c19_sm_fig01.jpg - 43535 Bytes
ON the day following his spectacular entrance into the city, which ended with noisy demonstration, of roaring cannon and rattle of musketry Cortez proceeded, at the head of a retinue of horsemen, on a visit to the Emperor, who graciously met him at his palace door, and with a large body of police accompanied him on a visit to the important places of the capital. The chief object of interest which attracted the attention of the Spaniards was a gigantic pyramidal temple, which rose from the centre of an extended plain to a height of nearly 150 feet, the summit of which was gained by an ascent of 114 steps. It was upon this pyramid that bloody human sacrifices were offered up by the devout Mexicans of the city, and before the sacrificial stone, which occupied a corner of this altitudinous plain, was the hideous image of two idols, thickly encrusted with the dried blood of thousands of victims that had been slaughtered as a propitiation before it. On the summit was also an enormous gong, which the priests sounded at the time of the execution of their victims, the noise being made to drown their shrieks and groans, and to heighten the effects of the ceremony. After viewing this horrible spectacle, Cortez besought Montezuma to order an abandonment of the bloody rites, and expatiated upon the abominableness of their religion and the inefficacy of their gods; which, however, instead of producing a favorable impression, caused Montezuma to turn away in anger, shocked at what he regarded as the blasphemy of his visitors' declarations, and, in fear that a swift retribution would be wrought by the angered gods, he entreated Cortez to appease their wrath by an abjuration of his sacrilegious sentiments.

Unwilling as yet to proceed to violence to accomplish his designs, Cortez hoped to counteract the influence of the Mexican priests by the institution of the Christian worship, to which end he converted one of the halls of the residence that had been set apart for him into a Christian chapel, where the rites of the church were solemnly performed by Father Olmedo, and prayers were offered up for the speedy conversion of the heathens.

Several days/were spent inactively, until at length the question arose what should be their next proceedings. Cortez was not unmindful of the dangers which beset him, for, in addition to being in the centre of a city whose population was not less than 500,000 souls, the adjacent district was numerously populated, and every advantage was upon the side of the Mexicans for an annihilation of the Spaniards, had they chosen to make an exhibition of their power.

The Tlascalans, to whose inveterate enmity for the Mexicans was added the fear of punishment for their rebellion against the Emperor, became importunate for some action upon the part of Cortez that would inaugurate immediate hostilities, thinking that by so doing they would be enabled to wreak a vengeance upon their enemies similar to that which they had satisfied upon the Cholulans. They accordingly sought every opportunity to impress Cortez with the peril of his situation, and daily advised him that the Mexicans were planning a strategy by which to overcome them. They called to his mind the fact that the causeways were bridged at certain intervals, which might be easily cut so as to prevent an escape from the Mexicans if hostilities were begun, and they directed his attention to many suspicious actions which seemed to confirm their worst fears.


It was not long until these persuasions induced Cortez to adopt an expedient to prevent the fate which had been predicted unless averted by prompt and heroic measures. He therefore caused Montezuma to be seized and held as a hostage for the safety and peace of his soldiers, an act which he excused by the hostile measures adopted by some of the officers of Montezuma, who had laid a tribute upon the Totonacs, several of whom had been killed for their refusal to make payment of the taxes thus levied. Montezuma at first refused to submit to such indignity to his person, but yielded at length, upon the assurance that his prerogative as emperor would be in no wise interfered with, and that, in the Spanish quarters he would be permitted to execute his edicts in the same manner as before.

The holding of Montezuma as a hostage, however, proved to be only the beginning of greater indignities, which Cortez had foreseen could not be continued without involving the Spaniards and Mexicans in open hostility. His next act was the seizure of the chief who had levied tribute upon the Totonacs, and in revenge for the execution of those who had refused payments, he submitted the chief to a torture which wrung from him a confession that he had acted upon his sovereign's orders. Having obtained this admission, Cortez, not content with merely torturing the chief and his aids, caused them to be bound to stakes in the market places of the capital, where they were burned to death before the gaze of the terrified inhabitants. A raid was then made upon the magazine of the city, from which was forcibly taken all the arms, consisting of javelins, spears, arrows, and clubs, which were thrown into a pile and consumed, thus greatly reducing the power of resistance to his cruel conduct. Continuing his harsh measures, Cortez pitilessly ordered his soldiers to bind the hands and feet of the Emperor in iron manacles, and set him out before his palace in the character of a common felon until sunset, when the shackles were with a show of magnanimity stricken from him. But the insult which had thus been offered, in addition to the inexcusable crimes which Cortez had perpetrated, while humbling the Emperor, aroused the indignant ire of the populace, who began to concert measures for the annihilation of the Spaniards. But their attempt at resistance, for the time being, only resulted in the levying of a tribute of gold upon the whole of the Mexican territory, by which, was exacted for the benefit of the conquerors a sum equal to a million of dollars.


