Chapter V 
INDIAN FLOTILLA DEFEATED-THE CAUSEWAYS OCCUPIED-DESPERATE ASSAULTS-FIRING OF THE PALACES-SPIRIT OF THE BESIEGED-BARRACKS FOR THE TROOPS
NO sooner had Cortes received intelligence that his two officers
had established themselves in their respective posts, than he
ordered Sandoval to march on Iztapalapan. The cavalier's route led him
through a country for the most part friendly; and at Chalco his little
body of Spaniards was swelled by the formidable muster of Indian
levies, who awaited there his approach. After this junction, he
continued his march without opposition till he arrived before the
hostile city, under whose walls he found a large force drawn up to
receive him. A battle followed, and the natives, after maintaining
their ground sturdily for some time, were compelled to give way, and
to seek refuge either on the water or in that part of the town which
hung over it. The remainder was speedily occupied by the Spaniards.
Meanwhile Cortes had set sail with his flotilla, intending to
support his lieutenant's attack by water. On drawing near the southern
shore of the lake, he passed under the shadow of an insulated peak,
since named from him the "Rock of the Marquess." It was held by a body
of Indians, who saluted the fleet, as it passed, with showers of
stones and arrows. Cortes, resolving to punish their audacity, and
to clear the lake of his troublesome enemy, instantly landed with a
hundred and fifty of his followers. He placed himself at their head,
scaled the steep ascent, in the face of a driving storm of missiles,
and, reaching the summit, put the garrison to the sword. There was a
number of women and children, also, gathered in the place, whom he
On the top of the eminence was a blazing beacon, serving to notify
to the inhabitants of the capital when the Spanish fleet weighed
anchor. Before Cortes had regained his brigantine, the canoes and
piraguas of the enemy had left the harbours of Mexico, and were seen
darkening the lake for many a rood. There were several hundred of
them, all crowded with warriors, and advancing rapidly by means of
their oars over the calm bosom of the waters.
Cortes, who regarded his fleet, to use his own language, as "the
key of the war," felt the importance of striking a decisive blow in
the first encounter with the enemy. It was with chagrin, therefore,
that he found his sails rendered useless by the want of wind. He
calmly waited the approach of the Indian squadron, which, however, lay
on their oars, at something more than musket-shot distance, as if
hesitating to encounter these leviathans of their waters. At this
moment, a light air from land rippled the surface of the lake; it
gradually freshened into a breeze, and Cortes, taking advantage of the
friendly succour, which he may be excused, under all the
circumstances, for regarding as especially sent him by Heaven,
extended his line of battle and bore down, under full press of canvas,
on the enemy.
The latter no sooner encountered the bows of their formidable
opponents, than they were overturned and sent to the bottom by the
shock, or so much damaged that they speedily filled and sank. The
water was covered with the wreek of broken canoes, and with the bodies
of men struggling for life in the waves, and vainly imploring their
companions to take them on board their overcrowded vessels. The
Spanish fleet, as it dashed through the mob of boats, sent off its
volleys to the right and left with a terrible effect, completing the
discomfiture of the Aztecs. The latter made no attempt at
resistance, scarcely venturing a single flight of arrows, but strove
with all their strength to regain the port from which they had so
lately issued. They were no match in the chase, any more than in the
fight, for their terrible antagonist, who, borne on the wings of the
wind, careered to and fro at his pleasure, dealing death widely around
him, and making the shores ring with the thunders of his ordnance. A
few only of the Indian flotilla succeeded in recovering the port, and,
gliding up the canals, found a shelter in the bosom of the city, where
the heavier burden of the brigantines made it impossible for them to
follow. This victory, more complete than even the sanguine temper of
Cortes had prognosticated, proved the superiority of the Spaniards,
and left them, henceforth, undisputed masters of the Aztec sea.
It was nearly dusk when the squadron, coasting along the great
southern causeway, anchored off the point of junction, called Xoloc,
where the branch from Cojohuacan meets the principal dike. The
avenue widened at this point, so as to afford room for two towers,
or turreted temples, built of stone, and surrounded by walls of the
same material, which presented altogether a position of some strength,
and, at the present moment, was garrisoned by a body of Aztecs. They
were not numerous; and Cortes, landing with his soldiers, succeeded
without much difficulty in dislodging the enemy, and in getting
possession of the works.
It seems to have been originally the general's design to take up
his own quarters with at Cojohuacan. But, if so, he now changed his
purpose, and wisely fixed on this spot, as the best position for his
encampment. It was but half a league distant from the capital; and,
while it commanded its great southern avenue, had a direct
communication with the garrison at Cojohuacan, through which he
might receive supplies from the surrounding country. Here, then, he
determined to establish his head-quarters. He at once caused his heavy
iron cannon to be transferred from the brigantines to the causeway,
and sent orders to to join him with half his force, while Sandoval
was instructed to abandon his present quarters, and advance to
Cojohuacan, whence he was to detach fifty picked men of his infantry
to the camp of Cortes. Having made these arrangements, the general
busily occupied himself with strengthening the works at Xoloc, and
putting them in the best posture of defence.
