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The spark for the Boshin War, a highly destructive War within Japan saw its beginning as the tensions within Japanese society, almost boiling over, finally exploded as tensions between foreigners and natives, those loyal to the Shogunate and those loyal to the Emperor pushed Japan into War. The break came from Russian provocation and Japanese belligerence. A Russian diplomat had arrogantly demanded further Japanese submission to Russian pressures only to be turned down by the strained Shogunate who were treading on highly thin ice as it was with its dealings with the foreigners. Outraged at the refusal, a small Russian force was sent out from the foreign settlements in order to scare the Shogunate into agreeing with its demands.
A force of 500 Russian troops was ordered into Japan, to strike a local settlement in order to spread fear through the local populace and Government. This however was under the impression that the Japanese wouldn’t fight back, they did. The 500 were met by an Army of 3000 Samurai who waited in ambush along the road the Russians were travelling on. At a signal given of a released bird, the Samurai struck and bloodshed followed. The fighting was brutal, bloody and fierce, either side neither giving nor taking an inch. Though outnumbered completely, the Russians put up a fierce fight, aided by their superior equipment. This was somewhat nullified with much of the fighting being hand to hand combat, the ambush being masterfully sprung, which aided the Samurai.
When the fighting was over, the Russians were forced into a brutal withdrawal, losing 327 men. The Samurai, although victorious in that sense, lost nearly 1200 of their own during the fighting with the rest withdrawing in order to plan for a strike on the foreign settlement itself. The Russian Consulate in the area instantly ordered the Shogunate to name those who had taken part in the attack and aid them in hunting them down. For one fatal moment, the Shogunate hesitated, not willing to risk the repercussion for taking any action. Action was forced upon them however when the Imperial Court issued a proclamation that congratulated the Samurai for their actions. A proclamation which unfortunately was heard by the Russians who exploded in fury at its audacity.
The Shogunate was also furious at the Imperial Court, its long term attempts at negotiations were being constantly undermined by the Emperor and his court to the extent that near War with the foreign powers was a knife’s edge away. Unable to take anymore, the Shogunate ‘respectfully asked’ that the Imperial Court to stay out of all foreign affairs for the good of the nation. In return, they received a call to War, get rid of the foreigners or be considered traitors. This paralysed the Shogunate at a time when it needed to be flexible and to deal with the threat from inside and out.
Receiving no answer from the Shogunate, a small Russian force, numbering about 1000 gathered in the Niigata port which was sent out in the surrounding countryside to avenge their fallen comrades. The move was disastrous for the Shogunate as the Imperial Court saw it as them calling in the foreigners to help them destroy the Emperor and Japan itself. Samurai loyal to the Emperor instantly started to attack the Shogunate forces, having wanted an excuse to do it en masse for some time. Forced to fight for its very survival, the Shogunate was forced into accepting help from the Russians simply for self preservation.
Overjoyed at these turn of events, the Russians saw it as an opportunity to make all Japan into a client state. They prepared to build up their Army in the region in order to protect the Shogunate while making it subversive to their own aims within Eastern Asia. The battle lines were drawn as the Shogunate in Edo and the Imperial Court in Kyoto gathered their forces, the fate of Japan in the balance.
On two other island nations, Britain and Ireland went to the polls to secure another Liberal victory in the pools, albeit a contentious one in Britain. The Liberal Government had started to appear stale; its reforms slowing down as the need for consolidation in their reforms meant less could be done in pursuing the agenda of the Government. The Liberals paid for this in the election with a slashing of their majority to a bare twelve seats, almost guaranteeing another election within a few years. This was coupled by the conciliatory attitude taken by the Lewis Government towards France, a move which was seen as wise as the Treaty of Amiens with Napoleon due to France’s actions in the Brandenburg War and its increasing racism against Germanics.
Sir George Cornewall Lewis knew that it would take only one major crisis to bring down his Government and to that end, he saw to it that the affairs the Liberal Government had set into place would be sorted nicely. Lewis was determined to see to it that by the time the Tories gained office, the reversals they could make to the reforms the Liberals had set would be barely noticeable.
