The Battle of Byeokjegwan — Part 2: aftermath and analysis



After the Battle of Byeokjegwan, Ming reportedly suffered 264 deaths, 49 injured, and lost 276 horses (Translator's Note: It should be noted that most of the Ming casualties were inflicted on Li Ru Song's 1,000-strong retinue cavalry. This means nearly 33% of his men were taken out). Li You Sheng (李有升), one of the loyal retainers of Li Ru Song renowned for his bravery, also fell in battle. Unlike Ming, Japanese records did not provide reliable casualty figures for this battle. However, an inspection report after Japanese army retreated to the southern coast of Korea revealed the remaining strength of some of the participants in that battle. Discounting Suetsugu Motoyasu and Kikkawa Hiroie (not included in the inspection), the remaining strength of Japanese forces is given in the short list below:

  • Kobayakawa Takakage: 6,600 men (was 8,000 before the battle)
  • Kobayakawa Hidekane: 400 men (out of 1,500 men originally from Nagoya Castle)
  • Tachibana Muneshige: 1,133 men
  • Takahashi Munemasu: 290 men (Tachibana Muneshige and Takahashi Munemasu had about 3,000 men before the battle)
  • Tsukushi Hirokado: 330 men (out of 900 men originally from Nagoya Castle)

While not all Japanese casualties were caused by Battle of Byeokjegwan alone, the report still suggested that Japanese forces suffered disproportionately heavy losses. In particular, more than half of Tachibana Muneshige's men were lost, effectively forcing him into inactivity for the remainder of Imjin War (Translator's Note: In other words, since Tachibana Muneshige did not engage in any battle afterwards until Battle of Noryang, it can be safely assumed that this battle alone was responsible for the majority of casualties of his force).


Ming
Ming army was seemingly able to engage and disengage at will during the battle. Nevertheless, this high level of tactical capability was actually built upon the mobilisation of nearly one-fourth of its veterans, as well as one-half of its elite troops. The battle exposed that despite initial easy victory at Pyongyang, Ming army was chronically short of manpower. Between assigning troops to guard supply line and keeping Katō Kiyomasa's force at Hamgyong Province in check, Ming army simply could not deploy enough troops to retake a heavily defended Hanseong city.

Intentional underreporting of Japanese strength by the Koreans, and their refusal to take responsibility afterwards, caused Li Ru Song to lose all trust in them and turn to Japanese prisoners for intelligence. Based on Japanese prisoners' testimonials and intercepted Korean documents, Ming army reassessed that there were actually 200,000 Japanese troops in Hanseong with a sizable contingent of Korean troops supporting them. After a meeting with other participants of Battle of Byeokjegwan, Li Ru Song filed a complaint to Ministry of War and denounced Ryu Seong-ryong, who was still trying to hide the true strength of Japanese army after the battle. The presence of Korean troops working for the Japanese also rekindled Ming suspicion of a possible Korean-Japanese collaboration. In fact, Ming officials confronted Joseon court on this issue soon after Battle of Byeokjegwan.

With so many Japanese troops gathered in Hanseong, it was now impossible to retake Hanseong with Ming's current strength. Besides, Ming army also exhausted all available supply at front line, yet Joseon court was completely incapable of providing for their needs. In fact, Korean logistics support was so abysmal that Ming army lost 12,000 war horses in just one month after entering Korea – this amount to one-half of all Ming war horses! Korean official Yun Geun-su (윤근수 or 尹根壽) even apologised to Song Ying Chang (宋應昌) on behalf of Joseon King for the incompetence and failure of Joseon court. To make the matter worse, winter had come to a close. Thawing snow and continuous heavy rains turned previously-frozen ground into a knee-deep quagmire unsuitable for cavalry warfare and transportation of artillery.

In light of this situation, Ming's original strategy of using cavalry to counter infantry was clearly in need of a revision. As neither manpower, nor logistics, nor weather, nor terrain was favourable, Li Ru Song abandoned his original plan of achieving fast military victory, and retreated to Imjin River to reestablish defence. To ease logistical pressure, Ming cavalry were recalled to Pyongyang, while infantry that didn't need fodder were rotated in to defend the front line around Kaesong and Imjin River. Whilst consolidating territorial gains and restocking supply, Ming army also requested emergency dispatch of infantry reinforcement from China to deal with the threat of Katō Kiyomasa's force, which had begun to move south, as well as to meet the changing battlefield challenge in Korea.


Japan
On the flip side, miscalculation of actual Ming strength caused Japanese forces to give up all fortifications they spent so much effort building and retreat to Hanseong without a fight. This had a devastating effect on the morale of Japanese troops, as well as their ability to maintain order in occupied territories. The massacre of Korean civilians at Hanseong after the battle was partly due to Japanese frustration at their inability to counter Ming cavalry, as well as lack of confidence in controlling the increasingly restless and resentful Korean civilians.

