The Battle of Hakodate (函館戦争 Hakodate Sensō) was fought in Japan from December 4, 1868, to June 27, 1869.
The battle was between the remnants of the Tokugawa shogunate army, consolidated into the armed forces of the rebel Ezo Republic, and the armies of the newly formed Imperial government.
It was the last stage of the Boshin War and occurred around Hakodate on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaidō. In Japanese, it is also known as the Battle of the Goryokaku (五稜郭の戦い Goryokaku no tatakai)
According to the Japanese calendar, the Battle of Hakodate was fought from Meiji-1 year (gannen), 10-month, 21-day until Meiji-2 year, 5-month 18-day.
The Boshin War erupted in 1868 between troops favorable to the restoration of political authority to the Emperor and the government of the Tokugawa shogunate. The Meiji government defeated the forces of the Shogun at the Battle of Toba–Fushimi and subsequently occupied the Shogun’s capital at Edo.
Enomoto Takeaki, vice-commander of the Shogunate Navy, refused to remit his fleet to the new government and departed Shinagawa on 1868-08-20, with four steam warships (Kaiyō, Kaiten, Banryū, Chiyodagata) and four steam transports (Kanrin Maru, Mikaho, Shinsoku, Chōgei) as well as 2,000 sailors, 36 members of the “Yugekitai” (guerilla corps) headed by Iba Hachiro, several officials of the former Bakufu government including the vice-commander in chief of the Shogunate Army Matsudaira Taro, Nakajima Saburozuke, and members of the French Military Mission to Japan, headed by Jules Brunet.
On August 21, the fleet encountered a typhoon off Chōshi, in which Mikaho was lost and Kanrin Maru, heavily damaged, forced to rally the coast, where she was captured at Shimizu.
The rest of the fleet reached Sendai harbor on August 26, one of the centers of the Northern Coalition (奥羽越列藩同盟) against the new government, composed of the fiefs of Sendai, Yonozawa, Aizu, Shōnai and Nagaoka.
Imperial troops continued to progress north, taking the castle of Wakamatsu, and making the position in Sendai untenable.
On October 12, 1868, the fleet left Sendai, after having acquired two more ships (Ōe and the Hōō, previously borrowed by Sendai Domain from the Shogunate), and about 1,000 more troops: former-Bakufu troops under Ōtori Keisuke, Shinsengumi troops under Hijikata Toshizō, Yugekitai under Katsutaro Hitomi, as well as several more French advisors (Fortant, Marlin, Bouffier, Garde), who had reached Sendai overland.
The rebels, numbering around 3,000 and traveling by ship with Enomoto Takeaki reached Hokkaidō in October 1868.
They landed on Takanoki Bay, behind Hakodate on October 20. Hijikata Toshizo and Otori Keisuke each led a column in the direction of Hakodate.
They eliminated local resistance by forces of Matsumae Domain, which had declared its loyalty to the new Meiji government, and occupied the fortress of Goryōkaku on October 26, which became the command center for the rebel army.
Various expeditions were organized to take full control of the southern peninsula of Hokkaidō.
On November 5, Hijikata, commanding 800 troops and supported by the warships Kaiten and Banryo occupied the castle of Matsumae.
On November 14, Hijikata and Matsudaira converged on the city of Esashi, with the added support of the flagship Kaiyo Maru, and the transport ship Shinsoku.
Unfortunately, Kaiyō Maru was shipwrecked and lost in a tempest near Esashi, and Shinsoku also was lost as it came to its rescue, dealing a terrible blow to the rebel forces.
After eliminating all local resistance, on December 25, the rebels founded the Ezo Republic, with a government organization modeled after that of the United States, with Enomoto Takeaki, as President (総裁). While the governments of France and the United Kingdom conditionally recognized the new republic, the Meiji government in Tokyo did not.
A defense network was established around Hakodate in anticipation of the attack by the troops of the new Imperial government.
The Ezo Republic troops were structured under a hybrid Franco-Japanese leadership, with Commander in chief Ōtori Keisuke seconded by Jules Brunet, and each of the four brigades commanded by a French officer (Fortant, Marlin, Cazeneuve, Bouffier), seconded by eight half-brigade Japanese commanders.
Two ex-French Navy officers, Eugène Collache and Henri Nicol further joined the rebels, and Collache was put in charge of building fortified defenses along the volcanic mountains around Hakodate, while Nicol was in charge of re-organizing the Navy.
In the meantime, an Imperial fleet had been rapidly constituted around the ironclad warship Kōtetsu, which had been purchased by the Meiji government from the United States.
Other Imperial ships were Kasuga, Hiryū, Teibō, Yōshun, Mōshun, which had been supplied by the fiefs of Saga, Chōshū and Satsuma to the newly formed government in 1868. The fleet left Tokyo on March 9, 1869, and headed north.
The Imperial Navy reached the harbor of Miyako on March 20.
Anticipating the arrival of the Imperial fleet, the rebels organized a daring plan to seize the powerful new warship Kōtetsu.
Three warships were dispatched for a surprise attack, in what is known as the Naval Battle of Miyako: the Kaiten, on which were riding the elite Shinsengumi as well as the ex-French Navy officer Henri Nicol, the warship Banryu, with the ex-French officer Clateau, and the warship Takao, with ex-French Navy officer Eugène Collache on board. To create surprise, the Kaiten entered Miyako harbor with an American flag.
They raised the Ezo Republic flag seconds before boarding the Kōtetsu.
The crew of Kōtetsu managed to repel the attack with a Gatling gun, with huge losses to the attackers. The two Ezo warships escaped back to Hokkaidō, but the Takao was pursued and self-wrecked.
The two Ezo warships escaped back to Hokkaidō, but the Takao was pursued and self-wrecked.
Landing of Imperial forces
The Imperial troops, numbering 7,000, finally landed on Hokkaidō on April 9, 1869. They progressively took over various defensive positions, until the final stand occurred around the fortress of Goryōkaku and Benten Daiba around the city of Hakodate.
They progressively took over various defensive positions, until the final stand occurred around the fortress of Goryōkaku and Benten Daiba around the city of Hakodate.
Japan’s first major naval engagement between two modern navies, the Naval Battle of Hakodate Bay, occurred towards the end of the conflict, during the month of May 1869.
Before the final surrender, in May 1869, the Ezo Republic French military advisors escaped to a French Navy warship stationed in Hakodate Bay, the Coëtlogon, from where they returned to Yokohama and thence to France.
After having lost close to half their numbers and most of their ships, the military of Ezo Republic surrendered to the Meiji government on May 17, 1869.
The battle marked the end of the old feudal regime in Japan and the end of armed resistance to the Meiji Restoration.
After a few years in prison, several of the leaders of the rebellion were rehabilitated, and continued with brilliant political careers in the new unified Japan: Enomoto Takeaki in particular took various ministry functions during the Meiji period.
The new Imperial government, finally secure, established numerous new institutions soon after the end of the conflict.
The Imperial Japanese Navy in particular was formally established in July 1869 and incorporated many of the combatants and ships which had participated in the Battle of Hakodate.
The future Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō, the hero of the 1905 Battle of Tsushima, participated in the battle as a gunner on board the paddle steam warship Kasuga.
*This article was originally published at www.revolvy.com