The Last Shogun – The Start of the Boshin War

On the 27th of January, 1868, an army of Shogunates marched on towards Kyoto. This march would lead to a bloody one year war that would end the Samurai in Japan.

The Shogunates, or Shoguns ruled Japan for nearly a quarter of a century in hand with the Emperor but now the country was in turmoil from the influence of foreigners.

The Dutch, British and the French brought modern European weaponry and training that far surpassed the Shogunates and their meddling in the politics of the time had split the country in two. This split had caused the last Shogunate, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, to resign from his position on the Emperors Imperial council as he believed that the modernising of Japan was moving too fast.

This abdication of a council member was a protest to the Emperor but it didn’t go as desired as the the Imperial council announced that the title of Shogun would be abolished and all Shogun lands where to be reclaimed and given back to the Emperor.

A distraught Tokugawa Yoshinobu rallied up all of the remaining Shogunates to march on Kyoto to meet with the Emperor in response to the council’s decision of disbanding the Shogunates, this was a march not to war but to deliver a letter.

Tokugawas army was made up of troops from four different clans. Their armour reflected the rapid changes Japan was going through at the time. There were soldiers of the old style dressed and armoured in Samurai clothing with pikes, spears, bows and curved swords; Katana. There were also lines of modernized infantry armed with rifles.

After learning that Tokugawa was marching on Kyoto the Emperor in response ordered the Satsuma army, a clan that had a lot of foreign influence, to march out and confront the Shoguns. The Satsuma army was heavily modernised with riflemen and units of cannons.

The Satsuma army split into two divisions and took up positions at two of the main bridges into Kyoto city. Each division had lines of rifle infantry and four cannons.

As the Shogun forces approached Kyoto city they too had split in two divisions. The distance between the two armies was separated by hills and woods and as the first division approached the nearest bridge they were shocked to see that they were opposed by an army in waiting. The advancing Shoguns halted and sent envoys to demand that they be allowed to pass peacefully on to Kyoto but the Satsuma men refused to let them pass. Suddenly a burst of rifle fire came from the flank of the troops defending the bridge. The Shogunate riflemen couldn’t return fire as their own rifles where not loaded as they didn’t expect to be refused entry into the city.

The commanding officer of the Shogunate spearmen made a desperate surge forward but his unit was cut down by the firing cannons. One group did manage to gain the bridge and engage the defending forces in melee but they were easily defeated and the remaining survivors where driven back by the overpowering Satsuma forces.

At the second bridge a similar imperial force was engaged in tense negotiations with the Shogunate army but when the thunder of cannons was heard the defenders opened fire and drove the Shogun forces into retreat.

As the news of the battle made its way back to the young Emperor and before the shattered Shogunate army could regroup the Emperor declared open war on Tokugawa Yoshinobu branding him a traitor and rebel. Furthermore he authorised the troops who had fought at the bridges to carry the golden banner of the Emperor. This was a massive blow to the morale of the Shogunates as anyone who attacked or engaged in battle with troops carrying the banner would be declared a traitor and rebel.

After the Shogunate forces had regrouped they setup a command post at an intersection just outside Kyoto city but in the clear light of the next morning the Emperors army attacked. As this army advanced the golden banner of the Emperor came over the hill and into view. The Shogunates where confused as they didn’t recognise the banner and sent envoys to the enemy to find out who and what was going on. When the answer came back that the banner was the army of the Emperor and the commander of this force was an Imperial Prince, fear and doubt flooded through the ranks of the Shogunate troops. Many of the Shogunate clans wouldn’t engage the advancing army with the golden banner as it was seen as dishonour to attack the Emperor of Japan who was seen as a god.

The Boshin War had begun and by the end of the next year it would have claimed more than three and half thousand lives. Tokugawa Yoshinobu was the last to hold title the of Shogun in Japan, and the last of the historical Samurai.

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