A Confederate in Satsuma
"Strangers have come to our shores. They bring weapons of smoke and fire, weapons that kill without honor, without skill. But even so, these foreigners and their guns could give a man power and victory. And victory wipes away all dishonor."
"I first set foot in the land of the rising sun. To my surprise, Japan is not a completely primitive land, factories darken the sky, just like back home. Change is already bringing new cruelties. Resentment of the Shogunate grows by the day, the Emperor's men gather new allies to seize control of the country. Foreigners sell guns to all sides and foreigners like me teach them how to use them. This place is like a powder keg, guess i found myself a new civil war."
- General James Longstreet, 1867
Higo plains, Kyushu, March 1867
A soothing twilight descended upon the plains of Higo Valley. It was an unusually hot day that was slowly giving way to the chilling winds of dusk, blowing leaves and dust across the peaceful fields. The burning sun was fading, descending into an ominous orange as it settled past the hills. The gods had smiled upon the lands of Kyushu this season, as it had been a good harvest, yielding a bounty that had occupied the farmers all day. He watched for hours as they harvested in their orchards and rice fields, before they settled comfortably in their shelters after a long day's work. It had been thus for centuries, the farmers and peasants toiling the soil. How many families, how many generations had lived off the bounty of this same patch of land? Despite the fast paced changes that many proclaimed were coming to the empire, some things would never change. Farmers would still be needed to till the land, and samurai would still be needed to fight for the honor of the emperor. He took comfort in that, breathing in the fresh spring air. There would always be a quality of this land that would never change, a touch of the eternal, a perfect harmony.
He carefully reined in his horse as he crossed the Orchard, to his delight, the Sakura blossoms were in full bloom, bathing the field in an opulent pink and white. He silently gave thanks to the gods, for allowing him to enjoy this one moment, this brief period of peace before the killing began again. It was a good sign, and he was glad in his decision to spare this countryside of the ravages of war. His men were under strict orders to restrain themselves, to not loot and prepare themselves for the upcoming battle. After all, this region had once belonged to their allies, the Kumamoto, who stood with his clan against the machinations of the vile Shogunate faction in Kyoto. It was unfortunate that these peasants were born serving the needs of a treacherous and cowardly lord. Unfortunate, yes, but he would not condemn them for it. What was it that Sun Tzu said?
In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. Good advice, he thought.
He reined in past the orchard, being careful to avoid the main body of the camp, where thousands of Satsuma troops resided. As the afternoon turned to dusk, the entire plains seemed to light up as hundreds of campfires flickered in the valley floor. Soldiers talked, laughed and sung as they enjoyed a rare break in their march. Mixed in along with the sounds of men were the smells of gunpowder grease, sweat, latrines and cooked meat. All of it coming together to form a perfect cacophony of an army on the march. Some of it would have seemed familiar to samurai of centuries past. Blacksmiths sharpening the katanas of the warriors and Armourers mending broken chestplates. But there were also new sights to see, peasant levies, men who barely had any responsibilities in the past beyond farming, were busy dismantling and cleaning their rifles. A new deadly weapon that was imported from the Gai-jin foreigners from across the sea. Not just that, but they had their own officers as well. Loud mouthed and uncouth barbarians who were little more than uncouth merchants. Yet, they served their purpose well enough, and in the end, their presence would be tolerated.
He smirked as he remembered the advice of the senile fools back in Kyoto. The Sonnoi-joi faction of the court would never stand for this, "Revere the emperor, expel all barbarians". Even at the price of their knowledge. He chuckled at the thought. When the Shogunate forces come with their own rifles, their own modern guns and cannon. Let's see those fools try and fight them with their spears. It was distasteful, yes, but it provided them with a chance for victory. And against the numerous armies of the Tokugawa, the presence of these foreigners was a small price to pay. Like his predecessor, the wise Shimazu Nariakia, Lord Hisamitsu found himself enthralled with the western barbarians and their weaponry, going even a step further, employing foreigners to train his armies.
He wondered, at this moment, where the Kumamoto army was. Whether they were doing the same preparations as them. Word had arrived to him in Hyuga that while they were dispatching their enemies to the East, the Nobeoka Domain, that the Kumamoto had taken the opportunity to abandon the imperial cause, and that they had mobilized their army on a southward march to the Satsuma domains, hoping to catch them off guard. The enemy had truly underestimated them, and within a week, he had reunited his force with that of Saigo marching north from the Capital at Kagoshima. Alone they would be crushed, but united, they stood a chance. Lord Kumamoto however, was not deterred. His army was marching south, and marching fast. By tomorrow, the fires of their eight thousand troops would be seen not ten miles from here. And they would be ready. He looked at the tents of his own army, no more than five thousand. He wished he could have given them more rest, for they had marched over twenty ri (fifty miles) in the killing heat to make it here, to this field. But fate saw otherwise, and he had already lost hundreds from heatstroke and exhaustion. But it had to be done, if they had to be united. Together, they had five thousand. Against eight thouand.
