Early America’s Forgotten Wars: The History and Legacy of the Overlooked Conflicts that Helped Shape the Young Nation

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The history of the United States is to a large extent a history of armed conflict. The nation was first forged in war, a tough fight for independence against one of the world’s largest empires, and that fight would resume less than a generation later with the War of 1812. Then there were constant low-level conflicts with Native Americans as the nation expanded westwards, and occasionally the country engaged in full-scale war against the Sioux, Comanche, and Apache. The country also fought the Mexican-American War, starting in 1846, and the bloody Civil War starting in 1861. These conflicts helped the United States establish its modern boundaries and what kind of nation it would be.

In the 20th century, the United States came into its own as a global power through even more armed conflicts, including World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and campaigns against several Middle Eastern nations. While not all of these wars were won, they did establish the nation as a superpower, a status America retains today.

However, there have been many other conflicts, some small, some considerable, that helped shape the country and its foreign policy, even as they have been overlooked. While every student knows of the Vietnam War, few are familiar with the Sumatran Expeditions, and while America’s involvement in the Middle East is constantly in today’s headlines, the battles against the Barbary Pirates are widely forgotten.

In fact, there were conflicts in the 1780s and 1790s that tested the territorial integrity of the country at home. Shays’ Rebellion consisted of men who had just years earlier participated in the American Revolution and were not afraid to break down a government they did not like; indeed, many of them reveled in it. The Revolutionary War won America her independence, but the nation still had states and local populations with varying interests.