Loreta’s Civil War: His death perfectly infuriated me

Velazquez participates in the Battle of Shiloh, savoring the Confederates’ victory on the first day. But she fears an opportunity for total victory is slipping away.

KS36

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 19: Velazquez participates in the Battle of Shiloh, savoring the Confederates’ victory on the first day. But she fears an opportunity for total victory is slipping away.

******

At length, all the officers in Memphis were ordered to proceed to without delay, and then everyone knew that a big battle was expected to come off shortly. As a consequence, the greatest excitement prevailed, and many of the officers found it hard work parting from their friends. In order to avoid a scene with Miss M., I wrote her a note, bidding her farewell, which was not to be delivered until after I left the city; and, jumping aboard the train, was soon on my way to Corinth.

On arriving at Corinth, I found great preparations being made and everything nearly ready for a forward movement. I met a considerable number of old friends, some of them old Virginia comrades, whom I had not seen for a very long time. We exchanged very cordial greetings, but otherwise we had not much time to give to each other, they having important duties to perform, while I was eagerly endeavoring to obtain some official position that would enable me to participate in the coming fight in a manner advantageous to myself. All the commanding officers, however, were too busy just then to attend to me, and so I resolved to follow the army to the field in my independent capacity, and take my chances there. The order to advance being given, the army moved out of Corinth in the direction of Pittsburg Landing, animated by the expectation of being able to fall upon the enemy and deliver a crushing blow at a moment when it was least expected.

After the capture of that position, the Federals had swept in triumph through Tennessee, the Confederates having been compelled to abandon their lines in that state and in Kentucky, and to seek a new base of operations farther south. The Federals were now concentrating a great force at Pittsburg Landing, on the Tennessee River, their immediate object of attack evidently being Corinth, and Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, who was in command of the entire Confederate army, resolved upon striking a vigorous blow at once, with a view of turning the tide of victory in our favor before the enemy were assembled. …

The reports which we received from our scouts, and from the country people, indicated either that the Federals were unaware of the strength of the Confederates in their immediate neighborhood, or else that, flushed with victory, they were over-confident, and were taking comparatively few precautions against a surprise. These things were the common talk of the Confederates for days before the battle took place; and while not a little astonishment was expressed at the temerity of the enemy, considerable jubilation was felt at the idea of our being able to gain a comparatively easy victory, which would put an end to the invasion, or at least so stagger the Federals that subsequent operations against them would be unattended [without] any great difficulties. …

Obtaining a pass from the provost marshal, I put my tent in an army wagon, and then Bob and I mounted our horses and started for the field, on Saturday, April 5, 1862. The roads were in a horrible condition from the heavy spring rains, and we made rather slow progress … and I was very tired when, at nightfall, I reached a village of half a dozen scattered houses called Monterey, about half way between Corinth and Shiloh Church, a little Methodist meeting-house, just outside the Federal picket lines. It was necessary for me to halt here until morning, so, obtaining sufficient forage for my horse from a Mississippi regiment, I prepared to camp for the night, and hoped to get a sound sleep, to fit me for the hot work of the next day.

My animals having been fed, I took off the saddles, and raking up a quantity of leaves, arranged my bed by spreading a saddle blanket to lie upon, and placing a saddle for a pillow. Then throwing myself on this extemporized couch, I wrapped myself in an army blanket, and was soon lost in slumber as profound as would have visited me had my accommodations been of the most luxurious description.

I was not destined, however, to have a quiet, uninterrupted slumber, such as I needed, for ere long I was awakened by the rain, which began to fall in torrents, and which compelled me to seek some more sheltered spot in which to finish the night. My first care was for my horse, and covering him well with the blanket, I went as fast as I could to one of the deserted houses of the village and stopped there until the rain was over.

It was quite three o’clock before the shower ceased, and it was high time for me to be moving if I expected to take part in the opening of the battle, as I was exceedingly anxious to do. I therefore ordered the horses to be saddled, and was in a few moments ready to start. A soldier very generously offered me a cup of army coffee, which … was swallowed with great relish, and with many benedictions on the giver, whose courtesy I rewarded by a good-sized drink of brandy from a flask I carried for the benefit of my friends. His eyes fairly sparkled with delight as he gulped it down, and he smacked his lips as if he had not had such a treat for many a day. Then mounting my horse, I set off at a smart pace for Gen. Hardee’s headquarters.

I found the general stationed near Shiloh Church, and rode up and saluted him just as he was mounting his horse. Showing him my pass, I said that I wanted to have a hand in this affair. Hardee looked at the pass, “and replied, “All right; fall in, and well see what can be done for you.”

The fighting had already commenced between the skirmish lines of the two armies while I was conversing with the general, and the troops were hurrying forward to attack the Federals before they could gain time to prepare them- selves for an effective resistance.

In obedience to Hardee’s command, I fell in with his men, and we advanced briskly upon the enemy’s camp. It was a complete surprise in every respect. Many of the enemy were only half-dressed and were obliged to snatch up the first weapons that came to hand as the Confederates rushed out of the woods upon them. The contest was brief and decisive, and in a few moments such of the enemy, as [they] escaped the deadly volleys which we poured into them, were scampering away as fast as their legs could carry them. We took possession of their camp … almost without resistance, and I thought that this was an excellent … beginning of the day’s work, especially as I had the pleasure of eating a capital hot breakfast, which had been prepared for some Federal officer. …

1 had scarcely finished eating when I came across Gen. Hardee again. He was in a high good humor at the course events had taken thus far, and said to me in a jocular sort of way, “Well, lieutenant, what can I do for you?” I replied that I was anxious to do my share of the fighting, and wanted to be stationed where there was plenty of work to be done. The general laughed a little at my enthusiasm, but just then his attention was called away for a moment, and I, glancing down the line, spied the Arkansas boys whom I had enlisted at Hurlburt Station nearly a year before. I was immediately seized with a desire to go into the fight with them, so I said, “Ah, there is my old company, general; with your permission, I will see the captain. Perhaps he can give me a chance.”

Hardee nodded an assent, and, giving him a salute, I started off at full speed to the rear, where I got my commission out of my pocket, and then darted along the line, closely followed by Bob, my idea being to avoid being stopped by giving the impression that I was bearing an order from the general. Dismounting from my horse, I forced my way through the ranks until I reached Captain De Caulp, who shook me heartily by the hand and was evidently delighted to see me, as we had not met since I parted from him in Pensacola the previous June, when starting for Richmond. …

Notwithstanding the number of strange faces that met my eyes as I glanced along the ranks, I saw enough old acquaintances to make myself very much at home, and I was delighted beyond measure in an opportunity to take part in a great battle … and to show that, even if I was a little dandy, I was as good a soldier as the best of them when any hard fighting was to be done. In- deed, all the circumstances were such as to inspire me to distinguish myself by some unusually gallant action, and I resolved that, if it were possible to do so, the occasion should be made a memorable one for us all.

[T]he reader will please know that Captain De Caulp and I were under an engagement of marriage, having been in correspondence with each other since my departure from Pensacola. I had his letters in my breast pocket, and his photograph in the lining of my coat, while, I doubt not [that] I was the especial object of his thoughts when … we dashed at the enemy. He little suspected, however, that the woman to whom his heart and hand were pledged was by his side as he led his men into that bloody fray, for, as I have before explained, he had an acquaintance with me both as a woman and as a man, but did not know that the two were the same. …

It may be thought that, even if I felt no fear for myself, as a woman I should have had some tremors when beholding my lover advancing into the thick of a desperate fight, at the head of his men. The idea of fear, either on his or on my own account, however, never occurred to me at the time. … As for him, I desired for his sake … that the occasion should be a glorious one, and I had a strange delight in following him into the thickest of the melee, and in watching with what undaunted spirit he bore himself throughout the long and sternly-fought battle. …

Our assaults upon the enemy were made with irresistible fury, and we rushed through their lines, literally mowing them down like grain before the mowing machine. … The bullets whistled through the air thick and fast, cutting the trees, and making the branches snap and fly, splintering the fence rails, striking the wagons, or sending some poor soldier suddenly to the earth. A corporal who was by my side was shot through the heart by a Minie ball. He fell heavily against me, and all my clothing was reddened by his blood. His only words were, “Damn the Yankees! They have killed me.” He was a very handsome young man, only about twenty-two years of age, and his death perfectly infuriated me, as it did his other comrades. …

Shortly before three o’clock in the afternoon, our commander-in-chief, Gen. Johnston, was numbered among the slain. His death, however, was carefully concealed from the army, and was known to but few until the battle was over. He was a great soldier, and his loss was an irreparable one, for had he lived to superintend the conduct of the battle to the end, it is scarcely possible that he would have failed to push his advantages to the utmost, or that he would have committed the mistakes which turned a brilliant and decisive victory into an overwhelming and most maddening defeat.

