Shibata Katsuie

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  • Born: 1530
  • Died: 1583
  • Title: Shuri no Suke
  • Japanese: 柴田勝家 (Shibata Katsuie)

Shibata Katsuie served the Oda clan from his youth until Nobunaga's death in 1582. Interestingly, his first well-known act was one of treason. Although the details of the event are murky, it appears that in 1557 Katsuie plotted with Oda Nobuyuki and Hayashi Michikatsu against Nobunaga. The scheme came to light and Nobunaga had Nobuyuki, his brother, killed while sparing Shibata and Hayashi. After this vent, Katsuie showed Nobunaga unquestionable loyalty, and was a key asset to the Oda in their days as simple lords of Owari. Shibata served Nobunaga at the Battle of Okehazama (1560) against the Imagawa, and in the Oda's war with the Saito of Mino (1561-1563).

In 1567 Shibata led an army into Settsu province and defeated the allied forces of Miyoshi and Matsunaga near Sakai while Nobunaga secured his position in Kyoto. Three years later, Katsuie distinguished himself again at the siege of Chokoji castle in southern Omi province. Entrusted to guard the castle while Nobunaga was campaigning against the Asai and Asakura, Katsuie found himself besieged by 4,000 men under Rokkaku Yoshikata. Having only 400 men on hand, the garrison's situation seemed grim, and things were made only worse when the Rokkaku managed to cut their aqueduct. Knowing the Rokkaku planned to sit them out, Shibata launched raids into the Rokkaku lines with the object of keeping morale up and keeping the Rokkaku off-balance. Before too long, however, the Rokkaku discovered that the castle's water supply was very short and planned an all-out assault. That night, Katsuie gathered his men and to their amazement smashed the last pots of water remaining, declaring, "Sooner a quick death in battle than a slow death from thirst!"* Katsuie then led a desperate final charge that proved so ferocious the Rokkaku retreated.

Following the defeat of both Asai Nagamasa and Asakura Yoshikage in 1573, Shibata was given the latter's province of Echizen and took up residence at Kitanoshô castle. Katsuie was also eventually given Asai's widow, Oichi-Nobunaga's sister, and Nagamasa's three daughters. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Nobunaga's sister was given back to Katsuie, for the two had once been married. Sometime around 1563, for political expediency, Nobunaga had required Shibata to divorce the woman and then sent her off to Asai Nagamasa. Shibata's first years in his new province would be occupied quelling local Honganji adherents, although it appears that he took some time off to assist Nobunaga at Nagashino in 1575. After 1576, and with the help of Maeda Toshiie and Sassa Narimasa, Katsuie pushed further north and into Kaga province, a campaign short in glory but long in difficulty. Theoretically part of Shibata's fief since 1573, Kaga was in fact under the sway of the Ikko-Ikki, and required strenuous effort to be brought to bear, particularly since after 1577 the Uesugi of Echigo were openly hostile to the Oda. Shibata was present for the Battle of Tedorigawa that year, in which Uesugi Kenshin defeated Oda Nobunaga and pushed Uesugi influence well into Kaga. Fortune shined on the Oda however, for in 1578 Kenshin died, plunging the Uesugi house into virtual civil war. When Uesugi Kagekatsu finally emerged the new daimyo, Shibata had spearheaded an Oda advance all the way into Etchu. In 1581 Maeda Toshiie was sent to rule Noto and Sassa received Etchu. It is of some note and rather interesting that Shibata was never transferred from Echizen after 1573, the only major Oda retainer not to be shuffled around from province to province. It may well be that Nobunaga considered him the best man to guard the dangerous northern front against the Uesugi. Despite later events, there is no reason to believe that Shibata was overly ambitious, and a solid, loyal man was just what Echizen required.

