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Loreta’s Civil War: My heart burned hot within me

May 23, 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 52: Velazquez makes her way to Canada, England, and then back to New York City in time to hear that the Army of Northern Virginia has surrendered.

******

In the evening, as I was going out of the room where the family were at supper, I heard the old gentleman who sat at the head of the table say to his wife, “Where did you come across that nice, tidy piece of furniture?”

The lady replied, “Oh, she was at Mrs. B.’s, and they were too much down on the rebels to suit her.”

When I came into the room again, the old gentleman, turning towards me, inquired, “Are you a Yankee girl?”

“No, sir,” I replied, “I am a Cuban and am a true Southern sympathizer.”

“Well, if that is the case, you have got into the right place at last. I am from old Virginia, and I would not have one of those d—-d Yankee women about the house.”

In the evening the lady of the house came to my room just as I was unpacking my trunk. She seemed to be surprised at the extent and style of my wardrobe and exclaimed, “Dear me, what a lot of nice things you have there!”

“Yes,” I replied. “Where I came from we are accustomed to having nice things.”

As I thought that some curiosity with regard to me would be excited, I resolved to try and overhear the conversation between the old lady and her husband, so, when she left me, I hastily slipped off my shoes and, cautiously following her downstairs, stood at the door of the parlor and listened. She gave quite a glowing account of the elegant dresses and other matters she had seen in my trunk and said, “I wonder who she is, for she has not always been a servant, that is certain.”

“No, she don’t look like a servant,” said the old gentleman.

“Suppose she should be a spy?”

“Well, she may be, and we will have to be cautious what we say before her. Is she in her room?”

“Yes.”

“I will have a talk with her tomorrow and try and get her to say something with regard to who she is and where she comes from.”

This was all very satisfactory, so far as it went, and I crept back to my room as softly as I could and went to bed.

The next morning the old gentleman came into the room when I was arranging the breakfast table and said, without any preliminaries, “Were you ever married?”

“Yes, sir, I am a widow.”

“And you were never married again?”

“No, sir.”

“Wouldn’t you like to be?”

“Well, I wouldn’t mind if the right kind of a man offered himself. I don’t care to marry any of your Yankees, however, and the Southern boys are all in the field.”

“Look here, ain’t you from the South?”

“I have been there.”

“I thought so. Because you found yourself among strangers and got out of money is, I suppose, the reason why you have hired out.”

“Yes, sir. It is rather hard, after having had plenty, and after being waited on by servants, to do this kind of work but it is honorable.”

“Put down those plates,” said the old gentleman, with considerable emphasis, “You can’t do any work for me but my house is open to you, and you are welcome to stay as long as it suits you.

“Here, old woman,” he cried to his wife, who just then came into the room, “She is not going to be a servant in our house. She is a genuine Southerner, and we must treat her as well as we know how.”

I was forthwith installed as a privileged guest, and in the course of a few days I was introduced to a number of Southern sympathizers. Among my new acquaintance was a Confederate soldier who had escaped from one of the prison camps and who was endeavoring to make his way South. From him I learned that Cleveland was a general rendezvous for prisoners, and I accordingly resolved to go there.

I had given my entertainers to understand that I was on some secret errand but did not tell them what, while they appreciated the importance of saying no more than was necessary about such matters and asked me no impertinent questions. When I made up my mind to leave, I went to the old gentleman and told him that I desired to go South, where I had friends, and where I could get money.

He asked me how much money I would require for my journey, and I told him that I thought about six hundred dollars would see me through.

“Well,” said he, “I can get that for you,” and going out, he soon returned with the amount, remarking as he gave it to me, “We Copperheads can always raise some money for the Cause, even if we have no men.”

The old gentleman took me to the depot in his buggy and bought me a ticket for Cincinnati. He also gave me a letter to the head of the Copperhead ring there. This document I had, however, no use for, although I accepted it as I did the six hundred dollars. I had at the time the sum of ninety-three thousand dollars on my person and had in deposit in several banks over fifty thousand dollars. The six hundred dollars I accepted as a contribution to the Cause and on the principle that every little helps.

Bidding my aged friend farewell, I took my seat in the train and was soon on my way to Columbus, for I had no intention of going to Cincinnati. On reaching Columbus, I took rooms at a new hotel near the depot and made some inquiries with regard to the prisoners but before I could make any definite arrangement concerning them I received a telegraphic dispatch directing me to go to Canada immediately.

I, therefore, contributed three thousand dollars of the money which I had with me … for the relief of the prisoners and for the purchase of necessary clothing. A Mrs. R. had charge of this prisoners’ relief fund, and I had every confidence that the money in her hands would be properly bestowed.

Proceeding as rapidly as I could to Canada, I had a conference with the agent there and then hastened to New York. In that city I found a host of Confederates who were anxiously waiting to receive their instructions from me. One was to go to Nassau as supercargo. Another was to sail by the next steamer for Paris to receive opium and quinine. A third was to proceed to Missouri. A fourth to the northwestern part of Texas, and so on. Giving each his proportion of cash for expenses and telling them whom to draw on in case they were short, I bade them goodbye and wished them success.

