Monday, May 26, 2014

The Abandonment by the Amerindian Allies and the new plan

In the last note I described how impossible a Spanish victory seemed. That Diaz was not guilty of exaggeration is evidenced by the Amerindian allies believing that a Mexican victory was inevitable. Most of them gave up the war and returned home:

“About this time our allies of Huexotzinco, Cholulla, Tezcuco, and Tlascalla, had become wearied of the war, and secretly agreed with each other to return to their homes. Without mentioning a single word either to Cortes, Sandoval, or Alvarado, they all suddenly left our encampments, only a few of the most faithful remaining with us. In Cortes' division there remained a brother of the king of Tezcuco, the brave Suchel, (who was subsequently baptized with the name of Don Carlos,) with about forty of his relations and friends. In Sandoval's division a cazique of Huexotzinco, with about fifty men: and in our division the sons of our honest friend Don Lorenzo de Vargas, with the brave Chichimeclatecl, and about eighty men.

“We were not a little dismayed to find that our allies had thus suddenly decamped, and when Cortes questioned those who remained as to the motives which had induced their countrymen to desert us, they replied, that their companions had at length began to fear the threats of the Mexicans and the oracles of their idols, that we should all be destroyed, particularly when they saw what numbers of our men were killed and wounded; besides their own great losses, which already amounted to above 1200 men. To all this was added the warnings of the younger Xicotencatl, whom Cortes had caused to be hung at Tezcuco, namely, that sooner or later we should all be put to death, as he had been assured by his soothsayers.

What was Cortes to do? The above mentioned Suchel proposed a new plan: “"Malinche [this was the Amerindian name for Cortes], you should not humble yourself each day to renew the conflict with the enemy. In my opinion you should rather command your officers to cruize round the town with the brigantines, in order to cut off all its supplies of water and provisions. In that city there are so many thousands of warriors that their store of provisions must soon become exhausted. The only supply of water they have is from the rain that falls, and what they obtain from wells recently dug, which cannot be wholesome to drink. What can they do if you cut off their supplies of provisions and water? For a war against hunger and thirst is the most direful of all calamities!"

“When he had done speaking Cortes gave him a hearty embrace, thanked him for his good advice, and promised to bestow valuable townships upon him. To this he had been advised all along by many of us soldiers; but a Spanish soldier has too much spirit to reduce a town by famine; he is all impatience to fight his way in. After Cortes had maturely considered this plan, he sent word by means of brigantines to Alvarado and Sandoval to desist from the daily attacks upon the town. This new method of conducting the siege was greatly favoured by the circumstance that our brigantines stood no longer in fear of the stakes which the enemy had driven into the lake, for if there was a stiffish breeze and the men vigorously plied their oars, the brigantines were sure each time to break through them. By this means we became complete masters of the lake, and all the detached buildings which stood in the water. When the Mexicans saw the great advantage we gained over them in this way they became considerably disheartened.” [Kindle locations 9597-9625]

Comment: While I quite understand the thoughts of the Amerindians who abandoned Cortes, I must note that this does damage to the idea that Cortes conquered Mexico City with an overwhelming force. Even at this point the only overwhelming force seems to be that of the Mexicans, but the fact that “they became considerably disheartened” bodes ill for them. General Pemberton was given command of the Confederate forces at Vicksburg and might well have held out had it not been for conflicting orders received from General Johnston and President Davis. Sieges don’t always succeed, and Cortes’s forces don’t seem in shape to conduct a very effective one.

If indeed the Mexicans are starved into submission, I suppose the Amerindians could regain their courage and “pile on” at the end; thus substantiating the view that Cortes was able to defeat the Aztecs with an overwhelming force. And where is the plague-like disease that was supposed to play such an important role?

No comments: