Battle of Jiangling (208)

The Battle of Jiangling was fought by the allied forces of Sun Quan and Liu Bei against Cao Cao during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. The battle was an integral part of the Red Cliffs campaign, and was fought immediately after the Battle of Yiling in 208, and the preceding engagement at Wulin (烏林; in present-day Honghu, Hubei) on land and the marine Battle of Red Cliffs where Cao Cao's navy was destroyed. Note that the battle at Wulin was a byproduct of the Battle of Red Cliffs, and they were not the same battle.

Battle of Jiangling
Part of the Red Cliffs campaign
DateWinter of 208–209
Result Allied partial victory
Wei manage to defend Xiangyang
Allies gain majority of Jing province
Sun Quan
Liu Bei
Cao Cao
Commanders and leaders
Zhou Yu
Cheng Pu
Han Dang
Lü Meng
Ling Tong
Zhou Tai
Gan Ning
Liu Bei
Guan Yu
Zhang Fei
Lei Xu
Cao Ren
Xu Huang
Niu Jin
Chen Jiao
Yue Jin
Li Tong
Wen Ping
40,000+[a] 120,000+ (the troops Cao Ren had prior to the battle was more than that of Zhou Yu,[1] and he received reinforcements from Yi Province,[2] Xiangyang,[3] Runan,[4] Jiangxia,[5] Dangyang,[6] and numerous other cities controlled by Cao Cao.)
Battle of Jiangling
Traditional Chinese江陵之戰
Simplified Chinese江陵之战

While the fighting around Jiangling County was vigorous, there were less fierce battles taking place in southern Jing Province. Unable to isolate Jiangling from its supporting cities (except those in Yi Province, see Battle of Yiling (208) for details), the campaign became a war of attrition, which resulted in enormous casualties for Cao Cao's side. After a year or so, Cao Cao could no longer afford the continuous losses in personnel and materiel, so he ordered Cao Ren to withdraw from Jiangling.[7]


After the great victory in the Battle of Red Cliffs, the allies immediately carried out their next step of their strategy by attempting to take control of Nan Commandery (南郡) from Cao Cao by driving the retreating enemy toward Jiangling County.

The battlesEdit

Liu Bei frontsEdit

Zhou Yu was worried about Cao Cao's unscathed units totalling over 100,000 strong, which were scattered around strategic locations, so he urged Liu Bei to send Guan Yu to block Cao Ren's supply lines via infiltration. Zhou Yu wanted to have Guan Yu attack the enemy rear while bypassing the strongpoint of Jiangling, in order to isolate Jiangling for a coordinated attack.

Guan Yu's infiltrationEdit

Guan Yu, along with Su Fei (蘇飛), led a special force composed of navy and elite infantry, sailed up the Han River, and attacked the city of Xiangyang, which was guarded by Yue Jin. However, Guan Yu was soundly defeated by Yue Jin outside the city.[8] At Xiakou, Guan Yu's fleet met Yue Jin and Wen Ping,[9] and Guan Yu was held off by his rivals. Wen Ping trailed Guan Yu to Han Ford, in which he had Guan Yu's food storage burnt to the ground.[10] As a result, Guan Yu attempted to recuperate at Jingcheng (荆城); however, his pursuers would not allow him to rest, and Guan Yu was forced to fight a naval battle with Wen Ping, which resulted in a total disaster.[11]

Southern Jing ProvinceEdit

Liu Bei asked for and obtained Zhou Yu's permission to cover the rear and the flank of Zhou Yu's navy by taking the remaining four commanderies to the south of the Yangtze River from Cao Cao. There were hardly any troops left to defend the region, so all of the administrators of Cao Cao's four commanderies, including Jin Xuan at Wuling Commandery, Han Xuan at Changsha Commandery, Zhao Fan at Guiyang Commandery, and Liu Du at Lingling Commandery all surrendered without a fight. More importantly, Liu Bei's conquest of these commanderies was an integral portion of the Red Cliffs campaign as part of the goal of the allies. Liu Bei finally had a base of his own and he named Zhuge Liang as Military Adviser General of the Household (軍師中郎將) to oversee the administrative affairs of Changsha, Guiyang, and Lingling.

The biggest gain for Liu Bei, however, was that he was joined by Lei Xu (雷緒) and his troops, which almost doubled Liu Bei's force instantly.[12] As soon as the news of Cao Cao's defeat at Wulin was heard, Lei Xu at Lujiang (盧江; around present-day Chaohu City, Anhui) rebelled. Cao Cao's earlier strategy of keeping his veteran force in a separate force in the north to prepare for possible rebellions had paid off as he was able to summon the force to suppress the rebellion quickly by putting Xiahou Yuan in charge, but the victory was not complete: though defeated and lost his turf, Lei Xu's force was largely unscathed; he led them to Liu Bei, strengthening the latter.

