Every victory comes at a price. Here we look at the staggering cost of human life in five of history’s fiercest confrontations where the sheer number of warrior-dead defies imagination.
Much of a soldier’s life is spent awaiting and preparing for war. When the moment to take action does come, it is usually bloody, confusing, and over quickly. Often, combat will be on a small scale; a skirmish, a probing patrol, an accidental clash with the enemy in the darkness. At other times, fear will destroy an army, causing men to flee from the perceived threat of death before severe casualties have been sustained by either side. And, finally, there is the battle that surpasses the normal expectations of war in its scale of death and destruction. These are the days where neither side is prepared to surrender, or – as is so often the case – a general’s strategy is such that it leaves the enemy no escape, left to the mercy of the victors.
5. Battle of Gettysburg, 1863
Belligerents: Union vs Confederacy
Casualties: Unionists 23,000; Confederates 23,000
Result: Union victory
The day the tide of war turned in favour of the Union during the American Civil War, was also the day that saw the highest number of casualties in a single battle throughout the entire conflict. After a series of Confederate victories, General Lee led his troops north to invade Union territory. Fighting raged back and forth for three days before the Unionists emerged triumphant. The battle is remembered as the battle of the Civil War, immortalised by the Gettysburg address and standing as a symbol of the Union’s cause and eventual victory.
4. The Battle of Cannae, 216 BC
Belligerents: Carthage vs Rome
Casualties: Carthaginians 10,000; Romans 50,000
Result: Carthaginian victory
The Carthaginian general Hannibal, having marched his army across the Alps and defeated two Roman armies at Trebia and Lake Trasimene, sought to engage the Romans in a final decisive battle. The Romans concentrated their heavy infantry in the centre, hoping to smash through the middle of the Carthaginian army. Hannibal, on the other hand, deployed his finest troops on the flanks of his army, anticipating the central Roman attack. As the Carthaginian centre collapsed, the sides folded in on the Roman flanks. The mass of legionaries in the rear ranks forced the front ranks unstoppably forward, not knowing they were enveloping themselves. Eventually, the Carthaginian cavalry swept round and closed the gap, completely surrounding the Roman army. In the close quarters battle, the legionaries, with no way of escape, were forced to fight to the death. The result was the loss of 50,000 Roman citizens and two consuls.
3. The first day of the Somme, 1 July 1916
Belligerents: Britain vs Germany
Casualties: British 60,000; German 8,000
The bloodiest day in the history of the British Army was suffered during the initial stages of a battle that would last for several months, result in over a million dead, and leave the tactical situation largely unchanged. The plan was for an artillery barrage to pound the German defences to an extent that the attacking British and French could just walk in and occupy the opposing trenches. The bombardment did not have the devastating effect expected. As soon as the soldiers emerged from the trenches, German machine-gun positions opened up. Poorly coordinated artillery meant that advancing infantry was often shelled by their own supporting fire or left dangerously exposed as their creeping barrage left them unprotected. By nightfall, few of the objectives had been taken, despite massive loss of life. The attack would continue in a similar vein until October that year.
2. The Battle of Leipzig, 1813
Belligerents: France vs Austria, Prussia and Russia
Casualties: French 30,000; Allies 54,000
Result: Coalition victory
The battle of Leipzig represents the most decisive defeat suffered by Napoleon, and the largest battle fought on European soil prior to the outbreak of World War One. Facing attacks from all directions, the French army performed remarkably well, holding attackers at bay for more than nine hours before being overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers. With defeat imminent, Napoleon began an orderly withdrawal across the single bridge still standing. The bridge was blown too early, stranding 20,000 French soldiers, many of whom would drown whilst attempting to cross the river. The defeat opened the door for an Allied advance into France itself.