The two principal avenues to Mexico, those on the south and the
west, were now occupied by the Christians. There still remained a
third, the great dike of Tepejacac, on the north, which, indeed,
taking up the principal street, that passed in a direct line through
the heart of the city, might be regarded as a continuation of the dike
of Iztapalapan. By this northern route a means of escape was still
left open to the besieged, and they availed themselves of it, at
present, to maintain their communications with the country, and to
supply themselves with provisions. Alvarado, who observed this from
his station at Tacuba, advised his commander of it, and the latter
instructed Sandoval to take up his position on the causeway. That
officer, though suffering at the time from a severe wound received
from a lance in one of the late skirmishes, hastened to obey; and
thus, by shutting up its only communication with the surrounding
country, completed the blockade of the capital.
But Cortes was not content to wait patiently the effects of a
dilatory blockade, which might exhaust the patience of his allies, and
his own resources. He determined to support it by such active assaults
on the city as should still further distress the besieged, and
hasten the hour of surrender. For this purpose he ordered a
simultaneous attack, by the two commanders at the other stations, on
the quarters nearest their encampments.
On the day appointed, his forces were under arms with the dawn.
Mass, as usual, was performed; and the Indian confederates, as they
listened with grave attention to the stately and imposing service,
regarded with undisguised admiration the devotional reverence shown by
the Christians, whom, in their simplicity, they looked upon as
little less than divinities themselves. The Spanish infantry marched
in the van, led on by Cortes, attended by a number of cavaliers,
dismounted like himself. They had not moved far upon the causeway,
when they were brought to a stand by one of the open breaches, that
had formerly been traversed by a bridge. On the further side a solid
rampart of stone and lime had been erected, and behind this a strong
body of Aztecs were posted, who discharged on the Spaniards, as they
advanced, a thick volley of arrows. The latter vainly endeavoured to
dislodge them with their firearms and crossbows; they were too well
secured behind their defences.
Cortes then ordered two of the brigantines, which had kept
along, one on each side of the causeway, in order to co-operate with
the army, to station themselves so as to enfilade the position
occupied by the enemy. Thus placed between two well-directed fires,
the Indians were compelled to recede. The soldiers on board the
vessels, springing to land, bounded like deer up the sides of the
dike. They were soon followed by their countrymen under Cortes, who,
throwing themselves into the water, swam the undefended chasm, and
joined in pursuit of the enemy. The Mexicans fell back, however, in
something like order, till they reached another opening in the dike,
like the former, dismantled of its bridge, and fortified in the same
manner by a bulwark of stone, behind which the retreating Aztecs,
swimming across the chasm, and reinforced by fresh bodies of their
countrymen, again took shelter.
They made good their post till, again assailed by the cannonade
from the brigantines, they were compelled to give way. In this
manner breach after breach was carried, and, at every fresh instance
of success, a shout went up from the crews of the vessels, which,
answered by the long files of the Spaniards and their confederates
on the causeway, made the valley echo to its borders.
Cortes had now reached the end of the great avenue, where it
entered the suburbs. There he halted to give time for the rearguard to
come up with him. It was detained by the labour of filling up the
breaches in such a manner as to make a practicable passage for the
artillery and horse, and to secure one for the rest of the army on its
retreat. This important duty was intrusted to the allies, who executed
it by tearing down the ramparts on the margins, and throwing them into
the chasms, and, when this was not sufficient,- for the water was deep
around the southern causeway,- by dislodging the great stones and
rubbish from the dike itself, which was broad enough to admit of it,
and adding them to the pile, until it was raised above the level of
The street on which the Spaniards now entered, was the great
avenue that intersected the town from north to south, and the same
by which they had first visited the capital. It was broad and
perfectly straight, and, in the distance, dark masses of warriors
might be seen gathering to the support of their countrymen, who were
prepared to dispute the further progress of the Spaniards. The sides
were lined with buildings, the terraced roofs of which were also
crowded with combatants, who, as the army advanced, poured down a
pitiless storm of missiles on their heads, which glanced harmless,
indeed, from the coat of mail, but too often found their way through
the more common escaupil of the soldier, already gaping with many a
ghastly rent. Cortes, to rid himself of this annoyance for the future,
ordered his Indian pioneers to level the principal buildings, as
they advanced; in which work of demolition, no less than in the repair
of the breaches, they proved of inestimable service.
The Spaniards, meanwhile, were steadily, but slowly, advancing, as
the enemy recoiled before the rolling fire of musketry, though turning
at intervals to discharge their javelins and arrows against their
pursuers. In this way they kept along the great street, until their
course was interrupted by a wide ditch or canal, once traversed by a
bridge, of which only a few planks now remained. These were broken
by the Indians the moment they had crossed, and a formidable array
of spears were instantly seen bristling over the summit of a solid
rampart of stone, which protected the opposite side of the canal.
Cortes was no longer supported by his brigantines, which the
shallowness of the canals prevented from penetrating into the suburbs.
He brought forward his arquebusiers, who, protected by the targets
of their comrades, opened a fire on the enemy. But the balls fell
harmless from the bulwarks of stone; while the assailants presented
but too easy a mark to their opponents.