Fearing the threat of a much smaller Ming scouting force, Japanese army was forced to conduct a near-total mobilisation of all the troops in Hanseong. Although successful in driving off Ming scouting force, this battle exposed the critical weakness of Japanese army – despite outnumbering Ming scouting force nearly five to one and making use of advantageous terrain, Japanese army still failed to deliver a decisive blow to the Ming and suffered heavy losses in return. In other words, even with overwhelming numerical superiority, Japanese army was no match for the Ming in open battle. In fact, the victory only served to strengthen Japanese conviction to concentrate all available troops to defend Hanseong, and they did not attempt to mount a counteroffensive despite the victory for this very reason. Japanese military leadership failed to realise that Ming scouting force at Battle of Byeokjegwan consisted of elite troops, and Ming army actually did not have the manpower to put together another elite force of that calibre again.

Using the erroneously inflated estimates of Ming military capabilities as a gauge, Japanese army began adjusting its strategy to ensure the control of occupied territories. Since Ming army had significant advantage in both firepower and open battle, Japanese army was forced to abandon all the plains north of Hanseong and concentrate its troops to the more defensible Namsan mountain south of Hanseong. Realising the inadequacy of Sengoku-style Japanese fortifications against Ming siegecraft, Japanese castle builders also spent more thought on bettering their fortifications. They stopped building Hirajiro (平城) type forts on flat plains, and switched to building Yamajiro (山城) mountain forts exclusively.

The Siege of Pyongyang actually revealed the weakness of Jinjiro (陣城) fortification practice popularised by Oda Nobunaga (織田信長) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉) – as individual daimyō was responsible for building his own fort, this resulted in uncoordinated and spread out forts that were susceptible to isolation and defeat in detail (Translator's Note: There were actually five Japanese forts built within the wall of Pyongyang, as well as one outside. Ming army still captured the city in a single day). Learning from their mistakes, Japanese castle builders adopted an improved practice – multiple daimyō would carefully plan and build their forts together into a tightly packed, mutually supportive cluster in order to better coordinate and concentrate their troops and firepower. This new type of improved fortification later came to be known as Waeseong (왜성or 倭城).

Additionally, Japanese army also tightened its control on Korean civilians in Hanseong to prevent them from leaking crucial military intelligence to the Ming.


Thus, if Battle of Byeokjegwan was caused by miscalculation on both sides, then the battle itself had only made the problem worse. Ming now overestimated the number of Japanese troops in Hanseong, while Japanese overestimated the combat capabilities of Ming troops.  As commanders from both sides strove to adjust their strategies, it was only natural that a stalemate and temporary ceasefire soon followed.


Joseon
While both Ming and Japanese were busy adjusting their strategies amid the confusion, the Koreans, being locals, became the only party to had any real understanding on the current situation. As Ming army showed increasing signs of reservation, the desperate Koreans dispatched agents into Hanseong to instigate armed resistance and conducted small-scale military activities at the outskirt of Hanseong on their own – all without any well-thought-out planning. These military activities, more symbolic than substantive, were conducted to appease the Ming suspicion as well as retaining the edge of Joseon army. Unfortunately, their mindless bravado was partly responsible for the massacre of Korean civilians in Hanseong, as well as the largely pointless Siege of Haengju Fortress.

After Ming army retreated to Kaesong, Ryu Seong-ryong ordered Joseon army to move in to attack Hanseong, while denouncing Ming army for not reflecting on its defeat. In reality, only Li Ru Song, who was actively trying to resupply and request reinforcement, still harbour any serious thought of recapturing Hanseong. Ryu Seong-ryong's order was but a gesture to avoid responsibility of his intentionally false intelligence as well as his incompetence in providing logistics support to Ming army, and no Joseon troops were willing to risk their lives to actually attack Hanseong.



Reference
These are the sources used by the original author for his research and reconstruction.

  • Jing Lue Fu Guo Yao Pian (《經略复國要編》) by Song Ying Chang (宋應昌)
  • Zheng Dong Shi Ji (《征東實記》) by Qian Shi Zhen (錢世禎)
  • Liang Chao Ping Yang Lu (《兩朝平壤錄》) by Zhu Ge Yuan Sheng (諸葛元聲)
  • Seongjo Sillok/Annals of Seongjo (《宣祖實錄》)
  • Seongjo Sujeong Sillok/Rectified Annals of Seongjo (《宣祖修正實錄》)
  • Sangchongo (《象村稿》) by Shin Heum (申欽)
  • Seoae Seonsaeng Munjib (《西崖先生文集》) by Ryu Seong-ryong (柳成龍)
  • Jingbirok (《懲毖錄》) by Ryu Seong-ryong (柳成龍)
  • Yeonlyeosil Gisul (《燃藜室記述》) by Yi Kŭng-ik (李肯翊)
  • Jaejobeonbangji (《再造藩邦志》) by Sing Yeong (申炅)
  • Kōrai Monogatari (《高麗物語》)
  • Amano Genuemon Chōsen Ikusa Monogatari (《天野源右衛門朝鮮軍物語》) by Amano Genuemon (天野源右衛門)
  • Yoshimiya Chōsenjin Nikki (《吉見家朝鮮陣日記》) by Shimose Yorinao (下瀬頼直)
  • Togawaki (《戶川記》) by Kondō Heijō (近藤瓶城)
  • Taikōki (《太閣記》) by Oze Hoan (小瀬甫庵)
  • Kinsei Nihon Kokuminshi: Toyotomi-shi Jidai Teihen Chōsenyaku Chūkan (《近世日本国民史: 豊臣氏時代 丁篇 朝鮮役 中巻》) Volume 7 of 1935 Edition by Tokutomi Iichirō (德富猪一郎). Published by Minyūsha (民友社).
  • Nihon Senshi: Chōsenyaku (《日本戰史: 朝鮮役本編・附記》) by Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office. Publish by Tokyo Kaikōsha (東京偕行社) in 1924.
  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi no Chōsen Shinryaku (《豊臣秀吉の朝鮮侵略》) by Kitashi Mamanji (北島万次). Published by Yoshikawa Kōbunkan (吉川弘文館) in 1995.



