Loreta’s Civil War: Seized with an intense desire

Velazquez hears that her beloved is nearby, and she can’t wait to be reunited with him, but she wonders if she should tell him the truth about her disguise.


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 27: Velazquez hears that her beloved is nearby, and she can’t wait to be reunited with him, but she wonders if she should tell him the truth about her disguise.


From Lynchburg I went to Charlotte, North Carolina. … I did see quite a number of officers and soldiers who had collected at this point, under orders to return to their commands without delay, and who were waiting for transportation. Many of these were old friends and acquaintances of mine, and I proceeded to make myself at home among them, and also among the good people of Charlotte, taking particular pains, according to my usual custom, to be as agreeable as I could to the ladies. … I still was inspired by some ambition to achieve a reputation as a ladies’ man. I succeeded as well as I usually did when attempting to play this role and managed to enjoy myself immensely, although I am not aware that I inflicted any irreparable damage upon the hearts of the fair ones of Charlotte.

This was in the summer of 1863. Gen. [Robert E.] Lee had invaded Pennsylvania, had been defeated at Gettysburg, and had returned to Virginia to resume again the defense of Richmond. His army was shattered but defiant still, and, as events proved, was quite competent to do as hard fighting as it ever did, and to ward off the always impending Federal attack on the Confederate capital for a good while to come. But with the battle of Gettysburg, the important work of the summer in that quarter had culminated, and the attention of the entire Confederacy was now anxiously directed to Eastern Tennessee, where the Federal [Maj. Gen. William S.] Rosecrans was pushing forward with the evident intention of striking a damaging blow somewhere, and perhaps of forcing his way into Georgia. It was in resisting the forces of Rosecrans, therefore, that distinction was to be won, and not by remaining in the neighborhood of Richmond. … I concluded that I ought to set my face southward if I hoped to win any laurels.

Hearing that [Confederate Lt. Gen. James] Longstreet’s corps had been detached from Lee’s army before Richmond and ordered to reinforce [Confederate Gen. Braxton] Bragg, I concluded to wait in Charlotte until it made its appearance on its way southward, and, if possible, travel with it to its destination. A good many of the officers waiting in Charlotte were anxious to take advantage of this opportunity to obtain transportation back to their commands, but it was reported that no one would be permitted to go on the train except Longstreet’s own men. It would have been a very serious disappointment and some trouble to many who did not know when they would have such another chance to reach the scene of action, and there was a good deal of growling at the prospect that a prolonged stay in Charlotte might be necessary. …

I, however, had made up my mind to make a determined effort to go … and I proposed to some of the officers, who were impatient to get off, that we should have an interview with Gen. Longstreet and endeavor to impress upon his mind the imperative necessity we were under of rejoining our regiments immediately. There was a difference of opinion, however, about the expediency and propriety of this course, and no one was willing to take the responsibility of doing the necessary talking. As no one else would undertake the task of interviewing Longstreet on the subject, I resolved to represent the situation to him myself.

After the arrival of his corps in Charlotte I watched for a good opportunity, and at length espied him engaged in conversation with Gen. Jenkins. I therefore went up, and, making a salute, stated to Gen. Longstreet that a number of officers who were ordered to join their regiments immediately were unable to proceed for lack of transportation, and asked if we might not go on with him. … The general hesitated somewhat, but after asking me several questions about who we were, how many there were of us, where we were going … he acceded to my request. I made known the success of my mission to the rest, and so, jumping on board the train, we managed to get through. …

Shortly after my arrival in Atlanta, however, I heard some- thing that delighted me. … Capt. De Caulp was near Spring Hill with [Confederate Gen. Earl] Van Dorn. … I had not seen the captain since the Battle of Shiloh, where I fought by his side, or at least under his eye, during nearly the whole of the conflict, succeeding in winning his commendation for my courage without exciting any suspicion in his mind that I was the woman upon whom his affections were bestowed. So soon as I heard that he was in my vicinity, I was seized with an intense desire to meet him again, for I was greatly in love with him, and it afforded me the keenest delight to hear praises of myself from his lips, and he all the while thinking that he was addressing them to a third party.

I don’t suppose, since the commencement of the world, so strange a courtship as ours was ever carried on. It is certain that not many women have had the same opportunities as myself to find out, from their own lips, exactly how fond of them their expected husbands really are. The situation, I confess, had a wonderful fascination for me, for there were intensely romantic elements in it that addressed themselves in the strongest manner to my imagination. To have been able to fight by the side of my lover in one of the greatest battles of the war, and to be praised by him for my valor, were of themselves matters for intense satisfaction, and I often imagined how it would be after the war was over, and we would be able to compare notes and relate our adventures to each other. …

At the time of which I write … a desire to see Capt. De Caulp again was the uppermost thought in my mind, and I was almost more than half resolved to give him a surprise by revealing myself to him. Whether to do this or not was a question that I debated with myself most seriously while on my way to join him. The fact that I was a woman had now been so often discovered that it was probable he might at any moment learn that his expected wife and Lt. Harry T. Buford were one and the same, and, not knowing what he might think of the course I had pursued in assuming male attire, I dreaded having anyone but myself discover my secret to him. In addition to this, I loved him most fondly, and, although inspired by a sense of the duties I owed to the cause for which I had taken up arms, I endeavored to control my feelings and to regard my marriage with Capt. De Caulp as not to be thought of until the time came for both to forsake the battlefield and to think no more of warfare but as something we were done with forever.