The general then caused the heavy guns to be brought up, and
opened a lively cannonade, which soon cleared a breach in the works,
through which the musketeers and crossbowmen poured in their volleys
thick as hail. The Indians now gave way in disorder after having
held their antagonists at bay for two hours. The latter, jumping
into the shallow water, scaled the opposite bank without further
resistance, and drove the enemy along the street towards the square,
where the sacred pyramid reared its colossal bulk high over the
other edifices of the city.
It was a spot too familiar to the Spaniards. On one side stood the
palace of Axacayatl, their old quarters, the scene to many of them
of so much suffering. Opposite was the pile of low, irregular,
buildings, once the residence of the unfortunate Montezuma; while
the third side of the square was flanked by the Coatepantli, or Wall
of Serpents, which encompassed the great teocalli with its little city
of holy edifices. The Spaniards halted at the entrance of the
square, as if oppressed, and for a moment overpowered, by the bitter
recollections that crowded on their minds. But their intrepid
leader, impatient at their hesitation, loudly called on them to
advance before the Aztecs had time to rally; and grasping his target
in one hand, and waving his sword high above his head with the
other, he cried his war-cry of "St. Jago," and led them at once
against the enemy.
The Mexicans, intimidated by the presence of their detested foe,
who, in spite of all their efforts had again forced his way into the
heart of their city, made no further resistance, but retreated, or
rather fled, for refuge into the sacred inclosure of the teocalli,
where the numerous buildings scattered over its ample area afforded
many good points of defence. A few priests, clad in their usual wild
and blood-stained vestments, were to be seen lingering on the terraces
which wound round the stately sides of the pyramid, chanting hymns
in honour of their god, and encouraging the warriors below to battle
bravely for his altars.
The Spaniards poured through the open gates into the area, and a
small party rushed up the winding corridors to its summit. No
vestige now remained there of the Cross, or of any other symbol of the
pure faith to which it had been dedicated. A new effigy of the Aztec
war-god had taken the place of the one demolished by the Christians,
and raised its fantastic and hideous form in the same niche which
had been occupied by its predecessor. The Spaniards soon tore away its
golden mask and the rich jewels with which it was bedizened, and
hurling the struggling priests down the sides of the pyramid, made the
best of their way to their comrades in the area. It was full time.
The Aztecs, indignant at the sacrilegious outrage perpetrated
before their eyes, and gathering courage from the inspiration of the
place, under the very presence of their deities, raised a yell of
horror and vindictive fury, as, throwing themselves into something
like order, they sprang by a common impulse on the Spaniards. The
latter, who had halted near the entrance, though taken by surprise,
made an effort to maintain their position at the gateway. But in vain;
for the headlong rush of the assailants drove them at once into the
square, where they were attacked by other bodies of Indians, pouring
in from the neighbouring streets. Broken, and losing their presence of
mind, the troops made no attempt to rally, but, crossing the square,
and abandoning the cannon planted there to the enemy, they hurried
down the great street of Iztapalapan. Here they were soon mingled with
the allies, who choked up the way, and who, catching the panic of
the Spaniards, increased the confusion, while the eyes of the
fugitives, blinded by the missiles that rained on them from the
azoteas, were scarcely capable of distinguishing friend from foe. In
vain Cortes endeavoured to stay the torrent, and to restore order. His
voice was drowned in the wild uproar, as he was swept away, like
driftwood, by the fury of the current.
All seemed to be lost;- when suddenly sounds were heard in an
adjoining street, like the distant tramp of horses galloping rapidly
over the pavement. They drew nearer and nearer, and a body of
cavalry soon emerged on the great square. Though but a handful in
number, they plunged boldly into the thick of the enemy. We have often
had occasion to notice the superstitious dread entertained by the
Indians of the horse and his rider. And, although the long residence
of the cavalry in the capital had familiarised the natives, in some
measure, with their presence, so long a time had now elapsed since
they had beheld them, that all their former mysterious terrors revived
in full force; and, when thus suddenly assailed in flank by the
formidable apparition, they were seized with a panic, and fell into
confusion. It soon spread to the leading files, and Cortes, perceiving
his advantage, turned with the rapidity of lightning, and, at this
time supported by his followers, succeeded in driving the enemy with
some loss back into the inclosure.
It was now the hour of vespers, and, as night must soon overtake
them, he made no further attempt to pursue his advantage. Ordering the
trumpets, therefore, to sound a retreat, he drew off his forces in
good order, taking with him the artillery which had been abandoned
in the square. The allies first went off the ground, followed by the
Spanish infantry, while the rear was protected by the horse, thus
reversing the order of march on their entrance. The Aztecs hung on the
closing files, and though driven back by frequent charges of the
cavalry, still followed in the distance, shooting off their
ineffectual missiles, and filling the air with wild cries and howling,
like a herd of ravenous wolves disappointed of their prey. It was late
before the army reached its quarters at Xoloc.