1. The Battle of Stalingrad, 1942-1943
Belligerents: Nazi Germany vs Soviet Union
Casualties: German 841,000; Soviet Union 1,130,000
Result: Soviet victory
The German offensive began with a devastating series of bombings from the Luftwaffe, which left much of Stalingrad in ruins. But the bombing created a highly dispensable landscape. As the army advanced, however, they found themselves caught up in brutal house-to-house fighting with the Soviets. Although they were in control of more the 90% of the city, the Wehrmacht could not extricate the remaining stubborn Soviet soldiers. The weather began to turn bitterly cold, and in November 1942 the Red Army launched a two-pronged attack on the German 6th Army in Stalingrad. The flanks collapsed and the 6th Army was surrounded, both by the Red Army and the crippling Russian winter. Starvation, cold, and sporadic Soviet attacks began to take their toll. Yet Hitler refused to allow the 6th Army to retreat. By February 1943, after a failed German attempt to break out and with all supply lines had cut, the 6th Army was crushed.
Read more of our fact-files:
• The top five World War One pilots
• Churchill: ten little-known facts
• The seven most common Battle of Britain myths
• Hitler: ten little-known facts
This is an article from Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.
I believe future battles will exceed in violence far beyond the scale of past battles.
youre right in the human race is always coming up with better ways to kill each other nuclear weapons are an excellent example we can level entire cities in a matter of seconds
Yes along with hydrogen bombs, they can cause much more damage than atomic weapons.
Wrong. Battles in these days are tactical and no longer fought on battlefields; we more often take out enemies with weapons that require attackers to put themselves at risk such as artillery, air strikes and cruise missiles (not to mention the development of drones). Not only this, but modern views toward deadly battles and massive casualties is negative so directors of war usually try to avoid costly battles at all costs.
Correction: We often take out enemies with weapons that *don’t* attackers to put themselves at risk
I agree with Mr. Stahl, because another huge reason, civilian casualties are at a minimum these days. Stalingrad, as an example, was complete devastation of Russian military as well as civilians… even if the weather had not been a factor.
But what happens when they’re more than one major power involved.
The most single deadly moment, day, and year were all in world war 2. (War related deaths) I believe the Black Plague surpasses . Why are you so sure WW3 isn’t possible?
Because the warfare changed. In our time human warriors are no longer central neither to the projection of power, nor to the actual exertion of it.
I dont think that will happen because we will have much longer range firefights and we are more conservative with our troops now.
more casualties is evident when unprepared , the development of technology is a clear advantage for advanced countries.
Also, we are increasing our defense measures through time. And, only two atomic bombs were ever used in combat. I doubt we will be using more any time soon.
May be that I will not be alive to post a comment
i think this interesting because i would think the older the battle the less casuialties which is kind of the case in these battles.
The property and DEATH tolls, sooner or later, will catastrophically higher and the wars breathtakingly briefer.
It seems to me vainglorious and proud
Of atom-man to boast so loud
His prowess homicidal
When one remembers how for years,
With their rude stones and humble spears,
Our sires, at wiping out their peers,
Were almost never idle.
Despite his under-fissioned art
The Hittite made a splendid start
Toward smiting lesser nations;
While Tamerlane, it’s widely known,
Without a bomb to call his own
Destroyed whole populations.
Nor did the ancient Persian need
Uranium to kill his Mede,
The Viking earl, his foeman.
The Greeks got excellent results
With swords and engined catapults.
A chariot served the Roman.
Mere cannon garnered quite a yield
On Waterloo’s tempestuous field.
At Hastings and at Flodden
Stout countrymen, with just a bow
And arrow, laid their thousands low.
And Gettysburg was sodden.
Though doubtless now our shrewd machines
Can blow the world to smithereens
More tidily and so on,
Let’s give our ancestors their due.
Their ways were coarse, their weapons few.
But ah! how wondrously they slew
With what they had to go on.
In Stalingrad an average of 7,500 casualties every day for 5 months 1 week and 3 days…
Still, that’s a long time, resulting a high number of deaths.
what about verdun?
I agree with Bertil, the losses at Verdun exceed the combined losses of Gettysburg, Cannae, the Somme and Leipzig and the conditions which the soldiers fought under are only matched by the eastern front (Counting what happened to Napoleons armies in Russia, 1812).
The entire battle of the Somme resulted in more casualties than Verdun. This list only highlights the FIRST day of the battle.
