I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;)
Known as the largest naval battle in history, involving up to 850,00 men. In Chinese known as the Battle of Chibi, or 赤壁之戰.
And, no one knows exactly where the battle might have taken place. There are several possibilities, all along the Yangtze River. A possible site:
Not surprisingly, being a battle where the numbers on both sides were EXTREMELY uneven, the victory came about mostly through strategy, deception, double agents, and a fair amount of carelessness on Cao Cao's part, along with his soldiers being unused to the southern climate and fighting at sea, leading him to link his boats together which made it much easier for the allied forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan to burn them.
Also not surprisingly, Romance of the Three Kingdoms fictionalizes much of this. Pang Tong is the double agent who advises Cao Cao to link his boats together (I must admit, the double agent-ing gets quite unbelievably excessive at times, but hey it adds drama), and the southeast wind needed to spread the fire is summoned by Zhuge Liang through his knowledge of astrology. (Mythological elements coming in here.)
According to a handy footnote in my translation citing the historian Lu Simian, the Battle of the Red Cliffs ensured the permanent division of the empire into three parts, leading to the 60-year period known as the Three Kingdoms period, starting (about 11 years after Red Cliffs, which took place in the winter of 208-209) 220 A.D. and ending 280 A.D.
The battle of the Red Cliffs is the key to the history of the period, for if it had not occurred, or if Cao Cao had won, the empire would have been united and would never have split into three parts. This battle decided the question of unity or division....
...Plus two pages of information I'm too lazy to type up. In summary though, Cao Cao, Sun Quan, and Liu Bei--the lords of the respective kindoms of Wei, Wu, and Shu--were all too ambitious on gaining mastership of the empire for themselves rather than submitting to each other, which might have restored unity in the kingdom.
Needless to say, so far this battle is pretty much the most epic and exciting part of an already epic and exciting book. (Kind of puts Tolkien to shame...no offense Tolkien, I love you too. But this book! If only I'd discovered it earlier, I would have known such cool things existed outside my Western bubble.)
Wei and Wu waged war to rule the roost;
The northland's towered ships--to smoke reduced.
Spreading flames illumed cloud and sea:
Cao Cao went down; 'twas Zhou Yu's victory.