Battle of Jingxing
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|Battle of Jingxing|
|Part of the Chu-Han contention|
|Principality of Han||Kingdom of Zhao|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Han Xin||Zhao Xie, Chen Yu|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Jingxing (井陘之戰), also known as the Battle of Tao River (洮水之戰), was fought in 205 BC between the army of Han, commanded by Han Xin and a Zhao army. The Zhao were led by Princes Zhao Xie (趙歇) of Zhao and Chen Yu (陳餘), also known as the Lord of Cheng An (成安君), who was serving as Zhao Xie's prime minister.
Having conquered the State of Wei, the general Han Xin was ordered by Liu Bang, the King of Han (漢王), to attack the lands of Zhao and Dai (代), with the assistance of Zhang Er (張耳), the prince of Changshan (常山王, essentially the former prince of Zhao). Han Xin quickly annihilated the forces commanded by the Dai prime minister, Xia Yue (夏說), and marched across the Taihang Mountains into Zhao.
Before the battle, Chen Yu was counseled by Li Zuoju (李左車), the Lord of Guangwu (廣武君) to block off the important routes across the Taihang Mountains, especially the Jingxing Pass. He explained to Chen Yu that he could win easily by blocking routes and exploiting Han Xin's inevitable logistics problems. However, Chen Yu, who was a Confucian scholar and prided himself as being the commander of an army with righteousness, responded that he had 200,000 men and had no need to fear Han Xin's small army. Not many people held Han Xin in high esteem at the time, which cost his opponents dearly in this battle and in the later Battle of Wei River.
The forces of Han Xin as they emerged from Jingxing pass faced the forces of Zhao across the Tao River. Han Xin had his troops eat a simple breakfast before the battle, stating that they would feast upon destroying the Zhao army. Not even his officers believed him, but they followed his orders.
In preparation for the battle, the previous evening, Han Xin had dispatched a small force of 2,000 mounted men near the Zhao camp, each carrying a red battle flag of the Han army, and he told them that they are to overrun the Zhao camp as soon as the entire Zhao army moved out to press the attack. He also had 10,000 men cross the Tao River (at the time also known as the Ye River, 冶河) and dig ditches, and he generally fortified the defenses of his bridgehead. Operating out of the small bridgehead with his back to the river would, however, mean that he would easily be in a position of a fight without retreat in case of defeat. Chen Yu and the other Zhao commanders laughed at the foolhardy move. The strategy gave rise to a saying, "fighting a battle with one's back facing a river" (背水一戰), and the Japanese saying, "position with one's back to the water" (背水の陣).
Early in the morning, Han Xin marched the bulk of his forces out of Jingxing Pass and across the Tao River to meet the Zhao forces, displaying his banner and other insignia prominently (that was a calculated move, intended to entice the Zhao army). He feinted defeat in the early skirmish and withdrew into his prepared position, with the entire Zhao army in hot pursuit. Since the Han forces had no place to go, they fought ferociously and with the help of their fortifications, they were able to hold out.
Since the Zhao attack on the bridgehead was indecisive, the Zhao commanders tried to regroup for further action. However, as the Zhao army was being ordered to withdraw temporarily, everyone saw that their camp was bristling with the red battle flag of Han, which created the impression that they had been ambushed from the rear. Many Zhao soldiers panicked and their officers were unable to restore order. Then, Han Xin attacked with everything he had, and the Zhao army disintegrated. As the remnants of the Zhao army fled and were chased, Chen Yu was eventually caught on the Zhi River (泜水) and was killed in action. Prince Zhao Xie was captured.
At the feast after the battle, Han Xin's officers, still somewhat incredulous at their own good fortune, inquired into the rationale for the astounding deployments. Han Xin explained that as he was commanding a ragtag army and he was not a general of high renown, he had to resort to such drastic measures to force everyone to fight hard. That led to this saying: "You achieve survival by fighting from a position of certain death (置之死地而後生)".