No, they are battles as a whole. E.g. Battle of Stalingrad did not have 1,971,000 fallen on the first day …
The article is problematic in comparing the casualties for the 1st day of the Somme against the whole battle losses of Stalingrad. So gives skewed results. But we should acknowledge that warfare changed from 1 day battles up to the 1800s to lengthy battles in WWI and II.
yeh verdun had about 540,000 french losses and about 430,000 german losses thats about +970,000 deaths it should be #2 on that list
that is casualties and deaths
combine deaths are only about 250,000
Ivan, you could be correct. But I disagree. The days of open field battle and trench warfare are long gone. That is baring something happens to render modern technology useless
Stalingrad shouldn’t be on the list, considering that only the first day was counted for The Somme campaign. Stalingrad lasted for months, and should be considered a campaign as well. If you want to talk about the worst battle in history that was fought over several days at most, then it’s got to be the Battle of the Badger Mouth in 1211 AD. Gengis Khan was attacking the Jin army of Northern China. Supposedly a half million Jin died.
Half a million compared to almost 2 million.
Well the civil war lasted 5 years and did not even come close to the loses at stalingrad that is why that battle is so amazing.
The top 3 deadliest battles on the Eastern Front AND in history, Stalingrad(2.1million), Leningrad(1-2million NOT INCLUDING CIVILIANS), and Moscow( 1.5million) ALL exceed Verdun. Gettysburg shouldnt even be in the top 100 deadliest battles.
@Andy Su is right – Gettysburg? Really? It is stupid to even compare it to Stalingrad. We Serbs, for example, in WW1 lost around 50% of male population. Around 30% of total population. So, campaign wise – Austro-Hungarian and Kraut atrocities are amazing thing. But can’t be added here – because it was during the period of 4 years.
I know its not a battle but the mongols were some bad mofos. Speaking of casualties alone they killed about 70 million people in about 150 years when the world population was about 450 million.
They killed nearly half a million in one day at the Battle of Badger mouth in 1211. Where’s that on the list?
BLOODIEST, not largest.
Bloodiest infers most casualties.
why isnt the battle of tuetoburg forest on here, the romans lost 3 whole legions while the bermanic tribes lost like 500 men
That is not very much casualties compared to most battles so it would not even have a chance at the list.
the romans only lost 20,000 men
what about battle of bull run civil war so many people died the river was red with blood for an week after that battle
I am pretty sure that is a myth and bull run did not have that many casualties.
Yeah, there were less than 10,000 casualties in that battle.
the first battle of bull run had less than 1000 deaths and the second battle only about 11,500
Battle of Bahraich in India in AD 1033…..120,000 soldiers on the Hindu side, 100,000 soldiers on the Muslim side..all 100,000 Muslim soldiers were killed.
Gettysburg? Seriously? The Union Army lost 3,155 KIA, and 14,531 WIA during the fighting at Gettysburg. That’s about equal to the number and breakdown of casualties the United States Army suffered in the first twenty-four hours alone at Normandy. A little over one month later the United States Army had suffered 63,360 casualties, with 16,293 KIA and 43,221 WIA. I’d say Normandy was slightly “bloodier” than Gettysburg. June 6, 1944 alone was “bloodier” than Gettysburg, and in percentage terms, may have been the “bloodiest” day in the history of warfare. If you ever care to calculate the British, Canadian, French and especially German casualties, as is so often done for the Civil War, you will find Normandy was the “bloodiest” battle in American history.
Normandy was more costly than Gettysburg, but Stalingrad is the costliest battle in the history of the world.
You are wrong Jacob. Chinese lost millions of soldiers in one single battle(Just days) with Japs. And it continue for 8 years before Mao took over after he won the civil war.
Ryan – Please provide details for the action you cite. I have been unable to find anything close to your assertion of a battle in which millions of Chinese soldiers were killed, over the span of a few days, in battle against the Japs in WWII. I find this a dubious assertion in the extreme. If it was as you say, surely you remember the name of the battle.
