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Loreta’s Civil War: My denunciations of the rebels

March 29, 2017

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared 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 39: Velazquez, now a double-agent working for the Union, uses the cover of her first assignment to make contact with her Confederate allies. But someone might be following her.

******

Everything being ready, off I started and had but little difficulty in getting through the Federal lines on the passes furnished me by Baker. To get through those of the Confederate forces was a more troublesome operation but, as when I came to the outposts, I was able to declare my real errand, I was not seriously impeded, and once in Richmond I was, of course, perfectly at home.

On my arrival in that city, I immediately communicated with the authorities, delivered the messages and dispatches submitted to me, sent letters to merchants in Wilmington and Savannah as I had been directed to do, and gave all the information I could about the condition of things at the North, the proposed raid, and other matters.

While waiting to hear from the men in Wilmington and Savannah, and for the preparation of such instructions as I was to carry back from the Richmond people, I found myself falling short in funds and accordingly tried to see what could be done with Baker’s bogus Confederate notes. I had no difficulty in passing them and consequently invested the entire batch in greenbacks, but, as the United States promises to pay were worth more, even in Richmond, than those of the Confederacy, I did not make an even exchange. … Indeed, the greenbacks which I pocketed by this operation amounted to a very moderate sum, all of which I knew would be required for my return journey.

Within a few days I heard … from the parties in Wilmington and Savannah. This man delivered to me a package which was to be taken through to Canada [along with] orders and sailing directions for certain blockade-runners and drafts which were to be cashed, and the money disposed of in certain ways for the benefit of the Confederate cause. I also received directions from parties in Richmond to confer with the Confederate agents, and, if agreeable on all sides, to visit the prisons, it being thought that, as a woman, I would be able to obtain admission and be permitted to speak to the prisoners, where a man would be denied.

Then, freighted with my small but precious package, several important dispatches, and other papers, and a number of letters for Confederates in Canada, I started to return. I would have been a rich prize for the Federals if they should capture me, and, while on my way back, I wondered what Col. Baker would think and say in case some of his emissaries should chance to lay hands upon me and conduct me into his presence, laden with all this contraband of war.

In consideration of the value of the baggage I was carrying, it was thought to be too great a risk for me to attempt to reach the North by any of the more direct routes, and I was consequently compelled to make a long detour by way of Parkersburg, in West Virginia. This involved a long and very tiresome journey but it was undoubtedly the best course for me to pursue.

The wisdom in choosing this route was demonstrated by the result, and I succeeded in reaching Parkersburg without being suspected in the least by anyone. At that place I found Gen. Keiley in command, and from him procured transportation to Baltimore, on the strength of my being an attache of Col. Baker’s corps, which was a very satisfactory stroke of business for me as it saved both trouble and expense.

The instructions under which I was moving required me to go to Baltimore and from there inform the different parties interested of my arrival and wait to hear from them as to whether they were ready to meet me at the appointed places. … I was also to wait there for some drafts for large sums which were to be cashed in New York and the money taken to Canada. This involved considerable delay, which was particularly unpleasant just then, as I was getting very short of funds, and was, moreover, quite sick, the excitement I had gone through with — for this was a more exciting life even than soldiering — and the fatigues of a very long and tedious journey having quite used me up.

On arriving in Baltimore, fearing that I would not have enough money to see me through until I could obtain a remittance, I went to a store kept by a lady to whom I was told to appeal in event of being detained on account of lack of funds, and explaining who I was and the business I was on, asked her if she would not assist me. She looked very hard at me, asked me a great many questions, and requested me to show her my papers. I said that this was impossible, as not only my honor and life were at stake but that interests of great moment were involved in the preservation of the secrets I had in possession.

This, I thought, ought to have satisfied her but it apparently did not, for she evidently regarded me with extreme suspicion. Her indisposition to trust me might have been caused by my rather dilapidated appearance, although my soiled traveling dress ought to have been proof of the fact that I had just been making a long and very rough journey. Finally, another lady coming in, she walked back in the store with her, and I, supposing that she did not intend to take any more notice of me, arose to go out. She, however, seeing this movement, called for me to wait a moment. Shortly after she returned, and, handing me a sum of money, said, “I am a Union woman but as you seem to be in distress, I will have to aid you. This is as much as I can afford to give.”

I, of course, understood that this speech was intended for any other ears than mine that might be listening, and, merely giving her a meaning glance, walked out of the store without saying anything further. …

That night I was so sick that I had to send for a doctor. I offered him my watch for his services, stating that I was out of funds and was detained in Baltimore through the non-arrival of money which I was expecting. He, however, refused to take it and said that I might pay him if I ever was able but that it would not matter a great deal one way or the other. The next day I was considerably better and was able to go about a little, and I continued to improve with rest and quiet.

While stopping at Barnum’s Hotel, I became acquainted with a young captain in the Federal army, and, as I made a practice of doing with all Federal officers — I did not know when they might be useful to me — I courted his friendship and told him a story about myself similar to that I had told on several other occasions with which the reader is familiar and was especially bitter in my denunciations of the rebels. The captain was so affected by my pitiful narrative that he introduced me to Gen. E. B. Tyler, who was very affable and courteous, and who, learning that I was anxious to travel northward, and was short of money, kindly procured for me a pass to New York.