The conflict in Japan finally broke out into the open as outright clashes between pro-Shogunate forces and Imperial forces began in earnest. The Imperial forces clearly dominated in terms of numbers, the majority of Samurai and Daimyo supporting the Emperor’s desire to destroy all foreign influence within Japan. This was countered however with the influence of Russia in the Shogunate camp, sending out its Army to battle the Imperial supporters to great affect. Training of Shogunate troops also began in modern Warfare, the need for more soldiers fighting for Russia’s needs being felt as the Tsar’s forces in the area could only be mounted up to 10,000 in earnest, native soldiers being used to supplement their forces.
Despite the numeric advantage, the Imperial forces were soon forced out of Central Japan due to the technological advantage displayed against them. A siege began on Edo however, Imperial forces wrapping around the city as they prepared for a strike directly on the Shogunate itself, wanting to kill the traitors themselves. The Shogunate was protected however with the support of a nearby growing troop encampment as well as Naval domination on the nearby coast which allowed some supplies to make their way through from Russian merchants on the mainland coast. Artillery was also managed to be placed within Edo itself, firing upon the Imperial forces with impunity, making the most of their advantage.
In Kyoto, the Imperial Court was fairly confident of the situation, believing it only a matter of time before the Russians and their Allies were defeated. They were however, given support from the British in the area, although the Emperor himself was greatly against it. The refusal to accept a great amount of British aid in fighting the Civil War meaning they were limited to merely patrolling the seas around Kyoto and Southern Japan as a protective measure against the Russians. Unlike the Russians, the British representatives were unwilling to interfere directly due to the political climate at home and fear of starting a conflict with Russia itself.
In this, the British were joined by Spain of all nations, who were equally worried regarding Russian influence in the area. Using long term knowledge of Japan, the Spanish had slightly more luck in offering help, allowing several brigades of ‘mercenaries’ into help defend Kyoto from attack in the east. Efforts to convince the Imperial Court to start their own modern Army units were directly rebuffed however; the ways of Bushido would be the way to determine this conflict it was thought, foolishly as it turned out.
The siege of Edo, ongoing for little more than a month was foiled spectacularly as a general advance by the Russians and the Shogunate forces hit the Imperial Army with their full might. Russian infantry and artillery shot at the Samurai who charged into the fray. The death toll was beyond reckoning as the outdated katana was smashed by the modern rifle. The exact casualties for the Imperial forces is generally unknown although a conservative estimate can be made at about roughly 12,000 out of an Army supposedly 25,000 in number. The Russians and Shogunate however suffered only 800 deaths and injuries, the majority of those being the Shogunate forces as most had still fought with the outdated ways of the Samurai.
The lifting of the siege of Edo on the 30th April was a huge shock to the system of the Japanese in general and Samurai in particular. Never before had such carnage been visited on a Japanese Army by foreigners since the invasion of Korea of two centuries past. The effect it had on morale was even harder as now many Daimyo were thinking twice about opposing the Russians if it went total destruction to their Armies and their lands. This was only shown in further battles around the Eastern coast of Japan as Russia and the Shogunate secured their control over various key areas, crushing all opposition despite some brave resistance by the Imperial Army.
As the Shogunate managed to secure its power throughout Northern and Central Japan, Russia came to present its bill for the aid given. A veritable deal with the Devil, the Treaty of Edo saw to it that all isolation was dropped by the Shogunate, Russia was to gain favoured nation status in all of Japan while also being allowed to station its Naval forces in Japanese ports. It was a hugely bitter pill to swallow but one that was necessary in order to survive, Russian threats of stopping all aid forcing the Shogunate to become a puppet to their will. The Treaty was signed three days before the siege of Edo was lifted, further confirming that Russia was only out for its own interests in the conflict.