The Brusilov offensive, the battle for the dniper, rzehv, and the German spring offensive were all bloodier than stalingrad
You have to realize that Gettysburg was fought with single shot muskets and old style cannons, not automatic rifles and aircraft and heavy artillery from ships, so it’s kinda not fair at all to compare the two, also think about the size difference of the US military during the 1860’s to the size of it in 1944, so 23,000 casualties over 3 days is allot when you only have 93,000 men compared to only 12,000 Allied casualties on D-Day with 156,000 men…. Just saying
“that Gettysburg was fought with single shot muskets and old style cannons, not automatic rifles and aircraft and heavy artillery from ships, so it’s kinda not fair at all to compare the two”
Yet, the next mentioned battle is one from antiquity!
Oh I see, its about american history, not world history.
No. It’s not. There were no Americans in any of these battles save Gettysburg.
For me the interesting perspective is that each of these terribly bloody battles resulted in the end of the war in most cases or dramatic change in strategy. Stalingrad, Germany, Gettysburg, The Confederacy, Battle of Leipzig, Napoleon……..they are important for world histrory in that regard as well. It is sad that so many lost everything so others could have.
Battle of Towton? 28,000 dead is not much but brutality of medival warfare and snow storm makes it quite bloody not by numbers of killed but battle itself.
The battle at Passchendaele left over 9,000,000 dead. It was fought for three months over a 5 mile piece of land in WWI before the Canadians eventually broke through the German line and captured the area. The Brits sacrificed 400,000 lives for a 5-mile stretch that they abandoned fifteen weeks later.
Actually, the casualties numbered less than 900,000.
Thermopylae would have been an impressive battle to mention. Not much is known about the exact number of men the Greeks and Persians had but the sheer strategic skill and the massive losses taken by the Persians is certainly noteworthy.
Well, if you count from what said Herodotus about over two and a half millions in persian causalities, it surpasses Stalingrad!
I mean, historians don’t really like it because it doesn’t have much of interest that happened. People sat in trenches shot each other, but well over 2 million people dies. It’s just way more people than even stalingrad.
i agree with you on this leningrad was the most costly however the siege lasted 872 day which is longer then any of the above battles
And also, most of the Leningrad causalities weren’t due to combat, but from other causes (cold, hunger, disease, etc.).
Ok… I don’t think this person knows what he is talking about. I can name a dozen battles off the top of my head that had more casualties than Gettysburg, not including the ones on the list. Do your research, man.
Look at the Eastern Front in ww2 The top 10 deadliest battles on the Eastern Front(Stalingrad, Berlin, Leningrad, Moscow, Kursk, Rhzev, Dnieper Crossing, Operation Bagration, Kiev, and Kharkov ALL exceed the bottom 3 battles by HUNDREDSOF THOUSANDS of casualties.
He doesn’t even have the right amount of casualties.
What’s with the guys here who are trying to make a distinction between ‘Bloody’ and ‘Numbers lost’? It’s obvious to me at least that they mean the same thing – fatalities, regardless of wether the soldiers froze, dehydrated or drowned etc.
Compare the # of casualties in a single day to to precentage of population at the time
Actually in the whole battle of the somme, not just the first day, over one million people were killed, I believe that over 60,000 were killed in the first hour
Battle of the bulge
Battle of Nanking where 200k-300k are estimated dead not really a battle but more of a massacre
The rape of Nanking should be on here estimated 300k people died. 57k in the first hour
Those casualties were mostly massacred civilians, NOT SOLDIERS. If you want massacres,go to a different list.
Guy’s be real here. My granddad fell in Stalingrad. If you review the intense heat this battle had and it’s brutality it sure is the bloodiest and most destructive battle in world history.
I myself saw videos which aren’t well known outside of Germany. But we got drilled at school how useless and brutal this war was against Russia. Yes I grow up with the Wall on the west side and we had the TOMMIE’S in our backyard ensuring that the Russian army won’t ever move forward again. I am still thankful for the US and their allies to free Germany of it’s dictator and it’s SS Police which controlled with the SA the nation.
Just Google up “Stalinorgel” and watch the heat those puppies produced. Those changed the war against the German’s and their allies. Germany did one BIG mistake. Over design their weapons. The simplicity of an AK47 tells you what survives a real war. And let’s pray for all who have fallen before us that something like this will never ever happen again.
