Shibata Katsuie (1530-1583), a powerful Japanese warlord during the tumultuous Sengoku Era, was one of Oda Nobunaga's most trusted generals and later the main rival to Toyotomi Hideyoshi for control of Japan following Nobunaga's death.
The Shibata clan was a branch line of the Shiba clan, itself a branch line of the Ashikaga clan. Originally, the Shiba had been the overlords of the Oda, but over time their fortunes waned, and by the mid 1550s they and their branch lines had become retainers of the Oda and their lord Oda Nobunaga.
Interestingly, Shibata Katsuie's name first appears in history for taking part in an act treason against Nobunaga. As a young man in 1556, he supported an attempted coup d'etat against Nobunaga led by Nobunaga's younger brother Oda Nobuyuki. Nobunaga had Nobuyuki executed, but perhaps recognizing that Katsuie was a man whose talents could best be used if he remained alive, had Katsuie spared. For his part, Katsuie swore eternal loyalty to Nobunaga, and never wavered in his loyalty for the rest of his life.
Moved by Katsuie's oath of loyalty, and to cement the arrangement, Nobunaga even went as far as giving Katsuie his sister Oichi in marriage. In 1564, however, Nobunaga would test Katsuie's loyalty by ordering him to divorce his beloved wife so that Nobunaga could cement another alliance by marrying her off to another lord, Azai Nagamasa. Katsuie loyally accepted his lord's order without complaint, but things would turn out okay in the end when Nagamasa turned against Oda Nobunaga and was defeated and forced to commit suicide in 1573, after which Nobunaga returned Oichi to Katsuie, along with her three daughters by Nagamasa.
In 1570, Katsuie distinguished himself during the siege of Chokoji Castle in southern Omi province. Nobunaga had asked Katsuie to guard the castle with 400 men while he was busy campaigning against the Azai and the Asakura in the west. It was considered a simple, even boring assignment, but Katsuie unexpectedly found the castle besiged when Rokkaku Yoshikata suddenly attacked with 4000 men. Outnumbered 10:1, Katsuie's situation looked hopeless, and got even more grim when the Rokkaku managed to cut off the castle's water supply. In order to keep his men's morale high, rather than just waiting for their doom, Katsuie ordered a series of hit and run attacks on the besiegers, in order to keep the Rokkaku forces off-balance.
But the Rokkaku realized how desperate the water situation was getting in the castle, and were clearly determined to wait the situation out. So one night Katsuie gathered his men, and to their astonishment, smashed all the remaining water jugs, declaring "Sooner a quick death in battle than a slow death from thirst!" He then personally led his inspired men on a desperate charge into the Rokkaku lines which proved so ferocious that they were able to cut their way to freedom and outrun the stunned Rokkaku. This battle was one of the first of a long string victories in battle which cemented Katsuie's place as Nobunaga's most able and daring general, and helped him earn the nickname of "Demon Shibata."
Campaigns against the Ikko Ikki and the Uesugi
After Nobunaga successfully defeated the Asai and the Asakura in 1573, he rewarded Katsuie by giving him the provinces of Echizen and Kaga as his personal fief. This was hardly much of a gift however, as both province had been completely over-run by the Ikko Ikki sect of fanatical buddhist warriors. Katsuie thus spent the next several years in a ferocious and continuous battle to crush the Ikko Ikki, and had finally wiped out the last remnants of them in Kaga by 1577, only to find that the powerful Uesugi clan of neighboring Etchu and Echigo provinces had now declared war on Nobunaga.
On Nobunaga's orders, Katsuie began preparing for an assault on the Uesugi, which seemed like a lousy assignment, because their daimyo, Uesugi Kenshin, was renowned as a brilliant tactician who had never been defeated in battle. But fortunately for Katsuie, Kenshin died suddenly in 1578, leaving the Uesugi in disarray, and allowing him to push northward and capture all of Etchu province by 1581. Even then, he received no reward for his efforts, as Nobunaga awarded the newly captured province to another warlord, Sassa Narimasa. But Katsuie never complained.
Rivalry with Hideyoshi
Then the following year everything was turned upside down when Oda Nobunaga was unexpectedly betrayed and assassinated by Akechi Mitsuhide at Honnoji temple in Kyoto. Shibata received word of Nobunaga's death, but was too far away and was bogged down in a seige with the Uesugi, so he could not leave for some time. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, however, was near Kyoto, and completely dropped a siege of the Mori which he had been winning in order to race back and be the one to defeat Akechi Mitsuhide.
Having been the one to avenge Nobunaga's death gave Hideyoshi significant clout when Nobunaga's retainers met at Kiyoshi to decide the succession. Nobunaga's eldest son and designated heir Nobutada had died alongside him at Honnoji, so it was unclear how to proceed. Katsuie favored Nobunaga's third son, Oda Nobutaka, who was already an adult and could have stepped in immediately, but Hideyoshi favored Nobutada's son Samboshi, who was still a mere child, in a clear signal that he was probably hoping to take over for Nobunaga himself.
Hideyoshi's strong position allowed him to coerce the other generals into accepting Samboshi, over heated objections of Katsuie and Nobutaka, making war between the two camps inevitable. Katsuie and Nobutaka were able to win one of the other generals, Takigawa Kazumasu, over to their side, but efforts to convince other powerful lords like Tokugawa Ieyasu or Maeda Toshiie to join them received little response, as most of Nobunaga's generals preferred to wait back and see how things fell out.
By now it was almost winter, and Katsuie's plan was to wait until the snows cleared in spring, when he could bring his battle hardened troops down from Etchu, unite his army with Nobutaka and the Takigawa at Gifu, and sweep the upstart Hideyoshi from Kyoto. The impatient Nobutaka however, tired of Hideyoshi's insults, jumped the gun and launched hostilities at the worst time, in December, 1582, when it was impossible for Katsuie to move from snow-locked Etchu.
This allowed Hideyoshi a golden chance to defeat his three powerful enemies one-by-one, rather than facing them all at once, and he wasted no time, leading his entire army into Gifu and cowing Nobutaka into surrender, and then wheeling south and besieging Takigawa at Kameyama Castle, forcing him to surrender as well when Hideyoshi's engineers succeeded in undermining the castle walls.
Shibata Katsuie was now all alone, but determined to fight on. But now that any element of surprise had been totally lost, Hideyoshi promptly began building a string of forts between himself and Katsuie. In the spring of 1583 Katsuie ordered his best general, Sakuma Morimasa, to head westward and "test" Hideyoshi's defenses before returning back to Echizen with his army still intact. So Sakuma sallied forth with a sizable force and succeeded in capturing the fort at Takayama, but got bogged down besieging the fort at Shizugatake.
Learning of this situation, Katsuie repeatedly ordered Sakuma to come back home at once, but Sakuma, convinced that he still had plenty of time before Hideyoshi could get to him, and confident that Shizugatake would fall any day, disregarded all orders to return. Hideyoshi, brilliant general that he was, then succeeded in force marching his men to Shizugatake in record time, taking Sakuma completely by surprise and utterly crushing him at the decisive Battle of Shizugatake.
With a sizeable percentage of his army completely annihilated, Katsuie ordered his castle in Echizen set on fire with himself still inside. He begged his beloved wife Oichi and their three adopted daughters to leave the castle, but while Oichi ordered the daughters to go she refused to leave her husband's side, and the two perished together in the flames.
And Toyotomi Hideyoshi was now master of Japan.