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 29: Velazquez, disguised again as a Confederate officer, talks her way past Confederate guards as she travels to Atlanta to reunite with the man she loves.
Having thoroughly arranged my plan of action in my mind, I walked up boldly to a picket, whom I saw sitting on a horse at some distance, and saluting him, and telling him that I was unarmed, asked to see the officer of the guard. The officer soon came riding out of the woods towards me, and asked who I was. I told him that I was an escaped prisoner … and produced my transportation papers. … The officer read the papers, which he apparently did not find particularly satisfactory, and scanned me very closely, as if he thought that there was something not quite right about me. I was much afraid lest he should suspect something, for I had no mustache, and having become somewhat bleached, was not by any means so masculine in appearance as I had been at one time. I, however, bore his scrutiny without flinching, and he apparently did not know what to do but to receive me for what I appeared to be. He accordingly told me that I should have to wait where I was until the relief came, when he would conduct me to camp.
I told him that I was terribly hungry and tired, having walked from Chattanooga since early in the previous evening without food or sleep, and that I would like to get where I could obtain some breakfast. As a means of softening his heart, I pulled out a little pocket flask of whiskey and asked him if he would not take a drink. His eye brightened at the sight of the flask, and he accepted my invitation without a moment’s hesitation. Putting it to his lips, he took a good pull, and when he handed it back there was mighty little left in it. This little I gave to the sergeant, who appeared to relish the liquor as highly as his superior did. The whiskey had the desired effect, for the officer told me he guessed I had better not wait for the relief and detailed a man to show me the way to camp.
On our arrival at camp, the man took me to the officer’s tent, where I made myself as much at home as I could until the master appeared. It was not long, however, before he followed me, and to my great satisfaction, an excellent breakfast was in a short time placed on the table.
After breakfast, the boys, having heard of the arrival of an escaped prisoner, I was speedily surrounded by a crowd of eager questioners who were anxious to hear all the news from the Federal army. I tried to satisfy their curiosity as well as I could and told them that the Yankees had received heavy reinforcements and were preparing to make a grand movement and a variety of other matters, part fact and part fiction. Having got rid of my questioners, I took a good sleep until noon, and then, borrowing a horse, rode down to Dalton, [Georgia], where I learned that [my beau] Capt. De Caulp was sick at Atlanta, and [I] resolved to make an effort to get there for the purpose of seeing him.
I was spared the necessity, however, of being obliged to make any special plans for the accomplishment of this end, for I managed to severely hurt the foot which had been wounded shortly after the battle of Fort Donelson, and became so lame that it was decided to send me to Atlanta for medical treatment.
An army is made up of all kinds of people — the rougher element of masculine human nature, of necessity, predominating — and not the least of the evil effect of a great war is that it tends to develop a spirit of ruffianism, which, when times of peace return, is of no benefit to society. A man who is instinctively a gentleman will be one always, and in spite of the demoralizing influences of warfare … will be apt to show himself a blackguard at the earliest opportunity amidst camp associations. Such men are usually cringing sycophants before their superiors, bullies to those who are under them, shirks when fighting is going on, and plunderers when opportunities for plunder are offered. It is creditable to the American people, as a class, that the great armies which contended with each other so earnestly during four long, weary years of warfare, were disbanded and dismissed to their homes with so little injury to society, for, under the very best auspices, war is not calculated to make men good citizens, while it is pretty certain to make those who are ruffians and blackguards already worse than they were before they took up arms. …
Situated as I was, it was especially important that I should not quarrel if I could help it but I was not long in finding out that, as quarreling was necessary sometimes, the bold course was the best, both for the present and the future, and that by promptly resenting anything approaching an insult, I would be likely to avoid being insulted thereafter, I, therefore, very speedily let it be known that I was ready to fight at a moment’s notice … but, at the same time, that I desired to live peaceably with everybody and was not inclined to quarrel if I was let alone. The result of this line of policy was, that, as a general rule, I got along smoothly enough, but occasionally I could not avoid an angry controversy with somebody, and when I did become involved in anything of the kind, I usually tried to give my antagonist to understand, in plain terms, that I was not an individual to be trifled with.
On my arrival at Atlanta, I unfortunately had a little unpleasantness, which caused me very serious disquietude for a time, owing to the peculiar situation in which I was placed, and which might have had some ill results, either for the person who started the quarrel or for myself, had it not been for the good judgment and consideration of one or two of my friends, who persuaded me not to resort to any extreme measures.
I was expecting to see Capt. De Caulp and was very anxious with regard to him, as I did not know exactly what his condition was and feared that he might be seriously ill. It was my intention to go to him, to devote myself to him if he should need my services, and perhaps to reveal myself to him. Indeed, I pretty much made up my mind that our marriage should take place as soon as he was convalescent, and … I was in no humor for a mere barroom squabble with a drunken ruffian. … More than this, in addition to the lameness of my foot, I was really quite sick, and at the time of the occurrence ought to have been in bed under the doctor’s care, and was consequently less disposed than ever to engage in a brawl.