When the sun set that day the Confederates were successful at every point, and although they had suffered terribly, they had forced the enemy’s lines back almost to the Landing so that there was nothing now left them to do but to make a final successful stand, or else be crowded over the bluffs into the river, just as I had seen them crowded, six months before, at Ball’s Bluff. … There was absolutely no escape for the Federals, and their only hope was to hold their last rallying ground, and to gain time until the arrival of reinforcements. … Why the Confederate advantages were not pushed that night, before [Union] Gen. [Don Carlos] Buell could arrive with his fresh troops, and that Federal army either captured or annihilated … was a mystery to me then, and is now.

Book gems of 2016, Part 3

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Texas and Texas history.

IMG_0431

Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Texas and Texas history.

Jesus F. de la Teja’s Faces of Bexar: Early San Antonio and Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 240 pp., $40) offers an anthology of essays that together form a biography of one of the most significant cities in North America. San Antonio’s historic importance as a military center, source of political power, international economic hub, and cultural crown jewel is expertly explored and analyzed in this work. The book also includes a vital bibliographic essay analyzing the latest developments in Tejano historiography.

Most history students know about the Texas Revolution, but they know next to nothing about the Revolution’s birthplace. Richard B. McCaslin’s Washington on the Brazos: Cradle of the Texas Republic (Texas State Historical Association Press, 100 pp., $15.95) should be the perfect remedy for that gap in historical knowledge. When the Republic of Texas joined the United States, power and administrative authority was centralized in Austin, and Washington faded into the social and commercial background. It briefly boomed as a port town, but its economic over-reliance on steamboats left it behind as the age of railroads dawned and rail tracks bypassed the town. The Revolution’s centennial in 1936 sparked fresh interest in Texas history, and the town basked in new appreciation from restoration experts and history-loving tourists. McCaslin’s book uses the history of the town to illustrate the larger historical eras of the Texas people, their evolving values, their conflicted identities, and their beautiful multifaceted culture.

Laura Lyons McLemore contributes Adele Briscoe Looscan: Daughter of the Republic (TCU Press, 320 pp, $29.95) to the Texas Biography Series. Looscan made history in 1915 when she became the first woman elected to the presidency of the Texas State Historical Association. The scholar of Texas history made history again when she stepped down in 1925, completing the longest presidency in the Association’s history. McLemore’s biography promises the story of an important intellectual and social leader who guided and enriched historical, political, and business conversations in early twentieth-century Texas.

Timothy Paul Bowman’s Blood Oranges: Colonialism and Agriculture in the South Texas Borderlands (Texas A&M University Press, 412 pp., $43) takes an important and complicated look at the social and economic tensions burning throughout Rio Grande Valley communities in the decades following the Mexican War. Bowman illustrates a brutal twentieth-century process of converting the region from Mexican culture to Anglo-American political and economic control, from a cattle-based economy to an agricultural economy. Racially-minded Anglos built or modified the region’s governmental and legal structures to contain and suppress Mexican-American populations, particularly laborers, who were exploited as they formed the foundation of a major U.S. agricultural industry.

Mark Allan Goldberg’s Conquering Sickness: Race, Health, and Colonization in the Texas Borderlands (University of Nebraska Press, 328 pp., $60) focuses on the same region but with an earlier timeframe and a different focus. Anglo and Spanish colonizers applied their standards of health to the Native Americans and Mexicans they found in the region and subsequently determined that because their European health standards practices were superior to indigenous standards and practices, the Europeans naturally deserved to control the region and its people. They used the network of religious missions or other controlled spaces to enforce European standards on the indigenous people, and they devalued the significance of indigenous understandings of health. For the colonizers, Goldberg’s important work explains, the issue of health became one more aspect of their larger ambitions for control and of the moral calculations made to justify that control.

David G. McComb’s The City in Texas: A History (University of Texas Press, 352 pp., $35) is an authoritative and much-needed analysis of the transformation of Texas from a land of rural and agricultural communities into a constellation of metro centers dominated by glittering skyscrapers, electrical wires, highways, and suburbs. Alan Lessoff’s newest work focuses on just one city with Where Texas Meets the Sea: Corpus Christi and Its History (University of Texas Press, 368 pp., $29.95). Full disclosure: I grew up in Corpus Christi, so I’ll consider pretty much any serious history about the Sparkling City by the Sea to be interesting, at least, but Lessoff’s history is exceptional — serious yet potentially appealing to both tourists and residents, brimming with fascinating stories, and built on solid and extensive research.

Jesse Cancelmo’s Glorious Gulf of Mexico: Life Below the Blue (Texas A&M University Press, 156 pp., $30) takes us below the waves to explore 600,000 square miles of incredible landscapes, vibrant coral reefs, and more than 15,000 different species. Cancelmo wants his readers to fully appreciate the complexity, beauty, and importance of the Gulf’s ecosystems, life cycles, and species. Readers should gain a more sophisticated understanding and appreciation of how the Gulf’s treasures enrich our world and our lives.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Loreta’s Civil War: The bitter struggle yet to come

Velazquez contends with her New Orleans interrogators, works her way back to the Confederate army, and takes a moment to reflect on romantic life, particularly hers.

KS34

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 18: Velazquez contends with her New Orleans interrogators, works her way back to the Confederate army, and takes a moment to reflect on romantic life, particularly hers.

******

In spite of my bravado, however, this incident gave me a great deal of uneasiness, for I saw that I was in a dangerous predicament, and was liable at any moment to get into further trouble. I was not much surprised, therefore, although greatly disgusted, when the next evening I was again arrested, this time on suspicion of being a woman. Now what I had so long dreaded was come to pass, and there was nothing to do but to get out of the difficulties which environed me the best way I could.

Being taken before Mayor Monroe, I was interrogated by that individual in a style that I did not at all admire. It seemed to me that he was assuming a certain lordliness of manner that did not sit gracefully upon him, and that was entirely uncalled for by the exigencies of the occasion.

My replies to the queries of the mayor were not satisfactory to him, for his very imperious and pompous bearing made me angry, and rather put me on my mettle. He consequently chose to assume that I was a woman, and ordered me to change my apparel.

I, however, was resolved not to give up without a severe contest, having made up my mind, on assuming male attire, not to acknowledge my sex except in the last extremity, and for the sake of securing ends that could not otherwise be accomplished. So, turning to Mr. Monroe, I said, with a dignified severity quite equal to his own, “Sir, prove that I am a woman; it will be quite time, when you do that, for you to give me an order to change my dress.”

This rather disconcerted the mayor and his satellites, and, watching their countenances closely, I saw that they were nonplussed, and were doubtful how to proceed, being uncertain whether or not they had made a mistake. My hopes of a prompt discharge, however, were doomed to disappointment, for the mayor, after a brief consultation, decided to remand me to the calaboose, until it should be settled to his satisfaction who I was, and whether I was a man or a woman. To the calaboose I accordingly went, horrified at being subjected to such an indignity, and with anything but pleasant or friendly feelings towards the mayor, and the meddlesome, prying busybodies who had been instrumental in getting me into this trouble. …

I was visited the next morning by a local reporter, who showed a very eager desire to find out all he could about me, for the purpose of writing a sensational article for the paper with which he was connected. As may be imagined, this sort of thing did not increase my amiability, or tend to make me bear my misfortunes in a philosophical spirit. I gave Mr. Reporter very little satisfaction, shaping my conversation with him with a view of inducing him to believe that a great mistake had been committed, and that I was the victim of a very unjust persecution.

The reporter was troublesome, but I was not alarmed at him, as I was at my next visitor — Dr. Root, of the Charity Hospital. This gentleman, I knew, would be much more difficult to deal with; and before he got through with questioning me, I was convinced, from his manner, that his mind was made up with regard to me. I felt sure that the easiest and best method, indeed, the only method I could safely adopt, was to confess frankly to the mayor that I was really a woman, trusting that this fact being settled in a manner satisfying to his magisterial dignity, he would have no further pretext for keeping me in confinement, and would order my release.

