Published Date

May 1, 2004

Resource Type

Primary Source

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “The Conquest of Mexico” by Nancy Fitch.

From Hernán Cortés, Cartas y relaciones de Hernan Cortés al emperador Carlos V, third letter, 262–66.

In the preceding chapters I stated that I remained at Tesaico with three hundred men and the thirteen brigantines; as soon as I ascertained that the division of the army had reached their positions, l embarked and took a look at the city, doing some injury to the canoes. Although I was very desirous of being upon the land for the purpose of directing the movements of the army, yet as the captains were persons who could be safely entrusted with the business committed to them, and the charge of the brigantines was one of the much importance, and required great concert of action and care, I determined to embark in them, the greatest advantage as well as risk being likely to occur by water; notwithstanding I was formally requested by the principal persons with me to join the divisions, as in their opinion most exposed to danger. The next day after the feast of Corpus Christi, [the Ascension,] Friday, at dawn of day, I dispatched Gonzalo de Sandoval with his division, from Tesaico, in a direct course to the city of lztapalapa, six short leagues distant; at a little past noon they arrived there, and immediately began to set fire to the city and attack the inhabitants. As soon as they saw the large force under the command of the alguazil mayor, (for he had with him 35 or 40,000 of our allies,) the people took refuge in their canoes on the lake. The alguazil mayor, with his whole force, took up his quarters in that city, and remained there a day, waiting my orders and watching my movements.

After I had dispatched the alguazil mayor, I immediately went on board the brigantines, and by the aid of sails and oars we took our departure; and while the alguazil mayor was engaged in fighting and setting fire to the city of Iztapalapa, we arrived in sight of a large and fortified hill near that city, occupying an insulated situation in the lake; there were many people on it, as well as those dwelling around the lake, as from Tenochtitlan; for they knew well that the first encounter would be with the people of Iztapalapa, and they were there to defend themselves, and if possible to attack us. As soon as they saw our fleet approach, they began to make great smokes as a signal to inform all the cities of the lakes of our coming, that they might be in readiness to meet us. Although my plan was to attack the part of the city of Iztapalapa that was situated on the water, we turned against this hill, and I leaped upon it with one hundred and fifty men. It was very steep and high, and it was with much difficulty that we began to ascend it; and we took by storm the entrenchments which they had raised on its summit for their defense. We came upon them in such a manner that not one of them escaped except the women and the children; and in this combat tweny-five Spaniards were wounded, but a most brilliant victory.

As the people of Iztapalapa had made signals of smoke from the towers of their idols situated on a very lofty elevation very near the city, the Mexicas and inhabitants of the other cities on the lake knew that I was entering the lake with the brigantines; and all at once an immense fleet of canoes was assembled to attack us, and discover what sort of things the brigantines were; so far as we could judge they exceeded five hundred in number. As soon as I saw that they were bending their course directly towards us, I with the men who had landed on the hill went on board in much haste, and I ordered the commanders of the brigantines by no means to move, since the canoes were determined to attack us, and would believe that from fear we did not venture out to meet them; so in great force the enemy began to direct their course towards us. But when within about two bow-shots they halted and remained quiet; and in the mean time, while I was anxious that the first encounter we had with them should be marked by a signal victory, and inspire them with great dread of the brigantines, which were the key of the whole war, as both the enemy and ourselves would suffer most by water–it pleased our Lord that while we were looking at one another, a wind arose from the land favorable to an attack upon them, and I instantly gave orders to the commanders to break through the fleet of canoes and pursue them until they took refuge in the city of Tenochtitlan. As the wind was fair, we bore down upon the midst of them, and although they fled as fast as possible, we broke an immense number of canoes, and destroyed many of the enemy in a style worthy of admiration. In the chase we followed them full three long leagues, till they were locked up amongst the houses of the city; and thus it pleased our Lord to grant us a greater and more complete victory than we had ventured to ask or desire.

The division of the army posted at Cuyoacan was better able than that stationed in the city of Tacuba to see the movements of the brigantines; and when they espied the thirteen sail upon the lake, and observed the rapidity with which we moved, and that we dispersed all the canoes of the enemy, it was to them, as they afterwards assured me, the most gratifying spectacle, as well as the most desirable one, in the world. I have already stated that both divisions were extremely anxious for my arrival, and with good reason, for they were in the midst of a vast multitude of the enemy; but it pleased our Lord to raise the courage of our troops, and weaken that of the enemy, so that they were unable to summon resolution enough to attack our camp; which if they had done the Spaniards could not fail to have received great injury, though they were always well prepared and resolved to conquer or die, since they were cut off from all succor save that which they hoped from God. So when the division at Cuyoacan discovered us in pursuit of the canoes, the greater part of the horse[men] and foot[soldiers] that were there took up the line of march for the city of Tenochtitlan, and bravely engaged with the Mexicas on the causeway; they gained the trenches that had been made by the enemy, took them, and passed horse[men] and foot[soldiers] over many bridges that they had abandoned, being favored in their movements by the brigantines, which approached near to the causeway. The Indians of Tlascala, our allies, and the Spaniards pursued the enemy, made great havoc amongst them and cast them into the water on the side of the causeway opposite that approached by the brigantines. In that manner they proceeded victoriously more than a long league on the causeway, until they reached spot where I had hove [sailed] to with the brigantines. . .