Other blog posts in my translated Battle of Byeokjegwan series:
The Battle of Byeokjegwan — Part 2
Extra: List of named casualties (Patreon post)

46 comments:

  1. A very thorough historical analysis, good job!

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    1. It should be reminded that I am only translating the article (well, I formatted/rearranged it quite a bit). The research is not done by me.

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  2. Nice job with the translation and formatting, though I sort of get the feeling that the author's analysis in this second article is a bit less fair to the Japanese than he was in the first. Any comments on that?

    In the spirit of fairness though, it's probably not as bad as later Japanese sources propagandizing the battle and grossly inflating Ming casualties (what was it, 6,000+??), and Turnbull adopting bits of it in his books (I don't have them, but somebody cited his 2002 Imjin War book for its Wikipedia article claiming the dominance of katanas and Japanese infantrymen in repulsing Ming cavalry), though he does say that the Japanese sources obsessed over Byeokjegwan to try to draw attention away from the fact that things weren't going so smoothly overall.

    Interestingly I looked through Swope's book via Google books preview and there's this passage (https://i.imgur.com/d69Xxot.png) on Byeokjegwan, is there any truth to the whole "Northern troops couldn't deal with arquebuses and katana!" part?

    And since I mentioned the Wikipedia article on the Imjin War it's kind of a hot mess. There's even citing of that poorly-translated excerpt of the Mingshi that I tend to see Japanese nationalists clinging to when trying to explain away the retreat/defeat of the invasion force on the war infobox...

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    1. Good day.

      I come to the realisation that no one can be truly free of bias. Everyong has to start from somewhere, making unprovable assumption in one way or another, and use that assumption to intepret the evidence(s). Since the articles are from China, the original author probably holds a more pro-Ming position.


      That being said, if the original author came to the conclusion that Japan really was no match for Ming after his research, then it is only fair for him to present his conclusion as it is (instead of trying to sugarcoat it to appease to the sense of "fairness"). Given his long list of reference, I don't think he cerry-picked his source for this research/analysis, and I say that is fair enough.

      There's SOME truth to Swope's quote, in the sense that he probably did not make that up. I am yet to check the source carefully, although I have the feeling that Swope probably referenced Ryu Seong-ryong's writings for that quote. Of course, Ryu Seong-ryong's writing heavily contradicts Japanese records.

      As for Wikipedia, if you mean English Wikipedia, then those are more likely to be weebs instead of actual Japanese nationalists (I think). I can't read Japanese, but Japanese Wikipedia page for Battle of Byeokjegwan does cite multiple sources for the casualty figures.

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    2. On the bias stuff, yeah, I should have clarified or prefaced that I'm aware of the impossibility of a totally balanced account and it does look like the guy did a ton of research using all the available sources. I didn't intend to come across as wanting the author to pander to some arbitrary sense of fairness. Keep in mind that I tend to agree with what you've written before in comments on this blog, as well other people discussing the Imjin War from the Chinese perspective. I was just having second thoughts about how certain the author seems to be about Ming > Japanese out on the field and wondered if you had any thoughts or comments on that.


      As far as the Wikipedia article goes I just meant in general for the Imjin War. The English Byeokjegwan article was recently re-written to include accounts from Swope, Hawley, and Turnbull (the same guy as the one who drew on Andrade's 2016 book and parts of your blog for the History of Gunpowder/Chinese city wall articles, incidentally!), but if you look at the main Imjin War article there's some odd citations like the one I mentioned

      (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_invasions_of_Korea_(1592%E2%80%9398)#cite_note-zh.wikisource.org-3)

      coming from an editor who was blocked or banned for edit warring in a lot of articles on Japan, not sure if he's a crazy weeb or a legit nationalist editing in broken English though.

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    3. The original author's POV is that Ming army that fought in Imjin War was...to tranlate his quote directly, "having one arm tied to its back, and the remaining three limbs chopped off" due to utterly abysmal Korean logistics/intelligence (he also argues that having a terrible ally was way worse than anything Japanese faced). Yet this heavily handicapped Ming army still achieved rough parity or even slight advantage against the Japanese.

      (although I personally think that this was in part due to the inherent advantage of cavalry over infantry, especially infantry that lacked experience in fighting against cavalry. Can't argue with him on the topic of fortifications/siegecraft though)

      On wikipedia, it only proves that wikipedia in general is a terrible place to look for academic source (that being said, Ming shi, despite being not very reliable in general, is still considered a credible "official history").


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  3. Thank you for your translation!

