War has always been part of the American experience. The military history of the United States dates back more than 300 years, if you include colonial times.

From the time the first colonists set foot upon North America’s shores, they were in conflict with the Native inhabitants. One hundred years later the colonies suddenly found themselves an extension of the conflicts in Europe. Less than a century later, the Revolutionary War freed the fledgling United States from its British overlords and European entanglements.

During that time, the United States evolved from civilian frontiersmen, armed for hunting and basic survival in the wilderness, to a new nation fighting the British Empire for independence, through a Civil War that pited brother against brother, to a world superpower in the late 20th century and early 21st century.

There was many early conflicts dating from the times of the first colonist. Almost all of those conflicts were with the British, the French, the Spanish, or the Native Americans.

Colonial Wars (1607-1785)

The sheer number of wars that occurred in the period should highlight how important conflict was to the development of America. There was either a declared war or a conflict for 79 of the 179 years from just before the founding of Jamestown until 1785, the end of the Revolution.

In effect, American colonial society was in an almost constant state of conflict. These conflicts can be broken down into three types.

  1. Indian or Settlement Wars – As soon as the English colonists arrived in 1607, they either attacked or were attacked by Native Americans.
  2. Imperial Wars – most often between France and England in the eighteenth century, but also between other European powers with interests in colonial America.
  3. Revolutionary Wars, or more properly the War for American Independence.

Indian Wars

The first Indian Wars, included conflicts like the Anglo-Powhatan (Tidewater) Wars in Virginia or the Pequot War in New England, were basically cultural clashes resulting from misunderstandings, language problems, or general hostility toward each other.

The Native Americans involved in these wars almost always outnumbered the colonists. The first group of settlers that came to Jamestown, numbering only 104 settlers, was quite literally surrounded by the 15,000-20,000 strong Powhatan confederacy, including upwards of 4,000-6,000 trained warriors.

While the Natives had the numbers, at Jamestown as well as other earlier settlements, the Europeans had the technological advantage.

These early contact wars were not strictly racial in composition (Europeans vs. Natives), as even in the earliest conflicts, some Native American groups allied themselves to the English against traditional native enemies.

A second series of Settlement  or Indian Wars were perhaps the most deadly of all the colonial wars.

These included King Philip’s War in New England from 1675-76 and, in the Carolinas in the early 18th century, the Tuscarora and the Yamasee wars. These later indian wars had more to do disputes over land and trade than earlier conflicts.

Indians no longer had a numeric advantage, given their decimation by disease and continued European immigration. The European technological advantage had also evaporated by this period because Native Americans had not only acquired European weaponry, but also excelled in its use.

Both King Philip’s War and the Yamasee War were extremely deadly. During King Philip’s War in New England, the fighting reached within eight miles of Boston.

In proportion to the populations involved, more people died in that war than any other war in all of American history. The New England frontier was ultimately pushed back almost to its 1640s level.

In the Yamasee War, North and South Carolina were in such distress that they have to ask for help from England and even Virginia, despite the fact that the Carolinian’s had very little use for the Virginians otherwise.

The last series of these indian wars stretched into the 18th century and included two conflicts. Lord Dunmore’s War (1774) in the Virginia back country and Pontiac’s Rebellion at the end of the French and Indian War (1763) are in many ways indian wars, as Europeans moved westward into the trans-Appalachian region and were opposed by newly exposed Native American groups.

Imperial Wars

The next major type of colonial war fought in North America was imperial warfare between European colonizing powers. The colonies of these powers were thrown into the conflicts as well, and European wars came to America.

Most of these wars have two names, a European moniker and an American one (e.g., the American “Queens Anne’s War” was in Europe the “War of the Spanish Succession”). One of the most important of these is the 17th-century series of Anglo-Dutch Wars.

In 1664, the English took the colony of New Amsterdam (New York) away from the Dutch, making the conflict very important to the future history of America.

