Nearly two thousand years ago a huge battle occurred in the province of Hubei, Central China. This battle was a huge affair that you could say helped change the face of northern China for ever.
While there is a lot of information about the Battle of Red Cliffs, there is still much we don’t know, even today. This is partly down to the fact that the accounts on both sides differ and partly down to the exact location still being debated so the actual battlefield has not been found.
So what do we know about the Battle of the Red Cliff?
The Battle of Red Cliffs occurred in the winter months of 208AD through to early 209AD between two warlords called Liu Bei and Sun Quan who ruled in southern China and Cao Cao, a powerful warlord in northern China. The natural boundary that separated the two sides was the great Yangtze River.
The battle of Red Cliffs occurred because Cao Cao was trying to gain lands further to the south of the Yangtze River in territories held by the allied Liu Bei and Sun Quan. Both Liu Bei and Sun Quan as one allied force had managed to repel any advances by Cao Cao until this point.
The Yangtze River was important for all three warlords because it was not only a natural boundary, but also a source of travel and food.
The Battle of Red Cliffs had three stages leading up to the crescendo of full all out battle.
The Battle for Red Cliffs in Progress
The first stage of which was the initial smaller scale skirmishes between the forces, skirmishes that saw Cao Cao retreat to the north western banks of the Yangtze. Here Cao Cao had his ships moored in a manner to stop sea sickness from his troops, but also putting them in a less defensible formation.
Seeing how the ships of Cao Cao were arranged a Military General for Sun Quan called Huang Gai sent a letter of surrender to Cao Cao, but this was simply a tactic to knock Cao Cao off guard.
In the mean time Huang Gai filled a squadron of ships with kindling and sent them towards Cao Cao as the opposing forces would be under the belief they were surrendering ships. Once these ships were in close range the men on board set them alight and took to the water in small rafts to get away, these blazing ships then blew straight into Cao Cao’s forces setting his ships ablaze.
Liu Bei and Sun Quan followed this action up with a small army of infantry who routed annihilated Cao Cao’s northern army who were in disarray from the action of Huang Gai and his ships.
Cao Cao seeing defeat before him tried to retreat his army down a path called the Huarong Road. Unfortunately Mother Nature was not on his side as heavy rain fall made the path into a quagmire and many men either drowned in the watery mud or were trampled to death by their own horses.
Further compounding this misery the allied forces gave chase to the retreating army and this combined with famine and disease finished off much of Cao Cao’s remaining forces. In light of this Cao Cao retreated to his home.
Where was the Battle of the Red Cliff?
Although it is known the battle of Red Cliffs occurred on the banks of the Yangtze River, the actual place of battle has been a source of debate for some 1,300 years as no one has found physical evidence to confirm the location.
Currently there are three definite possibilities where the battle of Red Cliffs could have taken place; these are at Huangzhou, Wuchang or Chibi City, although some scholars point to a fourth unidentified location.