    As far as I can tell, the debate on casualties is still going on inside Japanese discussions; I know for example that Li Rusong report wasn't taken seriously by his chief overseer, and honestly it might be true since the battle lasted many hours.
    Nevertheless, Japanese sources claim that as many as 6000 Ming soldiers were killed while losing 500-600 men, which is more likely to be flawed as well.
    Koreans ones claim that the Japanese killed 1500 enemy soldiers and suffered barely any loss, but this were based on a Chinese source which didn't partecipate at the battle.

    K.Swope in his book claim that both armies suffered and equal number of casualties, around 500-600 people, which I feel to be more accurate since there are also Korean sources claiming the same thing (朝鮮王朝実録 If I recall correctly).

    On a Tactical level in the entire war, the Japanese surely lacked cavalry experience; Imho this might be explained by the fact that the best available cavalry troops were the former Hojo troops (which lived in the Kanto plains) and were under Tokugawa control, who didn't join the Korean invasion. The same inexperience against mature cavalry was underlined by western Japanese armies when they faced the warriors of the Kanto plain, namely the Hojo (which where the ones who mustered more horseman, regularly going above the 20% of the whole army) and Takeda's men from Kokuze which were skilled horseman as well.
    Anyway I don't blame Hideyoshi to avoid using resources for cavalry; horses weren't easy to take overseas and surely didn't play a major in the mountainous and muddy Korean as the Ming acknowledge later on.

    Imho the Ming in this particular battle played at best their cards as I've said in my other comment, splitting Japanese divisions and using tactical retreats! But I humbly disagree with the fact that the Japanese would have been no match for a field battle with the Ming, especially following the thesis of Swope when He claims that both factions suffered similar casualties, and considering that Ming elite troops and tactical advantage nullified the numerical superiority of the Japanese. But this is my modest opinion and is debatable as well.

    Thank you again for sharing this!

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    1. The way I see it is that Ming vs Japanese is somewhat similar to Mongols vs Song, in both cases the former had an advantage over the later in terms of open field battle, yet the later had an advantage over the former when it comes to constructing and defending their mountain fortresses.

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    2. It should be noted that the original author considered the so-called "of-the-record elite soldiers that perished at Byeokjegwan" theory does not hold any water. Ming army was critically short on supply, and Li Ru Song and other generals had repeatedly requested for more supply for all 36,000+ Ming troops - and only those Ming troops. So either these off-the-record soldiers ran on solar power, or they didn't exist.

      (However, I still believe that Li Ru Song underrepported the casualties on Ming side in one way or another. I am also more inclined to believe the "roughly equal casualties" estimate as well)

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    3. The notion of "no match for Ming" probably refers to a scenerio where Japanese army had to face the full might of Ming army in open battle. Facing tens of thousands of cavalry with massive artillery support in open battle would be a very terrifying prospect for any infantry-majority army.

      While Korea is quite mountaineous, it is not as mountaineous as Japan, so there are still plenty of plains where cavalry could be useful. Ming actually cited the Japanese unfamiliarity with the significantly colder Korean winter as one of the reasons to mobilise hardy Liaodong troops to Korea. As long as the ground was frozen solid, mud wouldn't be a problem (which means this plan only worked so well during the winter...).

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    4. @TheXanian

      The original author actually wrote another article discussing the evolution of Japanese castles in Korea over the course of Imjin War. It is beyond the scope of my blog, although I cannibalised some points from that article to be included here (after all, he can assume that his readers will read his other articles, thus only mentioned it in passing).

      His point being, looking at how fast Pyongyang fell and the subsequent abandonment of all forts between Pyongyang and Hanseong/Seoul, Sengoku-era fortification experience did not confer significant defensive advantage to the Japanese, although they were very quick to adapt and improve (this being one of the most commendable qualities of Japanese army). Later improved Waeseong served them better, but only barely (failure of later sieges were in part caused by Ming f*ckups, and the fact that the supply line had been stretched well beyond breaking point).

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  4. Thanks for the hard work on translating the article. Rain apparently was heavy during the engagement. Was there any mention it was heavy enough to affect Japanese muskets and Ming bowstrings? Im getting a impression that there was a bit of a melee as both armies are getting cramped by the terrain, with rain possibly affecting their firearms/bows as battle wore on.

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    1. It seems that rain and mud only became a factor during the latter phase of the battle (i.e. when Li Ru Song was attacked).

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  5. Hello GMM. It’s my first time commenting on a blogspot so I’m not quite sure how it works.
    I wanted to address on your comment which stated as “largely pointless Siege of Haengju Fortress”. Considering that the force commanders previous actions were largely successful, I’m unsure on why you considered the battle as a mindless bravado.

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    1. Good day and welcome to my blog.

      The scouting of Byeokjegwan was to survey for a suitable location to set up a forward base for the siege on Hanseong/Seoul. Haengju fortress was simply too narrow for that purpose (a large army plus its supply simply couldn't fit in there), so it was of no value strategically.

      Gwon Ryul also reactivated the fortress without much (if at all) coordination with other Joseon forces. After nearly an entire day of fierce fighting, not a single Joseon troop came to Gwon Ryul's aid, despite numerous Joseon forces stationed at close priximity to the fortress. Only two ships resupplied them with arrows.