I therefore wrote a note to his honor, requesting a private interview. This request he granted, and without any more equivocation I told him who I was and gave him what I hoped would be satisfactory reasons for assuming the garb I wore. My confession having been made, I next endeavored to treat with the mayor for an immediate release, promising to leave the city as soon as liberated, my idea being to return to military life forthwith, as I had had quite enough of New Orleans for the present.

Mr. Monroe, however, having gotten me in his clutches, was not disposed to let me go so easily, and he said that he would be compelled to fine me ten dollars, and to sentence me to ten days’ imprisonment — a decision that did not increase my good opinion of him. …

I thought that this was pretty rough treatment, considering all that I had done to serve the Confederacy. … I was resolved not to give the thing up. So I concluded that the best plan was to suffer in silence, and to allow the mayor to have what satisfaction he could get out of my ten dollars — I wonder if any of it went into the city treasury? — and out of keeping me incarcerated for ten days. …

I felt sure that once more with the army I would be safe, but, with so many suspicious people watching me, it would be, I knew, extremely difficult to get away as I had come, and to enter upon my old career as an independent, without questioning or hindrance. It was therefore necessary for me to smuggle myself, so to speak, among the soldiers again. … As soon as possible, therefore, after obtaining my release, I proceeded to the recruiting office at the corner of Jefferson and Chatham Streets, and enlisted in Captain B. Moses’ company, of the 21st Louisiana Regiment. The next day we started for Fort Pillow to join the balance of the regiment.

In this manner I contrived to get clear of New Orleans [and] my next thought was to resume my independent footing at the earliest moment. I therefore went privately to Gen. Villipigue, and, showing my commission, told a plausible story to account for my enlistment, and asked him to give me employment as an officer. … Gen. Villipigue was not able to do anything for me, as there were no vacancies, and I therefore applied for a transfer to the Army of East Tennessee and was very cheerfully granted it. … This was the first time I had ever been regularly mustered into the service, and the step was taken, not from choice, but for the purpose of escaping from the surveillance of Mayor Monroe. … I felt that my interests demanded a removal to another locality. Consequently, so soon as I received my papers, I said adieu to my new friends and was off with all possible speed. …

Having secured my transportation and transfer papers, I went to Memphis by the first boat, and was erelong once again at my original starting-point. … My confidence in the sacredness of the cause, in the ability of the Southern armies to sustain it, and its ultimate triumph, were, however, unbroken, notwithstanding that I believed precious time was being wasted, and that, through a mistaken policy, the Confederates were compelled to stand upon the defensive, when they ought to have assumed the aggressive and attacked the enemy on his own ground.

Now, however, things had changed. The terrible disaster at Fort Donelson had been a rude blow to my ideas of Southern invincibility in the field, and if it did not induce me to despair, it certainly opened my eyes to the magnitude of the task we had on hand, and compelled me to recognize the fact, that we were contending with a resolute and powerful enemy whose resources were enormously superior to ours and who was evidently bent upon crushing us to the earth and compelling us to submit to his dictation. All the fine dreams of the previous summer were dissipated into thin air, but there still remained the consolation, that during the bitter struggle yet to come, there would doubtless be plenty of opportunities for me to serve the cause with efficiency, and to win personal glory by my performances. …

So soon as I arrived at Memphis, I telegraphed to Grand Junction for my baggage and my servant, and then went to the tailor, and giving him an order for an officer’s uniform suit, with instructions to have it ready at the earliest possible moment, borrowed from him a coat to wear until my new clothing should be ready. I discarded my soldier’s jacket with quite as much satisfaction as had inspired me on assuming it, and prepared myself to wait, with what equanimity I could command, the moment when I might be able to figure once more in the eyes of both sexes as the dashing young independent, Lt. Harry T. Buford. … I was really not sorry for an opportunity to shut myself up for a day or two, so that I could take a thorough rest, and think, without being interrupted, what was the best plan of action for the immediate future. …

The next day I received two letters, one of which was from my future husband. for, gentle reader, all these months that, in a guise of a man, I had been breaking young ladies’ hearts by my fascinating figure and manner, my own woman’s heart had an object upon which its affections were bestowed, and I was engaged to be married to a truly noble officer of the Confederate army, who knew me, both as a man and as a woman, but who little suspected that Lt. Harry T. Buford, and his intended wife, were one and the same person. By this letter, I learned that my lover was then at Corinth, where I expected to meet him in a few days, and my heart jumped for joy at the idea of being able to fight by his side in the battle that was coming off. This I was determined to do, if the thing could be managed. …

In the relations of the sexes, there are many points which society insists upon for the sake of the proprieties, which are absolutely absurd when tested by any common-sense standard, While permitting a laxity of manners in others that is far from being conducive to good morals or to the general happiness. Many a woman has lost a good husband through a false modesty, which would not permit her to even give him a hint with regard to her real feelings, for some of the best and most whole-souled men are frequently as timid and bashful as the most timid and bashful women, and require some encouragement before they can be induced to speak, while others are strangely obtuse, and do not even think of being anything more than commonly polite to particular ladies, unless something is done to stimulate them. Such backward and thick- witted men are often the most ardent lovers and the fondest and best of husbands when they are once aroused. Many a woman, too, is fond of one man while she is being persistently courted by another; and if, as is apt to be the case, the object of her regards refuses to notice her in the manner she wishes — perhaps simply because he does not like to interfere with another man’s love affair — she has no resource, if she hopes for a happy future, but to declare herself. …

Loreta’s Civil War: All the dignity I could command

New Orleans authorities arrest Velazquez as a spy, and she has to find a way to talk herself out of a jail cell or a worse fate.

KS33

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 17: New Orleans authorities arrest Velazquez as a spy, and she has to find a way to talk herself out of a jail cell or a worse fate.

******

From Fort Donelson I went … to Nashville, and took rooms at the St. Cloud Hotel. I was utterly used up from fatigue, exposure, anxiety, and bitter disappointment; and both I and my negro boy Bob — who had been taken quite sick during the battle — needed an opportunity to thoroughly rest ourselves. It was an immense relief to reach a good hotel, where I could have a shelter over my head, a comfortable bed, and wholesome food; but such was the restlessness of my disposition, and the agitation of my mind, on account of the terrible scenes through which I had just passed, that I could not keep quiet; and scarcely had I recovered a little from my fatigue, than I was eager to be in motion again.

Nashville was in an intense state of excitement over the unexpected result of the attack upon Fort Donelson. … Sending my negro boy to Grand Junction in charge of a friend, I went to the headquarters of Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston, and upon asking for employment, was put in the detective corps. There was plenty of work for everybody to do, for the fall of Fort Donelson had rendered it necessary that the whole Southern army should fall back for the purpose of taking up a new line, and I had no reason to complain of a lack of activity. …

While participating in a skirmish with the enemy, who were harassing us whenever an opportunity offered, I was wounded in the foot. This lamed me, and compelled me to have the hurt dressed by the surgeon, at which I was not a little alarmed, for I knew that I was now in imminent danger of having my sex discovered. … I resolved that the only course for me to pursue was to abandon the army before I got into trouble.

I therefore availed myself of the earliest possible opportunity to take French leave, and quietly slipped away to Grand Junction, where I remained for three days, and then, in company with my boy Bob, repaired to Jackson, Mississippi. At Jackson I hired Bob out, as I wanted to get rid of him for a while, having in my mind certain plans, in the execution of which it would have been an encumbrance for him to have been with me. Bob being disposed of in a satisfactory manner, I hastened … to New Orleans, and took up my quarters at the Brooks House.

By abandoning the army, however, and going to New Orleans at this particular juncture, I was, to use a homely phrase, jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Rigid as was army discipline, and strict as were the precautions taken to prevent treachery and the surveillance of spies, I had managed to sustain myself in the army as an independent without difficulty, and was on the best possible terms with everybody. In New Orleans, on the other hand, I found the spirit of suspicion rampant. Confidence in the ability of the city to defend itself against the impending Federal attack was expressed on all sides, but the fact that an attempt was undoubtedly to be made, before a great while, for its reduction, and the uncertainty with regard to the exact nature of the blow, or the exact direction from which it would fall, caused an uneasiness that could not be disguised. The Federals were known to be mustering an enormous fleet at the mouth of the river, and a large army on the Sound, and my surmises of months before, based upon what I had heard in Washington, were, apparently, about to be realized. …

I did not at all appreciate the situation when I went to New Orleans. When I entered Washington it was as a spy, and I consequently had all my wits about me; but in New Orleans I thought I was among my friends, and very imprudently neglected ordinary precautions for avoiding difficulties.

