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Loreta’s Civil War: The woman in battle

May 19, 2016

KS59

Throughout 2016, Stillness of Heart will share edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the U.S. Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of an adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Part 1: Velazquez introduces us to her life, her heroes, and her aspirations. She is ambitious, confident, romantic, and determined to live life on her terms.

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The woman in battle is an infrequent figure on the pages of history, and yet, what would not history lose were the glorious records of the heroines — the great-souled women, who have stood in the front rank where the battle was hottest and the fray most deadly — to be obliterated? When women have rushed to the battlefield they have invariably distinguished themselves; and their courage, their enthusiasm, and their devotion to the cause espoused, have excited the brave among the men around them to do and to dare to the utmost, and have shamed the cowards into believing that it was worthwhile to peril life itself in a noble cause, and that honor to a soldier ought to be more valuable than even life.

The records of the women who have taken up arms in the cause of home and country; who have braved the scandals of the camp; who have hazarded reputation — reputation dearer than life — and who have stood in the imminent deadly breach, defying the enemy … are glorious nevertheless; and if steadfast courage, true-hearted loyalty, and fiery enthusiasm go for anything, women have nothing to blush for in the martial deeds of those of their sex who have stood upon the battlefield. …

Catalina de Eranso, the Monja Alferez, or the nun-lieutenant, who was born in the city of Sebastian, Spain, in 1585, was one of the most remarkable of the heroines who have distinguished themselves by playing the masculine role, and venturing into positions of deadly peril. This woman, becoming disgusted with the monotony of convent life, made her escape, and in male garb joined one of the numerous expeditions then fitting out for the New World. Her intelligence and undaunted valor soon attracted the notice of her superior officers, and she was rapidly promoted. Participating in a number of hard-fought battles, she won the reputation of being an unusually skillful and daring soldier, and would have achieved both fame and fortune, were it not that her fiery temper embroiled her in frequent quarrels with her associates. …

After traversing a large portion of the New World, and encountering innumerable perils, she returned to Europe, where she found that the trumpet of fame was already heralding her name, and that there was the greatest curiosity to see her. Traveling through Spain and Italy, she had numerous exceedingly romantic adventures, and while in the last named country she managed to obtain an interview with Pope Urban VIII., who was so pleased with her appearance and her conversation that he granted her permission to wear male attire during the balance of her life. …

From my early childhood Joan of Arc was my favorite heroine; and many a time has my soul burned with an overwhelming desire to emulate her deeds of valor, and to make for myself a name which, like hers, would be enrolled in letters of gold among the women who had the courage to fight like men — ay, better than most men — for a great cause, for friends, and for fatherland.

At length an opportunity offered, in the breaking out of the conflict between the North and the South in 1861, for me to carry out my long-cherished ideas; and it was embraced with impetuous eagerness, combined with a calm determination to see the thing through, and to shrink from nothing that such a step would involve. …

So many persons have assured me that my story is full of romance, and that it cannot fail to interest readers both South and North. … they will find in these pages an unaffected and unpretending but truthful and I hope interesting narrative of what befell me while attached to the army of the Confederate States of America, and while performing services other than those of a strictly military character under the pseudonym of Lieutenant Harry T. Buford. …

[I]t is probable that a vast number of my late associates will now for the first time learn that the handsome young officer — I was accounted an uncommonly good-looking fellow, when dressed in my best uniform, in those days — was a woman, and a woman who was mentally making some very uncomplimentary notes with regard to much of their very naughty conversation. My experience is that the language used by the very best men in masculine society is too often not such as pure-minded women would like to listen to, while that of the worst is so utterly revolting, that it is a pity some men cannot always have decent women at their elbows to keep their tongues from being fouled with blasphemy and obscenity. …

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3 Comments
  1. How exciting! My great great (great?) grandmother was a courier for the North into Southern territory during the Civil War. As a writer, I hope someday to chronical her journal, either as a historical memoir or as a fictionalized story.

  2. Love her. You are into my favorite subject — history. Well done! I enjoyed thoroughly. Muriel Kauffmann

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