Saigō and his remaining samurai were pushed back to Kagoshima where, in a final battle, the Battle of Shiroyama, Imperial Army troops under the command of General Yamagata Aritomo and marines under the command of Admiral Kawamura Sumiyoshi outnumbered Saigō 60-to-1. However, Yamagata was determined to leave nothing to chance. The imperial troops spent several days constructing an elaborate system of ditches, walls and obstacles to prevent another breakout. The five government warships in Kagoshima harbor added their firepower to Yamagata’s artillery, and began to systematically reduce the rebel positions.
After Saigō rejected a letter dated September 1 from Yamagata drafted by a young Suematsu Kenchō (see M. Matsumura, Pōtsumasu he no michi, pub. Hara Shobo, 1987, Chapter 1) asking him to surrender, Yamagata ordered a full frontal assault on September 24, 1877. By 6 a.m., only 40 rebels were still alive. Saigō was severely wounded. Legend says that one of his followers, Beppu Shinsuke acted as kaishakunin and aided Saigō in committing seppukubefore he could be captured. However, other evidence contradicts this, stating that Saigō in fact died of the bullet wound and then had his head removed by Beppu in order to preserve his dignity.
After Saigo’s death, Beppu and the last of the “ex-samurai” drew their swords and plunged downhill toward the Imperial positions and to their deaths. With these deaths, the Satsuma rebellion came to an end.
Financially, crushing the Satsuma Rebellion cost the government greatly, forcing Japan off the gold standard and causing the government to print paper currency. The rebellion also effectively ended the samurai class, as the new Imperial Japanese Army built of conscripts without regard to social class had proven itself in battle. Saigō Takamori was labeled as a tragic hero by the people and on February 22, 1889, Emperor Meiji pardoned Saigō posthumously.
Even those on the “wrong” side can show virtues and be heroic.
Musically, this is one of several tracks that, despite its headlong rush, took me a while to enjoy.