James W. (James William) Buel.

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querors a sum equal to a million of dollars.

Things quieted down again for a while, but there was a
constant dread in Cortez' mind that his rash acts would
yet lead to disasters, and he continually conceived new
means for strengthening his position. Retreat by way of
the causeways, which at intervals might be easily destroyed,
was so precarious that Cortez set about the building of two
brigantines, in which to embark his troops in case it became
necessary to suddenly abandon the city, when other avenues
of escape were closed. With the aid of hundreds of natives,
whose curiosity to see vessels which had never before been
upon their waters prompted them to lend an industrious
assistance, in a few weeks the brigantines were completed.

Being now more securely situated than heretofore, Cortez
resolved upon the overthrow of the bloody religion of the
Mexicans, and the institution of Catholicism in its stead.
He again appealed to Montezuma to renounce his false gods,
but so deeply ingrained was his faith, that the Emperor
turned a deaf ear to all entreaty, which so provoked Cortez
that he ordered his soldiers to march to the temples and
despoil them of every vestige of Paganism. At the first
hostile demonstration thus made towards the destruction of
Mexican idolatry, the Aztec priests called the miultitude to
their assistance, who, with every available weapon, hastened


heroically to the defense of their religious institutions; the
force thus mustered was so large that Cortez soon discov-
ered how rash had been his undertaking, and withdrew his
soldiers before any violence had been committed.

Nine months thus passed with intermittent acts of violence
and condescension, without any substantial gain, or an at-
tempt to execute any radical measures, until Cortez received
information that a large fleet and 1,500 soldiers had been
sent by Velasquez to Mexico, under command of Spanish
ofificers, with orders to seize him for his assumption of vice-
royal honors and for other acts of insubordination. Narvaez
was General-in-Chief of this considerable army, who, beside
bearing orders from Velasquez, was intrusted with a mes-
sage from Charles V., directed to Montezuma, disclaiminsf
all sympathy in the acts committed by Cortez and an appeal
to assist in driving the invaders from his country. Upon
receipt of this information, which had been secretly con-
veyed by a friend of Cortez after the arrival of the fleet at
Vera Cruz, with his characteristic sagacity Cortez immedi-
ately assembled 250 of his bravest men, leaving the re-
mainder of his troops on guard at the Spanish capital, and
by forced marches reached Vera Cruz in less than a week's
journey. The troops of the fleet had been debarked with
more than twenty pieces of artillery and eighty horses, and
had gone into camp at the place of settlement founded by
Cortez, to await the landing of their stores, which consumed
considerable time. This delay enabled him to reach Vera
Cruz before any intimation of his intentions could precede
him, while the weather favored his designs in a surprising
way. Cortez arrived in sight of Vera Cruz just as the
shades of night began to envelop the landscape in darkness.
An hour later a terrible storm arose, and the rain poured
down in such torrents that the Spanish camp was compelled
to be astir to save some of the stores that had been landed.


All this favored Cortcz, and as he was a man not to waste
opportunities, at the moment when everything was in
greatest confusion, he rushed to the attack. Taken com-
pletely by surprise, the Spaniards under Narvaez could
make no resistance (for indeed they were totally unpre-
pared) and in less than half an hour Cortez was complete
master of the situation and received from Narvaez terms for
the most abject submission. Instead of submitting his
prisoners to any punishments, in a spirit of affected mag-
nanimity he loaded them with favors, and by artful speech
contrived to win the whole expedition over to his service ;
and thus augmented by a force of nearly 1.500 effective men,
all of whom were well armed, and with an ample supply of
military stores, he started on his return journey to complete
the subjugation of Mexico. On his way he Avas joined by
two thousand more soldiers of the Totonacs, and he felt
himself now strong enough to contend with the combined
armies of all Mexico.

