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The Second Conquest Of The Capital Of Mexico
by [?]

The ancient city of Mexico, the capital of the Aztecs and their Spanish successors, has been the scene of two great military events, its siege and capture by Cortez the conqueror in 1521, and its capture by the American army under General Scott in 1847, three and a quarter centuries later. Of the remarkable career of Cortez we have given the most striking incident, the story of the thrilling Noche triste and the victory of Otumba. A series of interesting tales might have been told of the siege that followed, but we prefer to leave that period of mediaeval cruelty and injustice and come down to the events of a more civilized age.

One of the most striking scenes in the campaign of 1847 was the taking of the fortified hill of Chapultepec, but before describing this we may briefly outline the events of which it formed the dramatic culmination. Vera Cruz, “the city of the True Cross,” founded by Cortez in 1520, was the scene of the American landing, and was captured by the army under General Scott in March, 1847. Then, marching inland as Cortez had done more than three centuries before, the American army, about twelve thousand strong, soon began to ascend the mountain-slope leading from the torrid sea-level plain to the high table-land of the old Aztec realm.

Sixty miles from Vera Cruz the American forces came to the mountain-pass of Cerro Gordo, where Santa Anna, the president of Mexico, awaited the invaders with an army of thirteen thousand men. The heights overhanging the road bristled with guns, and the lofty hill of Cerro Gordo was strongly fortified, rendering the place almost impregnable to an attack from the direction of Vera Cruz. Scott was too able a soldier to waste the lives of his men in such a perilous assault, and took the wiser plan of cutting a new road along the mountain-slopes and through ravines out of sight of the enemy, to the Jalapa road in the Mexican rear. An uphill charge from this point gave the Americans command of all the minor hills, leaving to the Mexicans only the height of Cerro Gordo, with its intrenchments and the strong fortress on its summit.

On the 18th of April this hill, several hundred feet in rugged height, was assailed in front and rear, the Americans gallantly climbing the steep rocks in the face of a deadly fire, carrying one barricade after another, and at length sweeping over the ramparts of the summit fortress and driving the defenders from their stronghold down the mountain-side. Santa Anna took with him only eight thousand men in his hasty retreat, leaving three thousand as prisoners in the American hands, with forty-three pieces of bronze artillery and a large quantity of ammunition. Within a month afterwards Scott’s army marched into the city of Puebla, on the table-land, sixty-eight miles from the capital. Here they rested for several months, awaiting reinforcements.

On August 7 the army resumed its march, now less than eleven thousand strong, the term of several regiments having expired and their places been partly filled by untried men, none of whom had ever fired a gun in war. On they went, up-hill still, passing the remains of the old city of Cholula with its ruined Aztec pyramid, and toiling through a mountain region till Rio Frio was reached, fifty miles from Puebla and more than ten thousand feet above the level of the sea.

A few miles farther and the beautiful valley of Mexico lay suddenly revealed before them like a vision of enchantment. It was a scene of verdant charm, the bright green of the fields and groves diversified with the white walls of villages and farm-houses, the silvery flow of streams, and the gleaming surface of winding lakes, while beyond and around a wall of wooded mountains ascended to snowy peaks. It was a scene of summer charm that had not been gazed upon by an invading army since the days when Cortez and his men looked down upon it with warm delight.