I would have been less than human, however, if sometimes I did not desire most ardently to be with him and to hear from my lover’s lips the terms of endearment which are the sweetest music a woman’s ears can be greeted by, and to be courted by him as other women were by the men who had won their affections. I knew that, in many respects, it would be better for me to remain at a distance from Capt. De Caulp but I was moved by an inscrutable impulse at this time to go to him, and I was almost willing, if he should say so, to abandon the army and to permanently resume the garments of my sex. I did not propose, however, to do this if it could be avoided, and the leading idea in my mind was … to go through the rest of the war with him and to fight constantly by his side. …

So soon as I found that Capt. De Caulp was near at hand, I took the train for the point nearest to where I learned that Van Dorn’s command was stationed. Getting off at Tyner’s Station, I obtained a horse and started off in the direction of Chickamauga. … I saw plainly, as matters were then, that it would be exceedingly difficult … for me to join Van Dorn’s command. … Capt. De Caulp would most likely come my way, and I would be able to meet him sooner by waiting for him than by going after him. I was too impatient, however, to pass my time in idleness and felt as if I must do something for the cause and my own credit as a soldier.

It really appeared to be more trouble than it was worth to endeavor to persuade any of the general officers to assign me to the particular kind of duty I desired, and, as I had been decidedly successful in more than one expedition, planned and executed by myself, and on my own responsibility, I resolved to undertake another one just for the sake of keeping myself busy and of seeing what would come of it. I felt very confident that if I could make a big hit, my services as a spy would be in heavy demand, for there was evidently going to be some close fighting and the movements of the enemy would need watching at every point. …

My idea now was to run through the lines and take a good view of the situation from the Federal standpoint, and I knew that the safest and best way of doing this … was to go as a woman, for, in the proper attire of my sex it would be easier for me to pass the pickets and avoid being suspected of having any end in view to which objection could be taken. The only difficulty in the way of accomplishing my object was in procuring suitable clothing without attracting attention. As there were a number of houses in the vicinity from which the people had fled, some of them in great haste, when they found themselves likely to be in the midst of contending armies, it occurred to me that in all probability I would be able to find what I wanted in … one of them. I, therefore, commenced a search, and soon came to a dwelling that promised to supply me with everything I needed. … [I] transformed myself from a gallant young Confederate officer into a reasonably good-looking woman [and] I packed a carpet-bag with a change of clothing, and other articles, such as I thought might be useful on a journey. …

I picked up my carpet-bag and made directly for the enemy’s lines. I knew that the bold way was the best way … and that the correct plan was to strike directly for headquarters with a plausible story to tell rather than to attempt to slip past the pickets and run the risk of being detected. …

The position and duties of spies are little understood by persons who have had no actual experience of warfare. … Just as the quartermaster, the commissary, the paymaster, and the surgeon are as important as the generals … so the spy, who will be able to obtain information of the movements of the enemy, who will discover the plans for campaigns and battles that are being arranged, who will intercept dispatches, who will carry false intelligence to the enemy, and who, when he does become possessed of any fact worth knowing, will prove himself prompt and reliable in taking it or sending it to headquarters, is indispensable to the success of any movement. The spy, however, occupies a different position from that held by any other attache of an army. According to all military law, he is an outlaw and is liable to be hung if detected — the death of a soldier even being denied him. … [Y]et the spy is nothing more nor less than a detective officer, and there cannot be any good and sufficient reason assigned for the discredit which attaches to his occupation. It is simply one of the prejudices which, having no substantial foundation, have been carefully fostered by military men for their own purposes, and it is high time that it should be given up by sensible people.

During the war a vast deal of the most important kind of work was performed by spies on both sides, and these secret emissaries, men and women, labored with a diligence, a zeal, and an intelligence in the execution of tasks of enormous peril that was rarely equaled and never surpassed by those who had the actual work of fighting to do. The fate of more than one battle was decided … by the movements which the generals were able to make through information furnished them by spies, and more than one commanding officer has testified … to the efficiency and fidelity of the secret service agents who have aided him. …

Having been for a long period a spy myself, and a very successful one, and having been engaged in many as hazardous and responsible enterprises as usually fall to the lot of a secret agent of a belligerent power, I naturally feel a … professional interest in this matter. … All I ask is, that fair-minded persons, who will do me the honor to peruse this portion of my narrative, will remember that the circumstances were not ordinary ones. I was mixed up in a good deal of most rascally business but it was my associates, and not myself, who were deserving of condemnation. Their motive was gain, and gain at the expense of a government and people that trusted them, and to the detriment of a cause which they professed to hold sacred. I, on the other hand, was the secret agent of the enemy, who considered that pretty much anything was fair in war, and that I was justified in inflicting all the damage to the enemies of my cause that I was able. …. That I associated with traitors, and strove to make men betray the cause to which they were bound by every tie of honor and duty did not render them less despicable to me, and I even now shudder to think of the depravities of human nature which my career as a secret agent of the Confederate government revealed to me. …

Author: Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Handsome gentleman scholar, Civil War historian, unpretentious intellectual, world traveler, successful writer.

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