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Loreta’s Civil War: One of the most disgraceful

May 4, 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 47: Velazquez completes her uneventful trip to Havana and returns to Washington, where she begins a new mission in the depths of the Treasury Department.

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It was a troublesome matter getting our cargo together, but finally, after many anxious days and nights, during which we expected every moment to be pounced upon by the Federal authorities, our schooner was loaded with wines, drugs, boots, shoes, buttons, and military goods. I also filled several private orders and … purchased a handsome sword and belt and a fine pair of pistols. These I obtained through a sergeant stationed at Governor’s Island … who proved useful to me afterwards in a variety of transactions. …

Everything being ready, the schooner set sail and succeeded in reaching her port without being overhauled. So, soon as she was off, I prepared to start by the steamer for Havana, having orders for coffee and other supplies to the Confederate agent there. These goods had been shipped from Antwerp and other places in Europe and from New York, and they were to be sent from Nassau to Brownsville, Texas, under consignment to the Confederate quartermaster or agent there, who, if I recollect rightly, was a Capt. Shankey.

This trip to Havana was scarcely as pleasant as the one I had made to that city from New Orleans in the summer of 1862. The Atlantic Ocean I found to be a great deal rougher than the Gulf of Mexico, and, for nearly half the voyage, the weather was very stormy. The result was that I was too sick to have much enjoyment for a couple of days but, having recovered from my attack of mat de mer, I began to enjoy myself and felt benefited by the sea air. I was not sorry, however, when the shores of my beautiful native island began to appear in the distance, and [I] felt much satisfaction when our vessel steamed in under the guns of the Moro Castle and anchored off the city of Havana.

In Havana, I found a number of my old acquaintances of 1862, who were as busily engaged as ever in running the blockade, although the difficulties and dangers of the business gave them much discomfort. The profits of a successful trip, however, were so great that they could afford to brave them and to submit to large losses through the vigilance of the Federal cruisers. In fact, despite the annoyances experienced from the blockaders, who were becoming exceedingly keen in their scent after prizes, blockade-running was yet a very paying business, and the men engaged in it would have been quite willing that the war should have continued indefinitely, so long as their ventures yielded as handsome results as they did.

What gave these people the most uneasiness … was not the stringency of the blockade but a prospect that the war would speedily come to an end. They watched the course of events critically and anxiously but from a very different standpoint from that of myself and my associates, North or South, and I was not a little startled by the evident belief that the collapse of the Confederacy was near at hand. The cold-blooded way in which they considered such a calamity, and the purely pecuniary light in which they regarded it, shocked me and greatly excited my indignation. I could not but acknowledge the force of much of their reasoning, however, although their total indifference to the fate of the Confederacy, except so far as it affected their opportunities for money-making, had the effect of reviving my enthusiasm and of making me more than ever resolved to labor for the success of the cause while a glimmer of hope remained.

Having transacted my business in Havana, I started for Bridgetown, Barbados, to make arrangements there for the shipment of goods. I went from Havana to St. Thomas in the steamer Pelyo and from St. Thomas to Bridgetown in a British steamer. The purser of the last-mentioned vessel was particularly attentive to me — indeed, I had not had so persistent an admirer since the time I was escorted to Memphis by the Federal lieutenant, whose fancy for me I turned to such good purpose in carrying out my plans. The purser gave me his photograph and made me promise to write to him. The photograph I kept and have given it a proper place in my collection of curiosities, but the promise to write I am afraid I broke. I hope the purser, who was a very good follow in his way, did not break his heart in consequence.

At Bridgetown I was received very kindly by the friends of the Confederacy there but was disappointed at finding that Mr. M., the gentleman whom I was to see, was absent. I, however, left my orders with his secretary and started to return to New York by way of St. Thomas.

At St. Thomas I was compelled to wait some days for the steamer, during which time the Confederate cruiser Florida came in under the noses of the Federal fleet, coaled, and put to sea again. One of the Federal men-of-war which was watching her was deluded into giving chase to a mail steamer, and the Florida succeeded in slipping off and getting out of harm’s way before she discovered her mistake — a performance which afforded me exceeding great delight.

While in St. Thomas I succeeded in contracting a loan with Messrs. V & Son, a Belgian firm, on account of the Confederate agents in Canada, and, this being done, I was ready to return to New York by the first steamer.

On my return to New York, circumstances occurred which called my special attention to the operations of the bounty-jumpers and substitute-brokers, and having no other schemes on hand, I was induced to interest myself in the business of reducing the strength of the Federal armies in the field by preventing the reinforcements demanded by the government from reaching the front.

The efficiency of the services rendered the Confederacy by these substitute-brokers and bounty-jumpers cannot be over-estimated. Large armies existed on paper but while the generals in command kept constantly and uninterruptedly calling for more men, they failed to receive them in such numbers as were requisite for keeping their ranks full, and many important movements were rendered ineffectual, and thousands of lives were needlessly sacrificed, simply because the recruiting system adopted by the government was far better calculated for giving abundant employment to rogues of the worst class than it was for keeping the strength of the army up to the proper standard.

