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Loreta’s Civil War: A brute as this man Butler

July 7, 2016

KS57

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 22: As Velazquez recovers from her wound, New Orleans falls to Federal forces, and she decides to try to spy on the occupation forces.

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My shoulder was found to be out of place, my arm cut, and my little finger lacerated — a disagreeable and exceedingly painful but not necessarily a very dangerous wound. The surgeon applied a dressing and put my arm in a sling, after which I felt a great deal more comfortable, although the pain was still intense, and he then endeavored to induce me to stop at Corinth until I was in better condition for traveling. Now, however, that my sex was discovered, I was more than ever anxious to get away from my old associates in the hope of finding some place where I could remain until I got well and able to commence operations again in a different locality, without being annoyed by the attentions of impertinently curious people. I therefore insisted upon pushing on to Grenada, and … [he], appreciating my reasons for getting away as soon as possible, very kindly went and procured transportation papers for me, and before the information that a woman, disguised as an officer, was among the wounded on the train, we were, to my infinite satisfaction, speeding out of sight, leaving behind us the camp occupied by a defeated army. The thought that our brave army should be resting under the cloud of a most humiliating defeat was a mental torture, which even my intense physical suffering could not pacify, and I was heartily glad to be able to take myself off from a locality which had so many unpleasant associations.

While on the train I suffered a great deal, although I was as well cared for as circumstances would permit, and it was an immense relief when we reached Grand Junction, for the hotel proprietor there was an old and true friend of mine, and I felt sure of receiving from him all the attention it was in his power to bestow. I found, however, that it was almost an impossibility to get any accommodation whatever, on account of the crowds of people who filled the place. The wives and other relatives of officers and soldiers had come to await the result of the battle, and as the news that the Confederate army had been defeated had preceded me, everything was in confusion, and everybody plunged in the deepest grief. Some of the waiting ones had already received their wounded friends, or the corpses of the slain, while others were nearly wild with anxiety on account of husbands, or brothers, or lovers who had not yet been heard from. …

I was asked a thousand questions about the battle, and was pressed with a thousand anxious interrogatories about particular persons and endeavored to answer as well as I could, notwithstanding the pain which my wounded arm and shoulder caused. Many of the women could not prevail upon themselves to believe that the Confederate army had been again defeated and indulged in the fiercest invective against the invaders. The intense grief of these stricken people affected me even more than the terrible scenes incident to the battle and the retreat, and, as I was not in a fit condition to endure anything more of anguish, and as it seemed to be impossible to obtain a room where I could be quiet and free from intrusion, I determined to push on to Grenada, without more delay, although I was anything but able to endure the excitement and discomfort of several hours’ ride by rail.

Having reached Grenada, I took a good rest by remaining there for two days. … I was visited by a great many of the ladies of the place, who presented me with bouquets, delicacies of various kinds, and bandages for my wound, and who otherwise overwhelmed me with attentions, for which I hope I was duly grateful. Not only the natural restlessness of my disposition, which my wound aggravated to such an extent that it was an impossibility for me to keep quiet, but a desire to get as far away from the Army of Tennessee as possible, before the fact that Lt. Harry T. Buford was a woman became generally known, induced me to move on with all the speed I could make, and I consequently started for New Orleans before I was really fit to travel. The result was, that when I reached Jackson, I found myself too ill to proceed farther, and was compelled, much against my will, to make another stop.

The hospitality I received at Jackson I will always remember with the warmest feelings of gratitude. I was really very sick, and my wounded shoulder and arm were terribly inflamed, and I scarcely know what I should have done had not a widow lady and her daughter taken a fancy to me and waited on me until I was able to be on the road again. These ladies treated me like a young lord, and I shall ever think of them as having placed me under a debt that I can never repay. So soon as I thought myself able to endure the fatigues of travel, I insisted upon being on the move in spite of the remonstrances of my friends, and made another start for New Orleans. …

By this time my wound was healing quite nicely, and although it pained me considerably still, the feverishness which had attended it was gone, and I began to feel myself once more, and with restored health began to busy myself in making plans for the future. …

On the train there were a great many wounded men, some of them old friends of mine whom I was glad to meet with again. The trip, therefore, was a pleasant one in some respects, notwithstanding its melancholy aspects, and we had a tolerably lively time discussing the late battle, and the chances of the Confederates being able to make headway in the future against the force which the Federals were bringing against them in every direction. We were obliged to acknowledge that the outlook was not a particularly promising one, and more than once expressed the belief that New Orleans would be the next object of attack. There was a good deal of confidence felt, however, that a Federal advance against the Gulf city, if it should be attempted, would be repulsed. …

