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Sokaku Takeda Biography (4)

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by Tokimune Takeda

Aiki News #77 (April 1988)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Brian Workman of the USA.

Military alliance of the Oou Clans

The Oou clans formed a military alliance headed by the Sendai clan. Moreover, the Echigo (present Niigata Prefecture) clans joined them bringing the total number of clans to 34.

Sokaku at Asahi News dojo, 1939

The object of their alliance was to raise an army around the cause of loyalty to the Emperor. Their intention was to clear the imperial court of corrupt elements and to restore order by suppressing rebellions throughout the nation. However, when the western army (the main body of the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance) invaded in large forces under the imperial standard, the member clans quickly surrendered to the western army one after the other leaving only the Aizu clan.

Western army invades the capital town of Wakamatsu Castle

The storm attack of the western army against the Wakamatsu Castle left the Aizu army inside in a very desperate state. They had just managed to entrench themselves in the castle having had no time to carry provisions and ammunition in from the outside.

The western army took advantage of the momentum gained from successive defeat of the 34 Oou clans to invade Aizu. The villages and towns of Aizu were occupied and filled with the soldiers of the western army.

The invading army surrounding the Wakamatsu Castle numbered 20,000 soldiers with over one hundred cannons against only 3,000 Aizu soldiers. Heavy fighting began raging throughout the castle town starting on August 23, 1868. The Aizu defended themselves desperately even advancing to inflict defeats on the enemy. The battle at Suwaguchi was particularly violent. The soldiers of the Choshu, Hikone and Bizen clans fired cannonball volleys from the mound at the entrance of Yutsuji Temple. The Aizu soldiers built a mound at Suwaguchi to fight to the end. Also, other strong Aizu forces sallied forth from the castle to fight. Although they repeatedly engaged in desperate struggles to maintain their position, an attack from the flank by Choshu soldiers of the western army defeated the besieged Aizu army.

Western army bombards the inside of the castle

Inside the castle, the Aizu army had cannons positioned at the rear gate and the final outworks of the castle to fight against the western army. However, they were short of projectiles and were thus locked in a desperate fight. Starting at eight o’clock in the morning on September 14, the surrounding western army fired salvos from over one hundred cannons from artillery positions on Mt. Oda which overlooked the inside of the castle and from a position at the Tenneiji Temple in the [nearby] mountain equipped with more than ten cannons. Their volleys lasted for seven days and seven nights during which time the sky became darkened with gunpowder smoke; the sun and moon lost their light. Hails of bullets pounded the ground. The fierce attack of the western army that changed the appearance of the mountains and rivers left the castle without provisions as of September 25. The Aizu soldiers killed their horses eating their meat and even ate boiled leather. The only source of food they had was mud snails that had been raised in the castle ponds for many years but this was barely enough to keep them on a subsistence level.

During this attack, the western army shot several hundred cannonballs a day inside the castle. The Aizu army had been entrenched in the castle for some twenty days. The bodies of the dead were cast in the empty wells and covered with garments since there was no ground available inside the castle to bury them. By this time all of the wells had been filled with corpses symbolizing their defeat. Still the Aizu soldiers refused to yield. They left the castle to prepare for the enemy’s assault and unhesitatingly attacked the enemy’s position while fighting furiously.

Kampei Sagawa’s heroic fight

General Kampei Sagawa fought at Echigoguchi and General Okura Yamakawa fought at Shirakawaguchi. After defeating Aizu troops at Shirakawaguchi, the western army seized the Nihonmatsu Castle. Then on August 21 they broke through the besieged Aizu army at the strategic position of Ishimushiro. The next day the Inawashiro Castle surrendered. The western army continued forward and destroyed the Aizu stronghold at Jurokkyo Bridge [the only road to the castle town]. It then invaded the capital town of Wakamatsu Castle like surging waves. Both Sagawa and Yamakawa were closed in by the enemy from the front and rear and were stranded in a deadlock. The resourceful General Yamakawa made his way into the castle by staging a merry parade with dance and music. He chose the song “shishimai”, the lion dance, which is peculiar to the Aizu district thus fooling the enemy by disguising his artillery while at the same time letting his ally inside the castle know he was on their side (see AN#75).

Kampei Sagawa was a stouthearted and fearless general. He gathered together his soldiers and encouraged them with the following words: “Death is death whether we stay here waiting for it or advance and fight to the end. I wish to advance and fall in battle but not to retreat and escape from death. If you wish to exert yourselves and be loyal to your sovereign, follow me!” The soldiers gathered up the courage to attack the western army to cut their way through the enemy’s ranks to reach the castle. However, the Wakamatsu Castle was heavily surrounded by the enemy. They ran out of provisions and there was no hope of any assistance. Facing such a serious situation where the small castle was fighting against a huge army, Sagawa consulted with the other generals in the castle and came up with the same idea to launch a pincer attack from the south against the western army. Not only the other generals but also Lord Katamori gave their consent to this plan. Sagawa was awarded a Masamune sword by his master. They left the castle in high spirits to attack the enemy from the rear. At Takada a severe battle ensued and the Aizu struck terror into the western army. The soldiers surviving the battle were gathered together and attacked Ohashi Village defeating the Takato soldiers. They then attacked Kibuse Village and defeated the Iiyama soldiers. Finally, they attacked Koya Village and defeated the Kaga soldiers.

The Aizu troops thus achieved brilliant victories in several locations and the tide of war looked favorable to them. While the soldiers outside the castle were in high spirits, however, inside the castle the decision to surrender had already been made. A letter of surrender from Lord Katamori had been sent to Shiokawa where the western army was encamped. After the Aizu War, these two generals were known as the “resourceful General Yamakawa” and the “lion-hearted General Sagawa”.

Volunteer corps including Kain Amano

At the beginning of the Aizu War, large numbers of soldiers visiting from various districts gathered in Wakamatsu. They were in high spirits until they heard the news that the western army had penetrated the border of Aizu territory. The majority of these soldiers disbursed in all directions without even fighting or announcing their departure. However, a little more than 400 soldiers stayed with the Aizu army including Kain Amano to defend the insular castle and fight till the end. When the Aizu decided to surrender, they bid farewell and left in tears.

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