The majority of these rogues were Northern men who … did not care the toss of a button which side won, so long as they were able to make money out of the contest. The war, to them, was a grand opportunity for driving all manner of schemes for their individual profit, and the longer it was likely to last, the better they were pleased, giving no thought whatever to the enormous destruction of life and property that was going on, or to the incalculable misery that was caused to thousands of people, all over the land, every day it was waged. …

I doubt whether a good many of the people of the North who supported the Federal government in its efforts to conquer the South, under the belief that their cause was a just one and worth making sacrifices for, had any adequate idea of the rascality, in high quarters and low quarters, that was one of the results of the war. We read about certain scandalous doings in the newspapers but, apart from the fact that many of the worst rascalities of the period never were brought to light, it was impossible for the good, patriotic people who contributed their money and goods, and who prayed, day and night, for the success of the Federal cause, to understand the infamies that were being practiced around them. …

Had these infamies been confined to a comparatively few obscure men in the large cities they would have been bad enough and would have been sufficiently demoralizing in their influences to make it a subject for profound regret that opportunities for their practice should have been afforded.

Bad as they were, however, the substitute-brokers and the bounty-jumpers were not the worst villains of the period. Men high in public station and occupying offices of the greatest responsibility were engaged in robbing the government and in swindling the public to an extent that was absolutely startling to me when I obtained cognizance of their doings, and, for the purpose of carrying out my plans, became an accomplice in some of their transactions.

The Treasury Department itself — where the Federal currency and the interest-bearing bonds, upon which was raised money to carry on the contest, were manufactured — was the headquarters of a gang of thieves and counterfeiters, who carried on their operations for months, within my own knowledge, in a most barefaced manner, and who, when at length detected and brought to bay, were able not only to escape punishment but to retain their positions and to find apologists in their official superiors and in prominent members of Congress.

I really did not know what to make of it when I read the report of the committee of Congress, which not only exonerated certain Treasury officials, whose misdeeds were discovered by Col. Baker, but which actually insinuated that the detective was engaged in a conspiracy against them. I knew only too well how guilty they were, and I knew that Baker had ample evidence against them, although he was not informed of a tithe of the villainies they had committed. That the secretary and the solicitor of the treasury should take sides with them, and that a congressional committee composed of statesmen who claimed to be honest and patriotic, should … sustain them and endeavor to punish Baker for having detected them, are things that I have never yet been able to understand.

That they were protected, and that attempts were made to punish Baker, are, however, facts that cannot be denied, and certainly, of all the disgraceful things which occurred during the war, this was one of the most disgraceful. …

My opinion of Col. Baker’s character or of his qualifications for the position he held as chief of the United States Secret Service Corps is not the most exalted, and I have too vivid a recollection of the fears I felt and of the trouble I had in keeping out of his way at the period to which I am alluding. … I was pleased, for my own sake, but I was astonished beyond measure when I learned that his efforts to break up certain practices in vogue in the Treasury Department resulted as they did. … It was almost incredible that Secretary Chase, Solicitor Jordan, and Mr. Garfield and the other members of the congressional investigating committee should have taken the peculiar stand that they did. …

I had little or nothing to do with the bounty-jumpers until after my return from the West Indies. My relations with the officials of the Treasury Department, however, commenced not a great while after my arrival at the North, and it was mainly my transactions with them that made me so much afraid of being discovered by Col. Baker and so extremely anxious to stand well in his good graces. I am convinced that my intimate relations with Baker, as one of his employees, and the confidence in me which I succeeded in inspiring in his mind alone saved me from detection when he went to work to find out what was worth finding out in the Treasury Department. …

When I first learned of the uses which some of my Confederate friends were making of the facilities of the Federal treasury for obtaining cash, I was rather shocked, and it took some time to convince me that even the license of warfare and the right we had to injure our adversaries in every manner possible made such things permissible. When I found out, however, that not only were counterfeit Confederate bonds and notes freely manufactured at the North, without any interference on the part of the government, but that Federal officials actually made use of this bogus Confederate paper whenever they found it convenient to do so, I had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that we would be perfectly justifiable in retaliating, and that we had the same right to raid on the Federal treasury and to injure to Federal credit that the Federals had to try and swamp our finances.

It was Col. Baker who decided me to go into this business. That individual always seemed to have a plentiful amount of bogus Confederate bills on hand to be used on occasion. On my Richmond trip, as the reader will recollect, he gave me a considerable sum in this kind of money to assist in paying my expenses, all of which was just so much saved to the Federal government — or, perhaps, to Baker individually — for I was traveling in the capacity of a Federal secret service agent. On numerous similar occasions Baker found it convenient to meet the expenses of his spies within the Confederate lines with promises to pay — supposed to have been issued in Richmond, but in reality manufactured and given to the world in New York and Philadelphia. He seemed to regard it as quite a proper way of fighting the rebels — to put as many counterfeit Confederate notes as possible into circulation — and when I discovered that he was of this way of thinking, I was not long in deciding that we rebels had a right to make the thing even by circulating as many bogus United States notes and bonds as we could. …

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