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Loreta’s Civil War: The elegantly attired woman

July 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 55: Velazquez escapes post-Civil War America and heads for what she hopes will be a relaxing tour of Europe.

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It was not many days before my brother arrived with his wife, two children, and a nurse. It was a most joyful reunion, and I tried to be as affectionate as I knew how to my sister-in-law and the pretty little babes, one of whom was a namesake of my own. It was impossible for me, however, to feel towards her as I did towards my brother, and I fancied that she was not as well disposed towards me as she might have been.

Once together, our arrangements were soon made, and we left New York on board of one of the Cunard steamers. I wondered what my friend Col. Baker would think of my disappearance and could not help laughing at the neat trick I had played upon him.

Despite the reasons I had for being glad to find myself speeding towards a foreign shore, it was not without a pang of regret that I watched those of America fading in the distance. This, after all, was my country, where dwelt my friends. Here was the scene of the great events in which I had taken a not altogether unimportant part; and it was like separating from a portion of myself to sail away from such a land, and to feel that, probably, I might never return.

Before we had been long at sea, however, I had something else to think of than sentimental regrets. Both my brother and myself were compelled to succumb to seasickness, which, although it did not affect us as violently as it did some of the other passengers, was sufficiently unpleasant to absorb all our thoughts. My sister-in-law, being a hardened traveler, escaped, but the negro girl who acted as nurse for the children was taken very badly, and between her agony and her fright she was a most ludicrous object.

In a couple of days, I was well enough to enjoy myself, and my brother, who had made the acquaintance of the doctor, introduced him to me. This gentleman was a fair-haired Anglo Saxon, and he appeared to think it incumbent upon him to pay me particular attention. I was quite willing to cultivate his acquaintance, and he was so much encouraged by my amiable demeanor towards him that he very speedily began to be even unpleasantly polite, and I was anxious to devise some means of getting rid of him. I did at length succeed in finding a rival to him in a somewhat odd fashion.

Among the passengers were two quite handsome young Spaniards, who kept pretty much to themselves, apparently for the reason that no one was able to talk to them. I noticed that one of them followed me a good deal with his eyes, and resolved, if a favorable opportunity offered, to strike up an acquaintance with him.

One morning, after breakfast, I and my friends came up on deck, and the doctor, who had been acting as my escort, excused himself to go and make his sick calls. The two young Spaniards stood leaning on the guards, and from the way they looked at me I judged that I was the subject of their conversation.

Leaving my brother and his wife, I went and seated myself near them but gave no indication that I was noticing them particularly. They had heard me speak English to my brother and sister and the others with whom I had engaged in conversation, and had no reason to think that I understood any other language.

I had scarcely taken my seat when they commenced to talk about me in Spanish, commenting upon my elegant dress and the sparkling diamonds which adorned my person, and expressing a desire to know who I was. At length one of them said, “Oh, how I would like to speak the American language. She is a handsome senorita and evidently very rich. If I could converse with her I would soon have an introduction.”

“Yes,” said the other, “I should like to know who she is.”

“Oh, there is something the matter with me,” said the first, putting his hand to his breast.

“You are in love. You had better get somebody to act as interpreter for you.”

Just then the doctor came up and interfered with my amusement. He said, as he seated himself beside me, “If it is not impertinent, may I ask how long you have been a widow?”

“About two years,” I replied.

One of the young Spaniards who could understand a little English said to his companion, “She is a young widow.”

“That makes no difference,” said the other.

I said to the doctor, “I wonder if we can see any fish?” and walked to the side and looked overboard.

I stood quite close to Pablo, the young man whom I supposed to be falling in love with me, and as we turned away, after looking into the water for a few moments, I dropped my handkerchief on purpose.

The Spaniard picked it up, and, touching my arm, handed it to me, raising his sombrero politely as he did so.

I smiled and thanked him in his native tongue. It was most amusing to see the expression of horror that overspread his countenance as he heard me, and thus discovered that I must have understood the conversation he had been holding with his friend.