Cortes had been well supported by Alvarado and Sandoval in this
assault on the city; though neither of these commanders had penetrated
the suburbs, deterred, perhaps, by the difficulties of the passage,
which, in Alvarado's case, were greater than those presented to
Cortes, from the greater number of breaches with which the dike in his
quarter was intersected. Something was owing, too, to the want of
brigantines, until Cortes supplied the deficiency by detaching half of
his little navy to the support of his officers. Without their
co-operation, however, the general himself could not have advanced
so far, nor, perhaps, have succeeded at all in setting foot within the
city. The success of this assault spread consternation, not only among
the Mexicans, but their vassals, as they saw that the formidable
preparations for defence were to avail little against the white man,
who had so soon, in spite of them, forced his way into the very
heart of the capital. Several of the neighbouring places, in
consequence, now showed a willingness to shake off their allegiance,
and claimed the protection of the Spaniards. Among these, were the
territory of Xochimilco, so roughly treated by the invaders, and
some tribes of Otomies, a rude but valiant people, who dwelt on the
western confines of the valley. Their support was valuable, not so
much from the additional reinforcement which it brought, as from the
greater security it gave to the army, whose outposts were
perpetually menaced by these warlike barbarians.
Thus strengthened, Cortes prepared to make another attack upon the
capital, and that before it should have time to recover from the
former. Orders were given to his lieutenants on the other causeways,
to march at the same time, and co-operate with him, as before, in
the assault. It was conducted in precisely the same manner as on the
previous entry, the infantry taking the van, and the allies and
cavalry following. But, to the great dismay of the Spaniards, they
found two-thirds of the breaches restored to their former state, and
the stones and other materials, with which they had been stopped,
removed by the indefatigable enemy. They were again obliged to bring
up the cannon, the brigantines ran alongside, and the enemy was
dislodged, and driven from post to post, in the same manner as on
the preceding attack. In short, the whole work was to be done over
again. It was not till an hour after noon that the army had won a
footing in the suburbs.
Here their progress was not so difficult as before; for the
buildings from the terraces of which they had experienced the most
annoyance had been swept away. Still it was only step by step that
they forced a passage in face of the Mexican militia, who disputed
their advance with the same spirit as before. Cortes, who would
willingly have spared the inhabitants, if he could have brought them
to terms, saw them with regret, as he says, thus desperately bent on a
war of extermination. He conceived that there would be no way more
likely to affect their minds, than by destroying at once some of the
principal edifices, which they were accustomed to venerate as the
pride and ornament of the city.
Marching into the great square, he selected, as the first to be
destroyed, the old palace of Axayacatl, his former barracks. The ample
range of low buildings was, it is true, constructed of stone; but
the interior, as well as outworks, its turrets, and roofs, were of
wood. The Spaniards, whose associations with the pile were of so
gloomy a character, sprang to the work of destruction with a
satisfaction like that which the French mob may have felt in the
demolition of the Bastile. Torches and firebrands were thrown about in
all directions; the lower parts of the building were speedily on fire,
which, running along the inflammable bangings and woodwork of the
interior, rapidly spread to the second floor. There the element took
freer range, and, before it was visible from without, sent up from
every aperture and crevice a dense column of vapour, that hung like
a funeral pall over the city. This was dissipated by a bright sheet of
flame, which enveloped all the upper regions of the vast pile, till,
the supporters giving way, the wide range of turreted chambers fell,
amidst clouds of dust and ashes, with an appalling crash, that for a
moment stayed the Spaniards in the work of devastation.
The Aztecs gazed with inexpressible horror on this destruction
of the venerable abode of their monarchs, and of the monuments of
their luxury and splendour. Their rage was exasperated almost to
madness, as they beheld their hated foes, the Tlascalans, busy in
the work of desolation, and aided by the Tezcucans, their own
allies, and not unfrequently their kinsmen. They vented their fury
in bitter execrations, especially on the young prince Ixtlilxochitl,
who, marching side by side with Cortes, took his full share in the
dangers of the day. The warriors from the housetops poured the most
approbrious epithets on him as he passed, denouncing him as
false-hearted traitor; false to his country and his blood,- reproaches
not altogether unmerited, as his kinsman, who chronicles the
circumstance, candidly confesses. He gave little heed to their taunts,
however, holding on his way with the dogged resolution of one true
to the cause in which he was embarked; and, when he entered the
great square, he grappled with the leader of the Aztec forces,
wrenched a lance from his grasp, won by the latter from the
Christians, and dealt him a blow with his mace, or maquahuitl, which
brought him lifeless to the ground.
The Spanish commander, having accomplished the work of
destruction, sounded a retreat, sending on the Indian allies, who
blocked up the way before him. The Mexicans, maddened by their losses,
in wild transports of fury hung close on his rear, and though driven
back by the cavalry, still returned, throwing themselves desperately
under the horses, striving to tear the riders from their saddles,
and content to throw away their own lives for one blow at their enemy.
Fortunately the greater part of their militia was engaged with the
assailants on the opposite quarters of the city; but, thus crippled,
they pushed the Spaniards under Cortes so vigorously, that few reached
the camp that night without bearing on their bodies some token of
the desperate conflict.
