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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Siege of Mexico

By Abiel Holmes (1763–1837)

[The Annals of America. Second Edition. 1829.]

THE SIEGE was begun on the 30th of May. After several days, spent in various acts of hostility, Cortes, with much difficulty, effected an entrance into the great square of the city; but was so violently assailed by the citizens that he found it expedient to retreat. Twenty days having passed, during which the Spaniards had made continual entrance into the city, Cortes determined on a general assault. On the appointed day, he marched with 25 horses, all his infantry, and more than 100,000 allies; his brigantines, with more than 3,000 canoes, forming the two wings of his army on each side of the causeway. Having entered the city with little opposition, and commenced a most vigorous action, the Mexicans made some resistance, and then feigned a retreat. The Spaniards, pushing forward with emulation to enter the great square of the market, unwarily left behind them a broad gap in the causeway, badly filled up; and the priests at this instant blew the horn of the god Painalton, which was reserved for times of extreme danger, to excite the people to arms, when a multitude of Mexicans assembled, and, pouring with fury upon their assailants, threw them into confusion, and compelled them to retreat precipitately. In attempting to pass the gap, apparently filled up with faggots and other light materials, it sunk with the weight and violence of the multitude, when Spaniards, Tlascalans, horsemen and infantry, plunged in promiscuously, the Mexicans at the same moment rushing upon them fiercely on every side. A tremendous conflict ensued. Cortes, who had come to the ditch in aid of his defeated troops, was at length bringing them off, when he was seized by six chiefs, who had cautiously taken him alive, “to honor their gods with the sacrifice of so illustrious a victim,” and were already leading him away for this purpose. His men, apprised of his capture, flew to his aid; and Christoval de Olea, cutting off with one stroke of his sword the arm of a Mexican who held him, and killing four of the enemy, liberated his general, at the expense of his own life. Other soldiers arriving to the assistance of Cortes, they took him out of the water in their arms, and, placing him on a horse, hurried him off from the crowd of his enemies. The loss sustained by the besiegers, on that day, was seven horses, a number of arms and boats, a piece of artillery, upwards of a thousand allies, and more than sixty Spaniards. Some of the Spaniards were killed in battle; but forty were taken alive, and immediately sacrificed in the great temple of Mexico. The Mexicans celebrated their victory during eight successive days, with illuminations and music in their temples.

Various acts of mutual and bloody hostility succeeded by land and on the Mexican lake. Quauhtemotzin, the king of Mexico, though reduced to the greatest distress, still obstinately refused to surrender, on repeated proposals of terms more honorable and indulgent than in such an extremity he might perhaps have possibly expected. In addition to the daily loss of incredible numbers in action, famine began to consume the Mexicans within the city. The brigantines, having the entire command of the lake, rendered it almost impossible to convey to the besieged any provisions by water. By means of the vast number of Indian auxiliaries, Cortes had shut up the avenues to the city by land. The stores, laid up by Quauhtemotzin, were exhausted. The complicated sufferings of this devoted people brought on infectious and mortal distempers, “the last calamity that visits besieged cities, and which filled up the measure of their woes.” Cortes, now determining upon an assault, began with most of his forces to attack some ditches and intrenchments; and Sandoval with another division attacked the city in the quarter of the north. Terrible was the havoc made this day among the Mexicans, more than 40,000 of whom, it is affirmed, were slain. The stench of the unburied carcasses obliged the besiegers to withdraw from the city, three-fourths of which were already laid in ruins; but the next day they returned, to make the last assault on that district of it which was yet in possession of the Mexicans. All the three divisions of the troops, having penetrated into the great square in the centre of the city, made the attack at once, and pressed so hard on the feeble, exhausted citizens, that, finding no place of refuge, many threw themselves into the water, and some surrendered themselves to the conquerors. The Mexicans having previously prepared vessels, to save themselves by flight from the fury of the enemy, one of them, carrying the royal personages, escaped; but it was soon overtaken by a Spanish brigantine, and surrendered. “I am your prisoner,” said Quauhtemotzin, the Mexican king, to the Spanish captain; “I have no favor to ask, but that you will show the queen my wife, and her attendants, the respect due to their sex and rank.” When conducted to Cortes, he appeared neither with the sullen fierceness of a barbarian, nor with the dejection of a suppliant. “I have done what became a monarch. I have defended my people to the last extremity. Nothing now remains but to die. Take this dagger,” continued he, laying his hand on one which Cortes wore at his side, “plant it in my breast, and put an end to a life which can no longer be of use.” Cortes now ordered that all the Mexicans should leave the city without arms or baggage; and for three days and three nights all the three roads, leading from the city, were seen “full of men, women, and children, feeble, emaciated, and dirty, who went to recover in other parts” of the Mexican territory. The fate of the capital decided the fate of the empire, which was soon after entirely reduced under the dominion of Spain.