So soon as the doctor left me, he advanced, and, taking off his hat, asked me if I was a Spaniard. I replied that I was of Spanish descent, whereupon he began the most profuse apologies and hoped that my ladyship was not offended at the remarks that had passed between himself and friend. I said that so far from being offended, I felt highly complimented by the flattering opinions that had been expressed with regard to me, and thereupon the young gentleman and I started a flirtation that lasted for the balance of the voyage, and that, in addition to being agreeable enough in itself, had the effect of keeping the doctor somewhat at a distance. He was most solicitous for us to visit Spain and was not satisfied until he extorted from my brother a promise to do so.

This young gentleman continued his attentions to myself after we got to London, and on account of some sightseeing, in which he had planned to have my company, he and his friend missed the steamer in which they expected to have sailed for Spain and were obliged to remain for a number of days beyond their appointed time. I do not think that either of them regretted this very much. I am sure one of them did not. My brother did not like my friend Pablo, thinking him proud and haughty but this was merely a Castilian reserve of manner, and I thought it rather an attractive characteristic than otherwise.

At length, our young Spaniards left us, and we began to plan our future movements. My brother was very anxious to go to the Continent immediately. He did not like the English climate or the English people, saying that they had always been our enemies, and that during the late war they had acted treacherously to both parties. The French, he contended, were the true friends of America, while their beautiful country was far better worth visiting than this damp, foggy England.

I had no great preference, being willing to go almost anywhere, and consequently, although there was much in England that I desired to see, acceded to my brother’s wishes without hesitation and consented to try France first and to keep England in reserve, to be explored after we had visited the Continent.

Crossing the Channel, we entered France at Cherbourg, the great naval depot. At this place were several vessels which had been negotiated for by the Confederates, and which, if they could have been obtained, would greatly have strengthened our little navy. Without stopping, however, to examine these or other objects of interest, we sped on to Paris, where we took rooms at the Grand Hotel.

We were more fortunate than Mark Twain represents himself to have been and were not bothered with guides. My brother had been educated in Paris, while I had seen a little of it, and we both could speak French. My brother was well acquainted with the city, and he was anxious to show his wife and myself all that was worth seeing in it. We accordingly hired a handsome private livery and prepared to enjoy ourselves in the best style.

The magnificence with which I was surrounded was in great contrast to what I had been accustomed to in America, and it was difficult for me to appreciate the fact that I, the elegantly attired woman, who was enjoying or endeavoring to enjoy the manifold pleasures of Parisian life, had but a short time before been wearing a uniform of gray and living the roughest kind of a life in camp and on the battlefield. I could not honestly say to myself, however, that I preferred the luxury and splendors of the great French capital to the woods and fields of my dear South, and I have had as blissful sleep, wrapped in my soldier’s blanket out under the stars as I could get in the most expensive apartments of the Grand Hotel.

Our days and nights in Paris were spent in sight-seeing, theater-going, and in endeavoring to find all the enjoyment that money could buy. We did enjoy ourselves, for there is no city in the world that is better worth seeing or that presents greater attractions to the visitor than Paris.

The Louvre, the Tuileries, the Arc de I’Etoile, the ancient Cathedral of Notre Dame, with its grand architecture and its many associations, with a visit to the Jardin de Mabille in the evening, employed our first day. It was all very interesting, but I could have had greater satisfaction in investigating into matters that represented more particularly the industries and resources of the country. As for the famous Mabille, it is nothing more than a beer-garden, while the doings that are permitted there and at the Cloiserie de Lilas are such that they are not fit places for decent people to visit. I was heartily disgusted with both of these gardens — disgusted with what I saw and more disgusted with people who looked like ladies and gentlemen, gazing with approval and applause at performances that had no attractions except their indecency.

A drive on the Bois de Boulogne, which was on our program for the next day, I really enjoyed greatly, as I did also a visit to the Lyrique Theatre, where I saw finished acting and elegant stage setting such as I had never been accustomed to in America. In the course of our stay in Paris we visited nearly all the principal theaters, and although I never was much of a play-goer, everything was done in such finished style that it was a real gratification to attend these performances.

