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The jealous Cuban governor, Velasquez, enraged at his presumption in throwing off the authority under which he had sailed, fitted out a formidable armament, to overthrow the newly acquired power of Cortez. The fleet, under the command of Pamphilo de Narvaez, reached the Mexican coast, and news of its arrival were conveyed to Cortez in the month of May 1520.
With his usual decision and promptness, the general divided his forces, and leaving the larger portion under Alvarado to maintain possession of the capital, he marched to check the advance of Narvaez. By the boldness of a night attack, followed up by the most consummate policy in winning over the good wishes, and exciting the cupidity of the newly-arrived army, he converted his enemies to friends, and, placing the leader in confinement, hastened back to the city with his powerful auxiliaries. His return was timely indeed. Alvarado had been guilty of an act of barbarity, (whether caused by avarice, by a supposed necessity, or by a desire to ape the valiant achievements of his master, cannot now be ascertained,) which had brought down upon him and his garrison the fury and indignation of the whole Aztec nation.
Upon an occasion of great public ceremonials at the Teocalli, or temple, at which were gathered a great con course of the nobility and chiefs, the Spaniards, placing a guard at the gates of the outer wall, mingled with the unarmed company, and, at an appointed sign, fell upon and murdered every Mexican present.
A general rush upon the Spanish quarters, which followed this event, was only checked by the appearance of Montezuma himself upon one of the towers of the building, who, knowing doubtless that his own life could scarcely be preserved in such a melee, requested his subjects to for bear. They therefore contented themselves with besieging the garrison, and cutting off supplies of food and wholesome water.
It was on St. John s day in the month of June, that Cortez reentered the city. The streets were silent and deserted, and with doubt and apprehension he proceeded to the Spanish palace. The soldiers of the garrison were overjoyed at the sight of the recruits, and received their brethren with open arms. Cortez saw the folly of Alvarado s conduct, and in his first mood of indignation and petulance, at the probable frustration of his plans, he indulged in contemptuous treatment of his royal captive.
The state of ominous silence observed in the city did not continue long. News came in that the Indians were destroying the bridges; and a body of four hundred men, under De Ordas, who were sent out to reconnoiter, were driven back, with a loss of twenty-three of their number. Such crowds of natives poured forth from their places of concealment, that the streets were choked with the living mass, while from balcony and roof-tops, a storm of weapons and missiles of every description rained upon the heads of the Spanish troops.
Surrounding the quarters of the Spaniards, and using every endeavor to burn the wooden portion of the buildings, the wild horde of enraged Mexicans continued the assault, with desperate fury, till nightfall.
Cortez attempted a sally with the first dawn of the following day, but he soon found that he had an enemy to encounter of far different spirit from those who had here to fore opposed him. Diaz says, “If we had been ten thousand Hectors of Troy, and as many Roldans, we could not have beaten them off. Some of our soldiers who had been in Italy, swore that neither among Christians nor Turks had they ever seen such desperation as was manifested in the attacks of those Indians.” The artillery in vain swept them down, for thousands were ready to rush over the fallen bodies of their comrades, and continue the battle with augmented fierceness. The Spaniards were finally forced to retreat. Various expedients were tried by the indefatigable Spanish general to quell the insurrection, and to dislodge the assailants, who shot their weapons from every high building in the vicinity of the garrison. Moving towers of wood were constructed, to be drawn through the street by companies of Tlascalans, while Spanish warriors from the interior discharged volleys of musketry upon the Indians. Many hundred houses were destroyed by fire, but, being principally of stone, no general conflagration ensued.
As a last resort, the great king himself, decked in his robes of state, was taken to the tower from which he had before succeeded in quieting the angry populace. The multitude listened with deferential awe, but when they heard again the palpable falsehood that he staid among the Spaniards by his own free will, reverence gave way to contempt and indignation. Revilings and reproaches were followed by a shower of stones and arrows. The attendant soldiers in vain interposed their shields to protect the emperor: he fell, severely wounded upon the head by a stone. The crowd now retired appalled at the sacrilege that they had committed. But the work was done: the miserable Montezuma, overcome with rage, mortification, and despair, would accept of no assistance, either surgical or spiritual, from the Spaniards. In three days, says de Soils, “lie surrendered up to the devil the eternal possession of his soul, employing the latest moments of his breath in impious thoughts of sacrificing his enemies to his fury and revenge.”