"Saigo-sama!" The troops around him cheered as he passed. Samurai bowing while the levies did as well, but followed through with a thunderous cheer as they roared the name like a charm. "Shimazu-sama!"
"They are lively today are they not Takanaga?" Shimazu Hisamitsu, Daimyo of the Satsuma domain, remarked casually as he trotted his horse by the general. A venerated and respected samurai of 47 years, Lord Hisamitsu was well known throughout the realm for his integrity and wisdom. He was wary of Saito Takamori at first, a retainer who had been passed down from his brother the late Lord Nariakia, but Saigo, whom he addressed as "Takanaga", had proven himself a loyal and faithful servant of the domain. He would get his chance yet.
"They will need their strength for tomorrow." General Saigo frowned as he passed by the display. There should be no rejoicing in doing one's duty to his liege lord, at least, not until ultimate victory had been achieved.
"Better to keep the men's spirits up. I am amazed they are so full of energy after your march. When our children hear tales of it, they will compare it to tales of Lord Hideoyoshi's great forced march from Takamatsu to Kyoto."
"You honor me with your praise my lord." Takanaga bowed his head. "But Lord Hideoyoshi and his men covered thirty Ri however, ours was merely twenty."
"True, but nonetheless you will find that the battle we fight will have just as great consequence. Once we defeat Kumamoto, the Oka and Saga will be forced to recognize our supremacy on Kyushu." Word had come through from Kyoto, that the great clan that had opposed the Tokuagawa Shogunate on the mainland, the Choshu, had been defeated by the Shogunate's punitive expedition. The Choshu had overextended themselves, choosing to bombard the barbarian ships passing by Shimonoseki straights without warning or provocation. The Shogunate, not satisfied with seeing their authority challenged, had sent a modernized force to the province, devastating it.
With no main army on the central islands to oppose him, the Tokugawa Shogunate was free to concentrate his efforts on Shinkoku and Kyushu. Already the Tosa were sending messengers to Satsuma, warning of treachery, and soon enough, word of Lord Kumamoto and his defection spread through the island. The Satsuma main army had been stationed at Hyuga at that time, ready to repel an attack by the Oka, but a hastily arranged truce was enough to allow Lord Shimazu to shift his main armies together to meet. Now, they were invading Higa, the home province of the Kumamoto clan.
"I did not think it would come to this." Lord Shimazu remarked softly. "We were brothers once, now we will be forced to kill them. It has to be Karma, neh?" He chuckled.
"Karma." Takanaga nodded quietly. "It was his fate to die with the defeated than lead our empire into the future. We will make it a reality."
He is a true warrior. Hisamitsu thought. We are outnumbered two to one and he thinks victory is all but certain. By the gods, we will make it happen.
"Tomorrow, I want you to command the left wing. I will oversee the deployment of our right hand regiments."`
"Sire, I would be honored."
"It will be tough fighting Takanaga, you will be facing at least three times your number. We are blessed that we have been able to secure this ground. The lake will anchor our right flank and save us from being engulfed." He gripped the shoulder plate of the general tightly. "Prepare well General, I want our men at their best when the enemy does arrive."
"They will be my lord, I already have one of the Gai-jin looking after him. He seems to get the best results."
"ALRIGHT YOU SLANTY-EYED BASTARDS! STAND UP STRAIGHT OR I WILL PERSONALLY RAM YOUR BAYONETS UP YOUR SORRY ASSES! ATTEN...SHUN!"
General James Longstreet, 'Pete', as he was known by his friends and comrades, raised an eyebrow as one of his sergeants cursed the orders, having lost patience long ago. The Japanese translators echoed his commands in Japanese, and he suspected it was word for word too. The levy infantry in their baggy blue uniforms quickly snapped to, and quite smartly too. Evidence of the weeks of intensive training he had put them through.
The sergeant, an irishman in a red uniform of a British marine, saluted Longstreet smartly.
"Just getting myself use to the language sir."
"Carry on sergeant." Pete returned the salute, quietly trotting his horse to inspect the newly trained regiment. The General was in his late forties, strongly built, but his face was weathered and tanned by years of hard campaigning.
It had been months since he had arrived in the land of the Rising Sun. Nippon. A burnt out has-been of a General given a second chance. A second chance at what, even he wasn't sure himself. He tried to settle down with Louise after the war, even purchasing a home in New Orleans and starting his own business. That however, quickly fell apart, and his family found themselves down hard on luck in the wake ofthe reconstruction. He didn't receive any money from the army pensions, as he had abandoned his old army for the Confederate cause, and he had no right of citizenship. It didn't help either that he had been personally denied by the President of the United States, despite the endorsement by his friend General Grant, to pardon him and restore his citizenship.
