The Battle of Shiroyama, the battle that inspired the final scenes in the movie The Last Samurai, took place on this day, Sept. 24, 1877.
The Battle of Shiroyama was fought between the Imperial Japanese Army and the Samurai of Satsuma, in Kagoshima, Kyushu. 30,000 Imperial troops faced off against some 500 samurai, led by Saigo Takamori. Six weeks earlier, Saigo Takamori had some 20,000 samurai following him, however following defeat at the siege of Kumamoto Castle, deaths and defections had reduced that number to around 500.
The remaining samurai, armed with basic single load muskets and their traditional swords and bladed weapons retreated to Shiroyama, a hill overlooking Kagoshima. Five Imperial Navy warships in the harbor, and Imperial Army artillery rained over 7,000 shells on the men of Satsuma. In the meantime, the Imperial forces constructed ditches, walls and obstacles to prevent the rebels from escaping.
Early on the morning of September 24, the Imperial forces stormed the rebel outpost. The samurai counterattacked, and soon sent the Imperial forces into disarray with their swordsmanship outshining the opposition untrained for close quarter combat situations. Saigo Takamori and his men held their own for a while, until the sheer numbers of Imperial soldiers pushed them back.
By 6am that morning, only 40 of Saigo’s men remained alive. Saigo himself had been badly wounded by gunfire, and so sought a suitable place to die honorably, the way a samurai should. Helped to a spot at the bottom of the hill, he is said to have committed seppuku, with his loyal follower, Beppu Shinsuke acting as Kaishakunin, or assisting executioner.
With their leader dead, the remaining samurai now led by Beppu drew their swords and charged the Imperial lines, where they were mown down by gunfire. Their deaths ended the Satsuma Rebellion.