The better known imperial wars are the conflicts between the French and English through the late 17th and early 18th centuries: King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, and King George’s War. All of these were basically contests to see who would control the largest empire and its colonies, not only in America but throughout the world.

These imperial wars were fought not only in North America, but also in Europe, India, Asia, and at sea. In these earliest imperial wars, colonial Americans took on most of the fighting chores in the region. There were very few British regulars involved in the American theaters of these wars, and according to some historians, the Americans formed their sense of pride in their association with the British Empire through their war service in these conflicts.

However, these wars also created hardships, both economic and social, for colonial Americans.

The best known of the imperial wars is the 1754-63 French and Indian War, the final showdown between these two powers in America. It was the first time massive European–at least English–armies entered the American scene.

Americans were relegated to the sidelines as auxiliary troops, which had important consequences later on. As we know, the French and Indian War ultimately led to the American War for Independence.

Indian Wars East of the Mississippi (post-1775)

British merchants and government agents began supplying weapons to Indians living in the United States following the Revolution (1783-1812) in the hope that, if a war broke out, they would fight on the British side. The British further planned to set up an Indian nation in the Ohio-Wisconsin area to block further American expansion.

The US protested and went to war in 1812. Most Indian tribes supported the British, especially those allied with Tecumseh, but they were ultimately defeated by General William Henry Harrison. The War of 1812 spread to Indian rivalries, as well.

Many refugees from defeated tribes went over the border to Canada; those in the South went to Florida while it was under Spanish control.

During the early 19th century, the federal government was under pressure by settlers in many regions to expel Indians from their areas. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 offered Indians the choices of assimilating and giving up tribal membership, relocation to an Indian reservation with an exchange or payment for lands, or moving west.

Some resisted fiercely, most notably the Seminoles in a series of wars in Florida. They were never defeated, although some Seminoles did remove to Indian Territory. The United States gave up on the remainder, by then living defensively deep in the swamps and Everglades.

Others were moved to reservations west of the Mississippi River, most famously the Cherokee whose relocation was called the “Trail of Tears.”

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1676 Bacon’s Rebellion was an armed rebellion in 1676 by Virginia settlers led by Nathaniel Bacon against the rule of Governor William Berkeley. But British merchant ships and reinforcements from London were successful in suppressing the rebellion and it ended the same year.

1642-1698 French and Iroquois Wars, aka Beaver Wars, was a series of battles fought from 1642 to 1698 that came about because the Iroquois tribe wanting to expand their territory. It was one of the bloodiest North American wars. The result was that many eastern tribes were forced to move to the Mississippi River’s west and tribal alliances were forever changed.

1675–1676 King Philip’s War
King William’s War was the first of six colonial wars that was fought between New France located in present day Canada and New England. The cause of the war was that New Englanders were Prodistin while the people of New France were very involved with the Roman Catholic Church.

King William’s War 1689–98
France and Britain fight for the land that is America. Native Americans take side with the fighting nations. For different reasons the Algonquian tribes allied with the French, and the Iroquois with the British.
Both sides wanted to take over more land and reduce the influence of the other side. And so, they used their Native American allies to launch attacks on each other’s cities and towns.
The war continued until 1697 but both sides didn’t gain any significant benefit from it.

Queen Anne’s War 1702–1713
Queen Anne’s War was the second colonial war, located on the border of New England and Canada. War broke out following the death of King Charles II over who should replace him. The two main contributors were France and England, American Indian tribes and Spain allied with France.

Tuscarora War 1711-1715
Taking place in North Carolina, the Tuscarora War, led by Chief Hancock, was fought between the British, Dutch, and German settlers and the Tuscarora Native Americans. In an attempt to drive the colonists out of their territory, the tribe attacked several settlements, killing settlers and destroying farms. In 1713, James Moore and Yamasee warriors defeated the Indians.

1715-1718 – Yamasee War
In southern Carolina, an Indian confederation led by the Yamasee came close to exterminating a white settlement in their region.