      After the victory, Gwon Ryul simply burned the place down. The Koreans gained nothing from the victory (other than a possible morale boost)and had no way to exploit the victory, while Japanese lost nothing from it (in the first place, they attacked it because they felt the Joseon force was too close to be comfortable. Since Gwon Ryul evacuated the place anyway, that was no longer a problem).

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    2. Thank you for the quick response.

      Now from researching a bit more, I’ve found out t that Haengju fotress was actually a despot Baekje fotress (Almost 1000 years old!) situated in a small way that overlooked the road between Busan and Hanseong. It is said that with his retinue, he expended the old earthen fotress and sent multiple units to harass the Japanese supply route.

      Soon after, the righteous army arrived later, which made the force total up to 3000 men.

      The Japanese forces under General Ukita and General Ishida arrived with 30,000 and attacked.

      They of course failed, and both commanders were wounded.


      I’m not sure how a siege could be pointless if a small unit that is not affecting the logistics of others and cause significant casualties to the Japanese.

      Perhaps it may seem like a bravado, but Admiral Yi did exactly the same thing in his later engagement. And yet it is seen as a great victory.

      Yi also wrote in his journal that the battle was out of sheer hatred and want for vengeance for the Korean people.


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    3. If you look at the Google Map, Haengjusanseong is located at the west-northwest of Seoul, while Busan is located at the far southeast of Seoul. I fail to see how it could affect Japanese supply route. If supply harassment was the purpose, Korean guerrillas did a fine job without needing the fortress.

      The fact that volunteer warrior monks were more responsive to Gwon Ryul than the regular troops speak volumes about the general quality of Joseon force at the time.

      It should be noted that Japanese side only recorded about 18,000 troops participating the siege. Korean record of 15,000 Japanese death was almost certainly an exaggeration. Japanese side, as usual, did not report accurate casualty figure.

      Unlike this battle, victories achieved by Admiral Yi managed to cause significant disruption/difficulties to Japanese strategic plan, so they were not pointless.

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    4. Alright, I’ve wrote about three responses now, but the page refreshed or something. I also cannot use the reply function.

      I fully admit that the location of Haengju does not interfere with the route to Busan.

      The warrior monks were veterans of the war we know. And they saw Haengju as important enough to attend to. Gwon Ryul was not a ordinary man. He was a highly competent commander with a perfect record. If the other Korean garrison did not help and experienced veterans did, what does it say about the situation?

      The casualties I’m not so sure. Confirmed casualties are 110+ men, which some were cut up and hung around the fotress. Current sources say it was 5000.

      The comparison I made of Yi was to prove that a military action caused by personal reasons are not the same as a pointless bravado. Yi confesses in his diary, that should he perish in battle, it would not cause him grief as the Japanese shall never return. The prelude to Battle of Noryang reflects this thought as he denied both the two Chinese commanders to “let Konishi go”.
      What is to say Gwon did not feel same? The Japanese corpses were desecrated after the battle.

      Gwon Ryul’s action did not cause unnecessary instability in allied forces. His actions did not tax the logistics of the allied forces as he only stayed a couple of days. What he did do, is to challenge a professional army five folds, ten folds larger then his own and defeat them leaving moderate casualties whilst a
      So injuring both supreme commander Ukita and general Ishida. Gwon denied the utility of the fotress by destroying it entirely and moved to Paju fotress. Paju was also scouted ahead, which quickly left the Japanese disheartened and retreated elsewhere.

      Perhaps it was foolhardy. It was also dangerous. But to call it pointless despite its unexpected success? I think that’s wrong.

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    5. Blogger can act funny sometimes, I am sorry to hear that you have trouble with the reply function.

      I will answer your question bit by bit, in descending order:

      1) If denying the utility of the fortress to the Japanese was his original plan, then Gwon Ryul could just burn the place down as soo as he set his foot there. He didn't. Instead he fortified the old fortress.

      2) I agree with you that Gwon Ryul did not cause further instablilty to the allied force. The allies seems unstable enough as it was.

      3) Personal reasons or desire for vengeance (or lack thereoff) shouldn't even be a factor. What is ultimately important is the effect of the battle to the overall course of war, and as I commented before Siege of Haengju failed in this regard.

      Note that the "mindless bravado" accusation points to Gwon Ryul's superior (i.e. the Joseon court). For all we know he might be acting under pressure from his less competent higher-ups.

      4) It only tells us that for all their experience, warrior monks were still only soldiers. Good soldiers they might be, good commanders they were not.

      That's not to say they had bad leadership, but given their low status, they likely lacked access to crucial military intelligence/insight to overall situation available to high-ranking Joseon commanders.

      In other words, they likely had no idea what their higher-ups were up to, and only following order.

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  6. Haha yea, it may just be my misunderstanding of the websites functions.
    If I’m taking too much of your time just let me know. I’m quite stubborn and you must have work as well.


