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, 287–89.

During the past days Pedro de Alvarado had taken several bridges, and in order to retain, them he placed sentries of foot soldiers in the day time, and horsemen at night to guard them; the rest of his force repaired to his camp, which was three-quarters of a league distant. As this was insupportable, he resolved to remove his camp to the head of the causeway leading to the market-place of Tenochtitlan, which is a square somewhat larger than that of Salamanca, and entirely surrounded by covered walks; and in order to reach it, it was only necessary to gain two or three other bridges, which, however, were very wide and difficult to be taken and kept him employed several days during which he fought incessantly, though with success. On the day above mentioned, when he saw indications of weakness on the part of the enemy, and that in the quarter where I was I had been engaged in continued vigorous assaults, he was so much flushed with the heat of victory in gaining so many bridges and entrenchments, that he determined to pass over and take a bridge where more than sixty paces of the causeway had been broken up and filled with water to the depth of nine or ten feet. He carried his purpose into effect the same day, and aided by the brigantines, crossed the water and gained the bridge, pursuing the enemy, who took flight. Pedro de Alvarado then hastened to close up the breach so that the cavalry could pass; and also because I had cautioned him every day in writing and verbally, not to gain an inch of ground without rendering it perfectly safe for the horse[men] to come and go, that they might join in the attacks. As soon as the inhabitants saw that only forty or fifty Spaniards and a few of our allies had crossed to that side, and that the horse[men] were unable to get over, they turned upon them so suddenly that our people retreated and threw themselves into the water; and three or four Spaniards were taken prisoners by the enemy, who immediately carried them to- be sacrificed [in the temple]; several of our allies were also slain. At last, Pedro de Alvarado made good his retreat to his camp.

When on that day I returned to my quarters and heard what had happened, nothing in, the world could have grieved me more; because it was the means of giving fresh courage to the enemy, and leading them to believe that we should not dare to make another attempt to carry the city. The reason that Pedro Alvarado wished to take that ill-advised step was, as I have said, that he saw a large part of the Indian force already in his power, and that the rest gave indications of weakness; but it was chiefly on account of the importunities of the people in his division, who: urged him to capture the market-place, as if that was taken the whole city would be carried, and all the strength and expectations that the Indians possessed in it. Moreover, Alvarado’s men observed that I was continually pursuing my attacks on the city, and would be likely to take the market-place before them; and as they were nearer to it than we, they considered it a point of’ honor to be the first to reach it. For this reason Pedro de Alvarado was greatly importuned, and the same thing occurred to me in my camp; for all the Spaniards earnestly solicited me to take three streets that led to the market-place, as we should meet with no resistance, and that being gained, we should have less trouble hereafter. I made every pretence in my power for not yielding to their wishes, but concealed the true cause; which was on account of the obstacles and perils that presented themselves to my mind; since on entering the market-place there would be in our way innumerable terraces, bridges, and breaches in the causeways, so that every house that we should have to pass would be like an island in the midst of the water.

As on that evening when I returned to camp I was informed of the defeat of Pedro de Alvarado, I determined to go the next morning to his quarters and reprove him for what had occurred, and at the same time to see what he had gained, and where he had removed his camp, instructing him as to the measures necessary for his safety and the annoyance of the enemy. But on arriving at his camp, I was astonished to see how far he had advanced into the city and the dangerous passes and bridges he had gained, and I no longer thought him deserving as much censure as I had supposed; so thus having conversed with him respecting what remained to be done, I returned the same day to my own quarters.