The battle of Pengcheng (205 BC) was a major defeat suffered by Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty, after he occupied the capital of his main rival Xiang Yu.
After conquering the former Qin heartland, Liu Bang prepared to strike east into Xiang Yu’s heartland. Xiang Yu, who had been advised that this was unlikely, decided to move north to deal with a second revolt in Qi. He won a military victory at Chengyang, but his harsh behaviour only triggered a second revolt.
In the meantime Liu Bang advanced east, gathering support as he went. During this time the news reached him that Xiang Yu had murdered his nominal overlord, the former King Huai of Chu (soon after ‘promoting’ him to emperor). Liu Bang used this to give his invasion some legitimacy, claiming that he was marching to avenge the murder. He then continued his advance, and in the summer of 205 BC occupied Xiang Yu’s capital at Pengcheng.
Xiang Yu responded quickly. He split his army, leaving his generals to continue the war in Qi, and then led 30,000 picked men south to deal with Liu Bang. The Han army was camped somewhere to the west of Pengcheng. Xiang Yu attacked at dawn, and forced Liu Bang’s men to retreat east towards the city. By noon the battle was won. Liu Bang’s army had been forced back to the Qu and Szu rivers, and the survivors now attempted to escape. Many were killed attempting to cross the Sui River, which was said to have been blocked with corpses.
Liu Bang himself was almost captured. He and his last few troops were surrounded by three lines of soldiers, but a freak storm then struck the two armies. In the confusion Liu Bang and a handful of his cavalry managed to break out of the trap. He then moved to Pei, in an attempt to rescue his family member, but they had already left. By chance he found his daughter on the road, and rescued her, but his father and wife were captured by Xiang Yu and held hostage.
Although this was a major defeat Liu Bang soon recovered. His able subordinates were able to raise fresh armies, and the Chu-Han Contention continued on for another three years.