The United States has fought 12 major wars in its history. That’s an average of a major war every 20 years. The early ones were fought right here at home, but for the last century and a half or so, America’s armed forces have fought overseas. During that time, the country has gone from not even being a country at all to securing its status as the mightiest nation in the history of the world.

Through its military, the United States can project its awesome power anywhere in the world at any time under any circumstances. Sometimes those circumstances involve stopping bloodthirsty conquerors like Adolph Hitler. Other times, war is necessitated by attacks on America’s allies. In the most unfortunate chapters in its history, the U.S. dumped resources and human lives not into wars of necessity, but wars of choice. When the bloodshed starts, however, none of that matters to the people on the ground, and combat is what it’s always been—human beings fighting for their own survival and that of the people next to them on the field of battle.

Some battlefields have been actual fields. Others have been distant beaches, dense forests, lush jungles, barren deserts, soaring mountains, ancient villages, or frozen lands of ice and snow. Every single one of those places wasn’t a battlefield until the fighting began and every single one of them ceased to be a battlefield after the last shot was fired.

LOOK: What 25 Historic Battlefields Look Like Today

The following is an examination of what became of the sites where America waged its most important and often most brutal campaigns of war. Using a variety of sources, Stacker selected 25 historically significant battlefields in American history. For each one, Stacker investigated what happened there when the battles raged as well as what became of those hallowed grounds when the fighting stopped.

These are the battlefields that defined the United States military’s journey from upstart Colonial rebels to an invincible global war machine.

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