Finally, I received notice that one of the blockade-runners with whom I was to communicate was at Lewes, Del., and, on proceeding to that place, found an English brig, the captain of which was anxiously waiting to receive instructions as to what port he was to sail for. The cargo was principally powder, clothing, and drugs, and the captain was exceedingly glad to see me, as he wanted to get away as fast as he could, there being a liability that the Federal authorities might pounce upon him at any moment. I accordingly gave him his sailing papers, which contained directions for him to proceed to Wadling’s Island, on the north of Cuba, where he was to transfer his cargo to another vessel, which was to run for any port it could make in the Confederacy. The captain handed me the cards of several houses in Liverpool and Havre, which were extensively engaged in blockade-running, and I bade him adieu, wishing him a safe and pleasant trip.

This errand having been satisfactorily dispatched, I went to Philadelphia, where I took a room at the Continental Hotel and telegraphed for my papers, money package, etc., to be forwarded to me from New York by express. The next morning I received, in reply to this, my expected drafts, and also the following characteristic letter:

“Quebec, Canada.

“Mrs. Sue Battle: You will find enclosed a card of your government agent here, B. Any orders you have for your government, if forwarded, we will execute and dispatch quickly, according to your instructions. Messrs. B. & T. have several clippers, which they will put in the trade, if desired. I will drink your ladyship’s good health in a bottle of good old Scotch ale. Let us hear from you at your earliest convenience. I will await your answer to return to Europe. With great respect, and with hopes of success,

“I am, madam, yours truly, R.W.L.”

I now proceeded, without further delay, to New York, where I was met at the Desbrosses Street ferry by my associate in that city, who conducted me to Taylor’s Hotel, where he had engaged a room for me. He said that he had been getting somewhat anxious for my safety, the more especially as he was informed that the detectives had received some information of my doings and were on the watch for me. This made me a trifle uneasy, as I did not know but my friend, Col. Baker, had discovered some facts about me which had served to convince him that I was not likely to be as valuable a member of his corps as he had supposed I would when he started me on my Richmond trip. Since my return to the North, I had been endeavoring to keep myself concealed from Baker and all his people, as I did not wish to renew my acquaintance with the colonel until I had visited Canada. That accomplished, I proposed to see him again and to make use of his good offices for the purpose of putting into execution a still more daring scheme.

My New York accomplice said that he did not think I was in any immediate danger, although I would have to take care of myself. He himself had seen one of the detectives who were on my track, and, while I was evidently the person he was after, the description he had of me was a very imperfect one, so that, by the exercise of a little skill, I ought to be able to evade him. To put him on the wrong track, my accomplice had told this detective that he thought he knew the person he was searching for and had procured a photograph of a very different-looking woman and given it to him.

Having cashed my drafts and gotten everything ready, I started for Canada, carrying, in addition to valuable letters, orders, and packages, the large sum of eighty-two thousand dollars in my satchel. Mr. L., the correspondent whose letter has been quoted, was requested by a telegraphic dispatch to meet me on my arrival in Canada.

Under ordinary circumstances, the great value of the baggage I was carrying would not have disturbed my peace of mind but I knew that, in addition to the money I had with me, my capture would involve the officers of the Federal government obtaining possession of papers of the utmost importance, from which they would scarcely fail to gain quite sufficient information concerning tlie proposed raid to put them on their guard, and enable them to adopt measures for preventing the execution of the great scheme. It was not comfortable, therefore, for me to feel that the detectives were after me. …

I was absolutely startled when, on approaching the depot, my companion, pointing to a man in the crowd, said, “There, that is the fellow to whom I gave the photograph. He is looking for you, so beware of him.” Then, thinking it best that we should not be seen together by Mr. Detective, he wished me good luck and said goodbye, leaving me to procure my ticket and to carry my heavy satchel to the cars myself.

I watched the detective as well as I could without looking at him so hard as to attract his attention, and saw that he was rather anxiously surveying the people as they passed into the depot. I was really curious to know how he managed to get on my track, for, although he might not be sufficiently posted about me for purposes of identification, it was evident that he was working on some tolerably accurate information with regard to my movements. I also wondered whether Col. Baker had any suspicion of me but made up my mind that he scarcely could have or else this officer would have been better posted.

After getting into the cars I lost sight of the detective until the arrival of the train in Rochester and was congratulating myself that, not seeing the original of the photograph, he had remained in New York. At Rochester, however, to my infinite horror, he entered the car where I was and took a seat near me.

When the conductor came through, after the train had started, the detective said something to him in a low tone and showed him a photograph. The conductor shook his head on looking at it and made a remark that I could not hear. I did, however, hear the detective say, “I’ll catch her yet,” to which I mentally replied, “Perhaps.”

This whispered conference reassured me a little, as it showed that the officer was keeping his eye open for the original of the photograph which he had in his pocket, while the woman whom he was really after was sitting within but a few feet of him. I concluded that I would try and strike up an acquaintance with this gentleman in order to find out what he had to say for himself and because I thought that perhaps I could say or do something to make him even more bewildered than he was already.

I, therefore, picked up my shawl and satchel and removed the seat immediately back of him. The window was up, and I made a pretense of not being able to put it down, so that after a bit the detective’s attention was attracted, and he very gallantly came to my assistance. When he had closed the window, I thanked him with a rather effusive politeness, and he, probably feeling a trifle lonesome, and also, perhaps, a trifle discouraged, seated himself beside me, and opened a conversation.

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