The Battle of Sekigahara – Japan’s Gettysburg

We are fresh back from three weeks in Japan, during which we visited the battlefield at Sekigahara, Gifu Prefecture!

Last year, Sekigahara and Gettysburg became Sister Parks and Sister Cities. Each of these battles marks a turning point, and we were excited to visit Sekigahara and learn more about this massive battle during a civil war on the other side of the world.


Now surrounded by peaceful rice paddies, the Battle Site Memorial marks the site of the heaviest fighting at Sekigahara

Fought between the East and West of Japan on October 21, 1600, Sekigahara was one of the largest samurai battles ever, as some 160,000 warriors converged on a narrow valley in the middle of Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu’s victory at Sekigahara led to the unification of Japan and nearly 300 years of peace under the Tokugawa shogunate.

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Traveling with us were Union cavalry-cat Catmull Reed and his guide, samurai Mori Katsuro. They are seen here at the site of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s camp (headquarters) during the battle.

Some years before, the dying Toyotomi Hideyoshi had left rule of Japan in the hands of regents until his son would be old enough to rule. However, two factions began to form. Those loyal to Toyotomi coalesced under Ishida Mitsunari, while others joined Tokugawa Ieyasu as he worked towards gathering power to himself.

Eventually, things came to a head and Ishida’s Western Army and Tokugawa’s Eastern Army descended on the valley at Sekigahara. They took up positions on October 20th and sort of ran into each other in the fog, but serious fighting did not start until about 8 a.m. on October 21st, when the fog cleared.


Samurai reenactor at the site of Ishida Mitsunari’s camp on Mt. Sasao

At that point, Tokugawa had the smaller army. But he had been working on the commanders in Ishida’s army, promising them leniency if they turned on Ishida. Only time would tell whether any would answer that call.


Fukushima’s men rallied near this cedar tree. Now estimated to be 800 years old, the tree appears on the screen painting of the battle.

Tokugawa had given the honor of beginning the battle to Fukushima Masanori. However, Ii Naomasa and Matsudaira Tadayoshi engaged the enemy first, attacking Ukita Hideie. Infuriated, Fukushima joined in the attack on Ukita. His forces and those of others also hit the forces of Otani Yoshitsugu.

By 10 a.m., Tokugawa committed his main force as the fighting continued. As the morning progressed, various clans throughout the Western Army (Mori, Kikawa, Ankokuji, Kobayakawa, and Shimazu) ignored orders from Ishida to join the fight. Otani’s forces attacked Fukushima’s flank, but additional Eastern forces fell on Otani.

Beyond Otani, on Mount Matsuo, the forces of Kobayakawa Hideaki sat still and silent. One of the commanders whom Tokugawa had courted, Kobayakawa ignored the signal from Ishida to attack Tokugawa’s forces. But he didn’t move against Ishida’s forces, either. He did nothing.


Site of Otani’s camp. At the time of the battle, Otani was crippled by leprosy and had to be carried in a palanquin.

Finally, Tokugawa ordered his men to fire on Kobayakawa. He had to make up his mind, one way or the other. He did, in Tokugawa’s favor. Kobayakawa’s men descended upon Otani’s. They were repulsed, but other contingents from Ishida’s army began to turn as well, overwhelming Otani’s position from three sides. As a result, Otani committed ritual suicide, the only commander to do so that day.

Ishida’s Western Army began to break down. Shimazu Yoshihiro’s men had not engaged in the earlier fighting, but finally found themselves surrounded and cut down. Shimazu and about eighty of his men cut their way through the enemy and escaped. Ishida’s reserves did not come in, some deciding to join Tokugawa instead, and the Western Army was defeated by 2 p.m.


Site of the Eastern Head Mound

After the battle, Tokugawa viewed the heads taken from fallen foes. The heads were buried in a mound for each army.

Like the Battle of Gettysburg, the Battle of Sekigahara was violent and costly. Casualties for the three-day battle here in Pennsylvania totaled some 50,000 (killed, wounded, and missing). At Sekigahara, a mere six hours of fighting saw an estimated 30,000 casualties, with the heaviest in Ishida’s Western Army.

Ishida was later executed in Kyoto. Within three years, Tokugawa was named shogun by the emperor, and took over the rule of Japan. His house held the shogunate until the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th Century shifted real power back to the emperor.


Lost…and Found

People find some really intriguing things when they clean out the family’s old homestead. For example, in 2013, Col. Joshua Chamberlain’s Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg was found in the back of a book, sold at an estate sale!

In the Fall 2017 issue of the Civil War Trust’s Hallowed Ground magazine, an article reported that another fascinating discovery has been made. Over the last century, historians assumed that Col. Robert Gould Shaw’s sword was buried with him at Battery Wagner, where he was killed while leading the 54th Massachusetts Regiment in an assault on the fort. Well, it wasn’t.


This past March, descendants of Col. Shaw’s sister found his sword while cleaning out their parents’ house! Ornate and bearing Col. Shaw’s initials, the sword is the specially-made one that his uncle gave him only weeks before the assault on Battery Wagner. The sword now has a permanent home at the Massachusetts Historical Society, where staff are thrilled with the very special donation.