Northern blockadeEdit

Liu Bei authorised Zhang Fei and Guan Yu to command his troops. He suggested to Zhou Yu to block Jiangling from receiving new supplies as a means of driving Cao Ren out. Thus, Guan Yu was sent north to intercept enemy reinforcements, and blockades were set along the main passages.[13] However, Cao Cao's general Li Tong fought valiantly; he dismounted and removed the blockades one by one, and advanced forward.[14] Unable to suppress his enemy, Guan Yu ordered a retreat and Li Tong managed to enter Jiangling.

Meantime, Liu Bei placed Xiang Lang in charge of Zigui (秭歸), Yidao (夷道), Wushan (巫山), and Yiling (夷陵) counties,[15] all of them vital to invade Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing). Yiling was assigned to Liu Bei by Sun Quan after negotiation.

Zhou Yu frontsEdit

The allies appeared to be suffering losses but their failures were considered minor as compared to that of Cao Cao's side. A few months earlier, Cao Ren's elite cavalry suffered over 3,000 casualties in a single day in an attempt to retake Yiling; besides, Cao Ren and his aide, Xu Huang, were unable to suppress Ling Tong, who were defending Zhou Yu's main camp on his own.

Niu Jin's assaultEdit

Hence, the soldiers inside Jiangling had low morale, and Cao Ren knew he needed to do something to change the tide of war. To prevent morale from dropping further, Cao Ren recruited 300 volunteers[16] to form an assault force led by general Niu Jin, in the hope that they could score a minor victory or demonstrate bravery on the field to boost morale. When the enemy vanguard reached the outskirts of the city, the small detachment was immediately besieged. Cao Ren ordered several tens of his best men to be ready for the rescue. His Chief Clerk Chen Jiao advised against it, arguing that "the enemy's morale is too high, and losing several hundred men is not a big deal to us."[17]

Cao Ren ignored Chen Jiao's plea and went out, charging directly into the enemy. As Chen Jiao lost sight of Cao Ren, he was certain that Cao Ren was dead. However, to everyone's surprise, not only did Cao Ren rescue Niu Jin on the first attempt, he went back to save the remaining survivors. As Cao Ren and his troops returned to safety behind the city walls, the total fatalities of the combined forces of Cao Ren and Niu Jin were minimal. The surprised Chen Jiao could only mutter one sentence: "General (Cao Ren), you are truly a man from Heaven." When Cao Cao learned of this soon after, he rewarded Cao Ren with the peerage of Marquis of Anping Village (安平亭侯) for his bravery in this battle. Encouraged by this incident, Cao Ren set up camps outside the city walls. Zhou Yu personally led raids on Cao Ren's camps, and during one such raid, he was seriously wounded after he was hit by an arrow that broke one of his right ribs.[18]

Withdrawal of Cao RenEdit

In addition, the allied force was unable to block the numerous reinforcements continually sent by Cao Cao, so the siege turned out to be a prolonged one. As Zhou Yu could hardly command the troops, the battles were left to Ling Tong, Lü Meng and others, who were forced to expediently alter their temporary objective into inflicting damage to the enemy units. After a year of intense fighting, Zhou Yu recovered and insisted on personally leading the army, he purposefully flaunted before Cao Ren and rallied his army to illustrate his determination to keep on the offensive. Being deceived by Zhou Yu, who was actually still in critical condition, Cao Cao unwillingly ordered Cao Ren to retreat under the rationale that his forces could no longer afford continuous loss of materiel and labour.[19] Therefore, Sun Quan's forces finally succeeded in their objective of capturing Nan Commandery, which holds the upper stream of the Yangtze River, a strategic stronghold that would never be reclaimed by the state of Cao Wei.


After Liu Bei became a powerful warlord of southern Jing Province, Sun Quan was a bit apprehensive of him, so he arranged a marriage for Liu Bei and his sister.[20] With the help of Sun Quan's strategist, Lu Su, Liu Bei also successfully "borrowed" Nan Commandery from Sun. Thus, Liu Bei had secured everything he needed for the invasion of Yi Province, and he would mobilise his troops towards Yi Province in 211.

Traditionally, the Battle of Jiangling is regarded as the end of the Red Cliffs campaign because as the confrontations ended and the battle turned into a siege, Cao Cao returned to his forward base in Qiao County in the north in March, 209, and Sun Quan also gave up his attack on Hefei in the east, and the remainder of the siege of Jiangling was no longer considered as part of the campaign by most historians. The fall of Jiangling to Sun Quan is generally regarded as the aftermath of the campaign.

