Kagekatsu was born the second son of Nagao Masakage in Echigo no Kuni (modern day Niigata) in 1555. He was the nephew of Uesugi Kenshin.
After Masakage’s death, Kagekatsu was adopted by Kenshin in order to become his successor. He became the head of the Uesugi clan in 1579. Given his title by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he became the feudal Lord of wealthy domain of Aizu.
However, after facing defeat at the battle of Sekigahara, he was assigned to the considerably less wealthy Yonezawa as punishment. It is said that he refused to replace even one of his men, so he took all who wished to come with him to Yonezawa instead.
Kagekatsu then began to live at Yonezawa Castle. Along with his subordinate Naoe Kanetsugu, they quickly began new construction and moved to address the financial destitution of the domain. He also became a supporter of the newly established Tokugawa shogunate.
In 1623, Kagekatsu who was much-accomplished as both a warrior and a ruler passed away in Yonezawa Castle at age 69. It is said that Tokugawa Ieyasu himself had even acknowledged Kagekatsu’s excellence as an intellectual and as a warrior.