These matters being arranged, I went to see the broker with whom I was in partnership and found him considerably exercised. We had a long talk about the situation, and he expressed himself as very uneasy about the march Sherman was making through the Carolinas and its effect upon the Confederate bonds we had on hand. I was not as easily frightened as he was but I could not help acknowledging that if Sherman succeeded in accomplishing what he aimed at, it would be bad for the cause of the Confederacy and that it would do much to kill the sale of the bonds. I therefore allowed myself to be persuaded into making a trip to London for the purpose of a personal interview with our agent there, the idea being, without letting him or others see that we were uneasy, to persuade him to sell off the paper we held at almost any price.

I accordingly proceeded to London by the next steamer, and on finding the agent, was soon plunged into business with him. Confederate bonds were not selling very well just at that time, but as ours cost us very little, we could afford to dispose of them at very moderate figures and still make a handsome profit. I put mine on the market as rapidly as I was able but before I had cleared out the lot, intelligence was received that Sherman had established communication with Grant, and many persons jumped at the conclusion that this was a virtual end of the rebellion. When this news was received, I was on a flying visit to Paris. I did not think that the end was as near as many persons supposed, but saw very clearly that there was no market in London just then for Confederate bonds. … I posted to Liverpool and arrived there just in time to catch a steamer.

As we were going into New York harbor we heard the news of Lee’s surrender — which had taken place the day before — from the pilot. He was unable to give us any particulars, and everyone on the steamer was consequently in a fever of anxiety to get ashore and learn the full extent of the disaster to the Confederate arms. No one was more anxious than myself, as no one had reason to be, and the idea that the hitherto invincible army of Virginia … should at last be compelled to yield to the enemy fairly stunned me.

Many of the passengers seemed to think that this was practically the winding up of the war. I could not bring myself to believe this, for I knew that the Confederacy had other armies in the field who were both able and willing to fight, and who were led by generals as skillful and as indomitable as Lee. My heart burned hot within me to continue the fight, and I resolved to stick by my colors to the last and to labor with even more than my accustomed zeal for the Confederacy so long as a shadow of hope remained.

When the vessel reached the wharf I went ashore and proceeded to the Lafarge House, from whence, as soon as I could get some of the sea rust from my person, I called a carriage and ordered the driver to take me as fast as he could to the office of the broker in Wall Street with whom I was in partnership.

Wall Street, especially in the vicinity of the Exchange, was fairly packed with a furious, excited mass of human beings, selling, shouting, cursing, and not a few absolutely weeping.

It was a spectacle to be remembered — nothing that I had ever beheld — and I had certainly participated in many exciting scenes, … Some of the thousands of faces were surcharged with unspeakable horror. Despair, overpowering despair, was written on others. Curses and blasphemies were heard on every side, and it might have been supposed that all the lunatics in the country had been turned loose in this narrow thoroughfare.

Anyone familiar with this section of New York, however, could see at a glance that some momentous event had occurred which had seriously affected innumerable important financial operations, and that in a moment great fortunes had been lost and won.

At length, we reached the office I was seeking, and my partner came out to meet me and to assist me to alight from the carriage. His face wore a very sickly smile as he said, “I am glad to see you. You have made a quick trip.”

“Yes,” I replied as we hurried into the back office. “Regent Street has no charms for me in such times as these.”

“Well,” said he, as he turned the key in the lock of the door, fairly gasping for breath as he asked the question, and pale as a sheet: “Have we lost?”

“No, we have not exactly lost, but we have not made anything worth speaking of.”

“Well, so long as we have not lost, we have done pretty well.”

“What is the news?”

“Lee has surrendered, and the Confederacy has gone up — that is the whole sum and substance of it.”

“But there are other armies in the field, and they will probably be able to hold out. It does not follow that the Confederacy is gone up because Lee has surrendered.”

“People about here think differently — at any rate, the Confederate bond business is killed.”

I did not care to argue this point with him, as his only interest in the Confederacy was in what he could make out of it. So I asked, “Have you got in all the money?”

“Yes,” he replied, “but the bonds have gone up higher than a kite.”

“Well, you bring your books and make out your statement. We will have a settlement at once, for I intend to get out of the country as fast as I am able.”

The next day I met him in accordance with our agreement and presented my statement with a proposition that he should take half the bonds in my hands and we stand equal losses. This he refused point-blank to do and professed to be highly indignant that I should make such a proposition.

I then refused to settle, at which he got very angry and threatened to have me arrested, indulging in some strong language, which did not frighten me a bit, for, apart from the fact that I did not scare easily, I knew that I had the advantage of him and that he would not dare, for his own sake, to carry his threat into execution. I had about sixty thousand dollars of his money, while he had only about eighteen thousand of mine [and so] he finally consented to settle on equal terms — share and share alike, both in the profits and the losses. This matter being arranged, I bade him farewell, glad enough to get rid of him and glad to get out of such a business. Such was the end of my secret banking and brokerage transactions.

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