"There are three persons of the South who can never receive amnesty: Mr. Davis, General Lee, and yourself. You have given the Union cause too much trouble."
That did it, and down on luck and with no money for his family. Pete was surprised to find destiny had other ideas for him. Lord Richard Lyons, the British ambassador to the States, had called on him while he was in Washington D.C to join the British service as a military advisor, upon a recommendation by his friend Colonel Fremantle. Apparently the British were in need of military advisors, and seeing that America had a recent crop of experienced out-of-work professionals, they would be useful in British employment. The job promised a significant salary, as well as living expenses covered for depending on where he was shipped overseas. It took him days to consult with his family, but ultimately, with no future left in his home country for him, and no other means of providing for his family, He took it the offer. Travel would do him good, especially if it meant having to avoid seeing what his home had become following the war. Not only were the radical reconstructionists intent on demonizing everyone who fought for the Confederacy, but he had also left a lot of comrades back in America, some having shunned him for turning his back on his country, but a fair share were just dead. Buried somewhere in the endless fields of Pennsylvannia, Maryland and Virginia.
He had been contracted to help with the training of the Imperial Satsuma army by the British, knowing full well that the other armies they were fighting were probably being trained by German, and French specialists. He would make sure these men were ready when they do come face to face with their enemies.
It was another irony in his life already beset with ironies. Once again, he was training another army in the midst of another Civil War. Granted, it was a more painful process than back home. With the language barrier, it had taken him weeks alone just to show the Japanese peasant levies how to use the Enfield minié rifles that had been brought in from abroad. It was worse than the fresh recruits back home, making them start with unloaded rifles to avoid them shooting their own faces off. But the training was starting to pay off, and now, seeing the levies firing in their formations gave him haunted images of what it was back home. On the fields of Antietam...of Gettysburg.
"Fire by Batallion...ready. aim...FIRE!"
The entire levy line exploded in flame as they fired a volley of live ammunition rounds, peppering the targets with a storm of bullets. A fair number of shots however, whistled high, a common mistake amongst trainees.
"I want you to press onto the men, Fire low! We don`t want to be wasting Lord Shimazu`s powder do we?"
The front ranks chuckled as this was translated, but quickly silenced as Longstreet gave them a disapproving glare.
"The problem, Longstreet-san, is that they are peasants. They never had this kind of responsibilty or power before." Captain Takeda Ori, his translator and aide-de-camp of General Saigo Takamori remarked casually as he shouted for the sergeants to restore order. They called him "Taisho-san", the general, sometimes, if they found his name hard to pronounce.
"About time they did," Pete replied, "If we are to have any chance against the enemy army." He watched again as the levies began the process of reloading their rifles. The quickest in the front ranks were able to achieve this in under a minute.
"Taisho Longstreet, Lord Shimazu wishes to inform you Longstreet-san, that he seeks your council at the hour of the dragon."
"The what hour?" Longstreet replied back in confusion.
Takeda smiled politely, patiently explaining the nuances and expectations to his host officer, which were part of his orders by Lord Hitsamitsu. "Six o`clock in the morning, sir."
"Well then, give Lord Shimazu my compliments, I would be honored to meet him at his prescribed hour then." Pete replied politely. It had taken him weeks to get used to the exchange in this country, and even now, he felt himself slow to pick it up.
"Of course Taisho-san." Takeda bowed slightly.
"Where did you learn your English from by the way?" Pete asked in complete curiousity.
"I was assigned to work with the British Legation in Namamugi for the last few years." The captain remarked. "Jolly good neh?"
"You are full of surprises Captain" Longstreet remarked, he then took the opportunity to point to the levy regiments gathering on the parade ground.
"Does the regiment have a flag?" Pete asked.
"No, sir." The captain replied.
"Fix that. They need a flag. A regiment without one, you might as well not have a soul in your army. The men need something to fight for."
"The emperor is all they need when it comes to having a cause to fight for, but I will pass on your recommendation to Lord Hitsamitsu."
"Please do." Longstreet said politely, "And thank you. And tell Lord Hitsamitsu I will see him at his appointed hour."
Captain Takeda bowed, before trotting his horse to the general direction of camp. Dismounting, Pete took the opportunity to watch the men train, thinking back to the old times. Memories of a time long past. It almost feels like the nights before, when the men would sing and chat, just like old times, right before a big battle...how many of them would be alive by the end of the week? He wondered.
Ri - japanese unit of measurement for distance - 1 mile = 0.4 ri
Gaijin - Foreigner