In 1582, Nobunaga was dead, betrayed by Akechi Mitsuhide in Kyoto. Shibata was too distant and too engaged with the Uesugi to do anything immediately, and could only watch as Hashiba [Toyotomi] Hideyoshi defeated Akechi at Yamazaki (just two days before Nobunaga's death, Shibata had captured Uzu castle in Etchu). This military achievement gave Hideyoshi a considerable amount of clout when the old Oda retainers met at Kiyosu to discuss the succession issue. As Nobunaga's eldest son Nobutada had been killed in Akechi's rebellion, the matter was by no means cut and dried. Shibata supported Nobunaga's third son, Kanbe Nobutaka, while Hideyoshi championed Samboshi, the late Nobutada's young son. Hideyoshi won the day and it was decided that Nobutaka would act as guardian until Samboshi came of age. Shibata, skeptical of Hideyoshi's intentions and chagrined at having to treat a lowborn junior as an equal, did not, at least, walk away from Kiyosu a complete loser, picking up Hideyoshi's lands in northern Omi.

After Kiyosu, relations between Shibata and Hideyoshi only grew worse. At the center of their feud was Nobutaka, lord of Gifu castle (Mino) and yet a hopeful to succeed his late father. War was probably inevitable, and so the two warlords felt out allies to bolster their chances. In addition to the dubious assistance of Nobutaka, Shibata managed to win a promise of support from Takigawa Kazumasu, who held Kameyama in Ise, astride the Tokaido road. On paper, his strategic situation was favorable. Both Oda and Takigawa held strategically valuable chokeholds on major transportation routes, and together the three allies hemmed in Hideyoshi nicely. He had hoped to convince Maeda Toshiie and Tokugawa Ieyasu to support Nobutaka's cause but in both cases, he was to be disappointed.

In the event, Oda Nobutaka jumped the gun and began hostilities in December of 1582. This was exceedingly poor timing, as winter snows blocked any Shibata moves from Echizen until at least the early spring. Hideyoshi reacted by leading a powerful army to Gifu, humbling Nobutaka to such an extent that he surrendered. Forced to play his own hand by Nobutaka's impetuousness, Takigawa declared war as well. To assist his ally, Shibata ordered his adopted son Katsutoyo, castellan of Nagahama, to attack Hideyoshi's outposts in Omi. Hideyoshi managed to nullify this threat by bribing certain samurai in Nagahama to betray the castle, then turned south. Takigawa was quickly besieged in Kameyama and was forced to surrender when mining began to bring down the castle walls.

This left Shibata Katsuie, who was determined to fight on. Of course, any element of surprise was long gone, and Hideyoshi ordered forts built in northern Ômi and Nagahama reinforced in expectation of a Shibata move from Echizen. The fort that was to play a pivotal role in the coming battle was Shizugatake, commanded by a certain Nakagawa Kiyohide. Also present along this 'front' were Takayama Ukon and Hashiba Hidenaga, Hideyoshi's half-brother.

Hostilities resumed when Oda Nobutaka once again declared war and shut himself up in Gifu. Determined to make something of the situation, Katsuie dispatched one of his top generals, Sakuma Morimasa (1554-1583), to northern Omi with an army. Sakuma was an accomplished warrior and bold, the perfect man, Shibata may have thought, to do the most damage possible to Hideyoshi's defenses in Omi in the least possible time. In the event, there wasn't time enough. Sakuma succeded in taking Takayama's fort (though not Ukon himself) and set about reducing Shizugatake, which proved a tough nut to crack. While Katsuie was busy ordering Sakuma to withdraw back to Echizen (without effect), Hideyoshi was marching north at a break-neck pace. Sakuma was caught off-guard, and the Shibata army routed in a sharp action in the hills on and around Hachigomine. In the pell-mell retreat to Echizen, Sakuma was captured (and later beheaded) and two more of Katsuie's adopted sons (Katsuhisa and Katsumasa) were killed. When the defeated remnants of his army reached Kita-no-sho, Katsuie, who had not so much as lifted a spear in the war personally, decided that his cause was lost. He therefore shut himself in the castle and together with his wife, O-Ichi, committed suicide while the castle keep burned around him. Hearing the news, Nobutaka thought it best to follow Shibata's example and he also took his own life.