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 56: Velazquez asks Confederate veterans about that one woman who disguised herself as an army officer, and she relishes their responses.
From Rheims, we passed on and made a flying visit to Hamburg, the famous watering-place, and from there went to Frankfort on the Main. On one side of the city are to be seen the mountains, while on the other extends a rich, fertile plain. I almost wished that I was the wife of one of those good-natured, honest, industrious German farmers we were constantly meeting so that I might live and die in a snug, home-like little farm-house, half hidden by the grain, and surrounded by flowering shrubs and vines, such as were to be seen on all sides. Nowhere have I beheld more evidences of solid comfort and downright good living than in the vicinity of Frankfort, and there are no people on the earth happier than these hard-working but contented Germans, who know how to enjoy life in right honest fashion. …
Having exhausted the sights of Frankfort, we prepared to move on, and there was considerable debate as to whether we should next go to Italy or to Russia. I was most anxious to visit Poland, and so it was finally determined that we should go there. I was sorry for having taken this trip afterwards, for there was nothing in Krakow — a city ruined and desolated by war — that could give me pleasure. Indeed, the whole land looked as if it was under a blight. I took advantage, however, of the occasion to renew my acquaintance with M. Koskalosky, a young Pole, whom I had met in Paris just before the close of the war. He was a very pleasant, cultivated gentleman and a sincere friend of the South. I hope that the time will come when the people of Poland will be able to regain their independence. They are cruelly oppressed now, and their beautiful country is a waste and desolation.
Instead of going to Italy, we now returned to Paris, having seen much to interest and delight us, but having, after all, found no country that was the equal of America, towards which my heart turned with increasing fondness the longer I was absent from it.
In Paris we met Mr. Dayton, the minister from the United States, and were quite cordially received by him. I had carefully avoided going near this gentleman on my former visit because I was aware that he knew me and thought that, perhaps, he might bear me some ill will. He was pleasant enough, however, and I sincerely regretted not having met him sooner.
At the Hotel de Louvre, where we stopped, there was quite a list of old Confederates, some of whom had been my army companions. I had the advantage of them, for they had only known me as Lt. Harry T. Buford, and they did not recognize me in female attire. Being extremely anxious to know what they thought of me, I obtained introductions to most of them and began to try and get them to commit themselves.
Col. M. was the first one I spoke to on this delicate subject. After inquiring about the condition of affairs in America, I asked him if he knew what had become of that female officer who figured so extensively during the greater part of the war.
“Oh,” said the colonel, “I knew her very well. She was in my corps for a time, but afterwards she went West, and I do not know how she finished her career.”
“What do you think of her?”
“She is a very fine woman and made a good officer. She was very popular indeed.”
“Do you think that it was proper for a woman to do as she did?”
“Well, no, not exactly but she did so much good for the Cause that she can well be excused. If the men had all been as plucky, things would have turned out very different. She always bore an excellent name, and I would fight for her in a moment if I heard any one traducing her. I would like very much to see her again and would be willing to travel all the way back to America to have that pleasure.”
The reader may imagine the sensations of pleasure which this enthusiastic opinion of myself caused me. I was aching to tell him who I was, but there were others whom I desired to question and so concluded to preserve my secret a little longer.
While I was talking with Col. M., a servant in livery appeared with a card on a silver waiter from Col. D. and Maj. C. I did not recognize the names but said I would receive them and so shook hands with Col. M., giving him a hearty request to call on me again. The two gentlemen appeared, and the colonel said, “You do not appear to remember me.”
“No, sir,” I replied. “I think I recollect your face but I cannot recall where I have met you.”
“Do you not recollect meeting me in Cuba, at So-and-so’s house?”
“Oh, certainly I do. I must ask that you will excuse my forgetfulness.”
“I was looking over the list of arrivals, and seeing your name thought that I would take the liberty of calling to inquire after your health.”
I asked whether he had met my brother’s family, and on his saying that he had not, I conducted him and his friend to their parlor. Leaving the major for my brother and his wife to entertain, I took the colonel to a remote part of the room, and after some preliminary conversation, asked him the same questions that I had Col. M.
He expressed admiration of my valor but was so bitter in denouncing me for assuming male attire that I was thoroughly disgusted with him.
A few days after this, I returned with my brother and family to London and immediately on my arrival in that city wrote two letters, one to Col. M. and the other to Col. D., telling them who I was. Col. M. replied, expressing great gratification at having met me and a wish that I had made known to him that I was the heroine of whom he had such a decided admiration. Col. D. did not reply but his friend Maj. C wrote me a letter in French, in which he endeavored to apologize for him and expressed a wish, for his own sake, that I would return to Paris, as he was anxious to be better acquainted with a lady who had performed so many valorous exploits.
We remained about fifteen days in London, stopping at the house of a friend, Mr. T., a right jolly fellow who had resided in England for many years. Shortly after our arrival we visited Hyde Park, a very beautiful pleasure-ground, but not to be compared with the Parisian parks. This event was a source of much gratification to me, as it gave me an opportunity to see her majesty Queen Victoria, who drove by in a carriage with six horses. For this lady I always had a great admiration, esteeming her a model queen and a model mother. She was dressed with great neatness and simplicity, and there was nothing showy or ostentatious about her. …
Our decision to return [to America] … was far from pleasing to my sister-in-law, who desired to reside in Spain. She blamed me for influencing my brother contrary to her wishes and was jealous of my affection for him. The result was that a coolness sprang up between us that made our intercourse with each other anything but a pleasure to either.
On our arrival in New York, my brother was persuaded by his wife to go to Mexico, where her sister resided. I was not willing to go with them, and the result was that we parted company with many regrets on my side at the prospect of a long separation from a brother whom I loved dearer than myself and with whom I had only recently been reunited, after having scarcely seen each other during many years.
It could not be helped, however, and I felt that it was best he should go with his wife and children, leaving me to make my own way in the world, as I had been doing for so long a time. When they were once off, I turned my attention to my own affairs and began to make plans for the future. Before determining, however, on any particular course, I concluded that I would make a trip through the South for the purpose of observing the condition of the country and of finding out whether there was anything I could do to advance the interest of the people among whom my lot had been cast for so many years. …
My first stopping-place was Baltimore, where I met many old friends who expressed themselves as very glad to see me again but who represented the condition of things at the South as most deplorable. What I learned from them made me more than ever resolved to continue my journey, for, although the war was over, I was still anxious to do something, so far as my power extended, for the Southern people. …
I was advised in the strongest manner not to visit Washington at this time and was assured that it would be a very perilous thing to do. Naturally a little obstinate and self-willed, the opposition of my friends only made me the more desirous of carrying out my original intention, no matter what the hazard might be. To Washington, accordingly, I proceeded, and called on some acquaintances, who received me with the utmost cordiality.
The person whom I particularly wished to see — an official in the War Department — had, however, gone South. My friend Col. Baker was also out of the city. I did not know whether to congratulate myself or not at missing a meeting with him. I was resolved, on going to Washington, not to fight shy of him and to give him an opportunity to pay off old scores if he wished. Baker was certainly the person of all others who had a right to have a grudge against me, and yet I had an ardent desire to meet him again, just to hear what he would have to say about the tricks I so successfully played upon him. As the colonel was out of the city, however, I did not have the pleasure of exchanging notes with him, and I do not know to this day whether he ever discovered that I was a Confederate secret-service agent.