Things quieted down again for a while, but there was a constant dread in Cortez's 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 multitude to their assistance, who with every available weapon, hastened heroically to the defence of their religious institutions; the force thus mustered was so large that Cortez soon discovered 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 attempt to execute any radical measures, until Cortez received information that a large fleet, and 1500 soldiers, had been sent by Velasquez to Mexico, under command of Spanish officers, with orders to seize him for his assumption of viceroyal honors and for other acts of insubordination. Narvaez was General-in-Chief of this considerable army, who, beside bearing orders from Velasquez, was entrusted with a message from Charles V., directed to Montezuma, disclaiming 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 conveyed by a friend of Cortez after the arrival of the fleet at Vera Cruz, with his characteristic sagacity Cortez immediately assembled 250 of his bravest men, leaving the remainder 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 Cortez, 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 completely by surprise, the Spaniards under Narvaez could make no resistance (for indeed they were totally unprepared) 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 magnanimity 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 1500 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 was 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 Alvarado, 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 peaceful, 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 quarters, his surprise was all the greater to learn that, instead of Alvarado and his command 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 -- 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 manner 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 Mexicans were preparing to cut off his retreat and massacre his soldiers, though he could give no substantial reason for this supposition.


This act of incredible cruelty was followed almost immediately by a desperate resolve upon the part of the Mexicans, 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 mission which it did not take Cortez long to interpret. His force now consisted of 1200 Spaniards and 8000 native allies, who were well protected by an encampment encircled by stone buildings; but provisions were scarce, and the Mexicans had refused to continue their contributions. The dangers 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 destruction. Cortez accordingly sent 400 of his men into the streets to reconnoitre, but scarcely had they made their appearance 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 success of this attack inspired the Mexicans with a new resolution. 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 probably 50,000 Mexicans, while their forces were continually augmented by volunteers who poured in from every part of the surrounding district. The artillery, which now comprised 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 continued, 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 himself from an appalling situation, before dawn on the following 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
c19_sm_fig02.jpg - 61371 Bytes
before they had slaughtered more than a 1000 of the Mexicans, but whose numbers had so increased during the night that Cortez estimates their force at above 200,000. Nor had they been inactive, for under cover 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, which they poured down with 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 interval 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 intercession 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 the 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 continued, 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 housetop of the city more than 50,000 dead bodies of the Mexicans. Suddenly, as if heaven itself had declared a truce, the tumult of battle ceased; the Mexicans laid down their arms, and stood in an attitude of the most devout veneration. 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 imperial hand to command the attention of his loyal subjects. In this moment of silence he earnestly besought them to cease the fierce conflict which was resulting in the destruction of so many thousands of his loyal 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 tins peaceful declaration, Cortez had sent a body-guard to stand by Montezuma 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 that there arose a loud cry from the enraged Mexicans, which 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 surgeon, 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 fury, 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 besiegers. 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 land 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 combatants 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 entire 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 correctly 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
c19_sm_fig03.jpg - 81969 Bytes
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 disposed as to sweep the streets. The army thus singularly protected was separated into three divisions, led respectively 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 Montezuma, besides many noblemen. He had also provided a portable bridge, which he hoped to be of service in throwing across the breaches that had been broken in the causeways. Scarcely, had this strange march of moving towers begun when out of the darkness poured a volley of stones and javelins that broke like hail-stones 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 mean time, 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 equalled in all history, were slaughtered in numbers that are positively astounding, and equalled only by that of Megiddo's bloody field.


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, were 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 Spaniards. Their attack was one of incredible fury, and the defence which the Spaniards made was no less terrible. Under the blanket of darkness, it was impossible to distinguish friend from foe, and the fight went on without abatement through all the dreary hours of that dismal night, until Cortez, 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 reaching 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 baggage 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, despite 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 prompted 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, however, 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 fortunately 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 extremity, they were at times forced to kill some of the few horses which had survived the light to save themselves from starvation.


While pursuing this dreary and terrible march, in passing 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 Mexicans 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. But he recovered despite the dangerous character of his hurts, seemingly destined by fate to continue his career of unexampled spoliation, cruelty, and insatiable ambition.

c19_sm_fig04.jpg - 27813 Bytes