The Boshin War
The Meiji Revolution, or the Boshin War, came at the end of the Edo Period as the collapsing Tokugawa Shogunate and its allies struggled to maintain control over Japan in the face of a movement to restore authority to the Emperor and the imperial government.
Following the Treaty of Kanagawa and the end of Sakoku, the Tokugawa Shogunate, which had ruled Japan since the end of the Sengoku Jidai in 1603, began to wane in power and influence. The Bakufu's willingness to give in to foreign demands at the hands of Commodore Perry (USN) had painted the Shogunate as weak in the eyes of the Daimyo.
Soon, the isolationist policies of the Shogunate began to fall apart. Local lords began to re-arm their armies and opposition to the Tokugawa Clan became more and more vocal. The Shogunate faced both internal and external opposition and hostility. This opposition soon organized into a movement called the Sonno Joi ("Revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians.").
The reigning Emperor Komei agreed with the sentiments of the Sonno Joi movement. Soon, he would break with centuries of imperial tradition and begin playing a much more active role in politics and matters of state. In 1863, this resulted in an imperial edict to "expel the barbarians" in which the Emperor ordered a firm stance be taken against foreign influence and unequal trade agreements, such as those imposed by Commodore Perry.
The Shogunate had no intention of enforcing the Emperor's will in these matters. Still, this did not stop the edict resulting in increased violence and attacks against the Shogunate and foreigners. The most notable of which was the death of an English trader, Charles Lennox Richardson, for whose death the Shogunate paid an indemnity of one hundred thousand British pounds.
These actions were not without consequence. The attacks on foreigners led to several successful retaliations by foreign powers. And, in an effort to overthrow the Shogunate, the forces of the Choshu Clan, together with ronin, raised the Hamaguri Rebellion in an effort to capture the imperial court at Kyoto. These rebel forces were repelled by Shogunate forces under the command of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the soon-to-be Shogun.
Initial resistance among the Choshu and imperial court subsided. But, over the next year, the Tokugawa Shogunate would prove unable to reassert total control over the country or its Daimyo.
Soon the Choshu Clan would know a coup d'etat that would restore power to those within the clan, vehemently opposed to Tokugawa rule. The Shogunate would announce its intention to put down the rebels, but this only led to the Choshu allying with the Satsuma. Soon, Japan would, once again, known civil war and a massive shift in power.
On November 9, 1867, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the reigning Shogun, announced that he would "put his prerogatives at the Emperor's disposal." Ten days later, he would resign as Shogun, ending the Tokugawa Shogunate.
It was Tokugawa Yoshinobu's hope that by ending the crumbling Shogunate and yielding authority to Emperor Komei's son, Emperor Meiji, the Tokugawa Clan would be preserved and allowed to participate in Japan's future government.
Initially the imperial court saw fit to continue to allow Tokugawa influence and collaboration under the concept of a "just government". But on January 3, 1868, Satsuma and Choshu forces would seize the imperial palace in Kyoto. They demanded that the title of Shogun be abolished and ordered the confiscation of Tokugawa lands. The assembly gave way to these demands, as did Tokugawa Yoshinobu.
But Tokugawa Yoshinobu would not remain idle, despite his initial agreement. On January 24, he prepared an attack on Kyoto. This decision was prompted by a series of arsons in Edo, aimed against the Tokugawa.
On January 27, 1868, Shogunate forces marched on Kyoto, attacking the occupying Satsuma and Choshu forces. Despite a force of 15,000, the majority of the Shogunate's forces were medieval Samurai, with only a handful of French-trained modern forces. Among the Shogunate Samurai were the famed Shinsengumi. Still yet, despite being outnumbered 3:1, the Satsuma and Choshu forces possessed modern arms, artillery, and a few Gatling guns.
After an inconclusive start, on the second day the imperial court named Ninnajinoyima Yoshiaki Command In Chief of the Satsuma and Choshu forces, making them an official imperial army. In addition, local Daimyo, formerly loyal to the Shogunate, began to defect to the side of the imperial forces. This would further tilt the battle in favor of the imperial forces.
On February 7, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, disheartened by the power of the imperial forces and the defections of his former allies, fled Osaka and withdrew to Edo. Seeing his retreat, Shogunate forces became demoralized and soon retreated.
Thus began the Meiji Revolution. Several more battles would ensue. The imperial forces continued on to Edo, winning the Battle of Koshu-Katsunuma and eventually surrounding Edo in May 1868. This would end in an unconditional surrender by the Shogunate. What forces that deigned to resist were defeated at the Battle of Ueno on July 4, 1868.
Following Tokugawa Yoshinobu's surrender, most of Japan recognized the Emperor's right to rule and the imperial victory. Still yet, domains in the north continued to resist. The domains of Sendai, Yonezawa, Aizu, Shonai, and Nagaoka, with a total of 50,000 troops, formed the Northern Coalition.
Imperial troops pressed north, in response, and suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Nagaoka at the Battle of Hokuetsu. Despite this, the Nagaoka castle fell on May 19, 1868. Imperial forces would continue to progress, defeating the Shinsengumi at the Battle of Bonari Pass, which allowed for an attack on Aizu-Wakamatsu Castle in the Battle of Aizu in October 1868.
The Northern Coalition fell apart. Following their defeat, remnants of the Coalition and their navy fled to Hokkaido where they would attempt to establish a separate state: the Republic of Ezo.
The Imperial navy pursued the remnants and reached the harbor of Miyako on March 20, 1869. There they met with Ezo warships, led by Shinsengumi commander Hijikata Toshizo. Despite a surprise attack by the Ezo forces, the battle ended in victory for the Imperial navy, due, in part, to poor weather conditions and use of Gatling guns to defeat Samurai boarding parties.
Soon, the Imperial forces would consolidate their hold on the mainland of Japan. In April 1869, an Imperial fleet carrying 7,000 infantry set sail for Ezo, leading to the Battle of Hakodate. Imperial forces swiftly captured Hakodate Bay, causing Ezo's French advisers to flee to France. With defeat looming, the Ezo forces were convinced to surrender and did so on May 18, 1869. As of June 27, 1869, the Ezo Republic was no more.
Imperial forces soon after totally unified Japan, quelling what little resistance was left.
The Meiji Revolution, today, is often referred to as the "bloodless revolution", with the Meiji Revolution and Meiji Restoration often being confused and considered the same series of events. But the Boshin War (Meiji Revolution) clearly shows the events leading up to the Restoration to be quite bloody.
Over 120,000 troops were mobilized during the Meiji Revolution with roughly 3,500 casualties resulting from open hostilities and many more from terrorist attacks.
The Shogunate had been brought to a bloody end and feudal Japan was no more, in any capacity. The Meiji government would soon begin a "Restoration" to reform the government, modernize Japan, and restore power to the imperial court.