Panipat 1761. the Afghans and Marathas fought here and over 100,000 died in just ONE Day! look It up. also Leipzig had 124,000 total casualties, with the French losing 84,000.
Stop Griping and saying that the battles were not the bloodiest because your personal favorite is not listed. There must have been some type of criteria that was used to eliminate battles for the simple reason that you could count bloody multiple ways not just casualty’s but actual deaths or by prescient of the whole or any number of other ways that they don’t list so shut up with the complaints.
Not at all Joshua, I’m a historian and anyone who has studied these campaigns (I’ve studied most of them) knows simply that this list makes no sense historically. One example, Gettysburg was not “…the day that saw the highest number of casualties in a single battle throughout the entire conflict”, that is simply inaacurate. The bloodiest single day of combat in the Civil War was at the Battle of Antiem. Before ciriticising the legitimate observations being made, maybe you should study the conflicts yourself.
I cannot believe there are no battles from the Chinese Civil war included. Some were incredibly bloody. Like many I can’t fathom Gettysburg’s presence on the list. The headline said ‘bloody’ not ‘significant battles of American History. Part of the problem is defining ‘battle’ vs. campaign. It does not seem like there is any consensus on one day death toll. Liked the comment of ‘Battle of Badger Mouth’ hadn’t thought of Genghis cause he lacked artillery, airpower etc. Snared by my own biases.
Nukes are nothing. If you understand the physics involved in firing a weapon from space then you know what I’m talking about. Entire countries could fall in minutes. By fall I mean be leveled. With fairly simplistic weapons. It’s only a matter of time.
As if you wouldn’t mention gallipoli, australia and new Zealand vs Turks and Germans.
I suggest you check the real history of the Gallipolli campaign. I have never heard of German troops taking part and on the Allied side the number of ANZAC troops was dwarfed by the numbers of French and United Kingdom troops.
Dead Wounded Missing
Ottoman Empire 56,643 107,007 11,178 174,828
United Kingdom 34,072 78,520 7,654 120,246
France 9,798 17,371 – 27,169
Australia 8,709 19,441 – 28,150
New Zealand 2,721 4,752 – 7,473
British India 1,358 3,421 – 4,779
Newfoundland 49 93 – 142
Total Allies 56,707 123,598 7,654 187,959
if worst is by casualty count, then the top 5 are probably Russia versus Germany in WW2!
1. Battle of Stalingrad approx 2 million dead
2. Battle of Berlin approx 1.3 million dead
3. Battle of Leningrad 1 – 4 million dead
4. Battle of Kiev 700,000
5. Barbarossa maybe as well
of course Battle of Sommes was 1.2 million I think
Total Russian/German Casualties from 41-45 were 16 million … it is why ww2 was a victory for the allies and also why Russian was such a pain in the but from 1948 to 1991.
This as opposed to D-Day dead of about 7000 for both allies and germany … not sure how many casualties approx 10,000+
Although humans now have nuclear weapons and much better technology, I don’t think this necessarily means that wars or individual battles are going to begin to have many more casualties. I say this because war can still be had without the use of nuclear weapons. The US had nuclear weapons in all of its wars since WWII, yet we didn’t use them. Korea and Vietnam were the only conflicts that I view as a true war, even though technically Korea wasn’t a war. But only technically. Anyway, take the Gulf War for instance. There was virtually no resistance, and that is why I don’t really view it as a war. The enemy had sufficient troops and resources to put up a fight, but they just didn’t.
So wars can still be fought without having casualties that exceed any other war. But you know what I just thought of…Nuclear weapons could potentially limit casualties. Let’s say a country uses tactical nuclear missiles and kills 100,000 soldiers and civilians…This could get the country who was bombed to surrender.
Take WWII in the Pacific as an example. Had the US NOT used nuclear weapons on Japan, there probably would have been a million people killed overall in an invasion of Japan. Maybe not that many, but potentially, including all the soldiers and civilians, as many Japanese civilians would have committed suicide, as seen during the island-hopping campaigns.
