|Military officer of Sun Quan|
Service under Sun Ce
Ling Cao was known for his bravery and devotion to gallantry in his youth. When Sun Ce first raised his banner in 194, Ling Cao joined him and participated in the latter's conquests in the Jiangdong region. He fought for Sun Ce in various battles and always charged ahead of others on the field.
Within a few years, Sun Ce had completed the conquest of all of Yang Province; however, the restless Shanyue tribes in southeastern China continued to pose a threat to Sun Ce's administration. Sun Ce appointed Ling Cao as the Chief (長) of Yongping County (永平縣; in present-day Liyang, Jiangsu) to counter the Shanyue. During his tenure, Ling Cao pacified the Shanyue and maintained low crime rates in the region. He was promoted to Colonel Who Defeats Bandits (破賊校尉) for his achievements.
Service under Sun Quan
After Sun Ce was assassinated in 200 CE, Ling Cao continued serving under Sun Quan, Sun Ce's younger brother and successor. In 203, Sun Quan launched a campaign against Huang Zu, the Administrator (太守) of Jiangxia Commandery (江夏郡; around present-day Yunmeng County, Hubei), to avenge his father Sun Jian, whose death at the Battle of Xiangyang in 191 was caused by Huang. Ling Cao served as the vanguard of Sun Quan's fleet. Upon his arrival at Xiakou (夏口; present-day Hankou, Hubei), Ling Cao ordered a charge aimed at the enemy commanding unit. Ling Cao's uninterrupted dash broke the defence line immediately and threw Huang Zu's navy into confusion with his sudden attack. Ling Cao then advanced further on a light vessel, but was killed by a stray arrow in the midst of battle. The historical record Wu Shu (吳書; Book of Wu) by Wei Zhao claimed that Gan Ning fired the arrow.
- de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 466. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0.
- (父操，輕俠有膽氣，孫策初興，每從征伐，常冠軍履鋒。) Sanguozhi vol. 55.
- (守永平長，平治山越，姦猾斂手，遷破賊校尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 55.
- (及權統軍，從討江夏。入夏口，先登，破其前鋒，輕舟獨進，中流矢死。) Sanguozhi vol. 55.
- (吳書曰： ... 權討祖，祖軍敗奔走，追兵急，寧以善射，將兵在後，射殺校尉凌操。) Wu Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 55.
- Chen, Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
- Pei, Songzhi. Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).