During the eight or nine months I had been wearing male attire, I had, as the reader is aware, seen a great deal of very hard service. My clothing was well worn, and my apparatus for disguising my form was badly out of order; and the result was that I scarcely presented as creditable a man’s appearance as I did upon the occasion of my last visit to New Orleans. I had, too, by this time become so much accustomed to male attire that I ceased to bear in my mind, constantly, the absolute necessity for preserving certain appearances, and had grown careless about a number of little matters that, when attended to properly, aided materially in maintaining my incognito. In addition to all this, I was in very low spirits, if not absolutely sick, when I reached New Orleans, and was not in a mood to play my part in the best manner.

I had not been in the city very long before it was noted by prying people that there was some mystery about me, and for anyone to have a mystery just then, was equivalent to falling under the ban of both military and civic authorities. I, of course, imagining no evil, was not prepared for a demonstration against me, and was accordingly thunderstruck when I was arrested on the charge of being a spy, and taken before the provost marshal.

Terror, dismay, and indignation struggled for mastery with me when this outrage, as 1 considered it, was perpetrated. … Reviewing the matter very rapidly in my own mind, I determined that the best, if not the only plan, was to present a bold front, and to challenge my accusers to prove anything against me, reserving a revelation of my identity as a last alternative.

I entered a vigorous protest against the whole proceeding to the officer who made the arrest, and I could see, from his hesitating and indecisive manner, that he was in possession of no definite charge against me, and was inclined to be dubious about the propriety or legality of his action. This encouraged me, and induced me to believe that I might be able to brave the thing through; but I resolved, if I did get clear, to cut my visit to New Orleans as short as possible. My protest, however, was of no avail, so far as procuring an instantaneous release was concerned, for the officer insisted upon my accompanying him to the office of the provost marshal.

While on my way to the provost marshal’s, my conductor questioned me closely, but I gave him such answers as evidently increased his uneasy feelings, and I soon saw that he was beginning to seriously doubt whether he was doing exactly the correct thing in making the arrest. Finally, he proposed to release me; but to this I objected in very decided terms, and insisted on knowing exactly what accusations there were against me.

To the office of the provost marshal we accordingly went, and, after a very few questions, that official decided, with gratifying promptness, that there was no justification for holding me, and ordered my discharge from custody.

This appeared to astonish the individual who had made the arrest very much, and it was evident that he was repenting of his rashness, and was anxious to get out of an unpleasant predicament the best way he could. I enjoyed his discomfiture immensely, and, turning to him with all the dignity I could command, I demanded his name. This, with very evident reluctance, he at length gave me, and making him a stiff bow, I said, in a quiet but threatening manner, “I will see you again about this matter, sir,” as I walked out of the office.

Loreta’s Civil War: Strike terror to my soul

Velazquez finds herself at Fort Donelson as U.S. Grant’s Union forces attack and conquer the Confederate fort on the Cumberland River.

KS31

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 16: Velazquez finds herself at Fort Donelson as U.S. Grant’s Union forces attack and conquer the Confederate fort on the Cumberland River.

******

It was really, however, my intention to go back to Virginia, so soon as I could get relieved from the duty I was engaged in, and had that object in my mind when I sent in my resignation, although circumstances occurred that induced me to change my plans. My resignation was accepted without much hesitation at headquarters, and once more, after three weeks service as a military conductor, I was free to follow my own inclinations. …

It was because I thought that there would be a chance for me, ere a great while, in Kentucky, to demonstrate my value either as a soldier or as a spy — for some heavy fighting was undoubtedly about to begin. … I decided to try what could be done at the other end of the Confederate line of operations — at Bowling Green. …

On arrival at Gen. Hardee’s headquarters, I went to him, and showing him my commission, stated that I wanted to go into active service as a scout. He said that he thought there would soon be a chance for me; which was so nearly like the answers I had received from a number of other commanders, that I did not feel especially encouraged by it. …

I was bent, however, notwithstanding the disappointment under which I labored, on showing my devotion to the cause of Southern independence; and, in accordance with my general plan of not letting slip an opportunity of being on hand when there was any real, serious work to be done, I took part in the fight at Woodsonville, on Green River. … The affair at Woodsonville was something of a diversion from the monotony of camp life, but it did not satisfy my ambition or my intense desire for active service; and coming to the conclusion that lounging about Bowling Green and vicinity was much too slim a business for me, I decided to shift my quarters to where there was a somewhat better prospect of hard fighting to be done. It was by this time evident that the Federals intended making a determined attempt to capture Forts Henry and Donelson, on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, and as I felt confident that our people would make a brave and desperate resistance, I resolved to go and take a hand in the approaching battle. …

When I reached Fort Donelson, Gen. Pillow was in command, and preparations for meeting the enemy were being pushed forward with all possible energy. Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, about fifteen miles from Fort Donelson, had been captured by the Federals, and Donelson, everyone knew, would be the next object of attack, both by land and water. The fortifications were very strong, although, being built for the purpose of commanding the river, they were weaker on the land than on the water side, and the great duty of the hour was the construction of earthworks for the protection of the exposed side. The labor required for the execution of this task was immense, but everyone went at it with a good will, and with a feeling of confidence in our ability to give the Federals the repulse that the garrison of Fort Henry had failed to do, although we were certain that they were about to assail us with a very large force, and that they considered the capture of the position a matter of such vital importance that they would spare no effort to accomplish it. …

My boy Bob and I, therefore, went into the trenches, and commenced to shovel dirt with all possible energy and good will. In the execution of such a task as this, Bob soon proved himself to be a much better man than I was, and he easily threw two shovelfuls to my one, and was apparently in a condition to keep on indefinitely, when I, finding that I had miscalculated my strength, was compelled to desist. There are some things which men can do better than women, and digging entrenchments in the frozen ground is one of them. … I repaired, with aching back and blistered hands, to the headquarters of Gen. Floyd, who had just arrived with his Virginians, where I lounged about, waiting for events so to shape themselves that I would be able to show my fighting qualities to advantage, for nature had evidently intended me for a warrior rather than for a dirt-digger.

The Federals made their appearance on the afternoon of Wednesday the 12th, and they could be seen at various points through the woods making preparations for commencing their attack by stationing themselves in advantageous positions for the environment of the fort on its land side, while the gunboats were to give us the benefit of their heavy ordnance from the river. … The battle opened on Thursday, February 13, 1862, and, as if to increase the discomforts and sufferings of the combatants, the weather, which had been quite moderate and pleasant, suddenly became intensely cold. On Thursday night, about eight o’clock, a tremendous storm of snow and sleet came on, to the full fury of which I was exposed. …

If repentance for my rashness in resolving to play a soldier’s part in the war was ever to overcome me, however, now was the time; and I confess that, as the sleet stung my face, and the biting winds cut me to the bones, I wished myself well out of it, and longed for the siege to be over in some shape, even if relief came only through defeat. The idea of defeat, however, was too intolerable to be thought of, and I banished it from my mind whenever it occurred to me, and argued with myself that I was no better than the thousands of brave men around, who were suffering from these wintry blasts as much as I.

The agonized cries of the wounded, and their piteous calls for water, really affected me more than my own discomfort. … Every now and then a shriek would be uttered that would strike terror to my soul, and make my blood run cold, as the fiercest fighting I had ever seen had not been able to do. I could face the cannon better than I could this bitter weather, and I could suffer myself better than I could bear to hear the cries and groans of these wounded men, lying out on the frozen ground, exposed to the beatings of this pitiless storm. …

In such a situation as the one I am describing, the most singular ideas run through one’s mind. The minutes are lengthened out into hours, and the hours into days, until the reckoning of time is lost; and as the past seems to fade away into a remoteness that makes the painlessness of yesterday appear like the fragment of a happy dream, so the future, when it will all be over, and the commonplace routine of uneventful everyday life will commence again, is as far off as a child’s imagination pictures heaven to be. We actually catch ourselves wondering whether it has always been so, and whether it will always be so until we die, and when we die, whether eternity will have anything better to offer. …

The battle lasted four days and nights, and, although the Confederates fought with desperate valor, they were at length compelled to yield, and the humiliation of defeat was added to the unspeakable sufferings which the conduct of a fierce and prolonged contest like this, in the middle of a winter of unparalleled severity, entailed upon them. Fortune, which had favored the side of the Confederacy in the battles in which I had heretofore been engaged, was against us now, however, and in spite of the fierce resistance which the garrison made to the Federal attacks, the result was, that nothing was left for us to do but surrender.

