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.
Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.
Part 40: Velazquez confronts her fear of capture by speaking directly to the Union detective hunting her.
He was a short, thick-set man, with a dull, heavy expression of countenance, deep-set eyes, thick eyebrows, and a coarse and rather scrubby mustache. He did not have the appearance of being a very brilliant genius, but then, as I well knew, it did not do to place too much reliance upon mere outward appearances, especially with members of the detective force.
After passing the compliments of the day we launched into a general conversation, I attempting to speak with a touch of the Irish brogue, thinking that it would induce him to believe me to be a foreigner. I would have addressed him with a Spanish accent but was fearful that it would help to betray me … Baker as well as others having been told that I was of Spanish extraction, while I did not know as yet how much real information the secret-service chief might have with regard to me or whether this fellow was one of his officers or not. I was playing a rather desperate game but I felt tolerably sure of being able to deal with the gentleman. I confess, however, to having felt considerable anxiety, although I strove to conceal it from my companion.
“You are going to Canada, are you not?” inquired my new-made friend.
“Do you live there?”
“Oh, no, sir. I live in England. I am only going to Canada to visit some friends.”
“Have you been in America long?”
“Only about eight months.”
“How do you like this country? Don’t you think it is a finer country than England?”
“Oh, I like living in England much better than I do here, and expect to go back as soon as I get through with my Canada visit. There is too much fighting going on here to suit me.”
“Oh, you need not mind that, besides, the war will soon be over now.”
“Do you think so?” I queried — I am afraid just with the least touch of sarcasm — and for fear he might have noticed something unpleasant in my tone, added, “I will be glad when the fighting is over. It is terrible to hear every day of so many men being killed.”
“Oh, that is nothing, we get used to it.”
“Yes,” I mentally said, “it may be nothing to such a shirk as you, for you will take precious good care to keep your carcass out of danger.”
The detective now took out of his pocket the photograph which my associate in New York had given him and which I was anxious to see, and, handing it to me, [he] said, “Did you ever see anybody resembling this? I am after the lady and would like very much to find her.”
“She is very handsome,” I replied. “Is she your wife?” — looking him straight in the eyes as I said this.
“Wife! No,” said he, apparently disgusted at the suggestion that he was in pursuit of a faithless spouse. “She is a rebel spy, and I am trying to catch her.”
“Why, what has she been doing? She looks like a very nice lady, and I hardly could think she would do anything wrong.”
“Well, she has been doing a good deal that our government would like to pay her off for. She is one of the smartest of the whole gang.” This I thought was rather complimentary than otherwise. “I am on her track now, however, sure.” — “Yes, the back track,” I thought – “and I am bound to catch her.”
“Well, if she has been doing anything against the law, I suppose she ought to be punished but I hope you won’t treat her unkindly if you do succeed in catching her.”
“She will have to look out for that. It don’t do to show any mercy to these she-devils — they give us more trouble than all the men together.”
“But perhaps this lady is not a spy, after all. She looks too pretty and nice for anything of that kind. How do you know about her?”
“Oh, some of our force have been on the track of her for a long time. She has been working for these Copperheads and rebel agents here at the North and has been running through the lines with dispatches and goods. She came through from Richmond only a short time ago, and she is now on her way to Canada with a lot of dispatches and a big sum of money, which I would like to capture.”
“Doubtless you would,” I thought and then said aloud, “I wonder how you can find out so much when there must be a great many people coming and going all the time. Supposing that this lady is a spy, as you say, how do you know that she has not already reached Canada?”
“Maybe she has,” he replied, “but I don’t think so. I have got her down pretty fine and feel tolerably certain of taking her before she gets over the line.”
This was a highly edifying and entertaining conversation to me, and I would willingly have prolonged it indefinitely, for the purpose of trying to get some points from my companion which might prove useful. As he, however, seemed inclined to change the subject, I was afraid to seem too inquisitive, and we consequently dropped into a general conversation of no interest to the reader.
The detective seemed determined to be as polite to me as he could, and on leaving the cars he carried my satchel, containing eighty-two thousand dollars belonging to the Confederate government and a variety of other matters which he would have taken possession of with the utmost pleasure, could he have known what they were. When we passed on board the boat I took the satchel from him, and, thanking him for his attention, proceeded to get out of his sight as expeditiously as I could.
