MIKATA GA HARA, 1572 – THE BATTLE IN THE SNOW
A SAMURAI CLASSIC The Battle of Mikata ga Hara in 1572 was a classic samurai battle that pitted the old and experienced Takeda Shingen against the young and impetuous Tokugawa Ieyasu, a man who had yet to learn the virtue of the patience that would ultimately make him Shogun. Mikata ga Hara presents an example of a field battle from pre-arranged positions, several instances of personal bravery, an epic retreat, and some very subtle psychological warfare that finally saved the day for Tokugawa Ieyasu. At the time, Ieyasu was the ally of Oda Nobunaga. By 1570, Oda Nobunaga was Japan’s rising star. His most powerful daimyo rivals lay in central Japan, where the Takeda, Uesugi, and Hojo all sought his head. When Nobunaga’s ally Tokugawa Ieyasu moved his headquarters from Okazaki to Hamamatsu in 1570, it was regarded as a highly provocative act by the Takeda, because Hamamatsu lies almost at the mouth of the Tenryugawa, the river that drained the mountains of Kai and Shinano, Takeda Shingen’s territory. The result was a mighty showdown between the old power of the Takeda horsemen and an up-and-coming young daimyo. At the beginning of the 1570s, Takeda Shingen was at the height of his powers. The backbone of his army was still his mounted samurai. His old enemy Uesugi Kenshin was less of a threat to him now that they had fought their fifth and final battle at Kawanakajima in 1564, and Shingen realised how cleverly Oda Nobunaga had succeeded in capturing Kyoto where Imagawa had failed. The moment was not yet opportune for Shingen to supplant Nobunaga, because he still had no easy access to the Tokaido Road. The Tokugawa possessions would give him this, so Tokugawa Ieyasu’s new base at Hamamatsu became Shingen’s first objective.
ALLIANCE FOR POWER Lurking behind Ieyasu was Oda Nobunaga, whose destruction of Mount Hiei had given any daimyo a perfect excuse for making war, and as Takeda Shingen was a Buddhist monk, he was in the forefront of those who wanted revenge. Takeda Shingen had also reached a new understanding with Hojo Ujimasa, who had become his son-in-law. This safeguarded his eastern flank, but in case the Hojo proved treacherous, he made
a further secret alliance with the families of Satomi and Satake so that they could descend on his rear. One result of the new Takeda/Hojo alliance was that Imagawa Ujizane, the son of the late Imagawa Yoshimoto, was banished from the Hojo domain, and went to seek refuge with the man who had once abandoned him – Tokugawa Ieyasu. Nobunaga, meanwhile, was actively courting Uesugi Kenshin, hoping thereby to neutralise any rising by the Buddhist ‘Peoples Army’ of the Ikko-ikki. The reader may be understandably confused, but such were the complicated alliances of the Sengoku Period!
When the threat to Hamamatsu became apparent, Nobunaga advised Ieyasu to withdraw to Okazaki and avoid any conflict with Shingen while the building of alliances went on. But Ieyasu would have none of it. He was 29 years old, an
of Futamata. Its capture was entrusted to his son and heir Takeda Katsuyori, who is unfortunately known to history because of his defeat at Nagashino in 1575, but at Futamata he displayed his military talents with some style.
Katsuyori had observed that the garrison of Futamata, which was built on the edge of a cliff over the Tenryugawa, collected their water supply from the river by lowering buckets from a rather elaborate wooden water-tower. Katsuyori conceived the clever idea of floating heavy wooden rafts down the river to strike against the water tower’s supports. The tower eventually collapsed and the garrison surrendered.
With Futamata lost, Ieyasu was in extreme peril. He had been joined in Hamamatsu by reinforcements sent by Nobunaga, all of whom were in favour of not attacking Shingen. They reasoned that Shingen’s objective was not Ieyasu, but Nobunaga himself, and that Hamamatsu should prepare for a siege. If Shingen’s army moved on, leaving a masking force, then perhaps the siege could be broken and Shingen taken in the rear. It all made perfect sense, but Ieyasu was determined to stop Shingen by battle rather than a siege, and it had been reported to him that the Takeda army was drawn up on the high ground of Mikata ga Hara in full battle order.
The sight of such a host at close hand encouraged Ieyasu’s commanders to persuade him again to hold back and let the Takeda march past into Mikawa so that they could conveniently fall upon their rear at a later stage. Once again Ieyasu turned down the suggestion, and decided to give battle.
Carrying a wounded comrade on his shoulders, Mori Nagayoshi fights bravely to the death.
experienced leader of samurai and a very determined young man. Retreat, any retreat, was out of the question, so Tokugawa Ieyasu stayed defiantly in Hamamatsu as Takeda Shingen made the first move against him.
THE ADVANCE TO THE SEA Takeda Shingen marched his army out of his capital of Kofu in October 1572, relying on the coming snows, rather than the religious armies of the Ikko-ikki, to keep Uesugi Kenshin off his tail. Shingen’s first objective in Tokugawa lands was the castle
THE MARCH TO THE PLAIN The Tokugawa marched out of the security of Hamamatsu at about four o’clock in the afternoon, as the snow was beginning to fall. Aware of their approach, Takeda Shingen took up a strong defensive position from which the advancing Tokugawa could be enveloped. The first shots came when the front ranks of the Tokugawa opened fire on the Takeda samurai.
One curious feature of the Battle of Mikata ga Hara that appears in the chronicles is that the Tokugawa opened fire not with bullets or arrows but with stones. Apparently, Ieyasu sent a group of
Military Times in association with Intel and Total War: Shogun 2
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