Book gems of 2016, Part 2

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on presidents and the political world.

IMG_1778

Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on presidents and the political world.

Editor Edith Gelles presents Abigail Adams: Letters (Library of America, 1180 pp., $40), a stellar collection of correspondence capturing the complexity, nuances, and uncertainties of the American Republic’s earliest era and of its first generation of political and intellectual leaders. It is a tribute to her intelligence, insight, bravery, and patriotic devotion. It is best read alongside John Adams: Writings from the New Nation, 1784-1826, edited by Gordon S. Wood (Library of America, 905 pp., $40). Taken together, the books illustrate a decades-long romance between a brilliant man and woman, the intellectual and cultural forces that shaped their lives, and an inspirational example for all Americans who should be just as devoted to the enrichment of their democracy as the Adamses.

Ronald L. Feinman’s Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman & Littlefield, 274 pp., $38) grimly examines the consistent danger faced by presidential candidates when the harsh public spotlight is perverted into a bullseye on their lives. Feinman turns the historic attempts and successful murders into case studies analyzing the government’s and public’s reactions to the crimes, providing fascinating and important perspectives on a too-often understudied aspect of presidential and political history. Mel Ayton’s Plotting to Kill the President: Assassination Attempts from Washington to Hoover (University of Nebraska Press, 376 pp., $32.95) takes a broader and more casual approach to the same issues, but from a different time frame and with many more details and anecdotes. They should complement each other quite well.

Seymour Morris Jr.’s Fit for the Presidency? Winners, Losers, What-Ifs, and Also-Rans (Potomac Books, an imprint of University of Nebraska Press, 462 pp., $32.95) arrives at the perfect time, just when Americans are overwhelmed from the campaign season’s speeches, news coverage, political ads, and scandals. If it makes us feel any better, previous generations of Americans did not have it much better. Morris unfurls an amazing and very colorful tapestry of personalities, ambitions, bizarre surprises, and the raw emotions of victory and defeat. Nothing better complements or enriches presidential history than the shadow history of the people those presidents defeated.

Jefferson Cowie’s The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics (Princeton University Press, 288 pp., $27.95) promises to be a fascinating and sobering reminder that any progress toward economic equality in American society is essentially paddling against the stream of traditional social and economic inequality. A strong, centralized, pro-active federal government forcibly reordered the democratic system to better benefit the lower-class citizens, from the early 1930s to the early 1960s, and that may be what is required for today’s America. Cowie’s book is not just a smart history but a call to action for today’s citizens and political leaders, along with a warning from the past of what resulted from inaction.

Marne L. Campbell’s Making Black Los Angeles: Class, Gender, and Community, 1850-1917 (University of North Carolina Press, 246 pp., $29.95) paints an extraordinary portrait of black families from the post-Mexican War era to World War I, illustrating how they grew, endured countless forms of discrimination, and struggled to build and sustain a viable community as the town steadily grew into an important city. Women, she discovered, were key to strengthening the relationships between different classes of black communities, thereby enabling their entire community to fight for economic independence, racial expression, and, ultimately, political power.

LBJ’s Neglected Legacy: How Lyndon Johnson Reshaped Domestic Policy and Government, edited by Robert H. Wilson, Norman J. Glickman, and Laurence E. Lynn, Jr. (University of Texas Press, 493 pp., $29.95), is an excellent essay anthology examining the lasting effects of Great Society legislation on modern American society, government, and economics. As the title suggests, the contributors argue that Johnson receives too-little credit for how his ambitions and political skills built the governmental and ideological architecture shaping today’s American society and the issues over which today’s loudest debates take place.

Doreen Mattingly’s A Feminist in the White House: Midge Costanza, the Carter Years, and America’s Culture Wars (Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $23.96) reminds us that the fight for feminism and equal rights could be difficult even under Democratic presidents. Costanza challenged President Jimmy Carter to support women’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, and gender equality. She was a bright light in a dark America desperate for an undeniable and intelligent voice in the halls of power. Mattingly’s portrait challenges today’s generations to remember the heroic efforts that lead the initial assaults in the civil rights struggles still waged today.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Loreta’s Civil War: Making myself liable to suspicion

Velazquez tours the enemy capital city and collects intelligence she deems valuable to the Confederate war effort.

KS28

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 14: Velazquez tours the enemy capital city and collects intelligence she deems valuable to the Confederate war effort.

******

The information of most vital moment, however, that I succeeded in obtaining from him was that active preparations were being made to secure possession of the upper Mississippi, and that a very large fleet was being fitted out for the purpose of blockading the mouth of the river. I instantly surmised from this that an attack on New Orleans was in contemplation, and resolved to bend my energies, during my stay in Washington, to the task of finding out all I could with regard to the actual intentions of the Federal government. I did succeed in obtaining ample confirmation of all my friend told me, and to a limited extent of my guesses. Those, however, who really knew, were very close-mouthed about what particular work was being cut out for the fleet to perform, and the desire seemed to be to leave the impression that it was to undertake blockade duty simply, and to close the mouths of the river to the ingress and egress of vessels. There were some things which I heard, however, that did not exactly conform to this theory, and by the time I left Washington, I was tolerably well convinced that a grand blow was shortly to be struck, either at Mobile or New Orleans, but most likely at the latter city. I pumped, in a quiet way, everybody I met, who was at all likely to know anything; but I was really afraid to push my inquiries too far, or to seem too inquisitive, as I did not care to be suspected as a spy and put under surveillance, especially as I learned that the government was greatly annoyed by the presence of numbers of Confederate spies in Washington, and was disposed to deal vigorously with them if they were caught.

This, it must be remembered, was simply a reconnoitering expedition, undertaken entirely on my own account, without authority from anybody; and while I, of course, wanted to find out all I could, my real object was more to make an experiment than anything else, and I did not wish to spoil my chances for future operations — for I fully expected to visit Washington again on similar service to this — by getting into trouble just then, and consequently making myself liable to suspicion in the future.

After a somewhat prolonged and very pleasant conversation with my friend, he took his departure, promising, however, to call the next day, and as I was a stranger in Washington — having never visited the city before — to take me to the different places of interest. This was exactly what I wanted, for I was desirous of being informed, as soon as possible, exactly where the public offices were situated, and the best means of obtaining access to them, and I counted greatly upon this obliging and very gallant gentleman unsuspectingly starting me on the right road for the accomplishment of the ends I had in view.

He made his appearance promptly at the appointed hour the next morning, and took me to see the Patent Office, the Treasury Department, and the War Department. … I led him up to making a proposal that he should introduce me to the secretary of war. In a demure sort of way, I expressed myself as delighted at the honor of being able to meet so great a man, and so, in a few moments more, I was bowing, in my politest manner, to Secretary [Simon] Cameron. …

I cannot say that the secretary of war impressed me very favorably. He was abundantly courteous in his manners, but there was a crafty look in his eyes, and a peculiar expression about his mouth, that I thought indicated a treacherous disposition, and that I did not like. I concluded that Mr. Cameron would be a hard man to deal with, unless dealing were made well worth his while; but in spite of his evident knowingness, and his evident confidence in his own abilities, I left him, feeling tolerably sure that I could prove myself a fair match for him in case our wits were ever brought into conflict. …

From the War Department we went to the White House, where my friend said he would introduce me to the president. I really had some dread of this interview, although I experienced a great curiosity to see Mr. Lincoln … I considered him more than any one person responsible for the war. Mr. Lincoln, however, was an agreeable disappointment to me, as I have no doubt he was to many others. He was certainly a very homely man, but he was not what I should call an ugly man, for he had a pleasant, kindly face, and a pleasantly familiar manner, that put one at ease with him immediately. I did not have an opportunity to exchange a great many words with Mr. Lincoln, but my interview, brief as it was, induced me to believe, not only that he was not a bad man, but that he was an honest and well-meaning one, who thought that he was only doing his duty in attempting to conquer the South. … I left the White House, if not with a genuine liking for him, at least with many of my prejudices dispelled and different feelings towards him than I had when I entered.

My tour around Washington, and especially my visit to the War and Post Office Departments, convinced me, not only that Washington would be a first-rate place for me to operate in, if I could obtain a definite attachment to the detective corps, but that I had the abilities to become a good detective, and would, in a very short time, be able to put the Confederate authorities in possession of information of the first value with regard to the present and prospective movements of the enemy.

