Background to the Battle of Nagashino

Oda Nobunaga was the head of powerful Oda clan of Owari province. In beginning of 1560s, he launched a war against other powerful clans to unify Japan.

In 1561, he formed alliance with Tokugawa Ieyasu of powerful Matsudaira clan, despite the decades-old hostility between the two clans.

Battle of Nagashino - Map of Clans
Battle of Nagashino – Map of Clans

In bid to increase his power, he also formed an alliance with Takeda Shingen of Takeda clan through the marriage of his daughter to Shingen’s son.

At that time, Ashikaga family was running Shogunate and theoretically running the Japan. Though in practice, their power does not extend beyond Kyoto. Japan was ruled by warring daimyo or clans.

By 1573, Oda Nobunaga became so powerful that he overthrew the ruling Ashikaga Shogunate. Soon anti-Nobunaga alliance was formed and one of its biggest leaders was Takeda Shingen, former ally of Oda Nobunaga.

Takeda Shingen ordered one of his general, Nobutomo, to attack Iwamura castle. This castle belongs to Oda Nobunaga and his aunt Lady Otsuya takes care of the castle.

However, Lady Otsuya, conspired against his own Oda clan, surrendered the castle to the Takeda Shingen army and married his general Nobutomo.

This event led to the deterioration of the relationship between Takeda and Oda clans. Soon, Nobunaga started a campaign against the Takeda clan.

At the request of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki, Shingen decided to launch a campaign to retake Kyoto.

However to reach Kyoto, he first has to pass through Oda and his ally Matsudaira clan territories. So, he attacked Tokugawa Ieyasu, loyal ally of Oda Nobunaga, who himself was tied down on the western front.

He sent very little aid to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who suffered defeat at the Battle of Mikatagahara in 1573 by Takeda Shingen.

However, after the battle, clever Tokugawa launched night raids on Takeda’s camp and convinced Takeda of an imminent counter-attack. Thus he was able to withdraw in orderly fashion.

This battle taught Tokugawa a valuable lesson in strategic patience in his campaigns.

Shortly after the Battle of Mikatagahara, Takeda Shingen died and his son Takeda Katsuyori became the leader of Takeda clan.

Seige of Nagashino Castle

In 1575, Takeda Katsuyori attacked Nagashino Castle, which belonged to Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Within few days, Takeda Katsuyori’s army built siege towers and palisades to blockade Nagashino Castle.

Soon, Takeda gold miners begin to dig tunnel to undermine the walls of castle. At that time, Castle was defended by Sadamasa.

Sadamasa’s wife, Kamehime, was the daughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu. She decided to help her husband by sending a letter with Torii Suneemon in which she asked her father for reinforcements.

Torii was able to slip through the bloackade and able to delivery message to Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Both Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga promised to send troops to assist Sadamasa and break the siege of Nagashino Castle.

While Torii was returning back to the castle with message, he was caught by Takeda’s troops.

Takeda troops hung him on a cross before the castle walls. However, he was able to deliver the message of Tokugawa Ieyasu by shout out that relief was on the way.

As soon as he delivered his message he was killed by Takeda’s troops.

Siege of Nagashino - Torii message to Sadamasa
Siege of Nagashino – Torii message to Sadamasa

As soon as Sadamasa heard the message, he decided to held firm and repel any attack by Takeda’s soldiers.

Battle of Nagashino objectives

By June 1575, Nobunaga and Ieyasu with the army of 38,000 men marched towards Nagashino Castle to defend to save the Castle.

At that point of time, Takeda Katsuyori has only 15,000 men in his army.

To fight Nobunaga and Ieyasu’s army, Takeda Katsuyori divided his men in two separate armies.

The first army of 3000 men were suppose to continue the siege of Nagashino Castle, whereas second army of 12000 men were suppose to fight Nobunaga’s army.

Nobunaga positioned their men across the plain from the castle.

As he feared famous Takeda Cavalry so positioned his frontline behind a small stream whose steep banks would slow down the cavalry charges Takeda’s army.

