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Loreta’s Civil War: Introduced to entirely new scenes

March 14, 2017

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.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 36: Velazquez successfully manages a parole for her brother, and as she moves into the Northern states, she gains a close-up view of the society determined to destroy her beloved Confederacy.

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I had quite a lengthy conversation with Lieutenant B. about my brother and about affairs generally, and, having announced to him my intention of visiting the North and perhaps of acting as a secret service agent if I saw opportunities for doing anything for the advancement of the Confederate cause, I obtained from him quite a number of hints about the best methods of proceeding, and he gave me the names of persons in different places who were friends of the Confederacy and with whom I could communicate. He also advised me to talk with certain parties … in Memphis who could advise me and give me much valuable information.

The next day I conferred with some of the persons whom he had mentioned, and, having become thoroughly posted, I began to prepare for my departure. My friend the Federal lieutenant, whose attentions had been getting more and more ardent every day, was, or pretended to be, very much cut up when he heard that I intended to leave. I promised, however, to write to him as soon as I arrived in New York — having given him to understand that that city was my immediate destination — and intimated that I might possibly correspond regularly. He, in return for the very slight encouragement which I gave to his hopes that we might meet again when the fighting was all over, procured for me a pass and transportation from Gen. Washburn, and off I started, leaving Memphis, where I was liable at any time to be recognized and consequently get into trouble, with but little regret. As for the lieutenant, I certainly appreciated his attentions to me, but I thought that any heart pangs he might feel at parting would scarcely be so severe that he would not be able to recover from them in course of time.

My first object was to see my brother, to give him such assistance as 1 was able, and to discover whether I could not do something towards having him released. I had not seen him for a number of years, and, as the reader will remember, had only learned of his being in the Confederate army some little time before my second marriage. He was the only relative I had in the country, and I felt very anxious about him, fearing greatly that he might be sick or suffering for some of the necessities of life. I therefore pushed forward as rapidly as I could and made no stoppage of any moment until I reached Louisville, Ky., where I took a room at the Gait House and communicated with a Mr. B., a gentleman whose name had been given me as one in whom I could confide and to whom I could appeal in case I was in need of assistance. …

I had no hesitation in informing him that after having seen my brother and made an effort to procure his release, my intention was to operate as a secret service agent, as I had had considerable experience in that line of duty. I did not think it necessary or proper to entertain him with a recital of the enterprises in which I had been engaged, but told him just enough about myself to let him understand that my pretensions were genuine and that I really meant business. He, for his part, posted me very thoroughly about the best method of going to work, not only for procuring the release of my brother but for picking up information of value to the Confederate authorities, and [he] gave me the names of a number of persons in New York and Washington as well as in the West with whom it would be well for me to become acquainted as early as possible. …

Before taking his leave, he suggested that I should retire early and be ready to go by the first train in the morning, and said that he would see that I was provided with funds. The name of this gentleman I could never discover, although I had considerable curiosity on the subject. He was very much of an enthusiast on the subject of the Confederacy and was evidently an efficient secret worker for the cause but he was either excessively timid or else he believed that he could do more to advance the interest of the cause by being, as far as practicable, unknown even to those with whom he co-operated.

Early the next morning I was awakened by a knock on my door, and someone outside asked if I was going on the early train. I replied that I was and hastened to dress myself for the journey. As I was dressing, I was somewhat startled to see a large envelope on the floor, which must either have been pushed under the door or thrown in over the transom during the night. On opening the envelope I found in it five hundred dollars in greenbacks and letters to a couple of persons in Columbus, Ohio. This money was very acceptable, for I had very little cash with me, and it enabled me to resume my travels with a mind completely free from care. …

I concluded, before delivering the letters I had received in Louisville, that I would try and see what my own unaided efforts would do for my brother. I therefore, the next day, called upon the general in command — I have forgotten his name — and introducing myself, said, that if it was allowable, I would like very much to visit that rebel brother of mine. The general asked me if I had a brother in the prison, and I told him that such was unfortunately the case, but that, notwithstanding he was on the wrong side, I could not help having an affection for him and was desirous of assisting him in case he should be in need.

The general asked me a number of questions about myself and my brother, in answer to which I gave him to understand that I was from New York, was a strong Unionist, and had only recently heard that my brother was a prisoner, although I was aware that he entered the rebel army shortly after the breaking out of the war. Having satisfied himself that I was all right, the general without hesitation gave me the desired permit, and, with a profusion of thanks, I bowed myself out of his presence.

On reaching the Todd Barracks, where the prisoners were confined, I found a one-armed major in command. He was very polite indeed and entered into quite a conversation with me, during which he told me that he had lost his arm in the Mexican War. When my brother came, the major gave us his own private room so that we might talk together without fear of interruption.

My meeting with my brother was a most affectionate one. It had been a very long time since we had seen each other, and there was much that each of us had to say. I disclosed to him part of my plans and instructed him how to talk and act towards me. He was to call me his Union sister and was to speak of me as a New Yorker. I expressed considerable hope that I would be able to effect his release and stated that I would go on to Washington for the purpose, if necessary, and see the president and secretary of war.

This proceeding, however, I found to be unnecessary, for Gov. Brough of Ohio, a hearty, pleasant-spoken, and good-natured old gentleman, happened to be stopping at the same hotel with me, and I contrived to obtain an introduction to him. I cultivated the acquaintance of the governor with considerable assiduity, and he took quite a fancy to me, so much so that he promised to use his influence to obtain a parole for my brother. This promise the governor kept, and in a short time the prisoner was released and ordered to proceed east and to report first to Gen. Cadwalader at Philadelphia and then to Gen. Dix, at New York, the idea being that he was to remain with me in the last-named city.