Scarcely had he started upon his return, when news came
to Cortez by a messenger that the Mexicans had fallen upon
the feeble force which he had left under his sub-officer,
named iVlvarado, and had massacred the entire party. With
the hope that some might have escaped, and a desire to
execute speedy vengeance for this act of treachery, Cortez
made no halts, but pushed on with incredible speed, vowing
constantly to exterminate every Mexican within the capital
as he had slaughtered his enemies at Cholula. But when
he reached the main causeway leading to the capital, he
found the bridges still intact and the city apparently peace-
ful, though no one came out to receive him, nor were there
any demonstrations to indicate that any serious event had
transpired during his absence. When he gained his quar-
ters, his surprise was all the greater to learn that, instead of
Alvarado and his connnand having been massacred, they


themselves had been the aggressors, and that for some
fancied grievance they had descended upon the Mexicans
while they were in the performance of their religious rites
in the court-yard of the great temple, and had cut down
nearly six hundred of the flower of Mexican nobility. The
indignation of Cortez, upon receipt of this information, was
almost boundless вАФ though it is more than probable that he
affected a feeling which, in reality, he did not experience.
But before the people he showered upon Alvarado all man-
ner of vituperation, and pronounced his conduct that of a
madman. The only excuse which his subordinate gave for
this atrocious act was that he had suspicions that the Mexi-
cans were preparing to cut off his retreat and massacre his
soldiers, though he could give no substantial reason for this

This act of incredible cruelty was followed almost im-
mediately by a desperate resolve upon the part of the Mexi-
cans, who had already suffered the limit of indignity and
cruelty. So, on every side arose the sound of drums, and
there was a hurrying to and fro of the natives upon a mis-
sion which it did not take Cortez long to interpret. His
force now consisted of 1,200 Spaniards and 8,000 native allies,
who were well protected by an encampment encircled by
stone buildings ; but provisions were scarce, and the Mexi-
cans had refused to continue their contributions. The dan-
gers of starvation now became greater than the power of
the Mexicans, and immediate action was necessary to avert
a calamity which threatened the entire force with destruc-
tion. Cortez accordingly sent 400 of his men into the
streets to reconnoiter, but scarcely had they made their ap-
pearance before the fortress when they were assailed by a
large party of Mexicans, who, with cries for vengeance,
opened fire with arrows and javelins with such effect as to
throw the Spaniards into a, wild disorder. It was with the


greatest difficulty that they were able to fight their way
back to the fortified quarters, having lost in the onset
twenty-three killed and twice as many wounded. The suc-
cess of this attack inspired the Mexicans with a new resolu-
tion. They found that their enemies were not invulnerable,
and cutting off the heads of the slain, they carried them
about the city to show how easily the invaders might be
destroyed, if the Mexicans would but act boldly and in
concert. The fortress was now besieged by a body of prob-
ably 50,000 Mexicans, while their forces were continually
augmented by volunteers who poured in from every part
of the surrounding district. The artillcr)^, which now com-
prised twenty-five pieces, was opened up and tore great
gaps through the assaulting force, but did not succeed in
putting them to rout as it had done heretofore. Fighting
for their altars and their gods, the Mexicans were inspired
to the most extraordinary acts of valor, and twice they were
upon the point of scaling the walls and gaining the Spanish
quarters, and were only prevented by desperate hand-to-
hand conflicts, in which swords, cannons and muskets of the
Spaniards wrought dreadful havoc among the unprotected
bodies of the besiegers. All day long this frightful conflict
cbntinued, until in the evening the ground was covered with
the slain, and darkness put a stop to the horrible carnage.

Resolved to adopt a desperate expedient and release him-
self from an appalling situation, before dawn on the follow-
ing morning Cortez placed himself at the head of his cavalry,
now numbering 100, and made a rush upon the enemy
that were sullenly awaiting the light of day to renew the
attack. Another desperate fight now took place, in which
the Spaniards were repulsed, though not before they had
slaughtered more than 1, 000 of the Mexicans, but whose
numbers had so increased during the night that Cortez esti-
mates their force at above 200,000. Nor had they been


inactive, for undercover of the darkness they had destroyed
the bridges which connected portions of the causeway, thus
cutting off retreat, while great quantities of stone had been
carried to the housetops, whicli they poured down witli
great destruction upon the Spanish cavalry, that wounded
where their other weapons would have been ineffective.
Besides the desperate fighting which characterized the day,
they set fire to a large number of houses, the conflagration
of which added immensely to the other excitements.