On the following day, and, indeed, on several days following,
the general repeated his assaults with as little care for repose, as
if he and his men had been made of iron. On one occasion he advanced
some way down the street of Tacuba, in which he carried three of the
bridges, desirous, if possible, to open a communication with Alvarado,
posted on the contiguous causeway. But the Spaniards in that quarter
had not penetrated beyond the suburbs, still impeded by the severe
character of the ground, and wanting, it may be, somewhat of that
fiery impetuosity which the soldier feels who fights under the eye
of his chief.
In each of these assaults, the breaches were found more or less
restored to their original state by the pertinacious Mexicans, and the
materials, which had been deposited in them with so much labour, again
removed. It may seem strange, that Cortes did not take measures to
guard against the repetition of an act which caused so much delay
and embarrassment to his operations. He notices this in his letter
to the emperor, in which he says that to do so would have required,
either that he should have established his quarters in the city
itself, which would have surrounded him with enemies, and cut off
his communications with the country; or that he should have posted a
sufficient guard of Spaniards- for the natives were out of the
question- to protect the breaches by night, a duty altogether beyond
the strength of men engaged in so arduous a service through the day.
Yet this was the course adopted by Alvarado; who stationed, at
night, a guard of forty soldiers for the defence of the opening
nearest to the enemy. This was relieved by a similar detachment in a
few hours, and this again by a third, the two former still lying on
their post; so that, on an alarm, a body of one hundred and twenty
soldiers was ready on the spot to repel an attack. Sometimes,
indeed, the whole division took up their bivouac in the
neighbourhood of the breach, resting on their arms, and ready for
But a life of such incessant toil and vigilance was almost too
severe even for the stubborn constitutions of the Spaniards.
"Through the long night," exclaims Diaz, who served in Alvarado's
division, "we kept our dreary watch; neither wind, nor wet, nor cold
availing anything. There we stood, smarting, as we were, from the
wounds we had received in the fight of the preceding day." It was
the rainy season, which continues in that country from July to
September; and the surface of the causeways, flooded by the storms,
and broken up by the constant movement of such large bodies of men,
was converted into a marsh, or rather quagmire, which added
inconceivably to the distresses of the army.
The troops under Cortes were scarcely in a better situation. But
few of them could find shelter in the rude towers that garnished the
works of Xoloc. The greater part were compelled to bivouac in the open
air, exposed to all the inclemency of the weather. Every man, unless
his wounds prevented it, was required by the camp regulations to sleep
on his arms; and they were often roused from their hasty slumbers by
the midnight call to battle. For Guatemozin, contrary to the usual
practice of his countrymen, frequently selected the hours of
darkness to aim a blow at the enemy. "In short," exclaims the
veteran soldier above quoted, "so unintermitting were our engagements,
by day and by night, during the three months in which we lay before
the capital, that to recount them all would but exhaust the reader's
patience, and make him to fancy he was perusing the incredible feats
of a knight-errant of romance."
The Aztec emperor conducted his operations on a systematic plan,
which showed some approach to military science. He not unfrequently
made simultanious attacks on the three several divisions of the
Spaniards established on the causeways, and on the garrisons at
their extremities. To accomplish this, he enforced the service not
merely of his own militia of the capital, but of the great towns in
the neighbourhood, who all moved in concert, at the well-known
signal of the beacon-fire, or of the huge. drum struck by the
priests on the summit of the temple. One of these general attacks,
it was observed, whether from accident or design, took place on the
eve of St. John the Baptist, the anniversary of the day on which the
Spaniards made their second entry into the Mexican capital.
Notwithstanding the severe drain on his forces by this incessant
warfare, the young monarch contrived to relieve them in some degree by
different detachments, who took the place of one another. This was
apparent from the different uniforms and military badges of the Indian
battalions, who successively came and disappeared from the field. At
night a strict guard was maintained in the Aztec quarters, a thing not
common with the nations of the plateau. The outposts of the hostile
armies were stationed within sight of each other. That of the Mexicans
was usually placed in the neighbourhood of some wide breach, and its
position was marked by a large fire in front. The hours for
relieving guard were intimated by the shrill Aztec whistle, while
bodies of men might be seen moving behind the flame, which threw a
still ruddier glow over the cinnamon-coloured skins of the warriors.
While thus active on land, Guatemozin was not idle on the water.
He was too wise, indeed, to cope with the Spanish navy again in open
battle; but he resorted to stratagem, so much more congenial to Indian
warfare. He placed a large number of canoes in ambuscade among the
tall reeds which fringed the southern shores of the lake, and caused
piles, at the same time, to be driven into the neighbouring
shallows. Several piraguas, or boats of a larger size, then issued
forth, and rowed near the spot where the Spanish brigantines were
moored. Two of the smallest vessels, supposing the Indian barks were
conveying provisions to the besieged, instantly stood after them, as
had been foreseen. The Aztec boats fled for shelter to the reedy
thicket, where their companions lay in ambush. The Spaniards,
following, were soon entangled among the palisades under the water.
They were instantly surrounded by the whole swarm of Indian canoes,
most of the men were wounded, several, including the two commanders,
slain, and one of the brigantines fell- a useless prize- into the
hands of the victors. Among the slain was Pedro Barba, captain of
the crossbowmen, a gallant officer, who had highly distinguished
himself in the Conquest. This disaster occasioned much mortification
to Cortes. It was a salutary lesson that stood him in good stead
during the remainder of the war.