Unsuspecting any trouble, however, I went to the hotel, and registered my name, and was almost immediately surrounded by a number of officers who were eager to learn what was going on at the front. Among them was Gen. P. — I do not give his name in full for his own sake — an individual who thought more of whiskey than he did of his future existence, and who was employing his time in getting drunk at Atlanta instead of doing his duty at the front by leading his men.
He saw that I was a little fellow, and probably thought … he could bully me with impunity, so, while I was answering the thousand and one questions that were put to me, he began making offensive and insulting remarks and asking me insolent questions until I longed to give him a lesson in good manners that he would not forget in a hurry, and resolved that I would make an effort to chastise him if he did not behave himself.
This was one of the class of men for which I had a hearty contempt, and, as I neither wished to be annoyed by his drunken insolence nor to quarrel with him if I could avoid it, I left the office and went into the washroom. The general evidently considered this a retreat due to his prowess … and he followed me, apparently determined to provoke me to the utmost. I, however, took no notice of him, but, after washing my hands, came out and took a seat in the office beside my esteemed friend, Maj. Bacon — a thorough gentleman in every sense of the word.
My persecutor still following me, now came and seated himself on the other side of me and made some insolent remark which I do not care to remember. This excited my wrath, and I resolved to put a stop to the tipsy brute’s annoyances. I accordingly said to him, “See here, sir, I don’t want to have anything to do with you, so go away and let me be, or it will be worse for you.”
At this he sprang up, his eyes glaring with drunken fury, and swinging his arms around in that irresponsible way incident to inebriety, he began to swear in lively fashion, and said, “What’ll be worse for me? What do you mean? I’ll lick you out of your boots! I can lick you, or any dozen like you.”
Nice talk, this, for a general, who was supposedly a gentleman, wasn’t it? I merely said, in reply, “You are too drunk, sir, to be responsible. I intend, however, when you are sober, that you shall apologize to me for this, or else make you settle it in a way that will, perhaps, not be agreeable to you.”
He glared at me as I uttered these words but my firm manner evidently cowed him, and turning, with a coarse,tipsy laugh, he said, to an officer who was standing near watching the performance, “Come, colonel, let’s take another drink; he won’t fight,” and they accordingly walked off towards the barroom together. This last remark enraged me to such a degree that I declared I would shoot him if he came near me again. Maj. Bacon tried to pacify me and said that I had better let him alone, as he was not worth noticing. …
The general did not come near me until after supper, when I met him again at the bar. As I had not undertaken to punish him for his behavior to me, he evidently thought that I was afraid of him, and, without addressing me directly, he began to make insulting side remarks, aimed at me. I was on the point of going up and slapping his face, when Maj. Bacon … thinking that it was not worthwhile for me to get into trouble about such a fellow, induced me to go to my room.
Already quite ill, and far from able to be about, the excitement of this unpleasant occurrence made me worse, and I passed a night of great suffering from a high fever and from my sore foot, which pained me extremely. The major waited on me in the kindest manner, bathing my foot with cold water, and procuring some medicine for me from the hospital steward, and towards morning I fell into a sound sleep, which refreshed me greatly, although I was still very sick. …
As I got worse instead of better, however, it was concluded that the hospital was the best place for me, and to the Empire Hospital I accordingly was sent, by order of the chief surgeon of the post. I was first admitted into Dr. Hammond’s ward, and subsequently into that of Dr. Hay. Dr. Hay, who was a whole-souled little fellow, is dead, but Dr. Hammond is still living, and I am glad of such an opportunity as this of testifying to his noble qualities. During the entire period I was under his care in the hospital, he treated me, as he did all his patients, with the greatest kindness.
Oh, but these were sad and weary days that I spent in the hospital! I cannot tell how I longed, once more, to be out in the open air and the sunshine and participating in the grand scenes that were being enacted not many miles away. My restless disposition made sickness especially irksome to me, and I felt sometimes as if I could scarcely help leaving my bed and going as I was to the front for the purpose of plunging into the thickest of the fight, while at other moments, when the fever was strong upon me, I almost wished that I might die, rather than to be compelled to toss about thus on a couch of pain.
There was one consolation, however, in all my sufferings, which sustained me … I was near the man I loved and hoped soon to have an opportunity to see and to converse with him. I learned soon after my admission to the hospital that Capt. De Caulp was in Dr. Benton’s ward, adjoining that under the charge of Dr. Hay, and to be under the same roof with him, and the probability that ere long I would be able to see him again, helped me to bear up under the suffering I was called upon to endure. I resolved that if Capt. De Caulp was willing, our marriage should take place so soon as we were able to leave the hospital, and I busied myself in wondering what he would say when he discovered what strange pranks I had been playing since we had been corresponding as lovers. I almost dreaded to reveal to him that the little dandified lieutenant, who had volunteered to fight in his company at Shiloh, and the woman to whom he was bound by an engagement of marriage, were the same but I felt that the time for the disclosure to be made had arrived and was determined to make it at the earliest opportunity.