    1)
    I researched it bit more and apparently the “siege” happened around the fotress, fortified with wooden palisades and dirt mounds. Modern interpretation claim that after hearing the victory at Haengju, ally forces turned around halfway instead of routing to Pyongyang. This makes sense, as when the Japanese retreated, Paju was reoccupied. The entrance to Paju fotress was described as jagged and perilous and even harder to attack, in a Japanese officers stand point. This denies the Japanese from approaching the returning allied forces. We know that the Japanese had the capacity to attack once more as they scouted Paju.

    just speculations though.




    3. During? or after the siege, it is stated that a Chinese officer led a small force to Hanseong and burned down 6,500 sacks of rice, further demoralising the Japanese Force. Haengju was a strategic victory. It caused casualties, wounded the commanders. This is without accounting the factors I’ve listed above. I agree that personal reason is not arguement but I was rather differentiating bravado from a calculated action.


    4. The Monks were actually rallied by an important figure in Korean Buddhist history. In fact, most successful commanders were yangban and peasant folks but they were often denied help from the Joseon Court. Just putting it out there.

    Off topic, but do you know what archeological finds or remakes we have of song, yuan or Ming leg, arm or hand protection? I’m not chinese so it’s a real pain in the ass to find good imformation aside from your blogs and Dragon’s armory.

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    1. Um. It was meant to reply.

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    2. Good day again.

      1) Indeed there's wooden palisades surrounding the fortress, guarded by warrior monks. They were the first line of defense. Depending on who you ask, this can be a testament of their bravery, or their mistreatment (being seen as expendible) at the hands of regular Joseon force.

      As Haengju fortress was no more, and Hanseong/Seoul was cleary beyond the ability for the allied force to attack, calling off the siege and retreating back to Paju seems like a sound decision. Much better than loitering around aimlessly at the outskirt of Hanseong.


      2) Siege of Haengju was conducted without any forethought or coordination with the special operation to burn Japanese supply, so they were not related whatsoever.

      Additionally, both Chinese and Koreans claimed success in special operation to burn up Japanese supply, but both claims are highly dubious. In fact, Ryu Seong-ryong discovered that there were still intact grain stores in Hanseong AFTER Japanese army left the city (Jingbirok).

      This also implies that Japanese army still had enough food with them, as they didn't need to loot the city empty.


      3) He might be an important person historically speaking, but in terms of military hierarchy, righteous army leaders were usually placed beneath Joseon army officers.

      "Denied help" is putting it kindly. Righteous army volunteers were often outright treated as rebels and put down by Joseon force.


      4) Yes. You can check Cathay Armory on Facebook that makes reproductions of Chinese armour (mostly Ming and Qing, but Tang as well).

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  7. I don't think the article is too pro-Ming. I have always been surprised the Japanese didn't do better in the Imjin War considering multiple factors. A lot of it has to do with Korean naval superiority and the cutting off of critical supplies and the starving of the Japanese forces. But the Japanese on land should have been invincible. Should have been because the Japanese were coming off of a century of civil war in the Sengoku Jidai, creating battle hardened Samurai and Ashigaru soldiers, armed with the best swords, most modern arquebeses, refined tactics and on top of all that, some of Toyotomi's best and most battle hardened retainers and generals. AND on top of that, they had superior numbers!! So what the hell?? What went wrong?

    Contrast this to the Koreans and the Ming. The Koreans experienced nothing but peace and their army at least was allowed to rot in idleness, with the most affective of the troops being fanatical and heroic Buddhist troops. While the Ming as we all know were coming to the end of their dynasty, with an army that deteriorated for most of the 16th century that was dominated by civilian Mandarin officials and corrupt eunuchs. AND again on top of all this negativity, the Ming were numerically inferior to the Japanese.

    So what happened? Why didn't the Japanese easily defeat the Ming and march all the way to Beijing as the Manchus eventually did just a few decades later?

    I think the reason comes down to the difference between a 'soldier' and a 'warrior', the difference between an army led by professional soldiers appointed by a central government who's logistics were supported by a professional logistics corps staffed by government Mandarin bureaucrats versus an armed band of brave and warlike Feudal warriors led by Daimyo chieftains. The Ming were soldiers, the Japanese were warriors. The Ming were led by a single Supreme Commander in the person of Li Rusong while the Japanese were led by rival feudal lords Kato Kiyomasa and Konishi Yukinaga being the largest contingents along with other feudal lords who brought their own Samurai retainers. In all situations like this, it's the professional soldiers who are disciplined and follow orders who will triumph over the bravest band of warriors seeking glory in battle. You see this when Caesar's legions fought the Celts in Gaul, when the Mongols fought the feudal host of Europe at Mohi and Leignitz, or European colonial wars in Africa and Asia.

    Thoughts ??

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    1. Well what you said ("warrior" vs "soldier") is only true in the most generalised sense. Actually most Japanese troosp (ashigaru) were soldiers too, and many samurai certainly demonstrated their capacity as commanders, instead of warriors. To be able to mobilise so many troops to cross the sea, Japanese logistics capabilities was nothing to laugh at.

      On the other hand, Ming military actually had a sort-of-revival after years of fighting Japanese pirates, Mongols, and rebels. By the time of Imjin War it started to decline again (plus most experienced commanders like Qi Ji Guang had pass away), but it still retained some fighting prowess.