It may appear extraordinary that Guatemozin should have been
able to provide for the maintenance of the crowded population now
gathered in the metropolis, especially as the avenues were all in
the possession of the besieging army. But, independently of the
preparations made with this view before the siege and of the loathsome
sustenance daily furnished by the victims for sacrifice, supplies were
constantly obtained from the surrounding country across the lake. This
was so conducted, for a time, as in a great measure to escape
observation; and even when the brigantines were commanded to cruise
day and night, and sweep the waters of the boats employed in this
service, many still contrived, under cover of the darkness, to elude
the vigilance of the cruisers, and brought their cargoes into port. It
was not till the great towns in the neighbourhood cast off their
allegiance that the supply began to fall, from the failure of its
sources. The defection was more frequent, as the inhabitants became
convinced that the government, incompetent to its own defence, must be
still more so to theirs: and the Aztec metropolis saw its great
vassals fall off, one after another, as the tree, over which decay
is stealing, parts with its leaves at the first blast of the tempest.
The cities, which now claimed the Spanish general's protection,
supplied the camp with an incredible number of warriors; a number
which, if we admit Cortes' own estimate, one hundred and fifty
thousand, could have only served to embarrass his operations on the
long extended causeways. These levies were distributed among the three
garrisons at the terminations of the causeways; and many found
active employment in foraging the country for provisions, and yet more
in carrying on hostilities against the places still unfriendly to
Cortes found further occupation for them in the construction of
barracks for his troops, who suffered greatly from exposure to the
incessant rains of the season, which were observed to fall more
heavily by night than by day. Quantities of stone and timber were
obtained from the buildings that had been demolished in the city. They
were transported in the brigantines to the causeway, and from these
materials a row of huts or barracks was constructed, extending on
either side of the works of Xoloc.
By this arrangement, ample accommodations were furnished for the
Spanish troops and their Indian attendants, amounting in all to
about two thousand. The great body of the allies, with a small
detachment of horse and infantry, were quartered at the neighbouring
post of Cojohuacan, which served to protect the rear of the
encampment, and to maintain its communications with the country. A
similar disposition of forces took place in the other divisions of the
army, under Alvarado and Sandoval, though the accommodations
provided for the shelter of the troops on their causeways were not
so substantial as those for the division of Cortes.
The Spanish camp was supplied with provisions from the friendly
towns in the neighbourhood, and especially from Tezcuco. They
consisted of fish, the fruits of the country, particularly a sort of
fig borne by the tuna (cactus opuntia), and a species of cherry, or
something much resembling it, which grew abundant at this season.
But their principal food was the tortillas, cakes of Indian meal,
still common in Mexico, for which bakehouses were established, under
the care of the natives, in the garrison towns commanding the
causeways. The aries, as appears too probable, reinforced their frugal
fare with an occasional banquet of human flesh, for which the
battle-field unhappily afforded them too much facility, and which,
however shocking to the feelings of Cortes, he did not consider
himself in a situation at that moment to prevent.
Thus the tempest, which had been so long mustering, broke at
length in all its fury on the Aztec capital. Its unhappy inmates
beheld the hostile legions encompassing them about with their
glittering files stretching as far as the eye could reach. They saw
themselves deserted by their allies and vassals in their utmost
need; the fierce stranger penetrating into their secret places,
violating their temples, plundering their palaces, wasting the fair
city by day, firing its suburbs by night, and intrenching himself in
solid edifices under their walls as if determined never to withdraw
his foot while one stone remained upon another. All this they saw, yet
their spirits were unbroken; and, though famine and pestilence were
beginning to creep over them, they still showed the same determined
front to their enemies. Cortes, who would gladly have spared the
town and its inhabitants, beheld this resolution with astonishment. He
intimated more than once, by means of the prisoners whom he
released, his willingness to grant them fair terms of capitulation.
Day after day, he fully expected his proffers would be accepted. But
day after day he was disappointed. He had yet to learn how tenacious
was the memory of the Aztecs; and that, whatever might be the
horrors of their present situation, and their fears for the future,
they were all forgotten in their hatred of the white man.
1. "It was a beautiful victory," exclaims the Conqueror. "É entrámoslos de tal manera, que ninguno de ellos se escapó, excepto las Mugeres, y Niños; y en este combate me hiriéron veinte y cinco Españoles, pero fué muy hermosa Victoria." Rel. Terc., ap. Lorenzana, p.241.
2. About five hundred boats, according to the general's own estimate; (Ibid., loc. cit.;) but more than four thousand, according to Bernal Diaz; (Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 150;) who, however, was not present.
3. "Y como yo deseaba mucho, que el primer reencuentro, que con ellos obiessemos, fuesse de mucha victoria; y se hiciesse de manera, que ellos cobrassen mucho temor de los bergantines, porque la llave de toda la Guerra estaba en ellos." Rel. Terc., ap. Lorenzana, pp. 241, 242.