Having fulfilled my errand, and accomplished all that I had expected when starting out on this trip, I left Washington as suddenly as I had entered it, giving my friend to understand that I was going to New York. I had as little trouble in getting back to Leesburg as I had in getting away from it, and put in an appearance at the house of the old colored woman, who had my uniform hid away for me, within thirteen days from the time I left it.

Attiring myself once more in the garb of a Confederate officer, I returned the old woman her calico dress, shawl, sun-bonnet, and shoes. … My other suit of female clothing I took up to the hotel with me, and told my boy Bob, who seemed to be very curious about them, that I had bought them for my girl. Bob seemed to be delighted to see me again, as he had been apprehensive, from my long absence, that something had happened, and that I might never return. He was most anxious to know where I had been; but I put a short stop to his questionings on that topic, by giving him orders to have everything ready for an early start on a long journey in the morning. The next day we were en route for Columbus, Tennessee, where I expected to find Gen. Leonidas Polk, under whom I was now desirous of serving.

Loreta’s Civil War: The chill winds of winter

Velazquez is back in disguise and uniform. She is assigned to the detective corps but then receives an unexpected and unwelcome assignment.

KS29

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 15: Velazquez is back in disguise and uniform. She is assigned to the detective corps but then receives an unexpected and unwelcome assignment.

******

Like hundreds of others, I had gone to Virginia with the opening of summer, inspired by high hopes and great expectations. These hopes and expectations were far from being realized, although I had succeeded in gratifying some of the most ardent desires that had animated me in setting out, for I had gone through with a number of perilous adventures, such as would have certainly satisfied the ambition of most women. Notwithstanding, however, that the Confederates had won the first great victory, it became apparent, at an early day, that a single battle was not going to finish the war, and that if the South was to achieve its independence, it must go through a long and bloody conflict. My visit to Washington more than confirmed the opinion I had formed, that the Federals were in command of enormous resources in comparison with ours, and that they were settling down to a deadly determination to bring all their resources to bear for the purpose of fighting the thing out to the bitter end.

When I took the back track, therefore, nearly six months from the time of starting out, and when the chill winds of winter were beginning to make their severity felt by the poor soldiers, I was prepared for a long and desperate war, which would be a very different thing from the holiday affair which my Arkansas recruits, in common with many others, had expected. I was as resolute as ever in my determination to see the thing out, however, and I experienced even a certain amount of pleasure in the certainty that a prolonged struggle would afford me abundant opportunities for exciting and perilous adventures. There was not a man in the Confederacy who was more willing to fight to the last than I was, or who was willing to venture into greater peril for the sake of the cause; and, perhaps, if all the men had been as eager to find the last ditch as myself, before giving up, the war might have had a different termination.

This is something, however, about which it is scarcely worthwhile to speculate now. It is enough to say, that I left Virginia in a different mood from that in which I had entered it. Experience had opened my eyes to a good many things I did not clearly understand before, but although in some particulars I was disappointed, I was certainly not discouraged; and my head was as full of ideas, and of much better arranged, and more practical plans, than it was when I resolved to become a soldier. I now knew tolerably well what I could do, and the particular kind of work I could do best, and I was as enthusiastic as ever, although, perhaps, in a more sober fashion, to give the cause the benefit of my best exertions.

A few days of hard travel and I was back at my starting point, Memphis, having made the circuit of the entire Confederacy east of the Mississippi. I was wiser by a good deal of valuable practical knowledge than I was when I set out on my Arkansas recruiting expedition, and I had passed through scenes that made it seem years, instead of a few short months, since I had made my first important attempt at practicing essentially characteristic masculine manners. … If I returned to Memphis a disappointed woman in certain particulars, I also returned a hopeful one, for I knew better now how to go about the work 1 had in hand; and as it was evident that some of the hardest fighting of the war was to be done in this region, I confidently expected to have abundant opportunity to distinguish myself, both as a soldier and as a scout, and had scarcely a doubt of being employed in such services as I was best qualified to perform.

Behold me, then, back in Memphis, ready to commence a second campaign, inspired by a different kind of enthusiasm from that which moved me when I shocked my husband and the friend whom 1 persuaded to assist me in my enterprise, by my determination to be a soldier, but even more firmly resolved to do my full share of the fighting, and to give the Confederate cause the benefit of all my energy, wit, and courage.

The friend of whom I have spoken I still found in Memphis. He was now captain in the Confederate service, and on my meeting with him he seemed both rejoiced and surprised to see me again. … Wishing each other good luck, we parted again, and I took the first boat for Columbus, where I expected to find Gen. Leonidas Polk. On landing at Columbus, I gave my equipage and the two horses I had bought at Memphis, in charge of Bob, with directions to keep a sharp eye on them, and went to Barnes’ Hotel, to see if I could come across anybody I knew, and to make the inquiries necessary for my next movement.

Columbus was one of the liveliest places I had ever visited, or at least it seemed so that evening. There was an immense amount of bustle and confusion, and everything seemed to indicate that the campaign in this region was being pushed with considerable energy. … Soon after supper I got my tent up, and the next morning I went in search of the general for the purpose of presenting my letter. Gen. Polk, who had been a bishop before the war broke out, received me cordially enough, although he seemed to be too busy to do much talking, and after reading my letter, dismissed me with the rather indefinite observation that he would see what he could do for me. …

While waiting for the general to assign me to duty I visited the different camps, made a number of acquaintances, and picked up what information I could about the military situation in the West. Everybody was expecting hard fighting, and a desperate struggle with the Federals for the possession of the Mississippi, as it seemed to be well understood that the enemy were making great preparations for some heavy work on this river. It was thought, however, that the defenses were sufficiently strong to resist any attacks, and the idea that an attempt would ere a great while be made against New Orleans by way of the Gulf of Mexico, was scarcely entertained seriously by any one. I thought differently but then I had special reasons for my own opinions, which I did not consider it necessary to communicate to all of my new-made friends, deeming it prudent to keep quiet about my visit to Washington, although ready enough to tell all I knew concerning the military situation in Virginia in exchange for what I learned from them about the condition of things in the West.

The third day after my arrival at Columbus, Gen. Polk sent for me, and told me that he had assigned me to the detective corps. I was considerably elated at this, as I supposed that he intended to employ me in running through the lines as a spy. … There was an element of positive peril in scout duty that had a wonderful fascination for me, and that I felt would give me a keen enjoyment, such as lounging around a camp, with only the disagreeable routine of campaigning, broken by an occasional battle, could never afford.

I was not particularly well pleased, therefore, when I found that I was to run on the cars as military conductor. This, however, was active duty of a specific kind, and I thought that perhaps it might lead to something better, or might even offer me opportunities for distinguishing myself that 1 did not suspect. I took it, therefore, without complaining, resolved to do my best while on duty, and to resign the position, and go elsewhere for employment, so soon as I found the service getting too uncongenial. I accordingly went, under orders from Gen. Polk, to Camp Beauregard, where I was directed to relieve Captain Jannett, on the Nashville road. …

It was while acting in the capacity of military conductor on this road that some of the most amusing incidents of my career occurred. … My duty was to run on the trains and examine passes, furloughs, and leaves of absence; and as I could place anyone under arrest who was not traveling with the right kind of papers, or who was unprovided with papers of any kind, I was a personage of considerable importance, not only to the officers and soldiers who were going back and forth, but to the ladies, who courted me with remarkable assiduity, with a view of inducing me to grant them favors. The women folk tormented me a good deal more than the men did, for the average masculine had a wholesome dread of the rigors of military discipline, and was consequently manageable, while my own sex relied on accomplishing, by means of their fascinations, what was impossible to the men. They would make all kinds of excuses, and tell all kinds of improbable stories, to induce me to pass them. …. Occasionally some of my would-be charmers, finding it impossible to make any impression on me, would abuse me roundly for refusing to grant their request. This, of course, did not have any other effect than to afford me much amusement; but it enabled me to understand why my predecessor seemed so well pleased at being relieved. …

Gen. Polk, bent upon knowing how I was making out as military conductor, and whether I was entirely trustworthy … stepped aboard the train with a ten days’ leave of absence in his pocket. He probably thought that I was as good as detected in neglecting my duty, but he found out his mistake before he got through. …

On entering the car, I sang out, as usual, “Show your passes, gentlemen.”

The general turned his head, and commenced looking out of the window rather intently, as travelers not provided with passes were very much in the habit of doing. When I reached him, in going through the car, I gently tapped his shoulder, and said, “Have you a pass?”

“No,” said he. “Won’t you let me go through without one?”

“No sir,” I replied, “I cannot pass anyone. My orders are very strict, especially with regard to officers and soldiers.”

