The Battle for the Sundered Realm - Campaign

The Battle for Sekigahara

The morning of October 21, 1600, began in cold, gray silence. The heavy rains of the night had diminished to a light drizzle, laying a bone-chilling fog over the hills and valleys around Sekigahara. With visibility restricted to just a few yards at best, no one could see what the other side was doing, so most samurai on both sides were preoccupied with getting warm and drying out clothing soaked during the previous night's maneuvering.

picture of General Ii Naomasa's Armor As the dense fog slowly lifted, the front ranks of the two armies on the valley floor saw each other for the first time. Rival generals, eager to fight, anxiously awaited orders to commence the battle. General Ii Naomasa waited for no one. Adorned in bright red armor and a golden-horned helmet, General Ii took the initiative without warning and impetuously charged across the Hokkoku Road just north of Sekigahara, just as Lord Ishida had hoped. At 8 o'clock in the morning, staccato musket fire erupted across the valley as General Ii's "red devils" thundered directly into the front lines of General Ukita's position. General Fukushima Masanori immediately joined the fight, taking his samurai headlong into the center of the Western army's defensive line. The battle had begun.

From his headquarters camp east of Sekigahara, Lord Tokugawa could hear the start of fighting, but with heavy fog still hanging in the valley there was little chance that he saw any of these first developments. By the time visibility improved enough for him to actually witness the developing battle, the pattern of fighting had already been set. His troops were already advancing all along the line against fierce resistance from Ishida's numerically superior troops. The premature start of the battle by General Ii Naomasa committed the Eastern Army to heavy fighting long before Lord Tokugawa's entire command had reached the area. Thousands of Eastern Army troops were still strung out along the Nakasendo Road to the east and had yet to reach the battlefield.

In the northeast, Generals Kuroda, Tanaka, Hosokawa, Kato, and Tsutsui attacked Lord Ishida's forward positions near Mount Sasao. General Kuroda had a personal grudge to settle with Lord Ishida and was determined to reach him first. The 2,000 samurai commanded by Gamo Bitchu and Shima Sakon took cover behind their defensive palisade and unleashed heavy gunfire against the charging Easterners with little effect. After overrunning the palisade defense line, Kuroda led his warriors up the slopes of Mount Sasao towards Ishida's camp. The charge finally halted after absorbing heavy fire from arquebus gunners. Ishida quickly ordered five of his artillery cannon to open fire on the Easterners, who began to withdraw from the slopes. Lord Ishida led a counterattack against General Tanaka, but was turned away when Generals Kato and Hosokawa attacked Ishida's exposed flanks.

On General Ii's left flank, samurai under Kyoguku, Todo, and Terasawa thundered into Otani Yoshitsugu's combat veterans at the western edge of the valley. General Otani stoutly defended his position against all attacks. Commanders on both sides ordered their warriors into the fight all along the fluid front as fighting degenerated into a battle of attrition throughout the rest of the morning.

At around 10 o'clock that morning, the Kikkawa leader was supposed to give the signal to bring the Mori into the battle, but he did nothing. Before the fighting began, he had sent a messenger to Lord Tokugawa with word that the Kikkawa would defect. Without help from the Mori, the fighting west of Sekigahara slowly turned in favor of the Easterners. By now, most of Tokugawa's men were committed to the fight. Despite the bloody battle raging around the valley floor, the Shimazu, Kobayakawa, and Wakizaka clans had yet to see any action. Lord Ishida saw an opportunity to swing the battle in his favor and decided to make a strong push from the south. When he sent word to the Shimazu to join the fight, he received the following reply;

In this battle each clan must look to it's own affairs and fight it's own battles with all it's might. There is no time to be concerned with the affairs of others in front, behind, or on either flank.

Stunned by the response, all Ishida could do was rely on the dubious loyalty of General Kobayakawa Hideaki and hope he would do his duty.