      Oh, during Imjin War, Ming left most the logistics matters in the hands of Koreans...nothing could go wrong, right? RIGHT?? Well it turns out basically EVERYTHING went horribly wrong. "A bad ally is worse than a strong enemy" indeed.

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    2. Hello, thanks for the prompt reply and excellent blog post. Great discussion.

      I guess your last paragraph proves my point exactly. The Ming were numerically inferior, with incompetent Korean allies, backed by a decadent and corrupt Ming dynasty that was to fall in a few decades, ... and yet, and yet ... despite all this, they managed to defeat the most battle hardened army in the world at that time, namely the Sengoku Jidai era army of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. And they defeated them rather swiftly frankly. It's only due to the lack of follow up by the Ming that the Japanese were not all expelled from Korea in one swift campaign, instead of negotiations being dragged out for so long.

      If the Ming were more at the height of their power, if the Imjin War happened during the reign of Hongwu or Yongle, I think the results would be more like the Battle of Baekgang in the 7th century between Tang vs Baekje/Yamato Alliance. A total and utter defeat.

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    3. Well supplying an army by land was much harder than supplying an army by sea, and this is Korea we are talking about, it gives even the Communist China a hard time to supply its army (during Korean War).

      So Ming army was bound to face logistical challenges sooner or later, regardless of the competence of the Koreans. If Ming had better logistics during 1592/1593, and no Koreans were nudging them to push forward, they SHOULD be able to liberate Pyongyang, but Busan would likely be still out of reach.

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    4. Actually one thing I noticed in the Imjin War is that a surprising number of high-ranking Ming commanders are so willing to throw it down in the fighting, sometimes not by choice but more often than not it is by choice. Wu Weizhong got shot and fell off a wall, Li Rusong got his horse shot several times, one of his brothers got his helmet knocked off (again gunshot), Liu Ting was almost killed in melee during a meeting ambush gone wrong, Chen Lin and his son was fighting close quarters when his flagship is boarded. I think the Ming commanders by are more "warrior" than their Japanese counterparts ironically.

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    5. @Rayray
      In a sense, Chinese generals were more expendable, and they carried with them a higher pressure/risk of losing jobs/heads should they fail. But it still depends on individual generals.

      Wu Weizhong was more of a captain though, while Li Rusong's brothers were retinues, so it's expected of them to be at the thickest of battle.

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    6. @Rayray,

      Good points, thanks the anecdotes. My point when it comes to the 'warrior ethos' is directed more to the organization of the opposing forces, and not so much regarding individual warriors and soldiers. The Ming can be classified as more 'modern' in that they had a clear chain of command, all theoretically employees of the Ming Emperor who had the Ministry of War organizing supplies, uniforms, training, appointing generals, and payment of course in the form of cold hard cash, etc. In other words, the Ming Army would not be out of place in today's world frankly.

      But the Japanese forces were the finest product of feudalism anywhere, later Tokugawa Japan probably took feudalism to the Nth degree, creating the purest Feudal society in world history. An armed warrior caste, the Samurai, swearing oaths of loyalty to their Daimyo, who in turn 'paid' them in rice growing land, and who in turn lorded it over unarmed peasants. And despite the Japanese calling this period 'Sengoku Jidai' after the 'the Warring States' period of China, they never did develop the same way did they? China in the Warring States period virtually invented bureaucracy, a scholar/administrator class of Shi who became non-hereditary, who formed the basis of the Hundred Schools of Thought, etc, etc.

      Where the Ming Army has more in common with today's armed forces, or the army of the Roman Empire, etc, the Samurai armies of the Imjin War have more in common with the Zulu, Germanic barbarians who overthrew Rome, the Vikings, etc.

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    7. @春秋戰國 - thanks, being a officer in the Ming military must be nerve-wracking indeed. I would imagine dying in battle is more preferably than being charged, tried and punished in a Ming court considering how so many Ming officials were treated. A few more shout-outs i would like to mention is Deng Zhilong who was killed in action at Noryang battle, and Qian Shizhen who killed a samurai in a duel.

      @Der - gotcha good points. Ming's Wei-suo system sort of have a rough equivalent to a hereditary class of soldiers/officers although their overall effectiveness petered out. Many soldiers simply left their households because of neglect, abuse and corruption. Not to mention prestige was hardly ever high for the common soldier.

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    8. @Rayray,

      Thanks for the reply. Great anecdotes. Please tell us more about this duel between Qian Shizhen and the samurai, how rare is that in world history huh?

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    9. I believe I might've read that in one of the many threads from Historum, Rollingwave the user have a wealth of info. It came from Qian Shizhen's war diary supposedly. One day he came across a Japanese scouting party, and somehow a duel ensued with him being the victor. And he was later denied the credit by his superiors (northern commanders, Qian is a southerner) because he didn't know the name of the slain samurai. I don't have much info about it either, since I can't read Chinese even if I do have the source. But it certainly is rare to have duels like this happen anywhere, anytime in history.

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    10. A Ming Chinese general fighting a Samurai in a duel, it sounds like something out of the Iliad, something you find during ancient times in some Heroic Age.

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    11. That'd be from Zheng Dong Shi Ji (《征東實記》), written by Qian Shizhen. Indeed, that's his war diary recording his experience in the Imjin War.