As news of the defeat of the Imperial Army at Edo leaked west, a shock ran through the Imperial Court as the realisation on how dangerous the foreigners were finally hit home. As the month passed, further news reached the Court on further defeats, morale plummeting as the superior technology of their enemies outdid the Imperial Army time and time again. Unable to fight as a coherent force, a suggestion from a Spanish diplomat, telling several Japanese officials where the term ‘guerrilla warfare’ came from made its way up to the Emperor himself. Taking the hint, a core group of Samurai and several Ninjas were sent out into Russian occupied territory, told not to return until the land had once again been returned into Japanese hands. It would be a long wait…
Russian forces, now numbering 25,000 as much needed reinforcements were sent from positions throughout Asia as well as some mercenaries managed to occupy North and Central Japan utterly with Shogunate forces. With the region secure, their eyes turned west, to Kyoto and the glimmering prize of the Imperial Court itself. Much was made in Russia itself regarding how they would come to make Japan a ‘miniature-Russia’, doing away with the various Buddhist sects and replacing them with the Orthodox Church in their entirety, completely restructuring Japanese society to meld it into a carbon company of Russia itself.
The plan would fall apart however, largely due to the intervention of one person, a Samurai in fact, by the name of Katsushirō Yoshiie. A fairly young and, until that time, low ranking and unknown Samurai, Yoshiie would go down in Japanese history as the great defender of the Empire for his actions. The way Yoshiie came into the War itself was unexpected, having missed most of the fighting by being in Hachinohe at the beginning, Yoshiie made the long, perilous trek south and west towards Kyoto, killing several Russian and Shogunate troops on the way in hit-and-run tactics. He managed to reach the outskirts of Kyoto, running into a Spanish ‘mercenary’ group who were preparing for battle in order to defend Kyoto. The interpreter who accompanied the group, Philippe de Mancha also probably earns a place in Japan’s history as one of its saviours, not because he joined Yoshiie, but because he was perhaps one of the most pessimistic men in the entire Spanish Army and indeed, the entire Federacion at the time.
Mancha quite simply informed Yoshiie that all was hopeless, the troops stationed at Kyoto from foreign lands were going to ship off and run once the onslaught came and if Yoshiie had any sense, he’d bugger off to somewhere far away from battle. For the sake of Japan, it was a very good thing that Yoshiie didn’t have any of what Mancha termed ‘sense’ but an astounding amount of courage or a complete lack of brains. Turning back, Yoshiie returned to the east, heading towards the main base of the Russian Army, seeing them above all as the problem. Located on the very border of the Kansai region, the Russian base had 8000 soldiers with 12,000 Shogunate troops to aid them. The push onto Kyoto would bring all of Japan under Russian domination, or so it was hoped.
It wasn’t just blind pessimism that Yoshiie received from Mancha, information that no other resistance fighter in Japan had was given to him with the names of the three highest ranking Russians in charge of the expedition. General Alexander Tolstoy, Colonel Peter Krasnov and Colonel Nicholas Totleben were stationed on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa with the majority of the Russian Army placed around them. Other facts gained from Mancha such as uniform styles and the like were taken into account by Yoshiie as he headed east, into an act that would throw him into legend.
After reaching the Russian camp, Yoshiie posed as a servant, keeping only a hidden Kaiken dagger in his kimono. Security itself was somewhat lax due to the feeling of victory within the camp, vodka was flowing and there was merriment aplenty. Yoshiie was able to disguise himself as a servant in the officer’s tent, serving drink to his most hated enemies. It was during the period of celebration when it was too early to be morning yet too late to be night when Yoshiie struck. Tolstoy, Krasnov and Totleben were blind drunk at a small table isolated from the other officers and called on the servants to bring them more drink. It was here that Yoshiie struck.
Unsheathing his Kaiken dagger, Yoshiie stabbed all three in quick succession, his blade striking into their hearts before their drunken senses were able to register the attack. Ripping off a medal from each of their chests, Yoshiie then quickly fled into the night, his actions not being noticed until one drunken officer managed to stumble over to the makeshift table where the three Commanders had been sitting. By the time the alarm had been raised however, Yoshiie had a decent distance and no one knew who had struck down the Russian Commanders. The Russian Army was plunged into confusion as the three highest ranking Commanders had been killed with one deadly stroke and the remaining officers bitterly arguing over who was to lead the Army now.
