Battle of Xiaoyao Ford
|Battle of Xiaoyao Ford|
|Part of the wars at the end of the Han dynasty|
|Cao Cao||Sun Quan|
|Commanders and leaders|
|325,000 from the 26 armies under general Xiahou Dun,
7,000 standardised soldiers inside Hefei fortress,
Qingzhou Corps under Zang Ba and Sun Guan,
800 volunteer soldiers
1,000 bodyguards under Sun Quan,
300 men under Ling Tong
|Casualties and losses|
|Battle of Xiaoyao Ford|
|Literal meaning||Battle of Leisure Ford|
|Battle of Hefei|
The Battle of Xiaoyao Ford, also known as the Battle of Leisure Ford, Battle of Hefei, and Hefei Campaign, was fought between the warlords Cao Cao and Sun Quan between 214 and 215 in the late Eastern Han dynasty. The two contending sides were fighting for control over a strategic fortress at Hefei, which was defended by Cao Cao's general Zhang Liao. Towards the end of the campaign, Zhang Liao made use of force concentration and launched a sneak counteroffensive on Sun Quan at Leisure Ford, where Sun only had 1,000 soldiers with him at the time. Amidst the chaos, Sun Quan was nearly captured if not saved by his general Ling Tong, and this pursuit effectively placed Zhang Liao at the zenith of all of Cao Cao's generals.
Long before Sun Quan solidified his control over southeastern China, Cao Cao had already appointed Liu Fu as the Inspector of Yang Province, and ordered him to build up fortifications that could withstand besiegers. Thus, Liu Fu oversaw the construction of Hefei fortress (合肥城), and prepared plenty of military supplies, including boulders, logs, and several thousand cans of fish oil.
In late 208 after the Battle of Red Cliffs, Sun Quan led an army to invade Hefei but was unsuccessful despite several months of progress. The following year, the local parvenus and two former subordinates of Yuan Shu and Liu Fu, Chen Lan and Mei Cheng (梅成), rebelled in Lujiang (盧江) after the death of Liu Fu (whom they trusted), but the revolt was suppressed by Cao Cao's generals Zhang Liao and Zang Ba. Cao Cao then ordered Zhang Liao, Yue Jin and Li Dian to lead 7,000 troops to enter Hefei fortress, Xiahou Dun to lead 26 juns (325,000 men) to prepare for probable attacks, and Xiahou Yuan to handle logistics. Chen Lan's ally, Lei Bo, surrendered to another warlord Liu Bei.
In 213 Cao Cao brought with him a 400,000 strong army to attack Sun Quan's 70,000 men at Ruxukou (濡須口), but was unable to suppress his foe for more than a month, so he was forced to change from an offensive stand to a defensive one. After his repeated failures against the southerners, Cao Cao was worried that the various counties along the Yangtze River would be taken by Sun Quan, so he adopted a Fabian strategy and started to form military communities (families of soldiers were concentrated and ordered to live together within fortifications in the district). The Yangtze region became depopulated as residents were relocated except for Huancheng (皖城, present-day Huaining County, Anqing, Anhui), which was situated south of Hefei. Cao Cao appointed Zhu Guang (朱光) as Administrator of Lujiang and ordered him to garrison at Huancheng, promoting agriculture and bribing wealthy locals in Poyang (鄱陽) to spy on Sun Quan's side and harass the enemy's rear.
Battle of Huan City
In the fifth lunar month of 214, Sun Quan took advantage of heavy rains and floods in the Huai River region to sail up the Yangtze and attack Huancheng (citadel or headquarter of Huan City), which served as a cushion and storehouse for Zhang Liao's and Xiahou Dun's armies. Sun Quan faced two options: to build siege engines and use them to attack or order his foot soldiers to attack right away. Lü Meng suggested the latter option and recommended Gan Ning to lead the vanguard to initiate the offensive. Upon knowing Sun Quan had arrived on the battlefield, Zhang Liao moved out of Hefei fortress to reinforce Huancheng. However, Sun Quan's highly spirited troops conquered Huancheng within a day, and Zhu Guang, as well as his advisor Dong He (董和), were captured. By the time Zhang Liao reached Jiashi (夾石), he received news of the fall of Huancheng, so he withdrew back to Hefei.