A Glimpse Into Cavalrycat Rehab

Did you know that during Pickett’s Charge on the afternoon of July 3, 1863, a cavalry battle raged just a few miles east of Gettysburg?  Next spring, you can glimpse a portion of the action when Civil War Tails rolls out its “new old” diorama of East Cavalry Field.  In the meantime, enjoy a sneak-peek as we look at the process of rehabilitating an old diorama into a new one.

Our cavalry battle, one of our oldest dioramas, has continually morphed throughout the years.  Now, the cats and horses are getting a much-needed sprucing up, readying them for display in spring 2018.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany of the cats date from the 1990s—and their grimy paws attest to the hard work they’ve done over the years, teaching people about the Civil War.  Is there hope for such troopers, or are they due for retirement?  Apparently, the promise of a new diorama base is incentive for a clay cat to polish his buttons, because they are working overtime to prove that they still have many years left in them!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, what does it really take to clean up a cavalrycat?  Well, a warm summer day for starters.  The cats on our cavalry diorama are all made from non-hardening modeling clay.  Now stiff from years of drying out, they need warm temperatures to become pliable again.  As you can tell from the photo, there are quite a few cats waiting to be reunited with their arms and legs, and old cold clay just doesn’t stick to itself!

After a cat has all his limbs on again, he needs a bath.  No, not with soap and water.  Scraping a layer of clay from the cat works well to turn him white again.  He’ll never be as squeaky-clean as a young whippersnapper cat, but at least he can make a good showing.


Before & After

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur old “guys” are the ancestors of the cats on the dioramas you see in the museum, and it is exciting to give some of them a place alongside new cats on a diorama.  Stay tuned as the cats make their plans, receive their marching orders, and finally mount up and move out!



To Be Like Hazlett


On July 2, 1863, as he analyzed the crest of Little Round Top and eyed the boulders and trees, Lt. Charlie Hazlett made a decision.  There was no space for his men to operate their cannons among the boulders, and it would be a lot of work to get the guns up.  Literally tons of work, actually, since each of the six Parrott rifled guns weighed over 1,000 pounds.  In addition, his cannons wouldn’t be able to aim low enough to fire at the Confederates advancing up the slope, pressing Col. Vincent’s brigade hard.  The only target for the guns would be the enemy in Devil’s Den, across the little valley.  The hill was, as Gen. Warren told him, “no place” for artillery.  But Hazlett had already made up his mind.

“Never mind that,” he replied.  “The sound of my guns will be encouraging to our troops and disheartening to the others, and my battery’s of no use if this hill is lost.”

Over the next hour or more, his artillerymen sweated and strained, hauling the guns up the hill by hand.  Finally, the first gun opened fire on Devil’s Den.  Below them, the Confederates advanced in a final charge, overlapping the right of Vincent’s line and pressing in as close as 20 yards from the 44th New York, the right-center of the line.  Hazlett’s guns could not fire on the Confederates…what possible good was the artillery to Vincent’s infantry?

Later, Captain Eugene Nash of the 44th New York recalled the sound of the first shots and his feelings at the moment.  “No military music ever sounded sweeter, and no aid was ever better appreciated.”

Did you catch that?  “Aid.”  But the guns weren’t really “aiding” the 44th New York, were they?

Lt. Hazlett made his decision based on what Vincent’s men needed.  He knew the psychological effect the sound of his “big guns” would have.  And he was right.  Did his guns give the infantry a little more pluck and determination as they faced the Confederates 20 yards away, just knowing the big guns had their backs?  Did the sound of the artillery help them hold their ground?  I don’t know.  But Capt. Nash seemed to think so.

Let me encourage you (and me) to be more like Hazlett.  Take notice of people around you and see if you can help them out.  Our society encourages us to focus on “Me Me Me.”  As a result, many of us go through life feeling ignored, left out and alone, at the end of our ropes, wishing someone would notice us.  Some of us go off the brink—and another tragedy ends up in the headlines.  But what if some of those tragedies could be prevented?

Employers, figure out what motivates each employee as an individual.  Let them know they’re not just cogs in a machine.  Employees, look around—does a co-worker seem withdrawn?  Depressed?  Stressed?  Lend a listening ear.  Let them know that they’re not alone.  Maybe you’ll prevent a workplace shooting.  Kids, is there a student in your class that is an outcast?  Who gets picked on or put down?  Get to know them—they’re probably pretty cool.  You might prevent a school shooting.

Lt. Hazlett was not thinking of himself and his personal safety.  In fact, he ended up paying for his decision with his life.  He was not even thinking strictly in terms of duty.  Both he and Gen. Warren recognized that the crest was useless for artillery—duty did not require him to bring his battery onto Little Round Top.  Instead, Hazlett thought in terms of the greater good (the army’s security) and what he could do to ensure that (help the infantry hold their position).  But he couldn’t help the infantry physically.  I think most of us would quit there, figuring at least we tried.  But Hazlett cared so much for his fellow soldiers and their needs that he went beyond what was required of him and thought “outside the box” to find a way to help Vincent’s men know they weren’t alone—and they held their ground.