“Well,” said he, “don’t you think you could go back on your orders for once? Did you never favor a friend in this line?”

“Sir,” I answered, rather severely, “I know no friends in connection with my duty, or general orders.”

“Well, what are you going to do in my case; for I haven’t got any pass,” said the general.

I replied, “I will send you back to headquarters, under guard.”

‘”But,” said he, “do you know, sir, that I am Gen. Polk?” putting on all the magnificent style he could command as he spoke.

I was considerably nettled, both by his conduct in endeavoring to persuade me to pass him in violation of orders and by his manner, and so said, rather sharply, “I don’t care, sir, who you are; you can’t travel on this line without a pass, even if you are Jeff Davis himself.”

I was, by this time, rather angry, and determined to have no further controversy with him; so I called a soldier to take charge of him, while I finished going through the train.

The conductor, who had seen the whole performance, and who was afraid that I was getting myself into serious trouble, strongly advised me to release the general, and to pass him through as he desired. I told him, however, that I understood my duty perfectly, and that I intended to perform it to the letter, in this as in every other instance; and that if General Polk didn’t know better than to undertake to travel with- out his papers, he would have to bear the consequences.

When we were nearing the station. Gen. Polk beckoned to me, and said, “I have a leave of absence.”

I held out my hand, and he produced it from his pocket, laughing as he did so at what he evidently considered a good joke on the military conductor. I looked at it, and returned it, simply saying, “That is all right, sir.” The general held out his hand to me with a very cordial smile, and was evidently desirous of doing away with any ill feeling that the incident might have occasioned on my side. I was very badly vexed, however, that he should have attempted to play such a trick upon me, and to have doubted my honor; and I did not receive his greeting with any great amount of cordiality, being resolved, in my own mind, to be even with him some day. …

Loreta’s Civil War: The insatiate desire

Velazquez pauses her adventure as a Confederate soldier, for the moment, and heads for Washington, D.C., for a new challenge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 13: Velazquez pauses her adventure as a Confederate soldier, for the moment, and heads for Washington, D.C., for a new challenge.

******

We may regret that the dreams of our youth do not come true, just as we once loved to hope that they would, almost without endeavor on our part; but who shall say that our own life romances, woven out of the tissues of events from day to day, with much labor, doubt, and pain, are not fairer and brighter than any imagination could create? It is good to do one’s duty quietly amid the rush of great events, even when the path of duty lies in hidden places, where the gaze of the crowd penetrates not, where applause cannot follow; and one’s own satisfaction at duty well and nobly performed, is, after all, the best recompense that can be had.

To be a second Joan of Arc was a mere girlish fancy, which my very first experiences as a soldier dissipated forever; and it did not take me long to discover that I needed no model, but that, to win success in the career I had chosen, I must be simply myself, and not a copy, even in the remotest particular, of anybody else; and that the secret of success consisted in watching the current of events, and in taking advantage of circumstances as they arose. … The experiences of actual warfare, however, soon had the effect of convincing me that a woman like myself, who had a talent for assuming disguises, and who, like me, was possessed of courage, resolution, and energy, backed up by a ready wit, a plausible address, and attractive manners, had it in her power to perform many services of the most vital importance, which it would be impossible for a man to even attempt.

The difficulty which our commander experienced in gaining accurate and thoroughly reliable information with regard to the movements of the enemy, the rumors that prevailed of the enormous preparations being made by the Federal government to crush the South, an insatiable desire to see and to hear for myself what was going on within the enemy’s lines, all stimulated me to make an attempt, the hazardous character of which I well knew; but, trusting to my woman’s wit to see me safely through, I resolved that the attempt should be made.

My plans were tolerably well matured when the Battle of Ball’s Bluff took place, and I should probably have put them in execution before I did, had it not been for the insatiate desire I had to take part in another fight. After that battle, I more than ever felt the necessity for some constant, active employment, for I chafed under the ennui of the camp, and felt irresistibly impelled to be moving about and doing something. I accordingly was not long in resolving that the time had now arrived for me to attempt something more than I had yet done, and for me to effect a coup that might either make or mar my fortunes, but that, whatever its result might be, would give me the excitement I craved, and demonstrate my abilities, and my disposition to serve the Confederacy in such a signal manner that it would be impossible for those in authority any longer to ignore me.

A woman labors under some disadvantages in an attempt to fight her own way in the world, and at the same time, from the mere fact that she is a woman, she can often do things that a man cannot. I have no hesitation in saying that I wish I had been created a man instead of a woman. This … is the matter with nearly all the women who go about complaining of the wrongs of our sex. But, being a woman, I was bent on making the best of it; and having for some time now figured successfully in the garments of the other sex, I resolved upon resuming those of my own for a season, for the accomplishment of a purpose I had in my mind. This purpose I felt sure I could accomplish as a woman; and although I had a tolerably good appreciation of the perils I should run, I had confidence in my abilities to see myself through, and the perils attending my enterprise were incentives, rather than otherwise, for me to attempt it.

Having obtained a letter of introduction to Gen. Leonidas Polk, and my transportation papers — for it was my intention, after making the trip I had immediately in view, to visit the part of the country in which his army was operating, as it was more familiar to me, and I thought that I could perform more efficient service there than in Virginia — I turned in my camp equipage to the quartermaster, and bidding farewell to my friends, started off in search of new adventures. …

Going to an old negro woman who had washed for me, and who had shown considerable fondness for me, I told her that I intended visiting the Yankees for the purpose of seeing them about coming and freeing the colored folk, and asked her to let me have a suit of woman’s clothes, so that I could get through the lines without being stopped. I made up quite a long yarn about what I proposed to do, and the poor old soul, believing all I told her without a moment’s hesitation, consented to aid me in every way she could, her ardor being materially quickened by a twenty dollar Confederate note which I handed her.

She was not long in having me attired in the best she had — a calico dress, a woolen shawl, a sun-bonnet, and a pair of shoes much too large for me — and hiding away my uniform where it would be safe during my absence, she started me off with a full expectation that I would be back in a couple of weeks, with the whole Yankee army at my back, for the purpose of liberating all the slaves. The old woman put such implicit faith in me that I really felt sorry at deceiving her, but quieted my conscience with the thought that lying was as necessary as fighting in warfare, and that the prospects were that I would be compelled to do much more fibbing than this before the errand upon which I was about starting would be achieved.

Managing to make my way to the river without attracting any particular attention, I found an old negro who had a boat, and making up a story that I fancied would answer the purpose, I struck a bargain with him to take me across to the Maryland shore for twenty-five dollars. He was eager to get the money, probably never having handled so much before in his life at any one time, but warned me that it would be a risky piece of business, for the weather was very cold, the river broad and deep, and the current strong, and there was considerable danger of my being fired at by the pickets on either bank. I told him that I was not afraid to take all the risks, and that I thought I could stand the cold. I accordingly concealed myself in his cabin until the time for commencing the crossing arrived, neither of us deeming it prudent to start before midnight. …

At length we reached the Maryland side of the river, to my infinite satisfaction, for I was numb with the cold, and stiff in all my limbs, from the cramped position in which I had been obliged to sit in the boat, and was heartily glad of an opportunity to tread dry land once more. Dismissing the boatman, and enjoining him not to say anything, I made my way to a farm-house which I espied a short distance from the place of landing, and about four o’clock in the morning, finding no better place to rest my weary limbs, I crept into a wheat-stack, and slept there until daylight. …

[Once I] penetrated the lines of the enemy, there was, I knew, little to fear. As a Confederate soldier, I was figuring in a disguise which was likely, at any time, to get me into trouble of some sort, and not the least danger I saw was that of being arrested as a spy. When I first undertook to be a soldier, this was an idea that never occurred to me; but a very short experience in actual campaigning taught me that I would have to be careful to prevent the fact that I was disguised from being found out, if for no other reason than that my loyalty to the Southern cause might not be suspected. I relied, however, upon the good fighting I had done, and the other services I had rendered, which were proofs of the genuineness of my devotion, as well as the influence of my friends to get me out of any scrape into which I might fall through the discovery that I was not a man.

