Amazing War Artifacts (And Where To Find Them)
War and conquest have played a critical role in shaping history over generations. For history buffs interested in learning about some of the world's most important and infamous conflicts, there are few experiences more enriching than viewing war artifacts up close.
Want to see the War of 1812 flag that inspired America's National Anthem, or the vehicle where "the shot heard around the world" launched World War I?
Here, we showcase some of the biggest battles in history through its most amazing artifacts, all on display at museums across the globe.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand's Car
Battle: World War I
In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was assassinated while traveling in Sarajevo. While riding in his convertible Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton, a group known as the Black Hand, which sought to free Bosnia from the Habsburg family rule, threw a bomb at the car. The bomb bounced off the vehicle, but a member of the group shot and killed Ferdinand.
This shot, on June 28, became known as “the shot that was heard around the world," triggering the start of World War I.
The vehicle can be seen at the Austrian Military Museum in Vienna (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum).
A German U-Boat
Battle: World War II
When it comes to war artifacts, Chicago goes big. Inside the Museum of Science and Industry you can see a German U-boat from World War II. German submarines averaged more than 200 feet in length, carried 12 torpedos and stayed submerged for nearly two hours at a time, making them silent and deadly to foreign naval craft.
The U-505 was the first German warship taken by the U.S. Navy on the high seas since the War of 1812. Captured in 1944, the submarine has been a staple of the Lakeshore Drive museum since 1954.
Admiral Nelson's Trafalgar Coat
During the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, Napoleon Bonaparte — with French and Spanish navies at his side — made his way to England to invade and conquer. Instead, he met the British navy along the Cape of Trafalgar.
Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson's navy soundly defeated the attackers, killing, wounding or capturing nearly 15,000 of Bonaparte's force, while losing only 458 of his own men. One of those losses was Nelson himself. Shot in the shoulder, he learned of England's success before succumbing to his wound.
Nelson's wool coat, replete with the bullet hole and blood stains, can be seen at England's National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, just north of London.
John McCain's Flight Suit
Battle: Vietnam War
During the Vietnam War, then U.S. Navy pilot John McCain was shot down in Hanoi. For more than five years, McCain was a prisoner of war at the Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed "Hanoi Hilton," where he, along with many other POWs, was tortured, starved and kept in isolation.
McCain's story was told in "Faith of My Fathers," and he went on to become a U.S. senator and a presidential candidate, working tirelessly to fight for POWs throughout his career before passing away in 2018.
You can check out his flight suit at Hoa Lo Prison Museum, located at the very site where he was held captive.
USS Arizona's Bell
Battle: World War II
The United States was hurled into WWII when Japanese airplanes bombed Pearl Harbor in the early morning of December 7, 1941. The bombing caused the docked USS Arizona battleship to sink, killing 1,177 people. You can see the sunken ship from an overhead observatory on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, but salvaged artifacts can also be found around the country.
Look up when visiting the University of Arizona, where the campus bell tower houses one of two original bells recovered from the wreck. Originally meant to be melted, an alumni from the university helped save the bell and hang it proudly at the school. Today, the University rings the bell every time the football team wins.
The second salvaged bell remains in Pearl Harbor as part of the Pacific National Monument.
George Washington's Tent
Battle: Revolutionary War
During the winter of 1777-1778, as the American Revolution raged on, General George Washington and his Continental Army turned the Valley Forge encampment into their home. The battle-worn army was low on provisions and often sick, but in the six months they spent at Valley Forge, they were able to recuperate while keeping an eye on the British army, housed in Philadelphia about 20 miles away.
General Washington's field tent, serving as headquarters, is on display at Philadelphia's Museum of the American Revolution.
French Armor from Waterloo
Napoleon's devastating loss at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 ended his conquering attempts. The victorious group was an alliance of statesmen from Austria, Britain, Prussia and Russia known as the Seventh Coalition. Napoleon entered the fight in Belgium with 73,000 men. The Seventh Coalition had 118,000.
The devastation is evident in the armor of France's cavalry soldier Antoine Fauveau. When a cannonball hit Fauveau, it smashed through his armor, going through his body and out the other side.
Today, you can see the armor at Musée de l'Armée (the Army Museum) in Paris.
Battle: World War II
The British worked tirelessly to break Germany's codes during WWII, especially those produced by the Enigma machine, which was capable of creating as astonishing 150,000,000,000,000,000,000 codes.
Intercepting codes and attempting to find consistency, 10,000 people worked using different computers, including the "bombe," which eventually broke the code using 500 electrical relays and 11 miles of wiring to test trillions of combinations.
Efforts to crack the Engima's complex codes, led by British scientist Alan Turing, were famously the subject of the award-winning 2014 film "The Imitation Game."
Fittingly, one of the original Enigma machines is on display at Washington, D.C.'s Spy Museum.
Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson's Coat
Battle: Civil War
During the Civil War, Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson was fatally wounded — shot accidentally by his own men — in Chancellorsville, Virginia.
A battle between the North's Union and the South's Confederate troops broke out on May 2, 1863, with Jackson leading the Confederate Army. He was shot in his arm during the confusion of the battle, and his arm had to be amputated in an effort to save him. By May 10, Jackson succumbed to his injuries.
Jackson had been an instructor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, which today displays the raincoat he was wearing when he was shot, with the large bullet hole evident in the upper left arm.
The Great Garrison Flag
Battle: War of 1812
During the British attack on Americans during the War of 1812, the star-shaped Fort McHenry in Baltimore was made ready to defend. Presiding over the fort was Major George Armistead, who asked for an American flag so large that "the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance."
Measuring 30 feet in height by 42 feet in length, the large flag flew during battle on September 14, 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key to pen "The Star Spangled Banner."
The tattered inspiration for American's national anthem is on display in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
William Wallace's Sword
Battle: Stirling Bridge
Leading the Scottish rebellion against the English (and inspiring the Mel Gibson-starring film "Braveheart"), William Wallace famously defeated King Edward I and his men during the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.
Wallace's win at Stirling Bridge was a turning point, and Scotland eventually received its independence in 1328 — a couple decades after Wallace himself was captured, hanged, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered for his treasonous acts in 1305.
The Scottish leader's sword now rests in the National Wallace Monument's Hall of Heroes, a tower overlooking Stirling, Scotland.
Davy Crockett's Knife
Battle: The Alamo
In a popular song, it's said that Davy Crockett "killed him a bear when he was only three." But it's his role in the Battle of the Alamo that makes this Tennessean most famous.
In an effort to defend the Alamo, Crockett and other Americans held the fortress during a 13-day siege directed by President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. This effort to earn Texas' independence from Mexico cost Crockett his life.
You can see the long knife that belonged to Crockett at the "Battle for Texas" interactive exhibit at Alamo Plaza in San Antonio, Texas.