Chapter 4: The War of the Last Wolves (1868-1876)
On January 27, 1868, the Shogunate forces attacked the forces of Choshu and Satsuma, clashing near Toba and Fushimi, at the entrance of Kyoto. Some parts of the 15,000-strong Shogunate forces had been trained by French military advisers as mentioned earlier, but the majority remained medieval samurai forces. Meanwhile, the forces of Choshu and Satsuma were outnumbered 3:1 but fully modernized. The initial engagement would be later known as the battle of Toba-Fushimi with the Imperialist forces gaining a decisive victory.
The battles themselves during the Boshin War would be a testament to the cause both sides were fighting for. Typically by the late 19th Century, most European nations only fought using modern Napoleonic tactics but in Boshin War, both old and new styles of warfare would take center stage. Clashes between armor and sword wielding samurai would fight against modern firearms from American and French armories. Howitzers and screw-driven steam warships would also make their debut in Japanese warfare, forever changing the face of war in the East.
The Battle of Toba-Fushimi, like many others during the Boshin War
The basic overall strategy for the Imperial Faction would be to sweep through lower Japan and work their way to Edo, the main city of Japan during this time. With superior technology and foreign training from various European nations such as America and Britain they would easily be able to defeat the Shogunate forces in the field. Though in more dense areas such as forests and mountain passes, the Shogunate was able to successfully attack using guerrilla warfare tactics. With the victory at Toba-Fushimi the road to Kyoto was clear.
Overall Military Movements during the Boshin War
Though the first battles were won by the Imperialists, the Shogunate overall had more troops and more power throughout Japan and it would be on February 5th that the balance would shift to Saigō Takamori and Emperor Meiji. As the Imperialist forces went through Toba-Fushimi, several local daimyo, previously faithful to the Shogunate, started to defect to the side of the Imperial Court. These included daimyo of Yodo on the 5th, and the daimyo of Tsu on the 6th , which would tilt the military balance in favor of the Imperial side.
It would also be at this time that Emperor Meiji would give his official pennant to his troops, and named as General in Chief one of his relatives, Komatsumiya Akihito, making his forces officially an Imperial Army. This act was symbolic and important at the same time because it legitimized the Emperor's troops as a separate opposing force against the Shogunate so that they could not be claimed as a rebellion by the European onlookers.
Saigō Takamori and his military staff, now reorganized as an Imperial Army
The battles after Toba-Fushimi would be similar in their outcome with the Imperialist forces crushing the Shogunate and making them retreat farther north in Japan. The only real victories that the Shogunate would gain would be out at sea with the naval battle of Awa, showcasing the first test of Admiral Enomoto's skill at leading. The naval battle of Awa would cover the retreating Shogunate forces to the northern areas and delay the Imperialist navy from becoming too powerful.
The Naval Battle of Awa
On the diplomatic front, the ministers of foreign nations, gathered in the open harbor of Hyōgo in early February, issued a declaration according to which the Shogunate was still considered the only rightful government in Japan, giving hope to Tokugawa Yoshinobu that foreign nations (especially France) might consider an intervention in his favor. A few days later however an Imperial delegation visited the ministers declaring that the Shogunate was abolished, that harbors would be open in accordance with International treaties, and that foreigners would be protected. The ministers finally decided to recognize the new government, proclaiming that Emperor Meiji's faction were the rightful leaders of Japan.
It would be the Hokkaido Campaign that would seal the Shogunate's fate in the Boshin War. With the losses at Toba-Fushimi, and subsequent losses at Kōshū-Katsunuma, and Ueno the Shogunate would lose valuable harbors to shelter their fleet leading to its demise at the naval battle of Miyako. With both control of the land and the sea, Tokugawa Yoshinobu retreated his forces to the northern island of Hokkaido to make their last stand as true to the tradition of the samurai under the command of Admiral Enomoto. In April 1869, Emperor Meiji dispatched a fleet and an infantry force of 7,000 to Ezo, starting the Battle of Hakodate. The Imperial forces progressed swiftly and won the naval engagement at Hakodate Bay, Japan's first large-scale naval battle between modern navies. Eventually, the Shogunate's forces were defeated and with Admiral Enomoto's surrender soon after, the Imperial forces had won the Boshin War making Emperor Meiji the sole ruler of Japan.
Following victory, the new government proceeded with unifying the country under a single, legitimate and powerful Imperial rule. The military and political power of the various daimyo was progressively eliminated with their lands being transformed into prefectures, and many samurai converted to administrators. The southern domains of Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa, having played a decisive role in the victory, occupied most of the key posts in government for several decades following the conflict. The Imperial side did not turn its back on foreign interests in Japan, but instead shifted to a more progressive policy aiming at the continued modernization of the country and the renegotiation of unequal treaties with foreign powers. In the aftermath, over 120,000 were mobilized during the Boshin War with both sides losing around 1,500. Though the number of casualties were small, the Boshin War was the first large scale modern military conflict in the East with Western style guns, artillery, and steam ships being used by both sides. The “Gatling Gun” would also be used in the Boshin War, primarily by the Imperialist forces in repelling samurai boarding parties during the various naval battles. By 1876* military phase of the Meiji Restoration was done, and a new government reigned all throughout Japan, one based on laws and on European principals.
The Meiji Restoration
The Meiji Restoration would be a source of pride for the Japanese, as it and the accompanying industrialization allowed Japan to become the preeminent power in the Pacific and a major player in the world within a generation. In 50 years (1836-1876) Japan was able to completely civilize and show the world the power of the Japanese people. The coming years would be an experimental phase for the Japanese and their course of action following the Meiji Restoration would send them in a collision course with the “Old Powers” of Europe and America. The “Land of the Rising Sun” would begin to shine across all of Asia and it would up to the Japanese people to guide their new nation through the hardships of the modern way of life.
*Technically the Boshin War ended in 1869 of which the Meiji Period began. Because of Victoria's random events, my “Restoration” came in 1876.
** In the Meiji Restoration picture, it talks of Mutsuhito and of Emperor Komei, Mutsuhito was Emperor Meiji's personal name, while Emperor Komei was his father.