      He actually killed two samurai in two separate instances, if I remember correctly.

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    12. Fascinating. A Ming general dueling not one, but two, Samurai? Wow! I think I know what weapons the Samurai used, what weapon would Qian Shizhen have used? a one sided dao sword or a a straight jian?

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    13. @Rayray
      But ironically I've also noticed Japanese Samurai officers in general were more willingly and actively seeking for duels or personal challenges(quite feudal-like I'd say) toward Chinese officers, whereas Chinese officers seldom did this initiatively but just in response to Japanese challenges or attacks, such as Qian Shizhen(錢世禎) you mentioned is a good example. Many causalities of Chinese commanders were also caused by commanding troops or melee combats in fierce battles rather than mere showing off warrior skills&courage or seeking for warrior glory like feudal warlord, such as Deng Zhilong(鄧芝龍) you mentioned is another good example.

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    14. Deng Zilong was killed after his ship caught fire and then got boarded by Japanese troops. It is not know if he was killed by a samurai or simply rushed by a bunch of troops.

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    15. Exactly, the death of 鄧子龍 wasn't because he want seeking duels like feudal or tribal warrior, he died because he's commanding his men in fierce combat who under attacked, like a brave solider and general. Although Chinese commanders seemed to suffer high casualties on surface, but to draw conclusion like "they acted more like warrior than solider compare to Japanese samurais" merely by such reason is misleading, even false. It's more like the other way around obviously.

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    16. @Rayray @Der @Notim Portant

      By the way, I've read the Zheng Dong Shi Ji with more attention (it really is a fun read!), it seems that there were actually THREE instances where Qian Shi Zhen fought a samurai.

      The first encounter was a scouting mission (he was trailing a Japanese scout/spy with twenty horsemen) before the Siege of Pyongyang. A mounted samurai armed with a lance ambushed him with a hundred horsemen, so he ordered his men to withdraw a bit, fought said samurai for twenty rounds, did a feign retreat, and then shot the samurai from his horse. That samurai was carried away by other Japanese troops though (and presumably survived the encounter), so he and his men shot the other troops, wounding several, and pursued them into the forest. There he was ambushed again by five Japanese troops, one of the ambushers shot him with an arrow, he grabbed the arrow and shot back, killing one, and then killed the other four by sword.

      The second encounter happened just after the Siege of Pyongyang. Ming army was doing a mopping up operation, and he crossed Taedong river in pursue of the routing Japanese army. A mounted samurai armed with a sword charged him, but he killed the samurai with a single stroke.

      The third encounter was actually the most interesting, if brief. It happened when Ming army reached the Korean capital of Kaesong. A mounted samurai "wearing golden armour and silver helmet, carrying two swords and wielding an AXE" met them outside the city and ISSUED CHALLENGE FOR SINGLE COMBAT. Well, challenge accepted, and he killed the samurai in less than ten rounds of combat.

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    17. 對,感謝博主提供翻譯。我也讀過這些,常常就看到紀錄說甚麼"某金甲倭將"、"某銀甲倭將"隻身前來挑戰云云,實在是太典型的中古日本武士印象,中國軍人反倒很少這麼做。所以那個老外根本扯淡,看了一點傷亡數字就亂下結論、亂帶風向。

      另外從這些紀錄也能看到,如果真的是"單挑",日本武士根本沒有像那些哈日派吹得那麼神。

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  8. Isolated society meets with the outer world. Nothing more, nothing less. Quite a large one, and very warlike, but severely limited in experience of other opponents.

    Check experience of Japanese pirates against Spanish, especially close encounters against first professional marines in Europe - tercio del mar.
    Quite a dessuading experience for the Japanese, actually.
    Not only Japanese ships failed miserably, not only European cannons wrought havoc, not even tight, cohesive formations with specifically designed equipment, training and tactics tearing through pirates.
    State-issued full plate and heavy 16th century rapier were more than a match against best swords. ;-)

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    1. This is what makes the early modern period in the 16th century such a fascinating period. Very different military traditions met and fought it out. How would the Tercios fare against Samurai and not mere pirates? How did the Tercios fare against the Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire in the Med? How would the Samurai fare against the Ottomans? How would the Ming fare against the Ottomans, which was a distinct possibility if Suleiman the Magnificent had heeded his Anatolian advisers and struck East instead of West.

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    2. "Isolated" they might be (actually not quite, since Japanese raided/traded/hired themselves out as mercenaries all over East and Southeast Asia), Japanese warriors still hold the reputation as extremely fierce. When the Spanish contemplated the plan to conquer Ming China, they looked for no others but Japanese auxiliary.

      Naval warfare was noted to be one of the Japanese weaknesses though, so for them to be defeated at sea isn't all that surprising, actually.

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  9. There is a lot more information about this battle than I expected! I hope you can do some other battles in this much detail, especially with more Ming infantry involvement. I am curious how they set up their smaller and larger formations and deployments in battle.

    IIRC you mentioned once that Ming arquebusiers were fighting in their own separate formations, but how did they protect themselves from cavalry and melee weapons?

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    1. They could retreat behind close combat troops or war carts.

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