Lord Ishida ordered a signal fire lit about 11 o'clock that morning to send General Kobayakawa into the battle to relieve the pressure on Otani by attacking the Easterners from the rear. There was no reaction. A second signal fire was lit soon afterward, but still there was no response. General Otani Yoshitsugu was not surprised by Kobayakawa's lack of movement, for he had suspected treachery all along. The Mori also saw the signal, knowing it was time for Kikkawa to order them into battle, but still there was no movement.

Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu kept a wary eye on developments at the southern end of the battle front. His mounting tension was already tinged with fury against his own son, Hidetada, who had yet to arrive with his 38,000 troops. If Kobayakawa Hideaki's 15,600 men suddenly moved from their hillside position overlooking the bloody battlefield at the southern end of the line and attacked Lord Tokugawa's exposed southern flank, the Eastern Army's cause would probably be lost. Tokugawa was not a man who depended on luck to win battles. He relied on his own shrewdness, patience and unscrupulous native cunning. Tokugawa's spies had been in action well before the first shots were fired at the Battle of Sekigahara and cleverly convinced Kobayakawa Hideaki to betray Lord Ishida and join Lord Tokugawa's forces.

The dramatic turning point in the battle came shortly after noon. Puzzled by the lack of movement, Lord Tokugawa sent a squad of arquebusiers to fire a volley at Kobayakawa's men and stir them into action. General Kobayakawa leapt to his feet and yelled to his men, "Our target is Otani Yoshitsugu!" After watching the morning's killing from their hillside position, Kobayakawa's 15,600 samurai finally charged down the hill, directing their blood lust against the ranks of the brave General Otani, whose battle weary men had held their position for the past four hours. Despite being heavily outnumbered by fresh troops, Otani's men held out for a while longer. Soon, Admiral Wakizaka's loyalists decided to follow Kobayakawa's lead and joined the fight against Otani. As his troops were being overrun and before he could be captured, General Otani commanded a retainer to hide his severed head and committed ritual suicide, seppuku.

Having broken Ishida's southern flank, Lord Tokugawa realized that victory would be his. The loss of Otani's strong position and added defections to the Easterners resulted in a rapid collapse of Lord Ishida's battle line in the southeast. General Ukita Hideie had just managed to reestablish his own lines when the Easterners and defectors attacked them in force. By 2 o'clock in the afternoon, Westerners began to break and run all along the front. As the Westerners saw their fleeing comrades, many, including Lord Ishida himself, simply dropped their weapons and fled the battlefield to the safety of the forested northern slopes and the shelter of Mount Ibuki. Only General Shimazu Toyohisa remained, engaged in a fierce melee with General Ii Naomasa's infamous "red devils."

Eventually, Shimazu realized the inevitability of defeat and was persuaded to quit the field of battle. With his escape route to the north cut off, Shimazu's only option was to charge through the center of Lord Tokugawa's lines and try to reach the Ise Road to the south. His boldness paid off. After exchanging helmets with his nephew to confuse the Easterners, he led his surviving 200 samurai in a desperate race to freedom right past the bemused Lord Tokugawa, hotly pursued by Ii Naomasa's warriors. After reaching the Ise Road, Shimazu's brave nephew turned to fight a delaying action with General Ii's samurai. The young man was quickly overwhelmed and his head was taken, but the fatal skirmish allowed his uncle to escape, eventually returning to Kyushu with eighty of his men.

Ashigaru

Conscripted foot-soldiers of medieval Japan.

Daimyo

Regional ruler, similar to a duke.

Emperor

Spiritual ruler of Japan. He kept no armies.

Oda Nobunaga

The initiator of the unification of Japan under the rule of the shogun.

Samuari

The warrior class of Japan.

Shogun

Chief military commander of Japan.

Tokugawa Ieyasu

The founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan which ruled from 1600 until 1868.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

A daimyo who unified the political factions of Japan after succeeding Oda Nobunaga.

Toyotomi Hideyori

The sun and successor of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Glossary

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