Saturday, December 6, 2014

Chapter 23. The Battle of Pyongyang

And so, after three years of unprecedented vacancy on the Chrysanthemum Throne, the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi appointed a young Yamato prince as Emperor Showa. He was eager to invade Korea with a great force, but Tokugawa Ieayasue refused to go with him, so he appointed Ieayasue as Regent of Japan and sailed across the Korean Straits with his general Ishida Misunari.

King Yi San of Joseong (Korea). With the help of the Chinese Emperor, he fought against Hideyoshi’s invading Japanese forces.

In the meantime, his sworn enemy Yi San did not sit easy, but requested for aid from the Ming Emperor, who sent a great force to help him repel the Japanese invasion. At first, the Chinese Admiral Cheng Ching, who was a descendant of the great explorer Cheng Ho, met him in the Great Sea Battle of the Korean Straits.

The Korean ships were well-built, but the Chinese ones were cobbled together in haste. Hideyoshi’s Japanese navy rode on the magnificent Chikuzabe fleet led by Korusho. Korusho ordered the Japanese archers to fire all their arrows in one shot. Although the Chinese had more ships, the Japanese had better firearms and greater fighting spirit.

Some of the samurais led by the fearless general Ishida Misunari jumped abroad the Chinese flagship and surrounded Cheng Ching himself. A giant Chinese warrior jumped to Cheng Ching’s rescue, but he was easily slain by Maeda Kaeji in one fell swoop. The Japanese were winning! Suddenly, Cheng Ching ordered a hasty retreat, and the Korean ships hath to follow his orders.

The entire formation of the Koreans and Chinese fleet broke down, and now Korusho was able to land. Hideyoshi hath reached Korea and now occupied the southern city of Kwongju.

As he sat with his favorite general drinking warm sake, he pondered upon his great success. He liked Misunari, because the general was much like him…a peasant who hath risen by merit, not some bum noble who did not know how to do a really good fight.

Misunari: “My Lord, we Japanese have fought amongst ourselves for too long. Now, it is great to see battle on the outside world and to show our superior bravery.”

As he warmed his wet clothes by the fireside, Hideyoshi smiled warmly and replied, “Yes, indeed. At least, my world conquest hath begun.”

General Cheng Yin, brother of Admiral Cheng Ching, was sent by the Chinese Emperor to aid Joseong against the Japanese invasion. The Cheng family hath indeed become favorites of the Imperial Court in Peking ever since the famous Admiral Cheng Ho sailed to Malacca and beyond. So now, Cheng Yin arrived with a large force to Pyongyang, but the Japanese led by Hideyoshi were superior in firearms and fighting spirit. Furthermore, they had longer lances, swords, and spears than the Chinese and Korean armies.

In the initial fight, Hideyoshi did well, and probably slew three enemies to one Japanese soldier. Cheng Yin himself ran to the front and challenged Hideyoshi to a duel in full view of the three armies, but Hideyoshi simply pointed to the man and ordered Maeda Kaeji, “Bring me his head!”

So Kaeji and Cheng Yin fought…and they fought like lions. But what man couldst defy the ungodly strength of Kaeji. With the thundering speed, he slew Cheng Yin after fifty bouts, forcing the large Chinese army into retreat. The remaining troops fled to the Pyongyang Castle, and King Yi San forbade his soldiers and Chinese allies from engaging the Japanese in further combat. He hath stocked Pyongyang to the brim and prepared the wells, so poisoning was impossible. Yi San hath learned well from the mistake of the Hojo Brothers in the Battle of Odawara. Such was the level of his preparation against Hideyoshi.

In the first few days, the Japanese spirit remained high. It was more like a joyous camping trip than a bitter war. Hideyoshi and Misunari would sit by the fireside and eat roast mutton and wine generously with the men, laughing and joking.

However, the Koreans would come out on hit-and-run attacks, sometimes led by Yi San himself. The Japanese would be lured to the fortress and gunned down by Korean arrows and artillery. Soon, the casualties on the Japanese side would outnumber the Korean side, and this was something Hideyoshi could hardly afford. For though the Chinese army had little time to muster its force, the Chinese general Cheng Ching who hath replaced his brother on land as well had more than enough men to outnumber Hideyoshi if the opportunity of counterattack came for him to do so. In the meantime, he was able to rest easy in the comfort and abundance of the Pyongyang Castle.

Soon, the tide turned against Japan in summer, for many men died of leprosy. They called the Koreans and Chinese armies the Garlic-Eaters, but perhaps it was garlic and other local food that saved them from the disease. To this day,  nobody knows.

Unfortunately, one of the first to suffer was the Japanese Admiral Chikuzabe Korusho. The sturdy warhorse was now dying, and Hideyoshi paid him a personal visit.

Korusho: “I have always respected you, Shogun. The Little Monkey General who defeated me. You built the One-Night Fortress and evaded my patrols at Hokkaido.”

Hideyoshi: “Enemies we have been, and Comrades we have become. But never in my career hath I ceased to have respect for you, Korusho.”

Korusho: “Your words do me great honor. More than gold in its worth.”

And with these words, there were tears in Hideyoshi’s eyes, for Korusho hath served him well but was no more. Such was the great charisma of Hideyoshi that the troops admired him so.

And the fate of Japan worsened by the day. While the Koreans and Chinese hath ample supply, Hideyoshi’s men were reduced to eating horsemeat and living off the impoverished land around Pyongyang. The Regent Tokugawa Ieayasue repeated sent him messages that Japan could ill-afford to financially support his campaign, sending men, money, and supplies across the Straits in such large distance. The peasants hath become restless, and Ieayasue along with his two faithful lieutenants, Choshu Aechi and Satsuma Saitama, were forced to resort to force to quell the rebellion. Over 3,500 rebels hath been beheaded, but unless the war taxes stopped, more would take their chances against the Toyotomi Shogunate.

It was adamant that Hideyoshi accept the failure of the Pyongyang campaign lest the Shogunate fall under its weight.

In the fifth year of the reign of the Showa Emperor, Hideyoshi himself fell ill, and the Supreme Commander Ishida Misunari ordered a retreat for fear of the Lord Shogun’s life, for he loved Hideyoshi as a son would love a father. The few Japanese troops left behind to guard the Japanese conquests in Kwongju were easily crushed by Yi San and Cheng Ching.

The Pyongyang campaign was coming to an end. The Japanese fleet was returning to Nagasaki in disgrace. The Lord Shogun Hideyoshi hath dreamed of conquering Europe in three months. The campaign hath last much longer, but he couldst not even conquer Pyongyang. Such was the punishment of the gods, for Hideyoshi’s hubris hath angered them thus. The goddess Amaterasu hath raised a common buffalo-riding peasant to the status of Lord Shogun, something that t’was never happened in history of the status-concious Japan, but he would dream of world conquest.

Haha, the follies of mortals. The warnings of Ieayasue hath come true, and yet, he could find no joy in his wisdom as the Lord Shogun, still bed-ridden, returned to the Osaka Castle.

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.