Here, in the enemy’s country, however, I passed for exactly what I was, with nobody nearer than Memphis who knew me, both as a man and as a woman, and I consequently felt perfectly secure in moving about pretty much as I chose, having a plausible story on the end of my tongue to tell anybody who might question me. I concluded that, as it was most likely I would meet in Washington people who knew me as a woman … that it would be safer, and in all respects better for me to attempt no disguise, but to figure as myself, and as nobody else. …

Between my starting-point on the Maryland side and Washington, I saw a good many soldiers, from which I judged that the approaches to the Federal capital were strongly guarded, and that very efficient means were being taken to prevent anything like a surprise on the part of the Confederates. This was the most important information I succeeded in obtaining; and except that I was enabled to form some estimates of the force that was guarding the Maryland side of the Potomac it was of no special value, as it was well understood among the Confederates that the enemy were well prepared to resist an attack upon Washington, and were concentrating a large army in and about the city. …

On arriving in Washington, I went to Brown’s Hotel, and having learned that an officer of the regular Federal army, with whom I was well acquainted, and who had been a warm personal friend of my late husband, was in the city, I sent him a note, asking him to call on me. He came to see me very promptly on receiving my message, and greeting me with a good deal of cordiality, expressed a desire to aid me in any manner that lay in his power. I told him that I was just from New York, and making up a plausible story to account for my being in Washington, began to question him about the progress of the war. He evidently had not the slightest idea that I was in Washington for any other purpose than what he would have considered a perfectly legitimate one, and consequently spoke without any reserve concerning a number of matters about which he would certainly have kept silent had he suspected that I had just come from the other side of the Potomac, and that my object was to pick up items of information that would be useful to the Confederacy.

Loreta’s Civil War: The sensations of a soldier

Velazquez describes the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, condemns the instances of cowardice she witnessed, and recounts the horrors that stayed with her for the rest of her life.

KS24

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 12: Velazquez describes the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, condemns the instances of cowardice she witnessed, and recounts the horrors that stayed with her for the rest of her life.

******

It might be supposed that one battle would have been enough for me, and that after having seen, as at Bull Run, the carnage incident to a desperate conflict between thousands of infuriated combatants, I should have been glad to have abandoned a soldier’s career, and to have devoted myself to the service of the Confederacy in some other capacity than that of a fighter. Indeed, it so turned out, that the most efficient services I did perform in behalf of the cause which I espoused, were other than those of a strictly military character, although quite as important as any rendered by the bravest fighters when standing face to face to the enemy. But it was, in a measure, due to necessity rather than to original choice, that I undertook work of a different kind from that which I had in my mind when first donning my uniform. We are all of us, more or less, the creatures of circumstances; and when I saw that the fact of my being a woman would enable me to play another role from that which I had at first intended, I did not hesitate, but readily accepted what Fate had to offer.

The Battle of Bull Run, however, only quickened my ardor to participate in another affair of a similar kind, and the months of enforced inaction, which succeeded that battle, had the effect of making me long, with exceeding eagerness, to experience again the excitement which thrilled me on the sultry July day, when the army of the Confederacy won its first great victory. The sensations which, on the battlefield, overcome a soldier who knows nothing of fear can only be compared to those of a gambler who is playing for enormous stakes. The more noble origin of the emotions experienced in the one case over those excited by the other does not prevent them from being essentially similar, although the gambler, who is staking his all on the turn of a card, can know little or nothing of the glorious excitement of the soldier engaged in a deadly conflict with an enemy, and feeling that its issue depends upon his putting forth his utmost exertions, and that determined valor can alone secure him the victory.

The sensations of a soldier in the thick of a fight baffle description; and, as his hopes rise or sink with the ebb and flow of the battle, as he sees comrades falling about him dead and wounded, hears the sharp hiss of the bullets, the shrieking of the shells, the yells of the soldiers on each side as they smite each other, there is a positive enjoyment in the deadly perils of the occasion that nothing can equal.

At Bull Run, it so happened that I was placed where the fight was hottest, where the enemy made his most determined attacks, where the soldiers of the South made their most desperate resistance, and where, for hours, the fate of the battle trembled in the balance. When at length victory crowned our banners, the enemy fled from the field, and we saw no more of them, and desperate as was the fight, it was, notwithstanding the great number of killed and wounded, unattended with the peculiar horrors, the mere thought of which is calculated to send a shudder through the strongest nerves.

The second battle in which I participated — that at Ball’s Bluff — was accompanied by every circumstance of horror; and although in the excitement of the moment, when every faculty of mind and body was at extreme tension, and I was only inspired with an intense eagerness to do my whole duty for my cause, I did not fully realize the enormities of such a slaughter as was involved in the defeat of the Federals at that place, I have never been able to think of it without a shudder, notwithstanding that I have fought on more than one bloody field since. Such scenes, however, are inseparable from warfare, and those who take up arms must steel themselves against them. …

[T]here was a tolerably open piece of ground, cut up somewhat by ridges and hollows, and surrounded by a thick growth of woods. This timber for a while concealed the combatants from each other, and it was impossible for us to tell what force we were contending with. The woods seemed to be alive with combatants, and it was thought that the enemy was strongly fortified. Notwithstanding the uncertainties with regard to the number of our opponents, we attacked with spirit, and for a time the fight was bravely carried on by both armies. The enemy certainly fought exceedingly well, especially considering the precariousness of their position, although, of course, we did not know at the time the attack was made that our foes were in such a desperate predicament. …

I thought the struggle at Bull Run a desperate one, but that battle at its fiercest did not begin to equal this; and when finally we did succeed in routing the enemy, I experienced a sense of satisfaction and relief that was overwhelming. For three weary hours the fighting continued without intermission; and although for a long while the result was dubious, at length, as the chilly October day was about closing, the enemy having lost a great number of men and officers … and being hemmed in on three sides, were driven in confusion into the river.

Shortly after the fight commenced, I took charge of a company which had lost all its officers, and I do not think that either my men or myself failed to do our full duty. Perhaps, if I had been compelled to maneuver my command in the open field, I might not have done it as skillfully as some others would, although I believe that I could have played the part of a captain quite as well as a good many of them who held regular commissions as commanders of companies, and a good deal better than some others who aspired to be officers before learning the first rudiments of their business, and without having the pluck to conduct themselves before the enemy in a manner at all correspondent to their braggart style of behavior when not smelling gunpowder under compulsion. In this battle, however, fighting as we were for the most part in the woods, there was little or no maneuvering to be done, and my main duties were to keep the men together, and to set them an example. This latter I certainly did.

After the battle was over, the first lieutenant of the company which I was commanding came in and relieved me, stating that he had been taken prisoner, but had succeeded in making his escape in the confusion incident to the Federal defeat. I did not say anything, but had my very serious doubts as to the story which he told being the exact truth. He had a very sheepish look, as if he was ashamed of himself for playing a sneaking, cowardly trick; and I shall always believe that when the firing commenced, he found an opportunity to slink away to the rear for the purpose of getting out of the reach of danger.

I have seen a good many officers like this one, who were brave enough when strutting about in the streets of cities and villages, showing themselves off in their uniforms to the women, or when airing their authority in camp, by bullying the soldiers under them, but who were the most arrant cowards under fire, and who ought to have been court-martialed and shot, instead of being permitted to disgrace their uniforms, and to demoralize their men, by their dastardly behavior when in the face of the enemy. My colored boy Bob was a better soldier than some of the white men who thought themselves immensely his superiors; and having possessed himself of a gun, he fought as well as he knew how, like the rest of us. When the enemy gave way, I could hear Bob yelling vociferously; and I confess that I was proud of the darkey’s pluck and enthusiasm. …

At the point where I stood the Potomac River was very wide, and it presented a sight such as I prayed that I might never behold again. The enemy were literally driven down the bluff and into the river, and crowds of them were floundering in the water and grappling with death. This horrible spectacle made me shudder; for, although they were my foes, they were human beings, and my heart must have been hard, indeed, could it not have felt for their sufferings. I was willing to fight them to death’s door in the open field, and to ask no favors, taking the same chances for life as they had; but I had no heart for their ruthless slaughter. The woman in me revolted at the fiendish delight which some of our soldiers displayed at the sight of the terrible agony endured by those who had, but a short time before, been contesting the field with them so valiantly, and I could scarcely refrain from making some decisive effort to put a stop to the carnage, and to relieve my suffering foes. For the first time since putting on my uniform I was thrown off my guard, and should certainly have done something to betray my secret had I not fortunately restrained myself in time. Such scenes as these, however, are inseparable from warfare, and they must be endured by those who adopt a soldier’s career. The pitiable spectacles which followed our brilliant victory at Ball’s Bluff, however, had the effect of satisfying my appetite for fighting for a time; and after it was all over, I was by no means as anxious for another battle, as I had been after the victory at Bull Run. …