With the Russian Army paralysed, Yoshiie was able to get back to Imperial lines and give them news of his deed, offering the medals as proof. Overjoyed at his deeds, the Imperial Court instantly made Yoshiie a Daimyo on the spot, turning him into a national hero and romantic figure across the seas. As the Russian Army was divided, the Imperial Court sent out a probing attack to measure the Russian mettle in War. A mixed force of Samurai and ‘mercenaries’ from other nations totalling 10,000 struck the Russian camp, forcing the confused forces to pull back as it was believed it was the beginning of a general advance.
The Russian withdrawal was a great boost to the Native Japanese cause and an embarrassment to the Russians who had up until this time enjoyed never-ending victory. The death of three top Commanders and the withdrawal of their Army in the area forced the Russians to rethink their plans. The growing resistance in the Russian occupied areas was proving to be a problem which required urgent attention and the Imperial Court had made itself clear that it would not be dominated by any outside power. A feeling of cutting its losses was felt within the Russian power structure when Britain began openly trading with Japan and Irish ‘mercenaries’ started to be spotted in the area.
Russia pressured the Shogunate to declare its own independent nation there and then, sending word to Japan that it would negotiate the splitting of the land between them. The Imperial Court initially refused this order outright, seeing it as its destiny to retake all of Japan. But reality proved a harsh mistress as it became apparent that Japan was unable to confront Russia on its own terms. Britain and Spain highlighted this by stating they themselves would not go to War for Japan although they were willing to help train a true modern Army. Unable to neither defend nor attack with any great hope of victory, the Emperor was forced into finally acknowledging reality, and allowed negotiations continue with the private oath that Japan would once again be whole one day.
Negotiations commenced on the 31st July, a particularly bloody day for the Russian and Shogunate forces in Japan, guerrilla forces taking a bloody toll as the diplomats began their work. Russia confident although wary of what role Britain and Spain would play and Japan humiliated but defiant, patience was a key virtue after all. The Shogunate Republic of Japan would collapse and the Empire was there to make sure it did in a torrent of blood for those who dared betray their homeland…
Elsewhere in the World, London saw the first meeting of the Imperial Commonwealth Council. Representatives from Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Newfoundland and Madras meeting in London to put forward the cause for Imperial Federation. The Council had power over international relations, the Imperial tariff (Where the Empire was to be merged into one economic block), the role of the Military in the Commonwealth and further admissions into the Council from the Imperial regions.
The first meeting was a large success with a speech by King Alfred going down well to all representatives and the first issue, the Imperial tariff, largely agreed upon with only a few details to be hammered out. The second largest issue, Military costs was raised with the spectre of Russia and France looming over the proceedings, two threats particularly felt by Madras and Britain respectively. It was agreed that Madras would start its own full scale Native Army with education for its officers pulled from the Indians themselves in order to begin a truly ‘connected’ Imperial Army from all regions within the Commonwealth. The idea of an Indian serving as a rank as high as General was thought to be incredible but in the future, possible.
The Commonwealth Council was to be a great success, building on the previous experience felt by the Spanish with their Federacion. And like the Federacion, it would have a baptism in fire and blood…
The Division of Japan following the Chaotic War began with the Treaty of Ōtsu which split the ancient nation into two. The eastern border of the Ōmi province serving as the dividing line between the Empire of Japan in the West and the Shogunate Republic of Japan in the East. The Treaty was painted as a great triumph for Russia in its home nation, a new client state and a new level of domination in Asia that was only matched by Britain. The sweet taste of victory was soured as the guerilla campaign continued, hidden Ninja and Samurai struck at the Russians and those who collaborated with them. Although the Imperial Court had sworn to end its support of the guerillas in the Treaty, it was an oath never meant to be kept.
The following thirty years would be a bitter and dividing experience for Japan, as well as a bloody one, for Russia as well. The period of Bunkatsu (Division) was one that would mark the clash between Eastern and Western thought like never before. The rifle would meet the katana in savage fighting throughout the nation for over thirty years and no one nation would come out well because if it.