Order of battleEdit

Cao Cao forcesEdit

  • General Who Attacks the South (征南將軍) Cao Ren, stationed in Jiangling County
    • Chief Clerk (長史) Chen Jiao (陳矯)
    • General Who Swipes Across the Wilderness (橫野將軍) Xu Huang
    • General Niu Jin
  • Administrator of Xiangyang (襄陽太守) Yue Jin
  • Administrator of Runan (汝南太守) Li Tong
  • Administrator of Jiangxia (江夏太守) Wen Ping
  • (Acting) General of Vehement Might (奮威將軍) Man Chong

Sun Quan forcesEdit

  • General in the Center Protecting the Army (中護軍將軍) Zhou Yu, served as commander-in-chief of the allied forces
    • Right Area Commander (右都督) Cheng Pu
    • General of the Household (中郎將) Han Dang
    • General of the Household Who Swipes Across the Wilderness (橫野中郎將) Lü Meng
    • Commandant Who Inherits Fierceness (承烈都尉) Ling Tong
    • Chief of Yichun (宜春長) Zhou Tai
    • Prefect of Dangkou (當口令) Gan Ning

Liu Bei forcesEdit

  • General on the Left (左將軍) Liu Bei, served as vanguard of the allied ground forces
    • Lieutenant General (偏將軍) Guan Yu, served as commander of Liu Bei's naval forces
    • General of the Household (中郎將) Zhang Fei
    • Chief of Linju (臨沮長) Xiang Lang

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms and popular cultureEdit

For dramatic effect, in many literary works, Liu Bei's conquest of the four commanderies south of the Yangtze River were listed as separate battles, and there was a match between Guan Yu and Huang Zhong which became the source of other cultural works, such as Beijing opera. In reality; however, none of these were true.

Contrary to what was depicted in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Han Xuan was not killed by Wei Yan, while there was no record when Wei Yan became a subject of Liu Bei or whether Wei Yan took part in this battle.

In Dynasty Warriors 4, this battle is called "Race for the Nan Territory".


  1. ^ This number is a rough estimate assuming the allied forces suffered minimal casualties during the Battle of Red Cliffs.


  1. ^ (曹仁分眾圍寧,寧困急,使使請救。諸將以兵少不足分) Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  2. ^ (益州牧刘璋始受徵役,遣兵给军。) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  3. ^ ((乐进)后从平荆州,留屯襄阳) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
  4. ^ (刘备与周瑜围曹仁於江陵,别遣关羽绝北道。通率众击之) Sanguozhi vol. 18. (通) in this passage refers to Li Tong, who was the Administrator of Runan at the time.
  5. ^ ((文聘)与乐进讨关羽於寻口,有功,进封延寿亭侯,) Sanguozhi vol. 18. Wen Ping was the Administrator of Jiangxia by the time.
  6. ^ (建安十三年,从太祖征荆州。大军还,留宠行奋威将军,屯当阳。) Man Chong was given authority as acting General Who Demonstrates Bravery by Cao Cao specifically to lead troops in anticipation of Sun Quan's invasion, and was stationed at Dangyang with substantial number of soldiers.
  7. ^ (瑜、仁相守歲余,所殺傷甚眾。仁委城走。) Sanguozhi vol. 47.
  8. ^ (留屯襄阳,击关羽、苏非等,皆走之) Sanguozhi vol. 17.
  9. ^ (与乐进讨关羽於寻口,有功,进封延寿亭侯,加讨逆将军。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  10. ^ (又攻羽辎重於汉津) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  11. ^ ((文聘)烧其(关羽)船於荆城。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  12. ^ (廬江雷緒率部曲數万口稽顙。) Sanguozhi vol. 32.
  13. ^ (刘备与周瑜围曹仁于江陵,别遣关羽绝北道。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  14. ^ (通率众击之,下马拔鹿角入围,且战且前。) Sanguozhi vol. 18.
  15. ^ (先主定江南,使朗督秭歸、夷道、巫(山)、夷陵四縣軍民事。) Sanguozhi vol. 41.
  16. ^ (仁登城望之,乃募得三百人) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  17. ^ (贼众盛,不可当也。假使弃数百人何苦,而将军以身赴之!) Sanguozhi vol. 9.
  18. ^ (瑜親跨馬擽陳,會流矢中右脅,瘡甚) Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  19. ^ Sanguozhi vol. 47.
  20. ^ (权稍畏之,进妹固好) Sanguozhi vol. 32.
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  • Selected Examples of Battles in Ancient China (first ed.). Beijing: Chinese Publishing House. 1981–1984.
  • Sima, Guang (1084). Zizhi Tongjian.
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  • Zhang, Xiaosheng (1988). General View of War of Ancient China (first ed.). Xi'an: Long March Publishing House. ISBN 7800150313.

Coordinates: 32°00′32″N 120°15′47″E / 32.0089°N 120.2631°E / 32.0089; 120.2631