4. "Plugo á nuestro Señor, que estándonos mirando los unos á los otros, vino un viento de la Tierra muy favorable para embestir con ellos." Ibid., p. 242.
5. Ibid., loc. cit.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 48.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 32.
I may be excused for again quoting a few verses from a beautiful description in "Madoc," and one as pertinent as it is beautiful.
"Their thousand boats, and the ten thousand oars
From whose broad bowls the waters fall and flash,
And twice ten thousand feathered helms, and shields,
Glittering with gold and scarlet plumery.
Onward they come with song and swelling horn;
. . . . . On the other side
Advance the British barks; the freshening breeze
Fills the broad sail; around the rushing keel
The waters sing, while proudly they sail on,
Lords of the water."
MADOC, Part 2, canto 25
6. "Y era tanta la multitud," says Cortés, "que por el Agua, y por la Tierra no viamos sino Gente, y daban tantas gritas, y alaridos, que parecia que se hundia el Mundo." Ibid., p. 245.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 23.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 95.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 32.
7. Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 246, 247.--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 150.--Herrera, Hist. de las Ind., dec. 3, lib. 1, cap. 17.--Gonzalo de las Casas Defensa, MS., cap. 28.
8. "Así como fué de dia se dixo vna misa de Espíritu Santo, que todos los Christianos oyéron con mucha devocion; é aun los Indios, como simples, é no entendientes de tan alto misterio, con admiracion estaban atentos notando el silencio de los cathólicos y el acatamiento que al altar, y al sacerdote los Christianos toviéron hasta receivia la benedicion." Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 24.
9. Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 32.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap.95.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 23.--Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 247, 248.
10. Ibid., ubi supra.--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 95.
Here terminates the work last cited of the Tezcucan chronicler; who has accompanied us from the earliest period of our narrative down to this point in the final siege of the capital. Whether the concluding pages of the manuscript have been lost, or whether he was interrupted by death, it is impossible to say. But the deficiency is supplied by a brief sketch of the principal events of the siege, which he has left in another of his writings. He had, undoubtedly, uncommon sources of information in his knowledge of the Indian languages and picture-writing, and in the oral testimony which he was at pains to collect from the actors in the scenes he describes. All these advantages are too often counterbalanced by a singular incapacity for discriminating--I will not say, between historic truth and falsehood (for what is truth?)--but between the probable, or rather the possible, and the impossible. One of the generation of primitive converts to the Romish faith, he lived in a state of twilight civilization, when, if miracles were not easily wrought, it was at least easy to believe them.
11. "I con todo eso no se determinaban los Christianos de entrar en la Plaça; por lo qual diciendo Hernando Cortés, que no era tiempo de mostrar cansancio, ni cobardía, con vna Rodela en la mano, apellidando Santiago, arremetió el primero." Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 1, cap. 18.
12. Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 32.
13. Ixtlilxochitl, in his Thirteenth Relation, embracing among other things a brief notice of the capture of Mexico, of which an edition has been given to the world by the industrious Bustamante, bestows the credit of this exploit on Cortés himself. "En la capilla mayor donde estaba Huitzilopoxctli, que llegáron Cortés é Ixtlilxochitl á un tiempo, y ambos embistiéron con el ídolo. Cortés cogió la máscara de oro que tenia puerta este idolo con ciertas piedras preciosas que estaban engastadas en ella." Venida de los Esp., p. 29.
14. "Los de Caballo revolvian sobre ellos, que siempre alanceaban, ó mataban algunos; é como la Calle era muy larga, hubo lugar de hacerce esto quatro, ó cinco veces. É aunque los Enemigos vian que recibian daño, venian los Perros tan rabiosos, en ninguna manera los podiamos detener, ni que nos dejassen de seguir." Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 250.--Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 1, cap. 18.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva España, MS., lib. 12, cap. 32.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 23.
15. The great mass of the Otomies were an untamed race, who roamed over the broad tracks of the plateau, far away to the north. But many of them, who found their way into the Valley, became blended with the Tezcucan, and even with the Tlascalan nation, making some of the best soldiers in their armies.
16 "Istrisuchil, [Ixtlilxochitl,] que es de edad de veinte y tres, ó veinte y quarto años, muy esforzado, amado, y temido de todos." (Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 251). The greatest obscurity prevails among historians in respect to this prince, whom they seem to have confounded very often with his brother and predecessor on the throne of Tezcuco. It is rare, that either of them is mentioned by any other than his baptismal name of Hernando; and, if Herrera is correct in the assertion, that this name was assumed by both, it may explain in some degree the confusion. (Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 1, cap. 18.) I have conformed in the main to the old Tezcucan chronicler, who gathered his account of his kinsman, as he tells us, from the records of his nation, and from the oral testimony of the contemporaries of the prince himself. Venida de los Esp., pp. 30, 31.
17. "Daban ocasion, y nos forzaban á que totalmente les destruyessemos. É de esta postrera tenia mas sentimiento, y me pesaba en el alma, y pensaba que forma ternia para los atemorizar, de manera, que viniessen en conocimiento de su yerro, y de el daño, que podian recibir de nosotros, y no hacia sinc quemalles, y derrocalles las Torres de sus Ídolos, y sus Casas." Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 254.
