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, second letter, 146–51.

. . . I proceeded on my route, and at night logged three leagues from the great city. The next day after hearing mass I resumed the march, and about noon entered the city [on June 24th, 1520]; seeing but few persons, and observing the gates removed from the cross streets, I did not like the appearance of things, although I thought that the people were alarmed at what had taken place, and that when I should be reestablished in the city all would be quiet again. I marched directly to the fortress, in which, and in the great temple adjoining it, all my troops were quartered ; those in the fortress received us with as great joy as if we had restored their lives to them, which they had already considered as lost; and we passed that day and the following night in extreme joy, believing that peace had again returned. The next day, after mass, I sent a messenger to the town of Vera Cruz, to carry the good news that the Christians were alive, and that I had entered the city, which was quiet. The messenger returned in half an hour after his departure, covered with bruises and injuries, crying aloud that all the Indians of the city were in arms, and that they had raised the bridges; and soon after an attack was made upon us by so great a multiple of’ people on all sides, that neither the streets nor the roofs of the houses were visible, on account of the crowd, from whom proceeded the most violent outcries and terrible shouts that could be conceived. Stones thrown by slings fell in such numbers upon the garrison that it seemed as if they came down like rain from the clouds; and darts and arrows were so thick that the houses and squares were filled with them, and almost prevented our walking about. I sallied forth at two or three different points, where they were engaged stoutly with our men; and at one time, when a captain had led forth 200 men, they fell upon them before he had time to form them in order, and killed four of their number, besides wounding the captain several others. I was also wounded, and many of’ the Spaniards who were with me engaged in another quarter. We destroyed few of the enemy, because they took refuge beyond the bridges, and did us much injury from the roofs of houses and terraces, some of which fell into our possession and were burned. But they were so numerous and strong and so well defended and supplied with stones and other arms, that our whole force was not sufficient to take them, nor to prevent the enemy from attacking us at their pleasure.

The attack on the fortress or garrison was made with such violence that they succeeded in setting fire to several parts of it and a considerable portion of it was burned without our being able to prevent it, until we cut away the walls and leveled a portion of’ the with the ground, by which we obstructed the progress of the fire, and extinguished it. And had it not been for the great caution that I used in posting musketeers, archers, and several pieces of’ artillery, they would have scaled our walls in broad daylight without our being able to resist them. Thus we fought all that day until the darkness of night enveloped us, and even then they continued to assail us with noises and alarms till daylight. That night I directed the breaches caused by the fire to be repaired, together with all other parts of the garrison that seemed to require it; and I arranged the quarters, determining who were to remain in them the next day, and who were to be engaged without; at the same I caused suitable care to be, taken of the wounded, who amounted to more than eighty in number.

As soon as it was daylight the enemy renewed combat with still greater vigor than the day before the number of them was so immense that there need of leveling the guns, but only to direct them against the mass of Indians. And although the firearms did much injury, for we played off thirteen arquebuses, matchlocks and crossbows, they produced so little impression that their effect scarcely seemed to be felt since where a discharge cut down ten or twelve men, the ranks were instantly closed up by additional numbers, and apparent loss was perceived. Leaving in the garrison a sufficient forces for its defense, and as large as I could spare, I sallied forth with the rest and took from the enemy several bridges, setting fire to a number of houses and destroying the people who defended them; but they were so numerous that although we did them injury, the effect was still imperceptible. Our men were compelled to fight all daylong without cessation, while the enemy were relieved at intervals by fresh forces, and still had a superabundance of men. But none of our Spanish force [was] killed on this day, although fifty or sixty were wounded, and we continued the contest until night.

Seeing the mischief done by the enemy in wounding land slaying our people, while they were either unharmed, or if we caused them any loss, it was immediately repaired by their great numbers, we spent all that night and the next day in constructing three engines of timber, each of which would contain twenty men covered with a thick plank to protect them from the stones thrown from the terraces of houses. The persons to be conveyed in the machines were musketeers and archers, together with others provided with spades, pickaxes, and bars of iron, to demolish the barricades erected in the streets, and pull down the houses. While we were building these machines, the enemy did not cease the attacks; and so resolute were they, that when we sullied forth from our quarters, they attempted to enter them, and we had trouble enough to resist their progress.