The Battle Of Sekigahara And Rise To Power

Back to Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543- 1616)

On 21st October 1600, 2 large armies, each numbering over 80,000 men faced off in the Sekigahara plains. The Eastern Army which was made up of mainly of samurai from the regions of Japan east of Kyoto was led by Tokugawa Ieyasu. His army included generals such as Ii Naomasa, Honda Tadakatsu, Todo Takatora, Date Masamune, Asano Nagamasa, Mogami Yoshiaki, Kato Kiyomasa, Kuroda Nagamasa, and others. The Western Army who was fighting for Toyotomi Hideyori, was led by Ishida Mitsunari. They included generals such as Otani Yoshitsugu,Ukita Hideie,  Shimazu Yoshihisa, Konishi Yukinaga, Mori Terumoto, Ankokuji Ekei, Wakizaka Yasuharu, Shima Sakon, Akaza Naoyasu, Kobayakawa Hideaki, Chosokabe Morichika, and others. Both armies were equally strong and the victory seemed might go to either side.

Kobayakawa Hideaki’s forces were placed on Mountain Matsuo just above the plains of Sekigahara. Over 20,000 men and several generals were placed under his command. His forces were supposed to descend and strike at Tokugawa forces at the appropriate time during the battle. Despite misgiving from Ishida Mitsunari’s comrades, Ishida still chose to put his trust on the young general who had a grudge against him. The battle began in the cold and foggy morning of 21st October 1600.  The battle began as both sides just seemed to stumble on one another in the dense fog. Soon, warriors from both sides were fighting one another with swords and spears while arqubusiers from both sides began opened fire.

During the battle, Western forces, especially those under Otani Yoshitsugu and Ukita Hideie fought bravely against Tokugawa’s warriors. During the battle, Tokugawa Ieyasu was said to be very nervous as he waited impatiently for his son, Tokugawa Hidetada (his successor) who was supposed to bring 38,000 warriors to join him in the battlefield. However, he was diverted as he was distracted by Sanada Yukimura and 2,000 warriors.

Therefore, the arrival of his large force was delayed. He realized his mistake and rushed his forces to Sekigahara. If Kobayakawa Hideaki suddenly moved his forces against Tokugawa’s warriors, the Eastern Army cause would be lost. However, the young general who was on a hill with over 20,000 men, hesitated and did not move his forces despite repeated appeals and orders from Ishida Mitsunari. Hideaki just stared below the hill and did not move against either army.

Tokugawa was also getting nervous and made a risky move. He ordered his men to fire cannons at Kobayakawa Hideaki. Although he was stunned by this move, Hideaki understood the signal and suddenly spurred into action. He mounted his horse and shouted, “Our target is Otani Yoshitsugu!”

His forces descended the hills and attacked Otani Yoshitsugu’s weary warriors. He later attacked Ukita Hideie’s forces before proceeding to attack forces of Konishi Yukinaga and Shimazu Yoshihisa. Shima Sakon, one of Ishida Mitsunari’s closest allies was killed in the battle. Otani Yoshitsugu, the leprosy-ridden general in the Western forces ordered an aide to cut off his head after he committed seppuku. Ishida and other Western generals broke and fled with their men.

Tokugawa Ieyasu was overjoyed by his victory. Some estimates said that some 40,000 heads of dead Western Army warriors were collected for viewing after the battle at Sekigahara. After the battle, he warmly accepted Kobayakawa Hideaki and other generals who betrayed the Western cause. He ordered them to attack Sawayama Castle, Ishida Mitsunari’s residence and pursued other Western Army leaders. He icily received Tokugawa Hidetada who arrived late with 38,000 men at Sekigahara after the battle.

If it were not for Kobayakawa Hideaki’s treachery, the outcome of the battle would have been very different and so would be the history of Japan. Ieyasu even ordered his son to commit suicide, but changed his mind. He might have still felt guilty for doing nothing to save Tokugawa Nobuyasu, his eldest son in order to placate Oda Nobunaga after he was suspected of treachery.

Days after the battle, Ishida Mitsunari, Konishi Yukinaga, a Christian general, and Ankokuji Ekei, a warrior monk general were beheaded after they were captured. Before he was executed, Mitsunari was said to have berated Tokugawa Ieyasu for breaking his oath of nurturing the young Toyotomi Hideyori to succeed his father, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After the battle, Tokugawa Ieyasu was effectively in control of the country. He rewarded those who fought for him while punished those who fought against him. The land of his enemies were confiscated and given to his supporters. This left many in the defeated Western Army embittered as their life was ruined. Many of them ended up as ronins, unemployed samurai and some were forced to turn to banditry.

In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu was conferred the title Shogun that he had craved for. Thus began the Tokugawa Shogunate, which lasted until 1868. Tokugawa Ieyasu stepped down 2 years later and passed the Shogun title to his third son, Tokugawa Hidetada. Many people believed that Tokugawa Ieyasu continued to be the real power for the rest of his life.

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