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Loreta’s Civil War: She is a fine-looking woman

July 26, 2016

KS46

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 30: Velazquez is wracked by sickness, and she is admitted to an Atlanta hospital. When she learns her beloved is recovering in the next ward, she visits him in disguise and prepares to tell him the truth.

******

While tossing upon my sick bed in the hospital, I was compelled, for very lack of other occupation, to think of [the] strange life I had been leading now for more than two years, and yet it was the kind of a life that, from my earliest childhood, I had ardently longed to lead. I had some understanding now of what the great discoverers, adventurers, and soldiers, who were the idols of my childish imagination, had been compelled to go through with before they won the undying fame that was theirs, and I comprehended, to some degree, how hard a thing it was to win fame.

For myself, I had played my part in the great drama of war with what skill I could command, and, although I had not played it altogether unsuccessfully, the chances that fame and the applause of future ages would be mine seemed as remote as ever. Warfare, despite all that was terrible and horrible about it, was, to the majority of those who participated in it, a most commonplace, practical, and far from exciting business, in which the chances for eminent distinction seldom appeared, and in which Fortune showered her favors only on a chosen few. And yet there was an almost irresistible fascination in being an active participant in the great events upon which the destinies of a continent were hanging, and the possibility that … something might occur by which the humblest among the host of combatants would be immortalized gave a zest to the hard work and an inspiration to exertion.

Had I continued in health, the probabilities are that the idea of abandoning the cause I had chosen before the close of the war would never have been permitted to take lodgment in my brain, and I would have gone on from one adventure to another, in spite of every discouragement and disappointment, hoping always that I would be able to achieve something great. Now, however, lying upon my sick-bed, I could not but confess to myself that I was disappointed and that I was following a will-o’-the-wisp in striving to gain for myself a great name by heroic deeds. Although I had no regrets for the course I had pursued … I nevertheless almost concluded that I had had enough of this, and that it was time for me to exchange my uniform for the attire of my own sex once more, and in good earnest, with the intention of never resuming it again.

These were sick fancies, and I felt ashamed of myself at times for my weakening in the resolution I had formed to see the thing through at all hazards. … But there were other influences at work to make me doubtful of the propriety of my longer continuing the hazardous experiment of passing myself off as a man. In an adjoining ward of the hospital was my lover [Capt. De Caulp], to a speedy meeting with whom I was looking forward with many fond anticipations. How would he regard my conduct? And should he, as I hoped he would, be proud of my efforts to advance the Confederate cause by doing a soldier’s duty, would he be willing that I should longer continue to wear my uniform, especially if we should conclude to have our marriage solemnized at an early day? These were questions that pressed themselves upon me, and that, even more than the dispiriting influences of a sick-room, made me half repent that I had ever assumed male attire, and made me more than half resolve to permanently abandon it so soon as I was out of the hospital. …

I was curious, however, rather than apprehensive, with regard to the effect of the disclosures I would have to make when I met Capt. De Caulp. There was nothing that I had done that I need blush for, while he had himself been the witness … of my prowess as a warrior, and I longed to hear him repeat to me, as a woman, the praise he had so freely bestowed upon me as a man when we fought side by side at Shiloh.

What a strange courtship ours had been! The only time we had met since our engagement was on the field of battle and in the midst of scenes of carnage, and here we both were now, sick in adjoining wards of the same hospital, I, longing to be with him, but unable to go to his side, and he, all unconscious that the woman he loved was so near, sighing, doubtless, for the time to come when our futures would be united, but never dreaming that the future he sighed for was so near at hand. It was like a romance, and it was in the scenes of a romance, the memories of which floated through my mind as I thought over the situation, that I alone could find any similitude to it. …

It was a weary while waiting, though, for the hour of meeting to come, and, had my physicians permitted it, I would have left my sickbed to go to Capt. De Caulp long before I was really able to be on my feet. Dr. Hammond, however, knew better what was good for me than I knew myself, and he constrained me to remain under his care until he should be able to pronounce me able to care for myself once more. …. At the earliest moment that I could obtain permission to leave my ward I went to see him, being naturally more impatient for a meeting than he was, for, although we had exchanged greetings through our physicians, it was simply as friends and officers of the Confederate army, and not as lovers, and he had no suspicion whatever that his sick neighbor of the hospital was other than the young lieutenant whose acquaintance he had formed at Pensacola, and who had fought beside him at Shiloh.

He was extremely glad to see me, however, much more so than I expected he would be, but the fact was, it had been so long since he had had a chance to chat with any of his old friends that it was a genuine pleasure to him to have any one call on him for the sake of a lively talk over old times. I found him sadly reduced … by the severe illness through which he had just passed but, although he was weak, he was evidently improving and in a fair way for a rapid recovery.

