched the Civil War in detail. Hacker spent many years studying the history of the Civil War, the background of the war, and the aftermath.
Professor Hacker said, “In one sense, increasing that total by 20% doesn’t change that story. But, on the other hand, I’m a demographic historian, and we must do the most thorough job determining the war’s impact.”
Professor Hacker added, “The moral weight of the Civil War is so large, and emancipation’s consequences loom so much that we forget just how brutal the war is. It’s good to remember that.”