How can you help someone know that they are not alone?  It might mean “sacrificing” your schedule and phone time to have lunch and a conversation with a friend, or it might mean holding the door open for a stranger.  It doesn’t have to be a big act, but they’ll know you care.

Moving Along

Our construction crew is hard at work on Little Round Top, planting historically-placed trees and bushes.


“The Boys Are Still There” features detail from period photos and the current rock formations on the battlefield.  On several occasions, we visited Little Round Top and took photos of the rocks, including a wintertime visit that meant less visual obstruction from trees and underbrush (if a bit of snow).

Rebecca then compared our photos to those taken in the days after the battle, as well as later in 1863 and around the 1880s.  In some cases, we were able to recreate treelines such as a clearing near the 20th Maine.

Now, Rebecca is working to complete the wartime appearance of the open western face of Little Round Top, adding bushes and trees seen in the old photos.  Sometimes, trees are obvious, such as the little trees to the left rear of the construction crew which are visible in a photo by William H. Tipton in 1888.  Other trees take a bit of deduction and some work at analyzing rock clusters, such as the pine tree our construction crew is helping to plant.  It is best visible in photos taken from Devil’s Den by Timothy H. O’Sullivan (July 6, 1863) and Peter Weaver (November 11, 1863).


Tipton’s photo is in Gettysburg’s Battlefield Photographer—William H. Tipton by Timothy H. Smith.

O’Sullivan’s photo is in Gettysburg: A Journey in Time by William A. Frassanito.

Weaver’s photo is in The Gettysburg Then & Now Companion, also by Frassanito.

To Love Your Enemy

The Fourth of July is a joyous time when we focus on the amazing country we live in and how it came about and the freedom we enjoy, thanks to the foresight of the Founders.  But this year, this holiday seems to be yet another opportunity to hold protests and counter-protests.  There is a lot of hate in this country on all sides of all issues.  But, even if a person is right, how should they respond to someone with a different opinion?  With shouting?  Grumbling and back-biting?  Physical confrontation?  The “silent treatment”?  Spite?  What is the correct response to someone we don’t agree with? 

On July 2, 1863, the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry stood to the right of the 20th Maine on Little Round Top.  In the ranks, Pvt. Philip Grine could not help but notice the wounded Confederates lying stranded between the firing lines.  They were the enemy, but their plight bothered him. During a lull in the fighting, he left what cover he had with his regiment and entered the “no man’s land” between the lines.   


Reaching a wounded Confederate, he carried the man back to the 83rd’s lines, where the man was taken to the rear and the field hospital.  Not satisfied with helping only one, Pvt. Grine rescued a second wounded Confederate.  Later in the fighting, the exhausted soldier asked his comrades for help to retrieve a third enemy soldier.  Some agreed, but when the Confederates fired at them, they scurried back to the regiment.  Pvt. Grine continued on, alone.  But he never returned.  When the fighting ended, he and the man he was trying to save were found, both dead. 

Would you risk your life to save someone who does not share your beliefs?  Someone who was, a  moment ago, fighting you with everything they had?  Pvt. Grine looked past outward circumstances and saw the Confederates as fellow men, just as worthy of living as he.  Perhaps that is what it really means to “love your enemy”—to see him as a fellow human, and to value that life.  Pvt. Grine considered his personal safety less important than the life of a wounded enemy and he paid the ultimate price for his beliefs, but his actions give us a beautiful picture of what it really means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” 

No matter what you believe, perhaps we can all agree on one thing: the world truly would be a better place if we had the compassion of Philip Grine and valued all humans—not just the ones we like—more than we value ourselves.

Using Confederate Photography to Recreate Fort Sumter

After thirty years of lackadaisical construction, Fort Sumter was not finished in December 1860 when Major Robert Anderson and his tiny garrison of U.S. soldiers moved in. With only about a tenth as many soldiers as the fort was designed for, Maj. Anderson immediately began efforts to make the fort defensible. The following defensive features on our diorama can all be seen in Confederate photographs taken after the fort’s surrender.

The defenders raised big guns to the barbette (top) tier of the fort, but some guns were too heavy. As a result, two ten-inch and four eight-inch Columbiads were mounted in the parade ground as mortars, cannons that could shoot in a high trajectory over fortification walls.


The garrison removed the stone flagging from the parade ground so that shells would bury themselves in the dirt and do less damage. The stone was piled in front of various areas of the fort to provide a little more protection to the men inside. In addition, traverses made of piles of dirt and other materials protected the gate and other areas of the fort.

Five machicoulis galleries were built on the barbette tier. Three projected over the gate and two projected over the right and left faces of the fort. These armored wooden boxes contained holes in their floors through which defenders could shoot or drop “grenades” onto attackers.

Machicoulis galleries collage 2


The defenders cut away a portion of the barbette tier wall and positioned a gun to cover the wharf. They also mounted two guns at the gate to sweep the esplanade and wharf.


Since the fort was so badly damaged throughout the remainder of the war, later photos show what seems to be a mere mountain of rubble. This makes the April 1861 photos indispensable in determining what the fort initially looked like as a whole.