But towards evening there was a cessation of hostilities,
both parties for a while resting upon their arms, neither
being willing to assume the aggressive. During this inter-
val, however, the Mexicans continued to increase, as they
had the day before, and Cortez, who had been severely
wounded in the hand by a stone, began now to appreciate
the fact that he could only save himself through the inter-
cession of Montezuma himself. In this dire extremity, he
had the audacity to transmit a message to the Emperor,
couched in the most beseeching language, deploring the
awful carnage that had drenched tire streets of his fair
capital with blood, and begging that he would interpose his
royal influence to put a stop to a slaughter, which, if con-
tinued, must end in the entire destruction of the city and a
greater number of its people.

Montezuma, who had watched with bitterest anguish the
progress of the battle, and had seen so many thousands of
his people slain while heroically battling for their homes,
was moved by compassion not only to hesitate, but to
actually issue an order for the cessation of hostilities. But
the populace was now so insanely excited that the order was
not credited, and on the following morning the battle was
renewed and continued through the better part of the day,
until there lay in ghastly piles, on every avenue and house-
top of the city, more than 50,000 dead bodies of the Mexi-


cans. Suddenly, as if heaven itself had declared a truce,
the tumult of battle ceased ; the INIexicans laid down their
arms, and stood in an attitude of the most devout venera-
tion. This instant cessation was caused by the appearance
of the Emperor, who, dressed in his imperial robes, walked
out upon the walls in front of his palace and waved his im-
perial hand to command the attention of his loyal subjects.
In this moment of silence he earnest!}' bcsou;^ht them to
cease the fierce conflict which was resulting in the destruc-
tion of so many thousands of his lo^-al people, giving them
his assurance that the Spaniards would retire from the city
if his subjects would lay down their arms and cease the
bloody strife. During the delivery of this peaceful declara-
tion, Cortez had sent a body-guard to stand by Alontez.uma
and protect him upon the wall ; but, misconstruing this act,
the Mexicans conceived the idea that their Emperor was
but voicing the dictation of the Spaniards, and that he was,
indeed, a prisoner in their hands. Their indignation and
desire for vengeance was such tliat there arose a loud cry
from the enraged INIexicans, \\hich was instantly followed
by a shower of arrows, two of which pierced the body of
the unfortunate Emperor, and he fell back badly wounded
into the arms of some of the body-guard that had attended
him. He was tenderly carried to the apartments of his
capital, but so thoroughly crushed in spirit that he resolved
no longer to live to be the subject of Spanish tyranny and
insult : so, after his wounds had been carefully tended, and
he had patiently submitted himself to the care of the sur-
geon, in a moment when the attention of his attendants was
directed elsewhere, he tore the bandages from his wounds
and declared his resolution to die. This he carried so far
that he refused all nourishment, and at every favorable
opportunity he aggravated his wounds, and thus lingering
between suffering of both mind and body, in three days after


the receipt of his injuries he was released by death from all
the contentions of this life.

The assault which wounded the Emperor was the signal
for a fresh renewal of the battle, which continued now to
rage with intense fur)', nor did it abate at any time during
the whole of the day. The Mexicans contrived to gain
possession of a high tower which overlooked the Spanish
quarters, from which lofty vantage they hurled down stones
upon the Spaniards, and thus succeeded in killing several
who were otherwise inaccessible to the weapons of the be-
siegers. So commanding was this situation that Cortez
saw the necessity of dislodging the enemy, and to this
hazardous enterprise he resolved to lend his own aid. His
left hand had been dreadfully crushed in an attack on
the preceding day, but he ordered his shield to be bound
to his arm and placed himself at the head of a select party
who had been chosen to attempt the dislodgment. In
spite of a shower of stones and arrows, this heroic body
bravely ascended until they reached a spacious platform,
where a dreadful hand-to-hand battle now took place.
Two Mexicans, who were members of the nobility, anxious
to destroy Cortez, even at the sacrifice of their own lives,
seized him by the body and made a desperate effort to drag
him to the edge of the battlements, where they had hoped
to hurl him and themselves to destruction below. But by
his wonderful agility and extraordinary strength, Cortez
contrived to break from their desperate grasp and slay
them both, after which the other Mexicans were put to
rout, and the tower was set on fire.