Dummer’s War 1723-1726
One of a series of colonial wars in which English colonists fought with French and Native Americans. This one was in Northern New England, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and was mostly a series of skirmishes. It was the peak of Indian warfare in Maine, with colonists taking the major Abenaki settlement at Norridgewock, burning Old Town, and fighting at Fryeburg.

King George’s War 1744–48
King George’s War is the third instalment of the colonial war, located in Nova Scotia and the borders of northern New England. Both the French and the British fought for the claim of the land, but the war ended with a treaty, though it did not solve the conflict between the French and British

French and Indian War 1754–63 a

Pontiac’s Rebellion 1763-1766
A Native American Warrior chief Pontiac and his alliances drove out the Brits, except in Detroit. The Native Americans surrounded the fort for five months, then left to find food, since winter was coming.

Lord Dunmore’s War 1774
Shawnee and Mingo Indians raided a wave of traders and settlers in the southern Ohio River Valley. Governor Dunmore of Virginia sent in 3,000 soldiers and defeated 1,000 natives.

Revolutionary War 1775-1783
The American Revolution began in 1775 as an open conflict between the United Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain. Many factors played a role in the colonists’ desires to fight for their independence. Not only did these issues lead to war, but they also shaped the foundation of the United States of America.

Tripolitan War 1801-1805
The First Barbary War (1801-1805) was the first overseas war conducted by the United States. The nations on the Barbary Coast of Morocco involved were Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. The war ended in victory for the United States, with peace treaties between the three Barbary States and Morocco.

Tecumseh’s War of 1811
Taking place in North Carolina, the Tuscarora War, led by Chief Hancock, was fought between the British, Dutch, and German settlers and the Tuscarora Native Americans. In an attempt to drive the colonists out of their territory, the tribe attacked several settlements, killing settlers and destroying farms. In 1713, James Moore and Yamasee warriors defeated the Indians.

War of 1812 1812–15
The War of 1812 was fought between the United States and Great Britain and lasted from 1812 to 1815. Resulting from American anger over trade issues, impressment of sailors, and British support of Indian attacks on the frontier, the conflict saw the US Army attempt to invade Canada while British forces attacked south. Over the course of the war, neither side gained a decisive advantage and the war resulted in a return to status quo ante bellum. Despite this lack of conclusiveness on the battlefield, several late American victories led to a newfound sense of national identity and a feeling of victory.

Creek Indian War 1813-1814
The Creek War, also known as the Red Stick War and the Creek Civil War, began as a civil war within the Creek (Muscogee) nation. It is sometimes considered to be part of War of 1812.

Militiamen under Andrew Jackson broke the power of Creek raiders who had attacked Fort Mims and massacred settlers. They relinquished a vast land tract.

The First Seminole War 1818-1819
The Seminole, defending runaway slaves and their land in Florida, fought Andrew Jackson’s force. Jackson failed to subdue them, but forced Spain to relinquish the territory.

Texas Revolutionary War 1835-1836
Texas Revolution, also called War of Texas Independence, War fought from October 1835 to April 1836 between Mexico and Texas colonists that resulted in Texas’s independence from Mexico and the founding of the Republic of Texas (1836–45).

Second Seminole War 1835-1842
Under Chief Osceola, the Seminole resumed fighting for their land in the Florida Everglades. Osceola was captured and they were nearly eliminated.

Mexican War 1846–48
A conflict that occurred as the result of Mexican resentment over the US annexation of Texas and a border dispute, the Mexican-American War represents the only major military dispute between the two nations. The war was fought primarily in northeastern and central Mexico and resulted in a decisive American victory.

Third Seminole War from 1855 – 1858
Under Chief Billy Bowlegs, the Seminole mounted their final stand against the U.S. in the Florida Everglades. When Bowlegs surrendered; he and others were deported to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

Civil War 1861–65
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North (the Union) and the South (the Confederacy).