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.
Part 7: Velazquez manages to slip into a Confederate encampment, and the soldiers’ language and behavior offend and outrage her. She is particularly disgusted with how supposed gentlemen speak about women.
The style of conversation that was common in camp, and the kind of stories told around our fires at night, I will leave to the reader’s imagination, hoping, however, that he or she has not imagination enough to compass anything so utterly vile. My favorite amusement was a game of cards, and I preferred this way of entertaining myself, and of beguiling the weary hours, to listening to anecdotes which could only debase my mind. Anything relating to military affairs, to social science, to the deeds of great men or women, or whatever else I could improve myself by listening to, I took great delight in. From my earliest recollection, however, I have had a thorough distaste for vulgarity of language and profanity. … The manner in which too many men are in the habit of referring to the other sex in conversation among themselves is, in my opinion, thoroughly despicable; and I really think that it would be morally and intellectually beneficial to many of my sex, especially those who are the victims of masculine viciousness, if they could only listen to some such conversations as I have been compelled to listen to, and learn how little respect or real regard of any kind men have for them.
I would that God would put it into my power to utter such a warning as would be heeded, to the weak and erring of my sex, and which would enable them to fortify themselves against the temptations constantly assailing them. But I suppose no warning would prevent those who are disposed to sin from doing so, although I well know that women, and men too, can resist temptation, and can avoid vileness in living and in language if they will only choose to do so. I do not pretend to say that I am possessed of firmer nerves, or am less under the influence of the natural emotions of my sex, than many others; but my strong constitution, and the perfect health I enjoyed, enabled me to endure more fatigue and hardship than most women, while my firm-mindedness, and resolute determination to carry my point, enabled me to avoid anything like laxity of conduct. I was compelled to sink my sex entirely, for the least inadvertence would have thwarted my plans, and prevented the realization of all I aimed at.
Many and many a time has the subject of women serving in the army as soldiers been discussed at the mess-tables and around the campfires; and officers, who have been in my company for days, and weeks, and months, have boasted, with very masculine positiveness, that no woman could deceive them, little suspecting that one was even then listening to them. I have sometimes been asked my opinion on the subject; but have generally answered evasively, without expressing, in very decided terms, my ideas one way or the other. Some of the men with whom I have been associated have spoken in respectful and even commendatory terms concerning women serving as soldiers; but too many have had nothing but vileness to utter on the subject. I can never forget, although I may forgive, the disgraceful language which some of these individuals have used with regard to this matter; and my experiences in the army will not have been in vain, even if they have taught me nothing more than the utter contemptibleness of some individuals, whom it would be a stretch of courtesy to call gentlemen.
Within three days I managed to provide myself with a very complete military outfit, quite sufficient to enable me to commence operations without delay, which was the main thing I was after, for I was exceedingly anxious to carry out a magnificent idea I had in my mind, and to present myself before my husband, under such auspices that he could no longer find an excuse for refusing his consent to my joining the Southern army as a soldier. My uniform suit having been arranged for, it was an easy matter for me to procure the rest of my outfit without unduly attracting attention, and I soon had in my room a trunk well packed with the wearing apparel of an army officer, and neatly marked upon the outside with the name I had concluded to adopt. …