La Noche Triste - Conquest of Mexico

Part 8 of the Spanish Invasion

Two thirds of the conquistadors perished in the flight from Mexico. All the rest were wounded, sick and disheartened as they dragged themselves to Tlaxcala. Most of them wanted nothing more than to go home, or at the very least back to Vera Cruz to wait for reinforcements.

Cortés saw it differently. Not only had he staked everything he had or could borrow on the enterprise, but he had completely compromised himself. He knew that in defeat he would be considered a traitor to Spain, but that in success he would be its hero. And his Tlaxcalan allies were still royal. So he argued, cajoled, bullied and coerced his troops, and they began preparing for the siege of Mexico. By happy coincidence, reinforcements and supplies were beginning to trickle into Villa Rica and from there to the interior.

He started by subduing the people of central Mexico. They were legally subject to Emperor Carlos, he argued, and if they were rebellious it was his right and duty to oppose and punish them. He still preferred diplomacy, and if a city would join him in opposition to Mexico, their past opposition might be forgiven. If they resisted and were crushed, the punishment was slavery.

At the same time that Cortés was securing his position in and around the Valley of Mexico, he was having thirteen sloops built at Tlaxcala, using hardware salvaged from his original ships. When these were launched at Texcoco, they would serve as his navy in the ultimate struggle. At the end of the year, his warships ready and important positions in the valley secured, the siege of Mexico began.

The siege lasted seven months. Tenochtitlan was cut off from external food supplies; the aqueduct that brought water to the city from Chapultepec was destroyed. The Spaniards and their allies fought their way across the causeways, were driven back and again advanced. When they got the city, every rooftop was an enemy stronghold. Most of the city was destroyed, because the only way for Cortés to hold a sector was to raze it. The Aztecs, hungry, thirsty and stricken with smallpox, refused to give up. By August they were confined to the formerly great market precinct of Tlatelolco.

With Cortés closing in, Cuauhtémoc decided to try to escape to the mainland where he could keep up the struggle guerrilla fashion. He was captured, effectively ending the Aztec resistance.

August 13, 1521
Heroically defended by Cuauhtémoc, Tlatelolco fell to the power of Hernán Cortés. It was neither a triumph nor a defeat. It was the painful birth of the mestizo nation that is the Mexico of today.

--text of monument at Tlatelolco

Plaza de las Tres Culturas
They no longer had nor could find any arrows, javelins or stones with which to attack us, and our allies fighting with us were armed with swords and bucklers, and slaughtered so many of them on land and in the water that more than forty thousand were killed or taken that day.