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countrymen ; for he saw that the European was an enemy far more
to be dreaded than the Aztec. Yet, when he consented to fight under
the banner of the white men, he had no right to desert it, and he in-
curred the penalty prescribed by the code of savage as well as of
civilised nations. It is said, indeed, that the Tlascalan senate aided
in apprehending him, having previously answered Cortes, that his
crime was punishable with death by their own laws.^ It was a bold
act, however, thus to execute him in the midst of his people ; for
he was a powerful chief, heir to one of the four seigniories of the
republic. His chivalrous qualities made him popular, especially


Siege and Surrender of Mexico

with the younger part of his countrymen ; and his garments were
torn into shreds at his death, and distributed as sacred relics among
them. Still, no resistance was offered to the execution of the sen-
tence, and no commotion followed it. He was the only Tlascalan
who ever swerved from his loyalty to the Spaniards.

According to the plan of operations settled by Cortes, Sandoval,
with his division, was to take a southern direction ; while Alvarado
and Olid would make the northern circuit of the lakes. These two
cavaliers, after getting possession of Tacuba, were to advance to
Chapoltepec, and demolish the great aqueduct there, which supplied
Mexico with water. On May lo, they commenced their march ;
but at Acolman, where they halted for the night, a dispute arose
between the soldiers of the two divisions, respecting their quarters.
From words they came to blows, and a defiance was even exchanged
between the leaders, who entered into the angry feelings of their
followers. Intelligence of this was soon communicated to Cortes,
who sent at once to the fiery chiefs, imploring them, by their regard
for him and the common cause, to lay aside their differences, which
must end in their own ruin, and that of the expedition. His re-
monstrance prevailed, at least, so far as to establish a show of re-
conciliation between the parties. But Olid was not a man to forget,
or easily to forgive ; and Alvarado, though frank and liberal, had an
impatient temper, much more easily excited than appeased. They
were never afterwards friends.

The Spaniards met with no opposition on their march. The
principal towns were all abandoned by the inhabitants, who had
gone to strengthen the garrison of Mexico, or taken refuge with their
families among the mountains. Tacuba was in like manner deserted,
and the troops once more established themselves in their old quarters
in the lordly city of the Tepanecs.'-

Their first undertaking was, to cut off the pipes that conducted
the water from the royal streams of Chapoltepec to feed the numerous
tanks and fountains which sparkled in the courtyards of the capital.
The aqueduct, partly constructed of brickwork, and partly of stone
and mortar, was raised on a strong, though narrow, dike which trans-
ported it across an arm of the lake ; and the whole work was one of
the most pleasing monuments of Mexican civilisation. The Indians,
well aware of its importance, had stationed a large body of troops for
its protection. A battle followed, in which both sides suffered con-


Conquest of Mexico

siderably, but the Spaniards were victorious. A part of the aqueduct
was demolished, and during the siege no water found its way again
to the capital through this channel.

On the following day the combined forces descended on the
fatal causeway, to make themselves masters, if possible, of the nearest
bridge. They found the dike covered vwth a swarm of warriors, as
numerous as on the night of their disaster, while the surface of the
lake was dark with the multitude of canoes. The intrepid Christians
strove to advance under a perfect hurricane of missiles from the water
and the land, but they made slow progress. Barricades thrown across
the causeway embarrassed the cavalry, and rendered it nearly useless.
The sides of the Indian boats were fortified with bulwarks, which
shielded the crews from the arquebuses and crossbows ; and, when
the warriors on the dike were hard pushed by the pikemen, they threw
themselves fearlessly into the water, as if it were their native element,
and reappearing along the sides of the dike, shot oflE their arrows and
javelins with fatal execution. After a long and obstinate struggle,
the Christians were compelled to fall back on their own quarters with
disgrace, and — including the allies — ^with nearly as much damage
as they had inflicted on the enemy. Olid, disgusted vdth the result
of the engagement, inveighed against his companion, as having
involved them in it by his wanton temerity, and drew off his forces
the next morning to his own station at Cojohuacan.

The camps, separated by only two leagues, maintained an easy
communication with each other. They found abundant employment
in foraging the neighbouring country for provisions, and in repelling
the active sallies of the enemy ; on whom they took their revenge
by cutting off his supplies. But their own position was precarious,
and they looked with impatience for the arrival of the brigantines
under Cortes. It was in the latter part of May that Olid took up his
quarters at Cojohuacan ; and from that time may be dated the
commencement of the siege of Mexico.^



Indian Flotilla Defeated — Occupation of the Causeways — Desperate
Assaults — Firing of the Palaces — Sprit of the Besieged —
Barracks for the Troop


NO sooner had Cortes received intelligence that his two
officers had established themselves in their respective
posts, than he ordered Sandoval to march on Iztpalapan.
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 spared.^
On the top of the eminence was a blazing beacon, serving to


Conquest of Mexico

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 circum-
stances, for regarding as especially sent him by Heaven, extended his
line of battle, and bore down, under full press of canvas, on the

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 wreck 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 resist-
ance, 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


Siege and Surrender of Mexico

.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 Olid 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 headquarters. He at once caused his
heavy iron cannon to be transferred from the brigantines to the
causeway, and sent orders to Olid 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 arrange-
ments, the general busily occupied himself with strengthening the
works at Xoloc, and putting them in the best posture of defence.

During the first five or six days after their encampment, the
Spaniards experienced much annoyance from the enemy, who too
late endeavoured to prevent their taking up a position so near the
capital, and which, had they known much of the science of war,
they would have taken better care themselves to secure. Contrary
to their usual practice, the Indians made their attacks by night as
well as by day. The water swarmed with canoes, which hovered
at a distance in terror of the brigantines, but still approached near
enough, especially under cover of the darkness, to send showers of
arrows into the Christian camp, that fell so thick as to hide the surface
of the ground, and impede the movements of the soldiers. Others
ran along the western side of the causeway, unprotected, as it was,


Conquest of Mexico

by the Spanish fleet, and plied their archery with such galling eflFect,
that the Spaniards were forced to make a temporary breach in the
dike, wide enough to admit two of their own smaller vessels, which,
passing through, soon obtained an entire command of the interior
basin, as they before had of the outer. Still, the bold barbarians,
advancing along the causeway, marched up within bow-shot of the
Christian ramparts, sending forth such yells and discordant battle-
cries, that it seemed, in the words of Cortes, " as if heaven and earth
were coming together." But they were severely punished for their
temerity, as the batteries, which commanded the approaches to the
camp, opened a desolating fire, that scattered the assailants, and
drove them back in confusion to their own quarters.

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 die
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 in-
structed 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 aUies,
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 simul-
taneous 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


Siege and Surrender of Mexico

as little less than divinities themselves. The Spanish infantry marched
in the van, led on by Cortes, attended by a number of cavaliers, dis-
mounted 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 en-
deavoured 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 some-
thing 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 rear-
guard 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


Conquest of Mexico

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 water.

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 escaufil 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,
juinping into the shallow water, scaled the opposite bank without


Siege and Surrender of Mexico

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 Axayacatl, 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 CoatC'pantU, 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 recol-
lections 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. lago," 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


Conquest of Mexico

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 distin-
guishing 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

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 pluiiged 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, per-

Online LibraryWilliam Hickling PrescottThe conquest of Mexico → online text (page 21 of 49)