Choshu Conquest (長州征討)

The Choshu Conquest was the battle between the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and the Choshu clan, which was fought twice in the latter half of the Edo period. It is also called Choshu Subjugation, Dispatch of troops to Choshu, Mission of conquering of Choshu or Choshu War, etc. The second Choshu Conquest is also known as the second Bakucho War (Bakufu-Choshu War), or if it is viewed from the Choshu side, it is called Shikyo War (Four Borders War), as the bakufu army attacked Choshu from four directions. The failure of the second conquest made it public knowledge that the military power of the bakufu was a paper tiger, and as a result, the bakufu had almost lost the power to interfere in the Choshu Domain and the Satsuma Domain. Some materials argue that the defeat in this war was the final blow that led to the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The first conquest

The Choshu clan was committed to the political activities in Kyoto, advocating the ideas of Sonno Joi (slogan advocating reverence for the Emperor and the expulsion of foreigners) and Kobu-Gattai (integration of the imperial court and the shogunate) to overthrow the Shogunate. However, the Choshu clan was expelled from Kyoto in a coup called 'the political upheaval on August 18' (upheaval occurred on September 30 on the western calendar) launched jointly by the Emperor Komei, the court nobles supporting Kobu-Gattai, the Satsuma clan and the Aizu clan in 1863,. When the Kinmon no Hen (Conspiracy of Kinmon) occurred in 1864, in which the Choshu clan advanced its army toward Kyoto in order to ask for the Imperial Court's pardon for its lord and his son, the Imperial Court branded the Choshu clan as the Emperor's enemy for the reason that its soldiers fired at Kyoto Imperial Palace, and gave an imperial order to the bakufu to conquer the Choshu clan. The bakufu appointed Yoshikatsu TOKUGAWA (the former lord of the Owari Domain) to the commander, Mochiaki MATSUDAIRA (the lord of the Echizen domain) to the vice commander, and Takamori SAIGO (the feudal retainer of Satsuma) to the general staff, respectively, and marshaled 150,000 soldiers from 36 clans in Hiroshima to made them advance toward the Choshu Domain.

On the other hand, the opinions within the Choshu Domain were divided after the Shimonoseki War, and the conservatives (conventional party) were controlling the administration of the domain. Takamori SAIGO, the general staff to the commander of the Choshu Conquest, proposed the bakufu army's withdrawal to Choshu in exchange of three conditions, namely, seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) of three chief retainers (Chikasuke KUNISHI, Kanenobu MASUDA, Mototake FUKUHARA) to show their responsibility for the Incident of Kinmon no Hen, demotion transfer of five nobles including Sanetomi SANJO to other clans, and abandonment of Yamaguchi-jo Castle.
The Choshu government decided to accept the conditions and express its deference
Although the bakufu side was not satisfied with this deal, the commander ordered the withdrawal of the troops in January 1864 (表記の変更).

The second conquest

In 1865 in the Choshu Domain, Shinsaku TAKASUGI who was a graduate from Shokason Juku (a private school to foster young intellectuals), raised an army in Bakan to stage a coup to beat the conservatives in the domain, and established a domain government to overthrow the bakufu (raising an army at Kozan-ji Temple). Takasugi, who organized a militia group adopting a Western-style military system named Kiheitai and consolidated the existing military units in the Choshu Domain, carried out a military reform by appointing Masujiro OMURA, equipping the army with the latest weapons like Gewehr rifles and Minie rifles changing tactics. Iemochi TOKUGAWA, the fourteenth Shogun, moved to the Osaka-jo Castle and decided to restart the operation to conquer the Choshu Domain. Although it is known as Shikyo War (Four Borders War), the original plan of the bakufu was to attack Choshu from five directions. However, the Satsuma clan, which was ordered to attack Choshu from the Hagi-kuchi route, had formed a secret alliance with Choshu (Saccho meiyaku [pact between Satsuma and Choshu]) through the mediation of Ryoma SAKAMOTO of Tosa Domain and refused to dispatch the troops. For this reason, the bakufu was not able to attack Choshu from Hagi-kuchi, but attacked it from four other directions. Naoyuki NAGAI, Ometsuke (chief inspector) of the bakufu, interrogated the representative of Choshu to determine the sanctions, and appointed Nagamichi OGASAWARA as the plenipotentiary to deliver the ultimatum to Choshu, but the Choshu side postponed the reply to prepare for engaging the enemy.

On July 18, 1866 (表記の変更), the fleet of the bakufu opened fire on Suo-oshima Island, and fights started successively in Geishu-guchi on July 24 (表記の変更), Sekishu-guchi on July 27 (表記の変更), and Kokura-guchi on July 28 (表記の変更). The Choshu clan employed collegial system of the administration of the domain to conduct the operations.

The Western style infantry of the bakufu and the soldiers of the Iyo-Matsuyama Domain landed from Oshima-guchi, and occupied Oshima. The Uwajima clan refused the order of the bakufu to dispatch the troops. The navy of the bakufu fought against the fleet lead by Takasugi, but it was put to flight by the surprise attack of the Takasugi's fleet. After that, although the Choshu army lead by Shuzo SERA managed to recapture Oshima, the mop-up operation to capture the remnants of the bakufu army spread out around the island continued until the end of the war.

The Choshu clan and the Iwakuni clan fought against the bakufu's infantry and the Kishu clan army in Geishu-guchi. Although the Hikone clan and the Takada clan were destroyed instantly in Ozegawa, the bakufu's infantry and the army of the Kishu clan took over them to fight back, and the situation became a stalemate with a slight predominance of the bakufu and Kishu clan side. The Geishu clan refused the order of the bakufu to dispatch the troops.

In Sekishu-guchi, OMURA lead the Choshu army (Motozumi MORI of the Kiyosue Domain was the commander), passed through the Tsuwano Domain that took a neutral position, advanced to the Hamada Domain where the younger brother of Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA was the lord of the domain, and took control of the Hamada-jo Castle on July 29 (表記の変更). Thus, the Choshu clan conquered the Hamada-jo Castle and Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, which were shogunal lands until the Meiji period.

In Kokura-guchi, the alliance of Kyushu domains lead by the commander Nagamichi OGASAWARA and the Choshu clan lead by Shinsaku TAKASUGI and Aritomo YAMAGATA had several armed contacts across the Kanmon-kaikyo Strait (Ogura War). And at one point the Higo clan of the bakufu side fought an even battle (the Battle of Akasaka/Torigoe, near Kitakyushu City Sakuragaoka Primary School). However, the Saga Domain did not dispatch the troops, the commander Ogasawara's leadership did not work, and the domains of the alliance withdrew their troops one by one. On receipt of the notice of the shogun Iemochi's disease, the commander Ogasawara also left the front line. The isolated Kokura clan set fire to its own castle on September 9 (表記の変更), and retreated to Kawara. Although the battle between the Kokura clan and the Choshu clan continued even after that, the Choshu conquest practically ended with the total defeat of the bakufu army.

In addition, since each domain stockpiled the provisions of rice for their army, the rice price soared, and as a result, uprising and destructive urban riots (Yonaoshi Ikki, a series of uprisings calling for social reforms) occurred in various places all over Japan.

Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA declared Ouchikomi (a grand attack) in which he himself would lead the troops to the front, however, the fall of the Kokura clan dispirit him and he called off the attack. He officially announced the death of Iemochi, and asked the Imperial Court to issue an imperial words document to call cease-fire. Kaishu KATSU, on behalf of Yoshinobu, had a meeting with Saneomi HIROSAWA and Kaoru INOUE of the Choshu Domain in Miyajima, and they agreed on a cease-fire.

[Original Japanese]