The Blackwater War was a twenty-six-year war that occurred in Black Marsh from early 1E 2811 to early 1E 2837 as a result of the Reman Empire's advances in the region. The war separated into three distinct Imperial campaigns, the First of which was led by Augurius Bucco, the second by Regulus Sardecus, and the third by Lucinia Falco. Although the general aim of the war was unchanged throughout its nearly three-decade length, each campaign saw radically different strategies and events.
The first campaign of the Blackwater War began in 1E 2811. The Fourth Legion, led by young and popular commander Augurius Bucco, saw several massive victories very early on, including a success at the Battle of Argonia. These encouraged the Empire to launch a full-scale invasion of the province later that year, including the more congested, swampy interior. However, as the soldiers of the Fourth Legion progressed farther into Black Marsh's inhospitable swamps, they soon encountered numerous problems. Accustomed to fighting in the comparatively tame hills of Cyrodiil, the legionnaires found it difficult to defend themselves against their Argonian foes, who were already aware of how best to conduct military operations in the boggy, wet climate. Disease spread quickly among Imperial forces and was the leading cause of death in the first campaign, killing roughly half of the legionnaires.
While the Argonian forces operated with ease, the Legion's heavy equipment was of little use in the jungle. Their armor tended to rust as a result of the wetness of the air, and huge amounts of mud slowed soldiers greatly by clinging to their boots and shields. By late 1E 2812, these hindrances eventually led to much of the Imperial army simply not wearing their heavier cuirasses and greaves, which left them with more leeway in combat but significantly less protection. Additionally, traditional Imperial battle tactics proved futile, as there was no way to effectively keep together organized cohorts of soldiers in the messy geography of central Black Marsh. Groups were frequently split apart and the chain of command lost, which allowed for the better-adjusted Argonian forces to quickly and easily defeat the Imperials. Insubordination and a general lack of morale among legionnaires soon followed.
Five years into the war, in 1E 2816, all but six cohorts of the entire Fourth Legion had perished. General Bucco called in a second legion from Cyrodiil in order to construct a paved road which was called Reman's Way, or later Swamp Road, to aid the war effort. The exact purposes of the road were equivocal, although if completed it would most likely have been used to move supplies and soldiers more quickly. However, due to a constant barrage of attacks from the Argonians, little defensive capabilities, and poor working conditions, the project was never more than half-finished.
In 1E 2820, four years after "Bucco's Folly," as the failed road-building attempt was later dubbed, the Fourth Legion had been almost entirely killed off, save an estimated 350 exhausted troops. Bucco himself was almost removed from command via a mutiny, following which he fully realized the futility of his efforts and ordered the Imperial army to retreat from the innermost parts of Black Marsh. A ten-day march led the remnants of the legion to the ancient Argonian pyramid of Xi-tsei, where Bucco intended for his men to rest for a time and then fall back to Cyrodiil. However, the Argonians were able to quickly catch up to them and on the 14th of Last Seed, completely annihilated the few soldiers left alive.[note 1]
As a result of the catastrophic failure that was Augurius Bucco's campaign in Black Marsh, the Imperial Council selected Regulus Sardecus as the new general of the Fourth Legion, which was rebuilt for a second invasion. While the young General Bucco had relatively little experience in combat prior to the war, General Sardecus had been involved in countless battles during his military career so far and was very highly regarded.
Sardecus' war strategy in Black Marsh's swamps was infinitely better-suited for the climate and terrain than Bucco's. Imperial soldiers were instructed to wear lighter, less constrictive padded leather instead of typical heavy metal Imperial armor to combat the ferocious heat and humidity of the region. Some non-hostile Argonians were consulted for the best methods on how to make use of the jungle's resources, and groups of soldiers were taught to operate in relative independence due to the constant fracturing of the army for increased efficiency and soldier morale. However, what most gave Sardecus' legion an advantage over Bucco's was the former's use of diplomacy in regards to "disenfranchised" Argonians, who could be bribed or otherwise convinced to fight on the side of the Imperials. By forging alliances with multiple native tribes such as the Archeins and the Shoss-kaleel, Sardecus was able to nearly triple his forces and regain all formerly lost territory by 1E 2823.
Sardecus developed a unique strategy to combat Black Marsh's unruly terrain: destroy it. While Bucco and his legions had focused primarily on simply fighting the Argonians, it had not occurred to them that the Argonian's greatest advantage over them was their use of the land to their benefit. Sardecus, however, realized that he could cripple Argonian forces by simultaneously launching attacks and also draining swamps, salting rice paddies, and cutting down huge swaths of forest.
This strategy worked exceedingly well until the order came down from Elissia Mallicius to set ablaze a peat bog in the vicinity of Stormhold, far to the north. Although there was no reason to believe it would have any undesired effects, the peat bog in question was in fact part of a massive, interconnected underground network of tunnels, which would subsequently be set on fire because of this. As a result, spontaneous fires were reported all across Black Marsh after several months, even as far away from Stormhold as Gideon and Soulrest, in the southwestern part of the province. Quite some time passed before it was realized that a massive, province-wide fire was occurring. Historian Valenca Arvina described the fires as, "An inferno of burning peat and detritus." Noxious gases and unpredictable eruptions and explosions completely obliterated the marsh's environment, and thousands of soldiers on both sides succumbed to the effects of what would be called the "Great Burn" of 1E 2828, which lasted until at least 1E 2831.
General Sardecus eventually ordered a full retreat from the province to avoid a greater number of casualties. However, before making it back to the Imperial City, he died of an infected wound. The source of this wound is, like many things in this war, contestable.[note 2]
A third and final general, Lucinia Falco, took command of the Fourth Legion in approximately 1E 2833. Her entire military career had been based in Black Marsh during the Blackwater War, she herself having fought in the Battle of Argonia more than twenty years prior. She took Sardecus' new strategies another step forward and reached out to pirates around Black Marsh, whom she convinced to fight alongside a legion of Diamond Marines from Imperial ranks. Falco also further subdivided her troops into very small yet extremely effective platoons called "redbelts," each led by officers who had significant experience in the war already.
These groups were able to take over most of western Black Marsh with relative ease, but by the time they reached the deeper portions of the province they were slowed tremendously by the terrain once more. Additionally, due to the small size of these platoons, much conquered territory was quickly returned to the hands of the Argonians. The conflict turned into a bloody, terrifying, and very complicated guerrilla war by 1E 2834.
The conflict ended abruptly and without an official declaration of peace in late 1E 2836 largely due to tribal infighting by the Argonians, who simply stopped fighting and returned to their former lives.[note 3] By 1E 2837, the Empire had claimed the entire province.
- ↑ There is some confusion regarding what occurred at the pyramid that night. The legion was certainly defeated then and there, but some discrepancies remain, such as there being over a hundred missing bodies, the fate of which are presently unknown.
- ↑ While Sardecus officially died from an infection of a battle wound, his soldiers were not entirely convinced that was the truth. Historian Valenca Arvina even suggested that the Shadowscales, a group of highly-trained Argonian assassins, might have had something to do with his death.
- ↑ The full reasoning behind the "inexplicable" end to the war is unknown, but historians generally agree that in addition to infighting within the Argonian tribes, it also had something to do with the Argonians' relationship with the Hist.