In company with my brother, therefore, I proceeded east, and went to New York, where I left him while I went on to Washington for the purpose of seeing what could be done in the way of aiding the Confederate cause by a series of operations at the Federal capital.

I was now introduced to entirely new scenes, new associations, and a new sphere of activity. I had never before been farther north than Washington, and my visit to the Federal capital was the hasty and secret one made shortly after the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. …. It was almost like going into another world to pass from the war-worn Confederacy to the rich and prosperous states which adhered to the Federal government, and when I saw the evidences of apparently inexhaustible wealth around me, and contrasted them in my mind with what I was leaving behind in the yet unconquered Confederacy, I confess that my heart began to fail, and I despaired of the Cause more than I had ever done before.

In a great portion of the South the towns and villages were few and far between, the forests large and dense, the population thin and scattering, while the most imposing of the Southern cities were far less splendid than New York and Philadelphia, and such prosperity as they had at one time enjoyed was now all but destroyed through the rigidness of the Federal blockade. Back of the Northern cities, too, was a rich, highly cultivated, and thickly populated country, with numerous large towns, abounding in wealth, and with apparently as many men at home, attending to the ordinary duties of life, as if there was no war going on, and no huge armies in the field.

Not only was there no blockade to put an end to commerce and to cause a deprivation of many of the necessaries of life, but commerce, as well as all manner of home industries, had been greatly stimulated, so that the war — while it was starving the South and forcing the male population into the field until there were scarcely left enough to carry on absolutely needful trade and tillage — actually appeared to be making the North rich, and thousands of people were literally coining money with government contracts and by means of innumerable industries brought into being by the great conflict.

The subjugation of the South was therefore simply a question of time, if matters continued as they were, and the Federals would achieve the ends they had in view by sheer force of numbers and practically inexhaustible resources, no matter how valiantly the Confederate soldiers might fight or how skillfully they might be led. Was this subjugation of the South inevitable, however? This was the question that addressed itself to my mind and upon the determination of which the course it would be best for me to pursue in the future would have to depend.

I was not very long in coming to the conclusion that a triumph of the Confederate cause was not by any means an impossibility, provided the right means were used to bring it about. I also speedily satisfied myself that the interests of the cause could be advanced just as much by diligent and zealous workers at the North as by the men who were fighting the battles of the Confederacy in Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and I was so well convinced that at last I had found the best field for the exercise of my own peculiar talents that I greatly regretted not having made my way into the midst of the enemy’s country long before.

For very nearly a year now I had done very little that was at all satisfactory to myself, or at all really helpful — that is, helpful in a large and positive way — to the Confederate cause, whereas, all this time I might have been carrying on a series of important operations at the North. It looked, indeed, like a great waste of time but, if it was wasted, I resolved to do my best to redeem it by the activity of my performances in the future, and I had great reason to hope that these performances would be productive of not unimportant results.

It required but a slight acquaintance with the condition of affairs to discover that the surface indications of wealth, prosperity, and overpowering strength at the North were delusive. The North certainly was wealthy and powerful but, unfortunately for the Federal government’s efforts to conquer the South and to put a speedy end to the war, the people were very far from being united.

At the South there were few, if any, genuine adherents of the Federal government, and public opinion was united on the subject of achieving independence. At the period of which I am writing — the winter of 1863-64 — there may have been, and doubtless were, many persons who were heartily tired of the war and who would have been glad of peace on almost any terms. The vast majority, however, were still in favor of fighting the thing out in spite of poverty and in spite of the privations of every kind which they were compelled to suffer.

At the North, on the other hand, the majority of the people had entered upon the war with reluctance — many who did go into it with considerable enthusiasm, with the idea of preserving the Union, were disgusted when it became day by day more apparent that the emancipation of the slaves was a part of the policy of the government. … [M]any who went into it for the sake of seeing some fighting were heartily tired and wanted to stop. … and many more who were eager enough to begin a fight, simply out of animosity to the Southerners, sickened of the thing when their pockets were touched by the enormous advance in prices and by the heavy taxes which the prolongation of the contest necessitated, and [they] were quite willing for peace at almost any price.

In addition to these elements of discord, there was a large, influential, powerful, and wealthy anti-war party composed of people who were and always had been opposed to the war, and who numbered among them many who were not only opposed to the war, but who were warm and earnest friends of the South. These latter believed that the government had no right to coerce states which desired to leave the Union to remain in it, and they were bitterly antagonistic to any and all attempts to subjugate the South and did everything in their power to baffle the efforts of the government to carry on the war efficiently. These people constantly aided, with their money and their influence, the Confederate agents who were working and scheming for the advancement of their cause at the North and did a great deal to embarrass the Federal government.

Besides these, there were a great number of weak-kneed or indifferent people who had no opinions of their own worth speaking of, and whose chief anxiety was to be on the winning side. These were for the war or against it, as the tide of battle turned in favor of the Federals or the Confederates. The news of a tremendous defeat inflicted on the Confederates or of the capture of an important position would excite their enthusiasm and make them talk loudly of fighting the thing out until the rebels were whipped, while a season of prolonged inactivity or a succession of Confederate victories caused them to look gloomily on the situation and to suggest that there had been about enough fighting, that it was about time prices were coming down a little, and that as the war had been going on so long, without any practical results, there was not much use in killing more men and spending more money, when there was no more chance this year than there was last of a speedy end to the contest. In this class the Confederates found many allies.

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