Hernando Cortes Notes With about 600 men, 20 horses, 10 small cannons and a dose of psychological warfare tactics, Hernando Cortes conquered the Aztec empire in Mexico. Cortes' accomplishment, like his countryman and fellow conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, was the defeat of a numerically superior enemy, (the Aztecs numbered some five million people), by the use of efficient principles of war.
Between 1518 and 1519 Cortes led an expedition from Hispaniola to Mexico. In Mexico he founded Veracruz and proceeded to subjugate various territories including Tabasco and Tlaxcala. He formed alliances with the various tribes, some of whom were natural enemies of the Aztec empire ruled by Montezuma from the interior of Mexico in the city of Tenochtitlan.
Montezuma let Cortes and his soldiers enter the Aztec capital peacefully on November 8, 1519. It is possible that Montezuma believed that Cortes was, according to Aztecan mythology, a savior. But Cortes took Montezuma hostage and made him a puppet ruler. A revolt by the Aztecs required Cortes to withdraw his men from the Aztec capital. Montezuma was killed during the uprising.
On July 7, 1520 the Battle of Otumba was fought between Cortes and the Aztecs. Cortes prevailed but the cost was high. After his victory, Cortes pulled out of town and settled in nearby Tlaxcala to await reinforcements. Subsequent to the arrival of the reinforcements that following spring, Cortes launched his siege of Tenochtitlan and on August 13, 1521, the Aztec empire, now ruled by Montezuma's successor Cuauhtemoc, was defeated by Cortes in the name of Spain. Tenochtitlan was destroyed and Cortes erected a new city which he called Mexico City. From this point forward Mexico's history becomes dominated by Spanish culture and customs.
In assessing Cortes military leadership, Michael Lanning ranks him number 9 on the all time top 100 most influential military leaders in history. Like his countryman, Pizarro, Cortes' conquest altered the entire course of a large geopolitical entity. Lanning sums up Cortes' accomplishments:
Cortes conquered Mexico because of his brilliant leadership of combat forces and his tremendous ability to form alliances with those he defeated. His impact on the long-term power of Spain and the opening of the New World to European colonization is exceeded only by that of Pizarro in South America. (Lanning, The Military 100)
R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: Harper & Row. 1970.|
Michael Lee Lanning, The Military 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Military Leaders of All Time. Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group. 1996.
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