Around this time, Liu Bei had taken over Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) from Liu Zhang, so Sun Quan sent Zhuge Jin to demand from Liu Bei the return of Jing Province. Liu Bei refused, and Guan Yu also drove away the officials Sun Quan sent to three commanderies in southern Jing Province. Sun Quan then withdrew his elite generals from the northern frontier and ordered Lü Meng and Ling Tong to lead 20,000 troops to take the three commanderies of Jing Province, while sending Lu Su to lead 10,000 men to garrison at Baqiu (巴丘) to resist Guan Yu, while he personally stationed at Lukou (陸口) to serve as backup. Liu Bei also led his army to Gong'an (公安) and sent Guan Yu with 30,000 men to Yiyang (益陽). Lü Meng and Ling Tong took three commanderies by strategy and led their men with Sun Jiao and Pan Zhang to support Lu Su at Yiyang. Taking the opportunity of the Liu-Sun conflict, Cao Cao led an army to attack Zhang Lu of Hanzhong. Liu Bei was afraid that if Hanzhong fell to Cao Cao, Yi Province would be in peril as Hanzhong was the "gateway" to Yi Province. Hence, Liu Bei made peace with Sun Quan by dividing southern Jing Province. In return, Sun Quan promised to divert Cao Cao's attention from the west by attacking Hefei fortress.
An unorthodox order
Before Cao Cao left to attack Zhang Lu, he left his representative Xue Ti (薛悌) with a letter that read "Open when the enemy arrives" on the envelope. As Sun Quan's army was already advancing towards Hefei, the defending generals then opened the letter as instructed. It stated, "When Sun Quan arrives, generals Zhang (Liao) and Li (Dian) will engage him; General Yue (Jin) will remain behind to defend and not go to battle." The generals were puzzled by the instructions. It was well known that Li Dian and Zhang Liao had a personal feud, and Yue Jin lacked experience on defending a fortress, even though he was renowned to be the best vanguard in Cao Cao's forces. As the three of them did not get along well with each other, Zhang Liao feared that they might disobey orders. He said, "Our lord is away at war. By the time his reinforcements reach here, we're already done for. So he is actually instructing us to take advantage of the situation, when the enemy has just arrived and not fully gathered yet, to attack them and devastate their morale so as to calm our men and strengthen our defences. Victory or defeat, it all depends on this battle. Why are the two of you still hesitating?" Li Dian was moved and he said, "This is a national crisis. We'll see how your strategy works out. How can I allow my personal affairs take precedence over my official duties?" Zhang Liao then selected 800 "die-hard" soldiers overnight in preparation for the upcoming battle, and threw a banquet for his men.
Battle around the fortress
The following morning, Zhang Liao led the 800 soldiers on a charge targeting Sun Quan's camp. Sun Quan's forces were setting up camps and did not expect that the small detachment of Zhang Liao would perform a frontal assault. Xu Sheng and Song Qian in the front were routed after a brief skirmish. Xu Sheng was wounded and lost his personal weapon in the process. Soon, Zhang Liao had penetrated Sun Quan's camp. After personally slaying several enemy soldiers and two officers, he cried out, "Zhang Liao is here!" Chen Wu, the commander of Sun Quan's bodyguards, answered Zhang Liao's challenge and went forth to fight him. However, Chen Wu's unit was no match for Zhang Liao's and he was killed by Hao Zhao in the clash. Sun Quan was shocked by Zhang Liao's fierce attack and the scene of Chen Wu's death. Xu Sheng and Song Qian's troops turned their backs when they saw their commanders being killed or fleeing. Pan Zhang killed two deserting soldiers, forcing them to fulfil their duties. Ling Tong, who just arrived on the field, led Sun Quan to a hill and ordered his men to use the long jis to a form a defensive formation before he went down to battle Zhang Liao. At the bottom of the hill, Zhang Liao shouted for Sun Quan to come down and fight him, but Sun did not dare to move. When Sun Quan saw that the situation had become more stable and Zhang Liao was only left with slightly more than a hundred men, he ordered He Qi to surround Zhang Liao and his men. During the battle He Qi retrieved Xu Sheng's mao (矛, a weapon that resembled a 4.74m long spear), which the latter lost earlier. However, Zhang Liao fought fiercely and succeeded in breaking out of the encirclement. When his remaining men who were still trapped inside shouted, "Has our general abandoned us?" Zhang Liao turned back and punched through layers of enemy soldiers to save his men, eventually succeeding in bringing them out. Sun Quan's men were stunned by Zhang Liao's valour and did not dare to stand in his way.
Pan Zhang was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General while Ling Tong was appointed as Right Commander after the engagement, but the battle, which lasted from the early morning until noon, had drastically drained the morale of Sun Quan's troops. Zhang Liao brought his surviving men back to the city and fortified his defences. Zhang Liao's victory boosted his men's fighting spirits and instilled confidence in the defenders.
When Sun Quan's forces had all arrived and gathered, they launched an assault on the city. However, Hefei's walls were not easy to breach, as its previous defending official, Liu Fu, had put in a lot of effort to strengthen the fortress' fortifications and the defenders were well equipped. After several days, Sun Quan was still unable to take the city. At that time, a plague broke out in his army, so Sun Quan had no choice but to withdraw his army.
Battle at Xiaoyao Ford
In order to avoid being infected with the plague, Sun Quan ordered the rest of his units to retreat first while his guards, numbering only about 1,000, were the last to move. While observing the enemy, Zhang Liao found the best time to counterattack, as Sun Quan had the least number of troops with him at that moment. He waited until Sun Quan's army had reached the northern crossing of Xiaoyao Ford when he, Li Dian and Yue Jin, led all their forces out of Hefei for an all-out assault on the enemy.
When Sun Quan saw that all the armies in Hefei were advancing out to attack him, he realised he was in danger and hurriedly sent men to recall back his units that retreated before him. However, as those units had already boarded the ships for quite some time, Sun Quan was unable to recall them back in time. As the 1,000 men of Sun Quan were engulfed by Zhang Liao's veteran cavalries, Ling Tong led 300 horsemen to pierce into the encirclement, keeping any enemy away from Sun Quan and engaging Zhang Liao's army in a bloody battle. At that time, Sun Quan's side was thrown into confusion and the battle signals were not given, only Ling Tong's 300 men reacted swiftly, so Gan Ning shouted at the drummers to beat their drums loudly to give out orders for other units to fight, while he personally held a bow to fire arrows at the enemy.
As soon as Ling Tong dragged Sun Quan out from the thick of the enemies, he urged Sun to leave the battlefield while he stayed behind to buy time for his lord's escape. Sun Quan hurried to the southern shore until he reached the crossing at Xiaoyao Ford, but the bridge had been destroyed, leaving a near 10 metre-long gap in the middle. Gu Li, Sun Quan's attendant, told his master to sit tight, grab the reins firmly, and maintain control of the horse. Gu Li then went behind the horse and gave it a few whips to drive it forward. The horse then leapt across the broken bridge successfully to the southern side. Ling Tong turned back to command his remaining men to hold off the enemy after seeing that Sun Quan had leapt across the bridge to safety.
On the northern shore, Ling Tong, who was determined to sacrifice for his lord's cause, remained fighting until all his 300 men had died and the other units had retreated. He was targeted by Zhang Liao, Li Dian, and Hao Zhao, and sustained wounds all over his body. Knowing Sun Quan must have long reached to safety by this time, Ling Tong also attempted to fight a way out. He single-handedly killed dozens of enemy horsemen along his way, and succeeded in breaking out from Zhang Liao's tether, but was despaired by the sight that all roads were blockaded. As the enemies were closing in quickly, without hesitation, Ling Tong dived into the water before discarding his armour.
