Chris Glenn, The Battle of Sekigahara (Frontline, 2021)
In just six hours, on 21 October 1600, an estimated 30,000 Japanese soldiers, belonging to many samurai clans, fell in the Battle of Sekigahara. This was by any measure a major battle in the early modern period, yet few outside of Japan have even heard of it, argues Chris Glenn. He sets out to fix that in this engaging narrative.
It takes a while for Glenn to get to the battle, which comes fully halfway through the book. That is because setting the scene is no easy task given the complexity of political relations in Japan in the years leading up to the climactic battle. Glenn leads us through those with a series of biographical narratives and a political geography lesson. Then he arrives at the immediate causes of the war leading to Sekigahara, which was essentially a conflict for power between rival eastern and western clans. The lead-in to the battle is filled with skirmishes and sieges, but also includes fascinating asides such as the pre-battle ceremony.
Glenn paints a vivid picture of the battlefield as the troops moved into position. He pauses to describe the various types of units involved, their weapons, and their tactics. Then we are into the battle, beginning with the state of the battlefield and the orders of battle, then onto the start of the fighting, which began with an attack by 30 cavalrymen against 17,000 enemy troops! Intense combat was soon widespread, however, creating confusion and a subsequent bloodbath, helped in no small part by battlefield defections and miscommunication. It was the Western army that suffered defections the most and it collapsed after some ferocious fighting. Glenn then describes the grisly, post-battle head viewing ceremony and narrates the aftermath of this decisive battle. A timeline and useful Who’s Who of Sekigahara concludes Glenn’s account.
Written in an anecdotal style of stories and sketches spun around a central narrative, Glenn’s informative and entertaining chronicle of the Battle of Sekigahara is a stand-out contribution to Samurai military history. This is a book that, while complete in itself as a battle narrative, prompts further reading into the world of the samurai, which often seems quite bizarre to readers more accustomed to the practical demands of warfare. The peculiar code of the samurai permeates the battle and Glenn’s account. It is fascinating reading, and for those with even a passing interest in samurai warfare, eye-opening and enlightening.