Nobunaga brought 10,000 Ashigaru arquebusiers with his army. Arquebusiers were armed with arquebus, which is a form of long gun that appeared in Japanese battlefield during the 15th century.

To protect his arquebusiers from Takeda Cavalry charge, Nobunaga built a number of wooden palisades in a zig-zag pattern.

Arquebusiers can easily fire their weapon from behind the palisades, which protected them from cavalry charge.

On the other hand, Takeda Katsuyori arranged his army of 12,000 men in 4 groups.

He gave the command of his center, right and left flank of his army to his able general and he himself took the command of rest 3000 troops, which will act as reserve unit.

Battle of Nagashino

On the eve of the battle, a night attack by special units of Nobunga’s army killed a younger brother of Takeda Shingen(uncle of Takeda Katsuyori). The death of his uncle deprived Takeda Katsuyori of experienced advisor.

On 28 June 1575, heavy rain swept the battlefield. Takeda Katsuyori hoped that rain would render the Arquebusiers matchlock guns useless. So, he decided to attack Nobunaga’s army. He decided to approach the battlefield through a forest.

As his army emerged from the forest, he found himself about 200 to 400 metres from the Nobunaga’s frontline.

He immediately went into action and ordered his cavalry to charge. His cavalry was greatly feared by Nobunaga and Ieyasu as Takeda cavalry has previously defeated Ieyasu in battle of Mikatagahara.

Soon, Takeda cavalry reached the stream and as they slowly crossed the stream Nobunaga’s arquebusiers fired on them.

The distance between stream and Nobunaga frontline was just 50m, an optimum distance to penetrate the armor of the cavalry.

Takeda Cavalry Charge on Nobunaga Frontline
Takeda Cavalry Charge on Nobunaga Frontline

Many Takeda cavalry units were killed by accurate arquebusiers fire. Those cavalrymen who survived the volley fire and able to reach Nobunaga’s frontline were engaged by Nobunaga’s samurai warrior.

Those cavalrymen who went passed samurai, were stabbed through or over the pallisade by ashigaru spearmen.

In a typical battle, cavalry charge usually breaks the infantry ranks and then mows down the disorganized mass of infantry.

However if infantry is well organized and able to maintain their lines in face of cavalry charge, then even a trained warhorses would refuse to advance into the solid ranks of opponents.

Who won the battle of Nagashino

During the battle the continuous fire of the arquebusiers’ volleys and the resolute defense by Nobunaga’s samurai and ashigaru spearmen repel many cavalry attacks by Takeda’s cavalry.

Later Takeda forces tried to flank the stockades but it was also repelled strong defense build by Nobunaga forces ob the flanks.

Finally, by mid-day the Takeda got demoralized and fled the battlefield. Nobunaga forces continued to pursue the defeated enemy till the evening.

Aftermath of the Battle of Nagashino

Takeda army’s lost around 10,000 men in battle of Nagashino.

Several top ranking general also died during the battle including Baba Nobuharu, Hara Masatane, Sanada Nobutsuna, Sanada Masateru and Naito Masatoyo.

After Nagashino, the power of Takeda clan decline very quickly as they lost many of their most notable samurai during the battle.

Due to defeat, Takeda Katsuyori’s leadership position within the clan also became precarious. By the time of his defeat he has not fully consolidated his leadership position within the clan.

Seven years after the battle, in 1582, two of his relatives defected to the Oda/Tokugawa alliance.

Soon Nobunaga launched a campaign against Takeda clan and most of the Takeda followers simply abandoning Katsuyori and his family members to their fate.

With their help, Nobunaga succeeded in destroying the Takeda clan within short period of time. Although surviving member of family rose to high position in subsequent administration.

Later in 1603, Tokugawa Ieyusu established Tokugawa shogunate.

Some descendants of the Takeda clan would take prominent positions in the Tokugawa shogunate.

Importance of Battle of Nagashino

Nobunaga’s skillful use of firearms to defeat Takeda’s cavalry tactics became the turning point in history of warefare and started the age of gunpowder.

Nobunaga’s innovation and skillful use of wooden stockades and rotating volleys of fire ended the superiority of cavalry over infantry in Japanese battlefield.

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