The battle thus went on, nor did it halt when night's
shades fell ; for everywhere the lurid flames of consuming
buildings lighted up the scene, and enabled the combat-
ants to continue the dreadful slaughter. Thousands had
been slain, but thousands yet were to pay the penalty of


heroism, and so the fires, and shrieks, and groans of bloody
tumult continued until towards morning Cortez summoned
the Mexican chiefs to a parley. His beautiful wife, Marina,
acted as his Interpreter, and through her he admonished
the Mexicans to immediately submit or else suffer the en-
tire destruction of their city and the slaughter of every
man, woman and child who composed its population. But
the answer was a defiant one. The Mexicans had cor-
rectly measured the strength of the Spaniards. But,
against their superior weapons, they were ready to measure
their own superior numbers.

Failing in his efforts to compromise, or to secure the
peaceful withdrawal of his troops, while his position was
every moment becoming more perilous, Cortez resolved to
retreat at any hazard, since the dangers which lay ahead
could not exceed those which encompassed him. To this
end he set about the construction of movable towers, which,
after a week, were so far completed that he attempted at
midnight to withdraw under their protection. A platform
was constructed on the top of each tower from which his
soldiers might fight, an elevation which placed them upon
a level with the tops of the Mexican houses, while inside
were placed the sharp-shooters and the artillery, so dis-
posed as to sweep the streets. The army thus singularly
protected was separated into three divisions, led respect-
ively by Sandoval at the head, Alvarado commanding the
rear, while Cortez had charge of the central division, in
which were placed the distinguished prisoners that he had
made, among whom were a son and daughter of Monte-
zuma, besides many noblemen. He had also provided a
portable bridge, which he hoped to be of service in throw-
ing across the breaches that had been broken in the cause-
ways. Scarcely had this strange march of moving towers
begun when out of the darkness poured a volley of stones


and javelins that broke like hailstones upon the sides of the
towers, and harmlessly fell upon the ground. Progress
was slow, but the Spaniards had provided an effectual
protection, while giving such free play for their cannons
and muskets, that they swept down opposing obstacles and
piled up the streets afresh with bleeding victims. Thus the
Spaniards moved cautiously and slowly until they at length
reached one of the broken causeways, when the portable
bridge was let down in the hope of providing a passage.
The head of the Spanish column succeeded in crossing, but
when the weight of the tower with its heavy contents was
drawn upon the superstructure, with one great crash it fell
into the chasm, and left hundreds of Spaniards struggling
in the water and with their foes. A greater part, however,
by some extraordinary fortune, succeeded in escaping, and
now, abandoning the towers, rushed towards another breach,
planting their cannon in such a manner as to partially keep
the pursuing Mexicans at bay. In the meantime, stones
and timbers of every kind torn from demolished buildings
were thrown into the breach to make a passage ; but it was
slow work, and for two days the battle continued as before,
the Spaniards being unable to make their escape.

The story of this remarkable battle, which continued for
nearly a week, is more tragic than that of Waterloo, or of
Gettysburg, or of the Wilderness. It is so gory that pen
runs red while writing it. It is so horrible that heart turns
sick in its contemplation. Though the Spaniards numbered
less than 1,500, and their loss did not exceed 500, owing to
the protection which their armor afforded, their enemies,
whose heroism has perhaps never been equaled in all his-
tory, were slaughtered in numbers that are positively
astounding, and equaled only by that of Megiddo's bloody