The College de France, where my brother had been educated, and the Medical School in which he had studied interested him greatly, but I was satisfied with looking at them from the outside. I was not curious, either, to visit the Catacombs. My brother persuaded me to go to this city of the dead but when about to descend into the dark caverns, filled with the moldering remains of poor humanity, I shrunk back and refused to enter. I had too much reverence for the sleepers to make their last resting-place a resort for the curious. I feared not the dead but to have gone among these skeletons would have revived memories of the past that were anything but pleasant ones. It made me shudder to think how many poor souls I had seen launched into eternity without a moment’s warning, some of them, perhaps, by my hand. The idea of such a thing was horrible, although in the excitement of a great battle the slaughter that is going on is as little thought of as are the dangers to one’s self.

At the Invalides we saw the magnificent Tomb of Napoleon I., the most imposing monument that has, perhaps, ever been erected to any monarch. As we were leaving, we were gratified with a sight of the emperor and empress, who were visiting the building. The empress was a very handsome woman and looked as if she was a very amiable one. She was dressed in a silk robe, of a light lavender color, which was very elaborately trimmed with lace. Her bonnet was of the same lavender tint and was trimmed with white. A pair of white kid gloves and a point-lace scarf fastened with a brooch of emeralds and diamonds completed the toilet. The emperor was in uniform. He was a rather diminutive man, with a keen eye, and he reminded me not a little of Gen. Beauregard. Anyone who could have seen the two would have said, unhesitatingly, that they were relatives.

Sight-seeing in Paris was an agreeable enough employment, but I very soon had enough of it and was not sorry to leave for Rheims, the great wine mart. This city is distant between three and four hours from Paris by the railroad and is a very interesting place, as well because of its historical associations as because it is a great industrial center.

The great cathedral is a magnificent building, which I took particular pleasure in visiting, for the reason that in it all the old kings of France were crowned. It was here that Joan of Arc, clad in full armor, and with her consecrated banner in hand, witnessed the coronation of the king for whom she fought so well, and whose dominion she was mainly instrumental in securing. I almost imagined, as I stood in the cathedral, that I could behold the splendid scene that was presented on that occasion.

At the time of my visit to Rheims, however, I was of a more practical turn of mind than I had been a few years before. The romance had been pretty well knocked out of me by the rough experience of real life, and although I was better able to appreciate the performances of Joan of Arc at their true value, somehow they did not interest me to the extent they once did. I took more pleasure in watching the processes of manufacturing the famous champagne wines and in speculating as to whether such a profitable industry could not be introduced into the United States.

I have every reason to believe that wines, as fine in flavor as any of the European brands, can be, and in time will be, made in America. They will not be the same and will have a peculiar flavor of their own, for the flavors of wines depend upon the soil where the grapes are grown to such an extent that very different kinds are manufactured from grapes growing but a short distance from each other. Our American wines, even if of a somewhat different flavor, ought, however, to be just as good, in their way, as are the European. The fact is, that some of our wines will already compare very favorably with those brought from abroad. We cannot as yet, however, produce anything equal to the very finest brands, but we will do that in time, when we learn some of the delicate points about cultivation and manufacture which the Europeans have been for centuries acquiring. Viticulture is a business that is particularly well suited for many portions of our Southern States, and it is to be hoped that the people may be induced to take it up much more largely than they have ever yet done.

In this part of France, it is possible to travel for miles through a highly-cultivated country and not see the sign of a building of any kind. The people congregate in small villages, which is certainly more social than living in isolated farm-houses. The houses in these villages are mostly small, are built of stone, and reminded me not a little of some huts in the Kaw Indian reservation. They are made very attractive, however, by being surrounded by neat little gardens, filled with flowers, which are tended with great care.

There was one thing I saw in Rheims which pleased me very much. It was a troop of round, rosy-faced girls, who came running, laughing, and singing out of a factory, at evening, as full of sport as if they had been playing all day instead of earning their bread and butter. They were so fresh and wholesome-looking and apparently enjoyed life so much that I could not but admire them. Such people as these are the real wealth of a country, and it is no wonder France is rich and prosperous when she has such citizens.

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