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Battle of Shiroyama

Battle of Shiroyama
Part of the Satsuma Rebellion

Battle of Shiroyama, Unknown artist
Date24 September 1877

Imperial victory

 Japan Satsuma Domain
Commanders and leaders
Yamagata Aritomo Saigō Takamori 
30,000[1] 500
Casualties and losses
30 killed[2] 500 killed

The Battle of Shiroyama (城山の戦い, Shiroyama no tatakai) took place on 24 September 1877, in Kagoshima, Japan.[3] It was the final battle of the Satsuma Rebellion, where the heavily outnumbered samurai under Saigō Takamori made their last stand against Imperial Japanese Army troops under the command of General Yamagata Aritomo and Admiral Kawamura Sumiyoshi. The battle culminated in the annihilation of Saigō and his army, marking the end of the Satsuma Rebellion. The Imperial Army's victory consolidated their power, and the Satsuma Rebellion was the last instance of internal mutiny seen in the Empire of Japan.


Following their defeat at the Siege of Kumamoto Castle and in other battles in central Kyūshū, the surviving remnants of the samurai forces loyal to Saigō Takamori fled back to Satsuma, seizing the hill of Shiroyama overlooking Kagoshima on 1 September 1877.[4]

Imperial army troops under the command of General Yamagata Aritomo and marines under the command of Admiral Kawamura Sumiyoshi began arriving soon after, and the rebels were promptly surrounded. In the mere six months since Saigō's failed Siege of Kumamoto Castle, a combination of defections and combat losses had shrunk the size of his army from 20,000 to 500, compared to the Imperial Army's 30,000.[1]

Yamagata, although greatly outnumbering Saigō, bided his time constructing a series of fortifications to encircle Saigō and prevent any chance of a breakout, additionally requisitioning five warships to bombard the rebels and reduce their defenses. He was planning an attack from all sides, and in an effort to prevent another escape, ordered that any position engaged by the enemy was to be fired upon, regardless of friendly casualties.[3]

On 23 September, Admiral Kawamura Sumiyoshi demanded an unconditional surrender of the samurai, promising to spare their lives if they offered Saigō, and that they would attack the rebel position if no response was given by 5pm that day. Following silence from the camp, he began to attack the position, causing devastation amongst the samurai who did not expect such a heavy bombardment.[5] Saigō defended his position with limited support from Snider-Enfield breechloaders and artillery, but had a critical lack of ammunition for both. He had to resort to melting down metal statues to produce bullets and tending to injuries with a carpenter's saw.[3]

Imperial Japanese Army fortifications encircling Shiroyama, September 1877.

After firing a final barrage of artillery lasting the night, Yamagata's men attacked Saigō's position. At 04:00, the battle began. The samurai, under heavy fire, charged the lines of the Imperial Army, which had not been trained for close-quarter sword fighting. In just a few minutes, the once organized line turned into disarray. Highly skilled samurai swordsmanship prevailed against an army with very little traditional training. For a short time, Saigō's lines held, but were forced back due to being outnumbered.

Saigō was mortally wounded in the femoral artery and stomach, and was carried by Beppu Shinsuke downhill to find a place to commit seppuku. Serving as kaishakunin, Beppu cut off Saigō's head and hid it to prevent it from being found by the enemy.[3] However, because the decapitation was done hastily, some of Saigō's hair remained, and a coolie was able to find his head.[2] After Saigō's death, Beppu, now in command, charged downhill and was shot to death himself – without any ammunition, the rest of the samurai drew their swords, charged downhill, and were subsequently killed.[6] With these deaths, the Satsuma rebellion came to an end.

Saigō, with the last remnants of the Satsuma army, leads a desperate suicide charge.


Financially, crushing the Satsuma Rebellion cost the government a total of ¥420,000,000 (£8,400,000),[7] forcing Japan off the gold standard and causing the government to print paper currency. Economic effects of the Satsuma Rebellion resulted in the passing of the Act of 4 February 1877, which reduced the land tax from 3% to 2.5%. The Rebellion reduced Japan's yearly expenditure from £13,700,000 to £10,250,000, and it raised Japan's national debt from £28,000,000 to £70,000,000.[8]

The rebellion also effectively ended the samurai class, as the new Imperial Japanese Army built on heimin conscripts had proven itself in battle.[9] More critically, the defeat of the samurai displayed the power of modern artillery and rifles, against which a banzai charge had no appreciable effect.[6] In 1889, Saigō was posthumously pardoned.[10] Statues in Ueno Park, Tokyo and near the ruins of Kagoshima Castle stand in his memory. Saigō Takamori was labelled as a tragic hero by the people, and his actions were considered an honorable example of bushido and Yamato-damashii.

In popular culture

In 2016, Swedish power metal band Sabaton released the album The Last Stand, featuring a song about the Battle of Shiroyama.[11]


  1. ^ a b Hickman, Kennedy. "Battle of Shiroyama – Satsuma Rebellion Battle of Shiroyama". Military History. Archived from the original on 8 January 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
  2. ^ a b Mounsey, Augustus. The Satsuma Rebellion: An Episode of Modern Japanese History. p. 215.
  3. ^ a b c d "Satsuma Rebellion: Satsuma Clan Samurai Against the Imperial Japanese Army". Military History Magazine. 12 June 2006.
  4. ^ Mounsey, Augustus. The Satsuma Rebellion: An Episode of Modern Japanese History. p. 210.
  5. ^ Mounsey, Augustus. The Satsuma Rebellion: An Episode of Modern Japanese History. pp. 213–214.
  6. ^ a b Turnbull, Stephen (2003). Samurai: The World of the Warrior. Osprey Publishing. p. 202.
  7. ^ Mounsey, Augustus. The Satsuma Rebellion: An Episode of Modern Japanese History. p. 235.
  8. ^ Mounsey, Augustus. The Satsuma Rebellion: An Episode of Modern Japanese History. pp. 238–239.
  9. ^ Turnbull, Stephen (2003). Samurai: The World of the Warrior. p. 203.
  10. ^ Ravina, Mark (2010). "The Apocryphal Suicide of Saigō Takamori: Samurai, "Seppuku", and the Politics of Legend". The Journal of Asian Studies. 69 (3): 706. doi:10.1017/S0021911810001518. ISSN 0021-9118. JSTOR 40929189. S2CID 155001706 – via JSTOR.
  11. ^ "Shiroyama - Lyrics". Sabaton Official Website. Nuclear Blast Records. Retrieved 15 February 2024.

Further reading

  • Keane, Donald (2005). Emperor Of Japan: Meiji And His World, 1852–1912. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12341-8.
  • Ravina, Mark (2004). The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigō Takamori. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-08970-2.

31°35′50″N 130°32′59″E / 31.59722°N 130.54972°E / 31.59722; 130.54972

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Battle of Shiroyama
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