Casualty Figures of Major American Wars Since 1775

Casualty Figures of Major American Wars Since 1775

We’re told that freedom isn’t free, and for America, its cost has come not just in dollars but in the lives of our servicemen and women.

To compile a list of the deadliest wars fought by the U.S. between 1775 and 2022, 24/7 Tempo reviewed a report by the data site Statista, which drew statistics from the American Battlefield Trust, an organization that preserves America’s battlegrounds, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Since the nation’s birth, the United States has often been at war or in some form of armed conflict. We have fought in 11 wars over the past 250 years, some declared and some undeclared. (These are the deadliest battles in U.S. history.)

In the 18th and 19th century, disease posed the greatest threat to soldiers outside the battlefield. Poor sanitation led to the spread of dysentery, smallpox, and other communicable diseases. Many more soldiers succumbed to disease than enemy-inflicted wounds. (These are the 12 wars where the most Americans died outside of combat.)

That was the case in World War I when more than half of the nearly 117,000 American fatalities occurred because of disease and other causes. About 45,000 American servicemen perished from influenza and pneumonia during the pandemic of 1918, which would kill some 50 million people worldwide.

Only in 20th- and 21st-century wars have battlefield fatalities exceeded non-battlefield deaths. At the same time, many of those wounded in combat who would have died from their injuries in earlier times now have a better chance of surviving because of preventive care, battlefield medicine, evacuation practices, and personal protective equipment.

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11. Gulf War (1990-1991)
> Fatalities: 258

After Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait to seize its oil-producing capacity, President George H.W. Bush assembled an alliance of 35 Western and Arab nations to expel Iraq from the small nation on the Arabian Peninsula. The coalition launched Operation Desert Storm with a five-week aerial and naval bombardment that commenced on Jan. 17, followed by a ground assault that began on Feb. 24. The conflict ended 100 hours later with the expulsion of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Just 258 Americans were killed in one of the most one-sided conflicts ever fought by the United States.

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

10. Spanish-American War (1898)
> Fatalities: 2,446

The Spanish-American War resulted in the demise of Spain’s colonial empire and the emergence of the United States as a world power. The overmatched Spanish forces were routed, and Spain surrendered in August of 1898 – giving up all claims to Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam and other islands in the Pacific. Of the 2,446 American fatalities, only 385 succumbed to wounds in combat. Diseases such as malaria, common in tropical climates, was responsible for the rest.

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9. Global War on Terror (2001-present)
> Fatalities: 7,075

The Global War on Terror includes the separate American-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the ongoing battle against Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other Jihadist organizations. Though the United States and its allies toppled the regime of despot Saddam Hussein in 2003, it has been a struggle to bring democracy to Iraq. This struggle included a prolonged and deadly insurgency that killed thousands of U.S. troops. The war in Afghanistan became America’s longest war ever, beginning in 2001 and ending with the last U.S. troops leaving in August 2021 and the fundamentalist forces of the Taliban emerging triumphant.

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8. Mexican-American War (1846-1848)
> Fatalities: 13,233

The Mexican-American War was a war of expansion. By defeating Mexico in engagements such as the siege of Veracruz and the Battle of Buena Vista, the U.S. gained ownership of what is now Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and parts of Colorado. Of the 78,718 service members who fought for the U.S., 1,733 Americans died in combat, for a death rate of 2.2%. Disease and other non-combat injuries accounted for another 11,500.

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

7. War of 1812 (1812-1815)
> Fatalities: 20,000

The American Revolution had been over for less than 30 years when the United States and Great Britain fought again. The war was an outgrowth of the conflict between the latter and Napoleon’s France. Both countries had placed trade restrictions on neutral nations, including the U.S., but Americans were further incensed by the practice of impressment, in which the British forcibly removed American seamen off of their ships and into the service of Great Britain.

The United States lost most of the battles. America was repulsed in its invasion of Canada, and suffered the indignity of the British burning the newly created capital of Washington, D.C. But the nation retained its sovereignty at a cost of 20,000 fatalities, with most of them perishing from disease.

Source: Public Domain / WIkimedia Commons

6. American Revolutionary War (1775-1783)
> Fatalities: 25,000

By percentage, the American deaths following the War of Independence were among the highest of any war the United States has fought. The total of 25,000 fatalities included 4,435 battle deaths suffered by the new nation of fewer than 4 million people according to its first census, in 1790. The rest of the deaths were caused by dysentery, malaria, or smallpox.

Source: MPI / Archive Photos via Getty Images

5. Korean War (1950-1953)
> Fatalities: 36,516

Among the things the Korean War is remembered for is the horrific cold that the combatants encountered. In particular, soldiers faced freezing conditions during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea that pitted U.S. troops against the Chinese Army for the first time. The effects of exposure to cold include frostbite, trench foot, and hypothermia. More than 20,000 soldiers died from injuries that were not directly battle-related.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

4. Vietnam War (1965-1973)
> Fatalities: 58,209

The Vietnam War would become the most divisive conflict in American history. Its roots were in World War II and the French colonial experience in Southeast Asia. Political leader Ho Chi Minh led opposition in the northern part of the country against the occupying forces of Japan and France. After both of those powers were defeated in Vietnam, the nation was divided into north and south. The north was backed by the Soviet Union and its allies and the south supported by the U.S.

The escalation of a U.S. military presence began in 1964, and American troops would remain in Vietnam until 1973. More than 58,000 servicemen and women lost their lives. Of those who were killed, 61% were younger than 21 years old.

Source: Frank Hurley / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

3. World War I (1917-1918)
> Fatalities: 116,516

When World War I began in 1914, the United States remained neutral. That became increasingly difficult because of Germany’s use of unrestricted submarine warfare that sank American ships bound for Great Britain and France. That compelled the U.S. to declare war in April 1917. U.S. forces played a late but decisive role in the conflict, which cost the lives of more than 53,000 troops in combat. Many of the other military deaths were attributed to the Spanish Flu in 1918.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

2. World War II (1939-1945)
> Fatalities: 405,399

World War II was the greatest of all of history’s conflicts and though America did not suffer as much as other countries, more than 400,000 Americans died during the war. The United States fought in war theaters in the Pacific, Europe, and Africa to defeat the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy and the militaristic Japanese Empire.

In 1940, the United States had fewer than 459,000 people in military service. By the time the Arsenal of Democracy had kicked into full gear in 1945, there were more than 16 million Americans in uniform.

Source: Fotosearch / Archive Photos via Getty Images

1. American Civil War (1861-1865)
> Fatalities: 620,000

In terms of percentage of the population, the Civil War was America’s costliest conflict. The standard statistic is that there were 620,000 deaths, with more dying from disease than in combat. However, that number is challenged by history demographer J. David Hacker. Using census data, he believes the true number of fatalities to be at least 750,000, and perhaps as high as 850,000. He estimates that more than 20% of men born in the South who were aged 20 to 24 in 1860 died as a result of the war.

The conflict was a prelude to the horrors of the 20th century, with destruction and death on a scale unparalleled until that time. Railroads were first used to quickly deploy troops to battle zones. Modern economies used newly developed methods of industrial production to make guns, bullets, and cannon on a massive scale. Grim tactics such as trench warfare at the battle of Petersburg in Virginia prefigured the grisly grind of the Western Front during World War I.

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