In considering the battles between the European imperialist powers and the local powers it must not be forgotten that these were not real military battles where two sides fight pitched battles and try to kill a maximum number of other side’s soldiers. These were psychological battles.
The European side knew that they had arrived to conquer and plunder, but the locals were clueless about how to deal with the outsiders who had suddenly appeared on their ancestral land. In the initial period of the encounters, the locals were in awe of the strange customs, language, food habits, dresses, weapons, and ways of fighting of the outsiders. These early imperialist battles were decided virtually on the psychological level.
In some contests, 50 to 200 European soldiers dressed in military costumes, and riding on horses were able to psychologically emasculate tens of thousands of locals—in any conventional military battle this sort of feat would be impossible. But in South America, Hernán Cortés and his tiny band of Conquistadors could conquer large territories without any military style opposition from the other side.
I would not hail Cortés as a military commander. He never won a pitched military battle in South America. In his lifetime, he never fought or led an army in a pitched military battle against a powerful enemy. He won in South America due to psychological reasons. Cortés would not be effective in any military battle where the other side was not psychologically emasculated and was determined to fight back.
In Europe and the Middle East kind of conflicts, Cortés would have proved to be a miserable failure. With their kind of psychological strategies, he and his Conquistadors would not have survived for an hour against Hannibal, Bohemond, Genghis Khan, or Saladin. Cortés was probably a brave man. He was probably good at waging a psychological war against primitive and isolated communities. But he was not a military commander.