When the custom-house officer examined my luggage, I gave him a wink and whispered the password I had been instructed to use, and he merely turned up the shawl which was on my arm and went through the form of looking into my satchel.
On reaching the Canada shore I was met by Mr. L., who gave me a very hearty greeting but I cautioned him to say as little as possible just then, as we might be watched. Glancing back, I saw my friend the detective, anxiously surveying the passing crowd, and, calling Mr. L.’s attention to him, I said, “Do you see that heavy man with the black eyebrows and scrubby mustache, who looks as though he had lost something?”
“Yes. What of him?”
“He has been traveling on the train with me all day and has been exceedingly polite and attentive. He is a detective, and I am the individual he is after, but he isn’t half smart enough to catch me.”
I then, as we moved off, related my adventure with the detective to my Canadian friend. He thought it a capital good joke and said that I seemed to be tolerably well able to take care of myself.
On my arrival in Canada I was welcomed with great cordiality by the Confederates there, who were eager to know all about my trip, how things were looking at Richmond, whether I had letters for so and so and anything else that I was able to tell them. I distributed my letters and dispatches according to instructions, mailed packages for the commanders of the cruisers Shenandoah and Florida, which I had received with special injunctions to be particularly careful of, as they were very important, and then proceeded to the transaction of such other business, commercial as well as political, as I had on hand.
As this was my first visit to Canada, there was much for me to do and much to learn. I therefore became acquainted with as many people as I could, and found out all I could about the methods of transacting commercial and financial business, who the proper parties to deal with were, and everything else worth knowing that I could think of.
There were a good many matters of more importance than trade and finance, however, which demanded my immediate consideration, and many and long were the conferences held with regard to the proposed grand movement on the enemy’s rear. There were a number of points about this grand scheme that I would have liked to have been informed of but those who were making the arrangements for the raid were so fearful of their plans in some way getting to the ears of the Federal authorities that they were unwilling to tell me and other special agents, more than was absolutely necessary for the fulfillment of the duties entrusted to us. This excessive caution was, perhaps, demanded by the peculiarities of the situation but it is certain, in my opinion, that could there have been a more definite understanding between the various co-workers, the chances of success would have been very largely increased. I, for one, could have performed my part with far more efficiency — although I did all that it was arranged that I should do — had I been trusted more largely with the details of the proposed movement.
As it was, I was merely furnished with a general idea of the contemplated attack and was assigned to special duties in connection with it. These duties were to visit Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie, and, if possible, other military prisons for the purpose of informing the Confederates confined in them of what was being done towards effecting their release, and what was expected of them when they were released. I was then to telegraph to certain agents that the prisoners were warned and such other information as I might deem it important for them to be possessed of, in accordance with an arranged system of signals. This being done, I was to proceed to the execution of other tasks, the exact details of which, however, were made dependent upon circumstances, and upon directions I might receive from the agents in the States, under whose orders I was to act.
This plan for a grand raid by way of the lakes excited my enthusiasm greatly, and I had very strong hopes of its success. I knew how desperate the situation at the South was getting to be and felt that a diversion of this kind, which would excite terror in the hearts of the people of the North, and which would probably cause a considerable force to to withdrawn from the front, would help the Confederate cause at this particular juncture more, even, than a series of brilliant victories on the well-trodden battlegrounds of the South. A large number of the people of the North were, I knew, getting heartily sick of the war, and I thought that it would only need a brilliant movement for transferring some of the fighting and some of the desolation to Northern ground to cause the anti-war policy to demand that peace should be had at any price.
Whether the proposed raid would have accomplished all that was expected of it can, of course, never be determined. It is probable, however, that I, as well as others interested, underrated the difficulties of executing such a complicated scheme. Be that as it may, something could have been done, more than was done, had everybody been as enthusiastic and as determined as myself and had there been no traitors with us. The scheme failed when it should have been, at least, partly successful but it need not have failed so utterly as it did, had it been managed with wisdom, backed up by true daring.