And I don’t think a country would be as willing to go to war today as some were throughout history. Even in more modern times, a person like Adolf Hitler would not stage an invasion into territory controlled by a nuclear state. But there are many variables, and it is difficult to know what may or may not occur with a high degree of certainty. But you may be right about there being more casualties, strictly because the alliances of the modern world are fairly well laid out, and anything could potentially happen.
and for my people – whole ww1 was disastrous. More than 50% of male population perished! That should be on your list, too.
I’m not uo to par on my history but the battles of the civil war were days, not months. Thanks God for that.
How in the world could you have left out Verdun? 800,000 casualties in 1916.
As a soldier war is for self realization. Either you are the winner or loser as long as we fight for the sake of fighting your are considered a winner. You are still a hero.
Antietam was the bloodiest day in the civil was. Gettysburg was over the course of 3 days and was more significant in terms of changing the course of the war.
I also wish that some of the battles of the Chinese would be listed. I admit not knowing much about them but interested in learning more, and know the sheet numbers were more than anything the west saw. Anyone know what would be considered the bloodiest battle of the old east?
And where is this one? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kursk
Here is a battle that was left out. The siege of Baghdad (1258). According to wikipedia it left over 2.1 million people dead. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Baghdad_(1258)
Also interesting from wikipedia is a list of deadliest battles in history.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_battles_by_casualties
Atilla the Hun and the Roman army in todays France at CATALAUNUM.Only one day battle,100,000 Hun and over 135,000 Roman died.
These are not by any means the 5 bloodiest battles in history. Where is Verdun- 1916? The Battle of Moscow- 1941? The Battle if Rzhev-1941? Paeschendale – 1917? The Michael Offensive -1918? With the exception of The Somme and Stalingrad, all of these surpassed the casualties of the above battles by far. And I could mention many more principally from the First World War and the Eastern fornt of the Second World War. Poor research, poor journalism.
Totally Agree. Also no mention of the Battle of Changchun and other battles in the Chinese Civil War nor the Mongol’s siege of Baghdad and other Mongol conquests. This article obscures more than it illuminates.
I’m trying to understand why, in light of all the sobering comments here, this ragtag of an article is still up on this website and was it actually published in an issue of the magazine? Notice the author’s name is not given — probably a smart move! Someone please tell me the magazine that subscribers pay for isn’t this careless with its content.
Thank you Jim_dso. Well Put! I am leery about purchasing the hard copy of this magazine based on this article. Not only are these almost all the wrong battles, many of the casualty figures included with the battles that are listed do not square with accepted estimates.
What about the Siege of Leningrad? the Russians Alone lost what Approx. 1,017,881 not to mention those that were either wounded or suffering from sickness and disease as well as the civilian causalities.
all together that equals 4,436,066 causalities just on the Russian side alone
The German/Italian/Finnish forces suffered less but approx. numbers are not available or the logistics of the siege was lost. But going off what is available we have
around 900,000 total from the numbers that are given.
Granted the siege was almost 3-4 years long but still it was a singular engagement that resulted in MANY causalities.
Also if we want to push off Gettysburg throw in the battle of Okinawa with
Allied Forces had
+ 38,000 wounded
28 Ships sunk
-100 of Amtanks, LVTs and other vehicles
and Hundred of Aircraft
Imperial Japanese Forces
As well as
40,000–150,000 civilians killed
That’s a total of (only counting human losses)
200,000 – 310,000 Causalities That blows half of these out of the park.
But if we want to have our minds really blown if the Allied Forces invaded japan the Estimated Causalities of both sides would have been US 500,000 to 1,000,000 and the Japanese half or more of their entire population including men, women, and children. It would have been a catastrophic undertaking in which an entire nation could have been wiped off the face of the earth.
Regarding Operations Olympic and Coronet The official estimates in 1945 were that the USA would experience between 500, 000 – 750,000 casualties (all arms and services ) and more than 750,000 in the invasion of the main island. For this reason, the AAF serious began planning to use our nukes beginning in November when the next cohort of bombs would be available. In August we only had 2 nukes and both had been used. Col. Tibbets, of the Hiroshima bomb fame, spoke to my parents senior association before he died. He observed that General LeMay had two bombing lists: one for the key civilian targets and it required 31 strikes over 40 days. If the invasion went forward those bombs would have been diverted and reassigned to bombing military targets on the invasion routes.
