Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

The Siege of Cuzco

As the next morning dawned, and the brothers looked from their watch-towers, the city seemed enveloped, as far as eye could reach, by a mighty multitude of Peruvian braves. The plains, valleys, and hilltops seemed covered with them; while the wild warlike music that resounded from their camps, and the fierce cries that every now and then arose among them, could not but make even the valiant Spaniards shudder.

Hernando had a force of only two hundred men, including both cavalry and infantry, and a thousand Peruvians, who, though devoted to the conquerors, could be of but little use in an encounter with such an army as was gathered around the city. To attack the besiegers was useless: he could only wait until succor came from outside.

But it soon became apparent that the enraged besiegers did not intend to wait to starve out the Spaniards. They attacked the city from every side with intense ferocity. Showers of arrows, stones, and spears, rained upon every street and building. But this was not the worst. The assailants shot into the midst of the city burning arrows and red-hot stones, and ere long many of the buildings were in flames. The Spaniards could make no effort to stop the conflagration. Happily they were encamped in the open square, where they were protected from the flames, and escaped being burned alive; but in a few hours Cuzco blazed, little better than a lurid ruin, all around them. The flames raged and leaped from tower to tower, from street to street. Lofty edifices fell with a deafening crash; and, when at last the fire had devoured all it could reach, scarcely a public building, except the great Temple of the Sun and the Convent of the Virgins, remained.

Made desperate by this disaster, and by the terrific storm of missiles that never ceased to fall, Hernando led his gallant band again and again beyond the walls, and frantically attacked the besiegers. But, each time that they sallied forth, they were driven back with thinned ranks; and at last they were forced to abandon all hope of driving their countless assailants away.

The Peruvians now stormed the fortress that rose above the city, and, after a desperate conflict with a handful of Spaniards, succeeded in capturing it. This disaster made the hearts of the Spanish soldiers sink with discouragement. They begged their leaders to abandon Cuzco; to break at all hazards through the dense ranks of the enemy, and so escape to the seacoast. But Hernando Pizarro was made of sterner stuff. He would not yield up a city it had cost so much to take, and he animated his faltering colleagues anew by his stout and unyielding spirit.

To retake the great fortress was now an absolute necessity. It seemed an impossible task; for the ramparts rose on a steep crag on the side of Cuzco, and could only be reached by storming it in the rear. But Hernando resolved that the attempt should be made, and to his heroic brother Juan he committed the dangerous duty of making it. Juan set out about sunset with a picked body of cavalry. Deceiving the enemy by the direction in which he sallied from the city, he suddenly turned, rapidly marched to the rear of the fortress, and fearlessly assailed it. The conflict was long, desperate, and bloody. The brave Juan always appeared at the head of his men, wielding his sword with the strength of a giant, and dealing deadly havoc among the foe. The parapet was taken; and Juan, springing upon it, shouted to his men to follow. At this moment a large stone, hurled at him with enormous force, struck him on the head. He fell with a groan, but soon rose on his knees, and continued to urge his men forward. The blow was a fatal one. Juan was taken back to Cuzco, and, after lingering some days, died in his brother's arms.

After a most heroic and protracted contest, the great fortress was taken. But the Spaniards were still in a desperate position. Weeks had passed, and no succor came. They heard with a shudder that the whole country had risen; that Pizarro, instead of being able to come to their relief, was himself in danger; and that re-enforcements were constantly being added to the besieging army. To add to the horror of their position, food began to fail them. The provisions in the city had been largely consumed by the fire; and it was rarely that they could, by making excursions outside the walls, capture enough food to last them a day. There seemed nothing before them but death, either by starvation, or, what was as bad, by the savage and avenging hands of the people they had conquered.

Meanwhile Pizarro, on the seacoast, was attacked by another Peruvian force. Luckily he had with him a small but intrepid company of cavalry; and, as soon as the foe appeared on the plain through which the River Rimac runs, he ordered the cavalry to sally out upon them. The attack was short and sharp, and resulted in a complete rout of the Peruvians. But Pizarro soon learned the terrible news from Cuzco; and, although he had escaped danger himself, he became very much alarmed for its safety. Collecting all the men he could spare, he sent them forward to relieve, if possible, the Peruvian capital. But one and all of these expeditions failed to reach the besieged city. They went forth only to meet with a tragic fate. One by one they were hemmed in and cut off by the now infuriated Peruvians, who gave them no quarter, but slaughtered them without mercy. The few who returned from these marches brought back harrowing tales of the massacre of their comrades. At last Pizarro found he could send no more troops away without leaving his new and fair City of the Kings to certain destruction.

He was at his wits' end to know what to do. The whole fruit of his victories seemed about to be snatched from him. It appeared doubtful, indeed, whether any Spaniard would escape alive from Peru. The soldiers he still had with him clamored to return to Panama; which was yet possible, for several ships rode at anchor at the mouth of the Rimac. But Pizarro's stout soul was not subdued even by the disasters and perils which surrounded him on every hand. Instead of using the ships to retreat from his hard-won conquest, he sent them back to Panama and Guatemala with the most earnest appeals to the governors of those places for aid. He begged them to dispatch troops, and save the wealth, power, and honor of the Spanish dominion in Peru; and promised Alvarado, who had come as his enemy, and returned his friend, to share all the conquests they might thenceforth make together.

While Pizarro was making these frantic efforts to restore his imperiled fortunes, the devoted garrison of Cuzco held out manfully. They bore their privations like heroes, and neglected no opportunity, miserable as was their situation, to deal a blow at their besiegers. By their obstinacy they finally wore out the Inca and his army. After Cuzco had been beleaguered for five months, Manco, finding it difficult to feed so enormous a body of troops, and anxious that the fields should be sown, sent home large numbers of his soldiers, while he remained before Cuzco with the rest.

The Spaniards at once availed themselves of this relaxation of the enemy's hold. They sallied in bold bands out of the city, scoured the country around, gathered grain and other provisions, and returned laden with these welcome stores to their quarters. They attacked the Peruvians again and again, ruthlessly riding them down with their horses, mowing them down with their guns, and sweeping them down with their sharp Toledo sabers.

Hernando now resolved to attempt the recapture of the young Inca Manco. It was a rash project: for Manco's quarters were in a lofty fortress, perched upon an almost inaccessible cliff; and he was perpetually surrounded by the bravest legions of his army. Hernando, however, was not easily dismayed. He chose eighty of his hardiest and bravest cavalry, and one night sallied forth, crossed the river, and at early dawn climbed the steep towards the fortress. No sooner did the Peruvians espy him than they hurled down upon him a perfect tempest of stones and arrows. The Spaniards held their ground desperately for a while: but the numbers of the enemy were too great, and their resistance was too hot, to allow Hernando to approach the ramparts; and he was forced to retreat. He succeeded in reaching Cuzco safely, but not until he had lost a large part of his valiant cavalry.

While the Spaniards were thus engaged in heroically battling against one peril, the uprising of the Peruvians, another and greater peril menaced them from a distance. They had not overcome the fierce assaults of the Inca's subjects before they were called upon to resist a more formidable attack from their own countrymen.