When I came in and stood by his bedside, he smiled and held out his hand and said, “I am mighty glad to see you again, lieutenant. It is like meeting a brother.”

I said that I was rejoiced to meet him again and would have called on him much sooner had the doctors permitted it. I then asked him how he was coming on, about the nature of his sickness, and matters of that kind, and gradually drifted into a conversation about things in general — the progress of the war, the people we knew, matters at home — and so led him up to the subject about which I particularly desired to speak with him. After some little preliminary talk, which would enable me to bring the question in naturally … I said, “Captain, are you married yet? You know you told me some time ago you were engaged and were expecting very shortly to ask the lady to name the day.”

“No,” said he, “the wedding has not come off yet, but I hope it will very short. I should have gone home for the purpose of getting married if I had kept my health but this smell of sickness has knocked all my plans in the head.”

“Does the lady know that you are sick?” I asked. “Have you heard from her recently?”

“I doubt whether she does,” he replied. “I have been expecting to hear from her for some time and have been greatly disappointed that I have not. The last letter I had stated that she would meet me here but for several months I have been unable to communicate with her and am unable to even guess where she is or why she has not come to me.”

He then raised up and took the letter he referred to out of a package, evidently made up of my epistles, and read it to me. He also showed me a picture of myself, which he produced from some hiding place in his pocket and handed it to me, saying, “That is the woman I love; what do you think of her?” This was almost too much for me, and all trembling with emotion I handed it back to him, saying, “She is a fine-looking woman,” and wondering he did not observe the resemblance between the portrait and the original before him. “Yes,” said he, “and she is just as good as she is good-looking. I think the world of her, and want to see her again – oh, so bad!”

“Have you known her long, captain?” I asked with a trembling voice, and scarcely daring to trust myself to speak, for these words, and the tender tone in which they were spoken, made my heart leap with joy and brought tears to my eyes. I was afraid that he would notice my agitation and in some way surmise the cause of it, and I did not want him to do this, for I was not yet ready to reveal myself, but desired further to hear what he would say about me before I told him my secret. So I turned away and pretended to be attracted by some object in another part of the room while I wiped the tears from my eyes, and attempted to recover my composure before I confronted him again.

“Yes,” he went on, “I have known her for a long time. She is a widow, and her husband was an excellent friend of mine.” Then, apparently suddenly recollecting the circumtances under which he first made my acquaintance in the character of a Confederate officer, he said, glancing quickly and eagerly at me, ‘”Why, you ought to know her — her husband was the first captain of our company; you recollect him, surely.”

“Oh,” said I, as if rather surprised at this revelation, ‘”she is his widow, is she?”

“Yes,” said Capt. De Caulp. “You have met her, have you not?”

I could scarcely help smiling at the turn this conversation was taking and still wondering whether my lover would be shrewd enough to detect the likeness between the picture he was holding in his hand, and fondly gazing at, and the original of it who was sitting by his bedside, I said, “Yes, I have had a slight acquaintance with her, but you, probably, have known her longer than I have. When did you see her last?”

“I have not seen her for three years,” he replied. …

“What would you give,” — and my voice was so choked with emotion that I could scarcely utter these words -– “What would you give if you could see your lady now?”

“Oh,” said he — and his eye sparkled, and the color flushed into his cheeks as he spoke -– “I would almost give my existence in heaven.”

I could not bear to hear any more but dreading lest he should notice my agitation and inquire the cause of it, I made a hasty excuse for concluding the interview and … left the room so abruptly that he must have seen there was something the matter with me.

It would be foolish in me, in attempting to tell this story of the culmination of my strange courtship, to make a secret of the emotions that filled my breast at the results of this interview with Capt. De Caulp. I felt that I loved him more than ever and that he was more than worthy of me. I wept the first genuine womanly tears I had shed for many a day, but they were tears of joy — of joy at the thought that I had such a lover as this and that the day of our union was certainly not far distant.

The next morning I wrote him a note in my proper person, stating that I had arrived and was coming to see him. On the receipt of this he was nearly wild with excitement, and it was as much as Dr. Benton could do to keep him in his bed. Burning with anxiety to see what the effect upon him of the letter would be, I followed hard after the bearer, and waiting until he would have a fair opportunity to master its contents, I passed by the door in such a manner that he could not fail to see me. So soon as he caught sight of me, he called out, in an exultant tone, “Lieutenant, come in. I want to talk to you,” and holding out the note, which I had written but a few moments before, towards me, he said, with the happiest smile I ever saw on a human face, “She has come, she has come, and will be here soon — congratulate me, my friend.”

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