Either way the 31 bombs would have been used prior to the actual invasion. Of course only senior officers in the CoC new of this option. Thank God the Japanese chose the wiser outcome.
Men like my Dad were being re-trained as Medics and Corpsmen for assignment to naval forces and Marine landing teams. My Dad told me that in November of 1944 his CO told him that the was going to the Pacific so serve on Destroyer or Cruiser or in a Marine Landing team. Dad was anxious to say the least. The dropping of the bombs and Japans surrender were the cause of his greatest happiness.
The bloodiest single day battle was the second day of the Battle of Tumu on September 2, 1449 between the 30,000 man Mongol army of Essen Khan and the 520,000 man army of the impetuous 22 year old Ming Emperor Zhengtong. The battle was fought near the Gobi desert north of the Great Wall. The first day of the Battle of Tumu involved the Mongols 30,000 horse archers with some heavy cavalry annihilating the 20,000 man Chinese cavalry force. The second day of the Battle of Tumu was when the Mongols massacred the entire 500,000 man Chinese army of undisciplined militia. The Chinese tried to surrender once that it was clear that the battle had just turned into a massacre of their militia. Essen Khan ordered that all of the Chinese to be killed because the Mongols had no way to hold and to feed hundreds of thousands of prisoners. Emperor Zhengtong was taken prisoner, but was returned to Beijing later to continue to rule China. This defeat so traumatized the following Ming emperors that the Great Wall was overhauled and rebuilt to 7,000 miles when one counts the secondary and third level of walls to back up other walls. The Chinese had close to 1 million Chinese laborers die in the rebuilding of the Great Wall of China. I cover this battle in chapter 1 of my book, “Unknown Wars of Asia, Africa, and the America’s that Changed History” by Steven Johnson which is available on all the amazon sites. I have an ad and link on this website also. Actually, there are several Asian battles whose body count would do
minate this list.
Can’t find sources anywhere that could verify those numbers though. Could you link me to the original source please, if the Mongols really did have routed 500000 troops that should be the bulk of the Ming’s army i assume, then they should have easily conquered the Ming dynasty, so I highly doubt those numbers are accurate.
Essen Khan did attempt to take Beijing with his army of 20,000 to 30,000 Mongol warriors. This force just was not adequate to take a city of one million people and a nation of more than 120 million Chinese. It took Genghis Khan, Ogadai Khan, and Kublai Khan 74 years to conquer China. The Mongols needed hundreds of thousands of Mongol warriors and captured and conscripted Chinese soldiers to conquer China. Essen Khan just did not have the man power to pull off a second conquest of China. Remember that Japan did not even completely conquer China despite havinfg a much superior army and after killing more than 25 million Chinese (source is the Chinese Museum of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 – 1945). The Chinese Military Museum in Beijing gives the figures of 500,000 thousand dead Chinese at the Battle of Tumu station. The Imperial records of Emperor Zhengtong cotain those numbers of dead. The Chinese recording of their history going back to the Warring States Period are among the best and most accurate record keeping in the world. Here is a great English source for this battle: Feng, Longfei. “Tumu Crisis and the Weakness of the Military System of Ming Dynasty” The Canadian Center of Science and Education. “The Cambridge History of China, Volume 7, The Ming Dynasty” is also an excellent source in English. My sources come from the Chinese records kept at the museums mentioned
Essen Khan did attempt to take Beijing with his army of 20,000 to 30,000 Mongol warriors. This force just was not adequate to take a city of one million people and a nation of more than 120 million Chinese. It took Genghis Khan, Ogadai Khan, and Kublai Khan 74 years to conquer China. The Mongols needed hundreds of thousands of Mongol warriors and captured and conscripted Chinese soldiers to conquer China. Essen Khan just did not have the man power to pull off a second conquest of China. Remember that Japan did not even completely conquer China despite havinfg a much superior army and after killing more than 25 million Chinese (source is the Chinese Museum of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 – 1945). The Chinese Military Museum in Beijing gives the figures of 500,000 thousand dead Chinese at the Battle of Tumu station. The Imperial records of Emperor Zhengtong cotain those numbers of dead. The Chinese recording of their history going back to the Warring States Period are among the best and most accurate record keeping in the world. Here is a great English source for this battle: Feng, Longfei. “Tumu Crisis and the Weakness of the Military System of Ming Dynasty” The Canadian Center of Science and Education. “The Cambridge History of China, Volume 7, The Ming Dynasty” is also an excellent source in English. My sources come from the Chinese records kept at the museums mentioned.
