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Military History 

Take a closer look at the military history of the United States, from the formation of colonial militias in the 18th century to the use of armed forces to combat terrorism in the 21st century.

The history of the American military begins with colonial militias (irregular soldiers available for emergency defense) to provide protection against hostile Native Americans. When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, the fledgling American government created the Continental Army, Navy, and Marines as the nation’s first regular troops, although militias still served as the bulk of the American forces.

During the 19th century, the U.S. government was reluctant to fund a large standing army even though the militias performed poorly during the War of 1812. The U.S. Civil War (1861–1865) divided the U.S. military into the Union Army (so named because it was trying to preserve the Union) and the Confederate Army (fighting for the secessionist South). This war sparked notable innovations in military technology, although it was not until the end of the 19th century that the need for a modern military was revealed by the Spanish-American War (1898).

Although the Spanish-American War was a short and decisive victory for the United States, the U.S. Army had been ill prepared for it, highlighting the need for modernization. The war also elevated the status of the U.S. Navy, which grew in the years after the war to become the second largest in the world. Having largely kept out of international affairs during the 19th century, the United States was now a major player on the world stage with colonial holdings, and it needed a military to back up its new status.

The U.S. military proved decisive in the two defining world wars of the 20th century. Although initially reluctant to become involved in both World War I (1914–1918) and World War II (1939–1945), the U.S. military’s entrance in these conflicts proved decisive in securing victory against Germany and its allies. The second half of the 20th century was dominated by a Cold War with the Soviet Union as the two superpowers battled for hegemony. The Korean War (1950–1953) and the Vietnam War (1957–1975) were products of this rivalry even though Soviet troops were never involved.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and other high-profile U.S. targets on September 11, 2001, introduced a new era of U.S. military strategy in which the enemy was not a country but Islamic extremists operating in cells throughout the world. American efforts to combat terrorism led to the U.S. invasion of both Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), resulting in protracted occupations of both countries.

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Military History Resources

Gale provides scholarly resources to advance the study of military history, including databasesprimary source archives, and eBooks.


Gale databases offer researchers access to credible, up-to-date content from military history databases, including full-text articles covering a multitude of topics.


Primary Source Archives

Gale Primary Sources contains archives and collections that provide researchers with firsthand content that can be used to examine and analyze the evolution of the military over time. 

Gale eBooks

Gale offers a variety of eBooks covering a wide range of military topics, including WWII, civil rights, military intervention, and much more. Users can add Gale eBooks to a customized collection and cross-search to pinpoint relevant content. Workflow tools help users easily share, save, and download content. 

  • Changing Perspectives: Military Service, 1st Edition

    Changing Perspectives: Military Service, 1st Edition

    New York Times Educational Pub | 2019 | ISB-13: 9781502644794

    The United States, as reflected in the news media, has a long history of either requiring or requesting citizens to be participants in the military. From the Civil War through two world wars and the Vietnam War to the conflicts in Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism, perspectives on military service, the draft, and citizen soldiers have changed. How has military service been portrayed through the news and perceived by the public throughout the country’s history of wars and peacetime? And how have the attitudes of American citizens changed when it comes to serving in the military? This collection of articles explores these questions and more, and also features media literacy terms and questions to further inform and guide readers.

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  • Epidemics and War: The Impact of Disease on Major Conflicts in History, 1st Edition

    Epidemics and War: The Impact of Disease on Major Conflicts in History, 1st Edition

    ABC-CLIO | 2018 | ISB-13: 9781440852251

    Through its coverage of 19 epidemics associated with a broad range of wars across time and place that blends medical knowledge, demographics, and geographic and medical information with historical and military insights, this book reveals the complex relationship between epidemics and conflicts throughout history.

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  • Today's Debates: Military Might and Global Intervention: Meddling or Peacemaking?, 1st Edition

    Today's Debates: Military Might and Global Intervention: Meddling or Peacemaking?, 1st Edition

    Cavendish Square Publishing | 2019 | ISB-13: 9781502644794

    When one country or region of the world is facing political upheaval, genocide, or war, what role should the international community play? Should powerful countries such as the United States police the world, ensuring widespread peace by intervening in such conflicts? Should each nation be responsible for managing its own conflicts? This book delves into the history of armed intervention to explore arguments both for and against military intervention and to assess when and where it is necessary, if it is ever necessary at all. Full-color photographs, a glossary, and sidebars aid young-adult readers as they explore all sides of this debate.

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  • The U.S. Military and Civil Rights Since World War II, 1st Edition

    The U.S. Military and Civil Rights Since World War II, 1st Edition

    Praeger | 2019 | ISB-13: 9781440842061

    The integration of African Americans and women into the U.S. armed forces after World War II coincided with major social movements in which marginalized civilians demanded equal citizenship rights. As this book explores, due to personnel needs, the military was a leading institution in opening positions to women and African Americans and offering educational and economic opportunities that were often unavailable to them in the civilian world. By opening positions to African Americans and women and remaking its image, the military was an institutional leader on social equality in the second half of the 20th century. The pushback against gay men and women wishing to serve openly in the forces, however, revealed the limits of the military’s progressivism. This text investigates how policymakers have defined who belongs in the military and counts as a soldier, and how the need to attract new recruits led to opening the forces to marginalized groups and the rebranding of the services.

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