At that time, Sun Quan had already boarded a boat, and he was surprised and delighted to see Ling Tong still alive on the water. He immediately brought Ling Tong onto his ship and rejoiced in this miraculous reunion, but Ling was deeply saddened as none of his close aides survived and he could not help weeping. Sun Quan comforted him, saying, "Gongji (Ling Tong's courtesy name), let the dead go. As long as you live, why worry that you'll have no men under you?" Sun Quan later put Ling Tong in command of twice the number of troops he originally had.
During a banquet hosted by Sun Quan after the battle, He Qi wept and said, "My lord, as a leader of men, you should be prudent. Like what happened today, we were almost wiped out and the men are traumatised. I hope you'll take this as a life lesson." Sun Quan thanked He Qi for his advice and promised to remember it for life.
When the battle was over, Zhang Liao, Li Dian, and Yue Jin were still lingering on the battlefield in hope that they would find Sun Quan's corpse. They were not aware that Sun Quan had already escaped until Zhang Liao asked a surrendered enemy soldier, "Who was that purple-bearded, long-bodied, short-legged man so skilled in mounted archery?" The soldier replied that the man was Sun Quan. Zhang Liao then told Yue Jin that he regretted not chasing after that purple-bearded general (Sun Quan) or else he would have caught him.
When the news reached Cao Cao, he could hardly believe his subordinates had achieved a deed he had been unable to attain, so he later travelled to Leisure Ford to observe the battlefield for a long time. Cao Cao was so pleased with the three generals' shining accomplishment. Zhang Liao was promoted to the rank of "General Who Conquers the East". Li Dian was granted 100 more households, with a total of 300 under him now. Yue Jin received 500 more taxable households, now having a total of 1,200 households. 500 households were split to Yue Jin's son, who also participated in the battle. Yue Jin's son also received the title of a marquis, while the father was promoted to "General of the Right".
On Sun Quan's side, Ling Tong and Pan Zhang were promoted to "Lieutenant General" while Jiang Qin was appointed "General Who Eliminates Bandits". Sun Quan also attended Chen Wu's funeral and ordered Chen's favourite concubine to join him in death.
Order of battle
Cao Cao forces
Sun Quan forces
The battle is featured as a playable stage in Koei's video game series Dynasty Warriors. In the games, the battle is known as the "Battle of He Fei", and is not to be confused with another stage (Battle of He Fei Castle), which refers to the Battle of Hefei (234).
- According to Zhou Official - Grand Marshal (周官·大司馬), every 125,00 soldiers form a jun (military unit).
- (賊至乃發) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang Liao.
- (若孫權至者，張、李將軍出戰；樂將軍守護軍，勿得與戰。) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang Liao.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 18, Biography of Li Dian.
- (公遠征在外，比救至，彼破我必矣。是以教指及其未合逆擊之，折其盛勢，以安眾心，然後可守也。成敗之機，在此一戰，諸君何疑？) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang Liao.
- (此国家大事，顾君计何如耳，吾可以私憾而忘公义乎！) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 18, Biography of Li Dian.
- (随张辽先登陷陈，斩偏将军陈武。) The Shanxi Tongzhi (山西通志) edited by scholars under supervision of the local government of Shanxi in China.
- (璋身次在後，便馳進，橫馬斬謙、盛兵走者二人，兵皆還戰。) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 55, Biography of Pan Zhang.
- (時城中出戰，徐盛被創失矛，齊引兵拒擊，得盛所失。) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 60, Biography of He Qi.
- (將軍棄我乎！) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang Liao.
- (會疫疾，軍旅皆已引出，唯車下虎士千餘人。). Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 55, Biography of Gan Ning.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 55, Biography of Ling Tong.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 55, Biography of Gan Ning.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 47, Biography of Sun Quan.
- (統復還戰，左右盡死，身亦被創，所殺數十人，度權已免，乃還。橋敗路絕，統被甲潛行。) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 55, Biography of Ling Tong.
- (公績，亡者己矣，苟使卿在，何患無人?) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 55, Biography of Ling Tong.
- (太祖复征孙权，到合肥，循行辽战处，叹息者良久。) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang Liao.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang Liao.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Yue Jin
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 55, Biography of Pan Zhang.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 55, Biography of Jiang Qin.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 55, Biography of Chen Wu.