On the last day the wail of anguish, the groan of dying,


the crackling of burning houses, the roar of cannon and
musketry, the pandemonium of noise, \vere increased by the
shriek of the storm that broke in wind and rain, as if in
sympathy with the woes of the contestants. Under the
cover of this storm, the Spaniards, having abandoned their
towers, sought retreat through the two miles of causeway,
and were proceeding, apparently without pursuit, when of
a sudden their progress was stopped by an assault of natives,
who poured up from out a thousand boats, where they had
been lurking in anticipation of the approach of the Span-
iards. Their attack was one of incredible fury, and the
defense which the Spaniards made was no less terrible.
Under the blanket of darkness, it was impossible to distin-
guish friend from foe, and the fight went on without abate-
ment through all the dreary hours of that dismal night,
until Cortcz, left with scarcely a hundred men, and using
the bodies of those whom he had slaughtered to bridge the
breaches which he had yet to cross in order to reach the
mainland, pushed on despite the missiles of his foes. They
at length succeeded by herculean and heroic effort in reach-
ing the shores, where the possibility of their escape was
increased. But behind him he left scores of his faithful
soldiers, more than forty of whom, though all wounded,
were taken alive and reserved for a fate as horrible as
he had visited upon many of the unoffending Mexicans.
Others of his men contrived to escape, and he now rallied a
feeble force and awaited approaching dawn.

When the sun uprose, it shone down upon a spectacle
that wounds the eye of remembrance. Along the two
miles' length of that causeway lay piled in confusion and
deadly embrace friend and foe, and in the breaches were
not only thousands of dead and distorted bodies, but bag-
gage of every description, cannons and plundered treasure,
while about upon the lake were seen floating fragments of


every character, including broken canoes and bloated
bodies. Four thousand of the Spanish allies had given up
their lives in this slaughter, while 870 of the Spaniards, de-
spite the armor which they wore, had surrendered their lives
in this horrible and long-continued battle. Cortez himself,
though inflexible in defeat, and whose heart seemed prompt-
ed by the most cruel passions, was unable to look upon
such a scene without being moved by the mute appeals of
humanity, and bowing his head, for the first time in his
life he wept bitter tears of sorrow and disappointment.
The Mexicans had suffered so seriously in the fight, how-
ever, that there was no longer disposition to pursue him.
They were content to wreak their vengeance upon the
captives that had been left in their hands, and to permit a
retreat of the remnant which they knew had received
already a punishment which only the hardiest spirits could
possibly survive. Cortez accordingly retreated to a large
stone temple some distance from the lake, where he fortu
nately found both protection and a supply of provisions.
Here he reorganized as best he could the little force that
was left him, and after a short rest proceeded upon the long
journey back to Tlascala, a distance of sixty-four miles,
where he reasonably expected provisions and relief which
he still stood so sorely in need of. But on the way they
were not to escape further tribulations. The tributary
tribes of the Mexicans were now set upon their heels and
harassed them at every step, and so effectually prevented
them from securing food on the way that, in their extrem-
ity, they were at times forced to kill some of the few horses
which had survived the fight to save themselves from star-

While pursuing this dreary and terrible march, in pass-
ing through a defile of the mountains, the Spanish were
suddenly brought in sight of an enormous army of the


enemy assembled upon a plain, awaiting to descend upon
them. Even the stout heart of Cortez sank with despair
before such a spectacle of vengeance. But rallying his
nearly exhausted band around him, he animated them as
best he could by a speech appealing to their vanity and to
their faith in God. At the word of command they dashed
into the great masses of serried ranks of the enemy. The
onset of the Spaniards was so fierce that the natives recoiled
before it, and knowing the superstitious veneration which
the Mexicans entertained for their imperial banner, at the
head of his force, Cortez drove directly towards it, and by
unexampled valor he cut a pathway through the enemy,
and at last, seizing the sacred banner from the hands of the
bearer whom he had stricken down with his broad-sword,
he waved it aloft and shouted praises to God for the favors
He had bestowed. With cries of grief and rage the Mexi-
cans immediately broke in wild tumult, and fled away to
the mountains, in the belief that their gods had abandoned
them, leaving twenty thousand of their dead upon the field.
Without meeting any further obstacles, the Spaniards
reached the territory of the Tlascalans, where they were
hospitably received and generously entertained until the
sick and the wounded were fully recovered. It was here
that Cortez for the first time gave any attention to his own
wounds, which had now become so severe that he had to
submit to an amputation of two of his injured fingers, and
the trepanning of his skull, that had been fractured by a
club in the hands of one of the natives, and from which
injury he was threatened with concussion of the brain.

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 35 of 37)