The final assault in the Qing siege of Nanjing caused over 100,000 deaths is another bloody single day battle during the Taiping Rebellion in 1864. Prior to the final assault in Nanjing, over 12,000 men from both sides died in grim underground mining battles. Over 30,000 million Chinese died in the Taiping Rebellion from 1853 until 1871 which makes that war bloodier than World War I. I discuss this war as well in my book, “Unknown Wars.”
I was vaguely aware of this battle. Do you think those casualty numbers are solid or have become exaggerated over the years? Certainly it was a horrific defeat for the young emperor, or at least the poor souls impressed to serve under him.
The Chinese records are among the world’s best and accurate from ancient times. The Chinese routinely needed over a million men to man the Great Wall that covered thousands of miles. These were literal numbers. Emperor Zhentong stripped the Great Wall of the militia troops that manned it in an effort to deal a crippling blow to the Mongol raiders, but the emperor did nor realize that a shock and awe campaign could not be conducted with a half million useless militia. These are literal numbers. China had a population of 150 million at this time according to census records. So this was quite possible. While Europe was conducting wars with tens of thousands, China conducted wars with hundreds of thousands because they have always had the population in the tens of millions and the rice production to feed these numbers of people. When they had disasters that were natural or man made the body count often were in the millions from even ancient times.
Fascinating. What’s your book’s name again? I am a little buried right now but that definitely sounds like one for my military history reading list. Available through Amazon?
Never mind, just found it and ordered it. Looks like it might fill a significant gap in my military history knowledge.
Thank you for your kind comments. My book is called “Unknown Wars of Asia, Africa, and the Americas that Changed History” for anyone that di catch my book title abve or on this stirst page. I like to write about the epic clashes of history that few have written about in English.
losses at the one day battle of borodino are worth a mention.
Yeah, close to 35,000 French and 45,000 Russians fell at Borodino.
I’m thinking of call of duty.
I was wondering if this list should include the Battle of Changping between the kingdoms of Qin and Zhao in -260 BC?
This battle pre-dates the unification of China during the short-lived Qin empire.
From what I read, some casualty estimates range in the 600-700k, the captured Zhao army having been buried alive by the victors.
The depopulation of the kingdom of Zhao led to its collapse a few decades later.
what about the Battle of Gallipoli in World war one??
What about the battle of Borodino with 70,000 dead?
Makes no sense. The Battle of the Somme lasted months and killed far more than died that one day, so I think, “Oh, they are just listing single days.”
But then you have Stalingrad, and count the casualties from months.
So how about a new list that actually tells the deadliest battles using consistent logic?
I suggest you check out volume X, issue 6 of Ancient Warfare magazine (Mar-Apr 2017). At the Battle of Chang-Ping (260 BC), over a million men engaged in a battle. 400,000 men on the losing side were massacred after they had surrendered.
This is a rather peculiar list and certainly does not reflect the 5 highest, Gettysburg does not even get in the top 20. Assuming a battle is exactly that i.e start to finish (days weeks etc) and does not include civilian casualties the first and second world war battles have the lot, Somme, Stalingrad, Rhjev, Passchendale, Verdun etc to list just a few (not in order). Yes the american civil war saw some frightful casualties but the first division starts at 100,000 everything else still second division. Single (or two day) day battles are an entirely different ball game and very different list.
Battle of Borodino also occurred in which more than 50 thousand soldiers were killed.
The battle of Kursk was the greatest clash of arms in history .
nobody mentioned Waterloo where 50,000 were killed.
i think the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 is biggest battle in human history
Why isn’t the battle of Wuhan or battle of shanghai on here?
Unionists? It was the Union, the United States of America.