When the news came that the Federal fleet had passed Forts Jackson and St. Philip, I at first thought of leaving as quickly as I could but a little reflection induced me to change my mind, for I saw clearly that if the Federals took possession of the city, I would, as a woman, have a grand field of operation. I therefore resolved to remain and see the thing out, and the uniform of Lt. Harry T. Buford was carefully put away for future use if need be, and the wearer thereof assumed the garments of a non-combatant feminine for the purpose of witnessing the entry of the victors into the captured city. …

Exactly when or where the blow would be struck, however, it was impossible to tell. The general impression was that the attack would be made by the army under [Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin] Butler, and how really formidable the Federal fleet was, few, if any, had any real notion. I suppose that scarcely anyone imagined the ships would make an unsupported effort to pass the fortifications below the city, or that they would succeed in doing so in case the attempt was made. I knew little or nothing about the river defenses or the preparations that were being made to receive a naval attack from my own observations, but from what I understood with regard to them, I felt tolerably assured of their efficiency, and my chief concern was about the insufficiency of the measures adopted to resist a land attack.

The Federal fleet, however, to the surprise of every one, succeeded in overcoming the obstructions in the river, and in passing the two principal forts, after a desperate battle, and then New Orleans was at the mercy of the naval gunners, specimens of whose methods of fighting had been exhibited to me at Fort Donelson and Shiloh in such a manner as to inspire me with a wholesome dislike for the kind of missiles they were in the habit of throwing. … I began to have a greater respect for the power of the Federal government than I had had before, and a greater appreciation of the weakness of the Confederacy. …

I felt particularly that the time was now … for me to make a display of my talents in another character than that of a warrior, and the arrival of the fleet in front of the city found me in the anxious and angry crowd on the levee, not inelegantly attired in the appropriate garments of my sex — garments that I had not worn for so long that they felt strangely unfamiliar, although I was not altogether displeased at having a fair opportunity to figure once more as a woman. …

Strange to say, the capture of New Orleans did not affect me near so unpleasantly as the defeats at Fort Donelson and Shiloh, and I felt nothing of the depression of spirit that overcame me after these battles. This may have been because I was getting accustomed to defeat now, and was consequently able to bear up under it more philosophically, although it is more than probable that it was because I was not one of the combatants, and consequently did not have that overpowering individual interest that a combatant must feel if he cares anything for his cause. I experienced less of that peculiarly disagreeable feeling of personal chagrin and disappointment that oppresses a soldier belonging to a beaten army.

The fact … that when the Federals obtained possession of the city I would probably be able to do some detective duty in a style that would not only be satisfying to my own ambition, but damaging to the enemy, and of essential service to the Confederacy, really enabled me to behold the approach of the fleet with a considerable degree of what almost might be called satisfaction. As a woman, and especially as a woman who had facilities for appearing as a representative of either sex, I knew that I would be able to observe the enemy’s movements and ferret out their plans in a signally advantageous manner. … I was really anxious to see the enemy occupy the city in order that I might try conclusions with them, having ample confidence that I would prove myself a match for the smartest Yankee of them all. …

Mayor Monroe behaved nobly when he was asked to surrender the city. He said that the city was without defense and at the mercy of the conquerors, but that it was not within his province as a municipal officer to surrender. He declined to raise the United States flag over the public buildings or to do anything that would seem a recognition of the right of the Federals in any way to regulate affairs in New Orleans by anything else than the law of force. When I read his reply to [Union Adm. David D.] Farragut’s demand for surrender, I readily forgave my private grievance against him. The mayor having positively refused to have anything to do with displaying the United States flag, or with lowering the flag of Louisiana, the raising of the Stars and Stripes on the public buildings was done by the sailors from the Federal fleet. …

When Butler took command … on May 1st, he issued orders stopping the circulation of Confederate currency, directing the people to resume their usual avocations, and giving everybody to understand that he intended to have his own way. …

I soon perceived that with such a brute as this man Butler to deal with, it would be necessary for me to be extremely circumspect, and to bring my best strategic talents to bear, if I expected to accomplish anything. I was well acquainted with the city and environs, and knew exactly how to go about slipping in and out through, the lines; but to carry on such operations as I proposed with a reasonable degree of safety and assurance of success, it was necessary … for me to keep all my wits about me, and to take care to be on good terms with those in authority.

I therefore set to work with due diligence and persistence to gain the confidence of the Federal officers. Some of them I found to be very pleasant, gentlemanly fellows, who were disposed to make themselves as agreeable as possible to everybody, and who were much gratified to hear any one — especially any woman — express Union sentiments. Many of them did not at all approve of the offensive manner in which Butler conducted himself, and some of his orders were carried out with a great deal of reluctance by those entrusted with their execution. With some of these officers I soon managed to get on very friendly terms, and they were always so polite and considerate in their treatment of myself and others that I greatly regretted the necessity of deceiving them. …

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