18. "Y desde las azoteas deshonrarle llamándole de traidor contra su patria y deudos, y otras razones pesadas, que á la verdad á ellos les sobraba la razon; mas Ixtlilxuchitl callaba y peleaba, que mas estimaba la amistad y salud de los Cristianos, que todo esto." Venida de los Esp., p. 32.
19 Ibid. p. 29.
20. For the preceding pages relating to this second assault, see Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 254-256,--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Esp., MS., lib. 12, cap. 33,--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 24.--Gonzalo de las Casas, Defensa, MS., cap. 28.
21. Rel. Terc., ap. Lorenzana, p. 259.
22. Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 151.
According to Herrera, Alvarado and Sandoval did not conceal their disapprobation of the course pursued by their commander in respect to the breaches. "I Alvarado, i Sandoval, por su parte, tambien lo hiciéron mui bien, culpando á Hernando Cortés por estas retiradas, queriendo muchos que se quedara en lo ganado, por no bolver tantas veces á ello." Hist General, dec. 3, lib. 1, cap. 19.
23. "Porque como era de noche, no aguardauan mucho, y desta manera que he dicho velauamos, que ni porque llouiesse, ni vientos, ni frios, y aunque estauamos metidos en medio de grandes lodos, y heridos, allí auiamos de estar." Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 151.
24. "Porque nouenta y tres dias estuuímos sobre esta tan fuerte ciudad, cada dia é de noche teniamos guerras, y combates; é no lo pongo aqué por capítulos lo que cada día haziamos, porque me parece que seria gran proligidad, é seria cosa para nunca acabar, y pareceria á los libros de Amadis, é de otros corros de caualleros." Ibid., ubi supra.
25. Ibid., ubi supra.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Esp., MS., lib. 12, cap. 33.
26. Ibid., loc. cit.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Esp., MS., lib. 12, cap. 34.
27. I recollect meeting with no estimate of their numbers; nor, in the loose arithmetic of the Conquerors, would it be worth much. They must, however, have been very great, to enable them to meet the assailants so promptly and efficiently on every point.
28. Gonzalo de las Casas, Defensa, MS., cap. 28.--Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Esp., MS., lib. 12, cap. 34.
The principal cities were Mexicaltzinco, Cuitlahuac, Iztapalapan, Mizquiz, Huitzilopochco, Colhuacan.
29. "Y como aquel dia llevabamos mas de ciento y cincuenta mil Hombres de Guerra." Rel. Terc., ap. Lorenzana, p. 280.
30. "Y vea Vuestra Magestad," says Cortés to the Emperor, "que tan ancha puede ser la Calzada, que va por lo mas hondo de la Laguna, que de la una parte, y de la otra iban estas Casas, y quedaba en medio hecha Calle, que muy á placer á pie, y á caballo ibamos, y veniamos por ella." Ibid., p. 260.
31. The greatest difficulty, under which the troops labored, according to Diaz, was that of obtaining the requisite medicaments for their wounds. But this was in a great degree obviated by a Catalan soldier, who, by virtue of his prayers and incantations, wrought wonderful cures both on the Spaniards, and their allies. The latter, as the more ignorant, flocked in crowds to the tent of this military Æsculapius, whose success was doubtless in a direct ratio to the faith of his patients. Hist. de la Conquista, ubi supra.
32. Diaz mourns over this unsavory diet. (Ibid., loc. cit.) Yet the Indian fig is an agreeable, nutritious fruit; and the tortilla, made of maize flour, with a slight infusion of lime, though not precisely a morceau friand, might pass for very tolerable camp fare. According to the lively Author of "Life in Mexico," it is made now, precisely as it was in the days of the Aztecs.--If so, a cooking receipt is almost the only thing that has not changed in this country of revolutions.
33. "Quo strages,"says Martyr, "erat crudelior, eo magis copisoe ac opipare cœnabant Guazuzingui & Tascaltecani, cæterique prouinciales auxiliarii, qui soliti sunt hostes in prœlio cadentes intra suos ventres sepelire; nec vetare ausus fuisset Cortesius." (De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 8). "Y los otros les mostraban los de su Ciudad hechos pedazos, diciéndoles, que los habian de cenar aquella noche, y almorzar otro dia, como de hecho lo hacian." (Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 256.) Yet one may well be startled by the assertion of Oviedo, that the carniverous monsters fished up the bloated bodies of those drowned in the lake to swell their repast! "Ni podian ver los ojos de los Christianos, é Cathólicos, mas espantable é aborrecida cosa, que ver en el Real de los Amigos confederados el continuo exercicio de comer carne asada, ó cocida de los Indios enemigos, é aun de los que mataban en las canoas, ó se ahogabhan, é despues, el agua los echaba en la superficie de la laguna, ó en la costa, no los dexaban de pescar, é aposentar en sus vientres." Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 24.
34. "Y sin duda el dia pasado, y aqueste yo tenia por cierto, que vinieran de Paz, de la qual yo siempre con Victoria, y sin ella hacia todas las muestras, que podia. Y nunca por esso en ellos hallabamos alguna señal de Paz." Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 261.
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