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Loreta’s Civil War: Hard-drinking and blaspheming patriots

May 28, 2016

KS2

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart will share edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the 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 a rich and 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 5: Velazquez follows her husband into a bar to learn what men are like when civilizing women are absent. He hopes to dissuade her from life among Confederate soldiers. But the experience makes her more determined than ever to join him the army and share his dangers and triumphs.

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Braiding my hair very close, I put on a man’s wig and a false mustache, and by tucking my pantaloons in my boots, as I had seen men do frequently, and otherwise arranging the garments, which were somewhat large for me, I managed to transform myself into a very presentable man. As I surveyed myself in the mirror I was immensely pleased with the figure I cut, and fancied that I made quite as good looking a man as my husband. My toilet once completed, it was not long before we were in the street, I doing my best to walk with a masculine gait, and to behave as if I had been accustomed to wear pantaloons all my life. I confess, that when it actually came to the point of appearing in public in this sort of attire, my heart began to fail me a little; but I was bent on going through with the thing, and so, plucking up courage, I strode along by the side of my husband with as unconcerned an air as it was possible for me to put on.

Presently we crossed over to a bar-room, which we found nearly filled with men smoking and drinking, and doing some pretty tall talking about the war, and the style in which the Yankees were going to be wiped out. … I was too frightened and bewildered by the novelty of my situation to pay very close attention to all I saw and heard, but it flashed upon me that some of these loud-talking, hard-drinking, and blaspheming patriots were not so valiant, after all, as they professed to be. My after experiences fully confirmed my first impressions, that the biggest talkers are not always the best fighters, and that a good many men will say things over a glass of whiskey in a bar-room, who won’t do a tenth part of what they say if they are once placed within smelling distance of gunpowder.

I had scarcely time to take a good look at the room and its occupants, when my husband caught sight of a couple of men who had belonged to his regiment, and who were very particular friends of mine. I was dreadfully afraid they would recognize me, but there was no escaping from them, as they came up so soon as they saw us, and I was introduced as a young fellow who was on a visit to Memphis to see the sights and to pick up war news.

My husband treated, he and his two comrades taking something strong, while I, in accordance with the instructions given me before starting out, called for a glass of cider, only a part of which I imbibed. After a little conversation, my husband whispered to me to call for the next treat. I was getting to be somewhat disgusted with the whole business, but was bound not to break down; so, stepping up to the bar, I invited the party, with as masculine a manner as I could put on, to drink with me. This time I took a glass of sarsaparilla, and when all had their drinks poured out, raising my tumbler, I cried out, “Gentlemen, here’s to the success of our young Confederacy.”

As I said this, my heart was almost ready to jump out of my throat. The men, however, gave a rousing cheer, and one of them yelled out, “We drink that toast every time, young fellow.” He then put his hand into his pocket, as if about to get his money to pay for the drinks, but I prevented him, saying, “Excuse me, sir, this is my treat,” and laid a twenty dollar gold piece on the counter. Each of us then took a cigar, I watching to see how they managed theirs before daring to put mine in my mouth. After I had gotten a light, I was not able to take more than three or four whiffs, for my head began to swim, and I knew if I kept on I should soon be deathly sick. As it was, I did not feel at all comfortable, but thought I could bear up, and said nothing for fear of being laughed at.

I was very glad to get out of the bar-room, and into the fresh air again; so, bidding our friends good night, we started off, I throwing my cigar away at the first opportunity I had of doing so without being observed. Eager to hear my husband’s opinion, I asked him if he did not think I played my part pretty well. He replied, “Oh, yes,” but I could see that he was very much dissatisfied with the whole performance. Before returning to the hotel we made a general tour of the city, visiting all the principal gambling-houses and saloons, my husband evidently hoping I should be so shocked with what I saw and heard that I should be ready to give up my wild scheme without farther talk about it.

When we were once more in our room he locked the door, and, throwing himself on the lounge, said, “Well, don’t you feel pretty much disgusted?”

To please him I said, “Yes,” adding, however, “but then I can stand anything to be with you, and to serve the sunny South.”

“Now, Loreta,” said he, “I have done this tonight for the purpose of showing you what men are like, and how they behave themselves when they are out of the sight and hearing of decent women, whom they are forced to respect. What you have seen and heard, however, is nothing to what you will be compelled to see and hear in camp, where men are entirely deprived of female society, and are under the most demoralizing influences. The language that will constantly greet your ears, and the sights that will meet your eye in camp, where thousands of men are congregated, are simply indescribable; and it is out of all reason that you should even think of associating in the manner you propose with soldiers engaged in warfare. …”

I pretended to be satisfied with his arguments, but was, nevertheless, resolved more firmly than ever, so soon as he took his departure, to put my plans into execution. …

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