“The United States of America, which throughout history has invaded dozens of other countries… has itself also been attacked on countless occasions.”
By Christopher Kelly
EVER WONDERED WHY some towns in Texas have French names? Or why there’s a statue of a Shawnee chief at the U.S. Naval Academy? Or what coastal wildlife refuges have to do with American fears of invasion?
My latest book with Stuart Laycock, American Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil has the answers to these intriguing questions, and many more.
All are rooted in one often-overlooked fact: The United States of America, which throughout history has invaded dozens of other countries from France in 1944 to Iraq in 2003, has itself also been attacked on countless occasions. Americans are often resistant to this notion. Yet, ever since humans first set foot on the North American continent, they have explored, discovered, established boundaries—and subsequently waged war—all across the territory we now call the United States. In America Invaded, we provide a snapshot of the waves of invasions that have touched all 50 states and Washington D.C. and how these events left legacies that are still with us today.
Let’s explore seven states and how they were attacked, invaded or occupied by foreign powers.
The Fight for New York
New York was, of course, first invaded by the Dutch in the early 1600s; their conquest was mostly commercial in nature. The explorer Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan from the Canarsee tribe in 1623 for 60 guilders (or about $1,100 in 2017 dollars). For the next 150 years, European powers like France, England and the Netherlands, along with their native allies fought for control of the Hudson River valley, a strategically vital artery into the interior of the continent.
In 1777, the British general John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne led more than 8,000 redcoats into the state from Canada along the same route. After seizing Fort Ticonderogaon Lake Champlain, Burgoyne’s army was decisively defeated by the Rebels at the Battles of Saratoga. The surrender of his army led directly to French intervention on the Patriot side in the American Revolution. More recently, the waters off New York City were hunting grounds for Nazi U-boats during World War Two, many of which used the brightly illuminated skyline of Manhattan to silhouette and then target cargo ships carrying supplies to war-torn Europe.
Pennsylvania In Peril
The Keystone State has been subject to many invasions as well. The Swedish set up a colony (New Sweden) there establishing a Fort on Tinicum Island in the Delaware River in 1643. The British arrived not long after. France launched several raiding expeditions into the colony during the Seven Years War. Later, the British seized Philadelphia during the American Revolution. Robert E. Lee famously led an invasion of Pennsylvania with 75,000 Confederate soldiers that culminated with the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Tragically, the airspace over Pennsylvania was, in a sense, “invaded” by Al Qaeda terrorists on 9/11when United Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, a small town about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Bloodshed in the Bayou State
Invaders of all sorts have swept across what’s now Louisiana. Hernando de Soto, the Spanish Conquistador, claimed the region for Spain in 1541. He died of a fever, possibly in Louisiana in 1542. The Spanish were followed by the French who named the area in honour of Louis XIV – the Sun King. Napoleon sold the territory along with more than 800,000 square miles or real estate to the U.S. in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Also included in the transaction were lands that would later become the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, as well as parts of the future states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. During the War of 1812, the British launched a determined invasion of Louisiana that sought to capture the commercial entrepôt of New Orleans. Andrew Jackson won a decisive victory over the redcoats at the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815 with a force that included Baratarian pirates under Jean Laffite. In April of 1862, Union naval commander David Farragut captured New Orleans during the U.S. Civil War.
The Hoosier state derives its name from being a Land of Indians. French explorer Robert de La Salle arrived in the area now known as South Bend in 1679. American settlers clashed with native Americans repeatedly in the frontier area of Indiana. Territorial governor and future U.S. president William Henry Harrison led American forces in the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 near an area that is now known as Battleground. Confederate raiders under the swashbuckling John Hunt Morgan swept through Indiana in 1863 during the U.S. Civil War.
Spanish ships were the first Europeans to explore the Oregon coast in the 16th century. U.S. Navy Captain Robert Gray of Rhode Island arrived off the Columbia River in 1792. Captains Lewis and Clark constructed Fort Clatsop near the Oregon coast in 1805. During the War of 1812, the British warship HMS Racoon cruised along the Oregon coast and Fort Astoria, which was controlled by the New York-based Pacific Fur Company (PFC), was briefly re-christened Fort George after it was purchased by agents of Montreal’s North West Company. But it was the American invasion of the Oregon territory that would be best remembered. Various conflicts between American settlers and native Americans flared up in Oregon in conflicts such as the Rogue River War of 1855-56. During the Civil War, Union troops erected Fort Stevens in the territory to prevent a possible invasion by Confederate raiders. Six months after America’s entry into the Second World War, that same Fort Stevens was shelled by the deck gun of a Japanese submarine. Luckily, no one was killed or injured in the bombardment. A Japanese seaplane bombed the forests of Oregon near Brookings that same year. In 1945, a Japanese Fu-Go balloon bomb that had drifted across the Pacific descended into a forest near Bly Oregon where it detonated, killing a woman and five children – the only fatalities caused by the thousands of bombs that were launched.
Between 13,000 and 15,000 years ago humans first crossed the Bering Sea into the area now known as Alaska. Captain Cook explored Alaskan waters in 1778. The Russians invaded and colonized Alaska before selling the territory to the United States in 1867. In June of 1942 Japanese planes bombed Dutch Harbor and Japanese troops invaded Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands. In May of 1943, American forces invaded and liberated Attu. Kiska was booby-trapped and abandoned by its Japanese occupiers in 1943.
Attacking the Aloha State
Polynesian people first invaded in Hawaii around 1,500 years ago. Captain Cook of the Royal Navy was clubbed and then stabbed to death by native Hawaiians on his second visit to the islands in 1779. Relations with the inhabitants had reportedly grown hostile following the theft of a launch from Cook’s flagship. European warships frequently cruised the waters off Hawaii in the 19th Century. In fact in 1817, the Russians erected a stockade on Kauaʻi known as Fort Elizabeth.
During the same period, American missionaries began arriving in the islands to Christianize the inhabitants. In 1893, an American-backed coup deposed the Kingdom of Hawaii’s century-old sovereign government, turning the islands into a U.S. territory. Most famously, on Dec. 7, 1941, warplanes of the Imperial Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor forcing America into World War Two.
ABOUT CHRISTOPHER KELLY
Christopher Kelly, an American history writer based in Seattle and London, is co-author with English historian Stuart Laycock of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil (August 2017). Other titles by Kelly and Laycock include: America Invades: How America has invaded or been Militarily Involved with nearly every Country on Earth and Italy Invades: How Italians Have Conquered the World. Kelly has also edited An Adventure in 1914: The True Story of an American Family’s Journey on the Brink of World War I. His articles and op-eds have appeared in publications including USA Today, Investor’s Business Daily, the New York Daily News and the San Francisco Chronicle, and he has conducted more than 200 radio interviews.