For the particulars of the various sorties, the ceaseless fighting, and, above all, the terrible scene at the storming of the holy temple, the reader must refer to more extensive treatises than this; suffice it that, weakened by continual fatigue, and day by day less able to resist the assaults of the enemy, the* Spaniards finally concluded to evacuate the city. One Botello, a soldier who was reputed a necromancer, as he “spoke Latin, and had been at Home,” announced a certain night as the only time when the army could escape utter destruction.
Cortez, whether moved by superstition or aware of its influence with the army, and hopeless of longer maintaining a hold on the capital under existing circumstances, made preparations to march. He attempted to blind his proceedings by pretended treaties with the Mexicans, pro posing to evacuate the city peaceably within eight days, while, at the same time, he was ordering every thing for an instantaneous departure. A portable bridge was pre pared to afford the means for crossing the gaps in the causey made by the enemy.
On the night of the first of July (1520), the general brought out the immense treasures of gold stored in his chamber, and, having separated the portion allotted to the crown, told the soldiery to take what they would, but cautioned them against encumbering themselves.
It was near midnight, and dark and rainy, when the troops were put in motion. They were in the act of passing the first breach, over the portable bridge, when the alarm was given that the “Teules were going,” and the cry of “Taltelulco, Taltelulco, (out with your canoes)” resounded over the water. The Spaniards were doomed to greater disaster and misery on this night, known as the “noche triste,” or night of sorrow, than they had ever yet experienced. An innumerable horde of dusky figures beset the causey, and attacked the fugitives in front, flank, and rear.
By a complication of misfortune, the bridge broke, and from the struggling mass of men and horses, the few who could obtain footing on the causey were mostly killed, or their cries for help were heard by their companions as they were borne off in the canoes of the enemy, doomed victims for sacrifice. The cavalry, who were in advance, hastened forward, hopeless of relieving those whose retreat had been cut off, and who were blindly contending in the darkness with the fierce and enraged Aztecs.
Alvarado, dismounted and wounded, came up with the advance, on foot, accompanied by three soldiers and eight Tlascalans. He reported the destruction of the rear-guard, together with their leader, Velasquez de Leon. According to some accounts, Alvarado had made his escape by an extraordinary leap over the gap, but Diaz denies the possibility of the act.
The wearied and disabled remnant of the proud army of Cortez pursued their route towards the friendly district of Tlascala, followed by detached companies of Mexicans, who attacked the fugitives in the rear, and, with insulting shouts, bade them hasten to the doom that awaited them.
Battle Of Obtumba, And Arrival At Tlascala
Near a place called Obtumba, the Indians were found arrayed upon a plain in countless hosts, to obstruct the inarch, and finish the work so successfully commenced on the night of the retreat. There was no way to avoid a general engagement, and every Spaniard nerved himself for the desperate struggle. We quote from Bernal Diaz ” Oh what it was to see this tremendous battle! how we closed foot to foot, and with what fury the dogs fought us! such wounding as there was amongst us with their lances and clubs, and two-handed swords, while our cavalry, favored by the plain ground, rode through them at will. Then to hear the valiant Sandoval how he encouraged us, crying out, Now, gentlemen, is the day of victory; put your trust in God; we shall survive, for he preserves us for some good purpose.
The royal standard was taken its bearer being slain, and the whole multitude were put to flight, and hewn down by hundreds in their retreat. The Spaniards pushed on to Tlascala, not without misgivings as to the reception they should meet with in their present crippled and suffering condition. These fears proved groundless: the friendly Tlascalans embraced them affectionately; wept over their loss; and gently rebuked them for trusting the treacherous Mexicans.
During the ” noche triste,” and upon the march to Tlascala, eight hundred and seventy Spaniards are recorded to have perished in battle, or to have been doomed, as prisoners, to a far more terrible fate. Of their Tlascalan allies more than a thousand were slain. Only four hundred and forty of the Spanish troops reached Tlascala, and these were many of them wounded and disabled, and were ill supplied with arms. Some accounts state that the Mexican army, at Obtumba, numbered two hundred thousand men, and that twenty thousand of these fell in the engagement or were slaughtered in their tumultuous retreat.