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Loreta’s Civil War: Sadness and strangeness

July 27, 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 62: Velazquez continues her Caribbean tour with a stop in St. Lucia, where she tries to come to terms with her younger self before the Civil War.

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Being bent upon visiting my relatives and my early home, I purchased a ticket permitting me to stop at St. Lucia until the next steamer, and after a short and pleasant cruise, which was not marked by any incident of note, we reached the island which was endeared to me as being my mother’s birthplace, and on account of my residence on it, being among the most fascinating recollections of my childhood.

As I was preparing to leave the steamer, I was surprised by the steward bringing me a beautiful basket filled with different kinds of fruit. A card which accompanied it told me that it was from Capt. F., who had been obliged to stop at St. Lucia for repairs, having broken a mast. On going on shore, I sent the captain a note, requesting him to call on me at the residence of my cousin, the old family homestead. This he did, and I introduced him to my relatives. His visit was a short one, however, as his vessel was almost ready for sea, and so he said goodbye again, and for the last time. I have never seen him since.

It was not without a certain feeling of sadness and strangeness that I found myself once more domiciled in the old-fashioned stone house where I had lived with my father and mother and brothers and sisters when a little girl. The house and its surroundings were much the same as they were many years before, and yet there was something oddly unfamiliar about them, and it took me some time to reconcile my recollections with the realities. The stone house, built in the English fashion, the marble floor, the ancient furniture of Spanish make, the stone water-pool and stone filter, and the banana and prune bushes which grew at my mother’s window were, however, all as they had been, and as if I had left them but yesterday.

In gazing on these familiar objects, I was forced, in spite of myself, to think of the many years that had passed since I had last seen them and of the many things that had happened. The happy family that had gathered under this roof had been scattered and most of its members were dead, while I, the darling of my father and of my gentle mother, what a strange career I had gone through — stranger far than that of many a heroine of romance whose adventures had fascinated my girlish fancy. I was yet, too, a young woman, and what strange things might not the future have in store for me? It was enough, however, just then to think of the past and of the present without perplexing myself with speculations as to the future, and I gave myself up to such enjoyment as a visit of this kind to a fondly remembered home of childhood was able to afford.

After viewing the old house and its immediate surroundings, I went to the family burying ground in search of the weather-stained vault, which contained the earthly remains of near and dear relatives, among others, of a sister and a brother, whose faces I never beheld after I left Cuba to go to New Orleans to school. The ivy and the myrtle grew so thick about it as almost to hide the inscription, and yet there was something beautiful in the appearance of the spot, which marked it as the fitting resting place for the beloved dead. As I stood by this vault and thought how lonely I was in the world and how unpropitious the future seemed, I thought that if it could be the will of God that my spirit should be taken to Himself, I would gladly have my body rest here beside those of my brother and sister. I was reluctant to leave the place but felt impelled to go on and seek the destiny that awaited me in another land and resolved to be as courageous as ever in meeting whatever fate or position the future might have in store for me. Before leaving the tomb, I knelt down to pluck some ivy leaves to carry away as remembrances, but as I stretched out my hand to gather them, something restrained me, and I went away empty-handed as I had come.

I remained in the old homestead, enjoying the hospitality of my cousins until the arrival of the steamer and then said farewell to St. Lucia — my visit to it having been the happiest episode of my journey.

From St. Lucia, I went to the Danish island of St. Thomas, where one of my friends of the war time, to whom I had written announcing my intention of revisiting the place, was expecting my arrival. When we entered the harbor, the passenger boat, which was to take us ashore, came off to the steamer, and as she neared, I recognized my friend. I waved my handkerchief to him, and he took off his hat, and when the boat came alongside he sprang on board, and shook me most cordially by the hand, expressing, as he did so, the greatest gratification at seeing me again.

When we reached the wharf, I met another of my old war acquaintances, the Italian consul. He also was glad to see me and asked me all manner of questions about where I had been and what I had been doing since the blockade-running business had come to a standstill. I walked between my two friends up to the hotel, where I found that a fine large room had been engaged for me, and, once fairly installed in it, the visitors came pouring in, one after the other — first, the proprietor and his wife, then the Danish commandant’s wife, then half a dozen others, until I was obliged to go into the drawing room and hold a regular reception.

Nowhere during my trip had I been welcomed with a more hearty and sincere courtesy or with a more evident disposition to make a heroine of me. All through the evening people were coming in, some of them acquaintances, who, having heard of my arrival, were anxious to extend a welcome, and others, strangers who had learned something of my adventurous career, were desirous of being introduced to me. One of the most agreeable of my visitors was Mr. English, the correspondent of a newspaper in Manchester, England. He was a fine, dashing young fellow, overflowing with wit and humor, and his lively conversation created a great deal of entertainment.

During the evening, some of the company amused themselves with dominoes, others with cards, while I was surrounded constantly by quite a little crowd of persons who persisted in having me relate to them some of my adventures. After a time, wine, ale, and cakes were brought in, and the gentlemen and some of the ladies, too, regaled themselves with cigars and cigarettes. It was nearly twelve o’clock when the Italian consul, a white-haired old gentleman, arose, and asking to be excused, wished us good night. As I was tired I followed him, asking my kind friends to excuse me, and so the party broke up.

I slept late the next morning and was awakened by a tap at my door. It was Mrs. Capt. B., who wished to know if I was sick. I said that I was quite well, whereat she smiled and said she would send me a cup of chocolate. The girl soon came with the chocolate, and after drinking it, I dressed myself and went down to the drawing room. As I passed the consul’s office, he came out and gave me a “good morning” and offered me his arm to take me in to breakfast.

After breakfast, I was joined in the drawing room by quite a large party of ladies and gentlemen, who proposed that I should go with them through the fort and up to the top of the hill to see the scenery.

The town of Charlotte is built on three hills, from the summits of which beautiful views of the harbor and the island are obtained. One of the features of the scene is a rock, called Frenchman’s Cap. It is almost perpendicular, and is, I believe, considered dangerous to shipping. Scorpion Rock is inhabited only by the horrid reptiles from which it takes its name. They are unusually abundant there, and for that reason it is generally given a wide berth, as no one cares to make its intimate acquaintance.

The principal fortifications of St. Thomas are Fort Christiana, and Prince Frederick’s and Mohlenfe’s batteries. These are occupied by a small force of Danish soldiers, who are clean and tidy looking but otherwise are not remarkable in appearance.

It was under the guns of Fort Christiana that the blockade-runners were accustomed to receive their cargoes and, notwithstanding the supposed vigilance of the United States fleet, most of them managed to get off in safety. On my former visit to St. Thomas, one of the Federal officers was pointed out to me as being in the trade himself. On one occasion, at least, where the consul notified him, he permitted a vessel with a contraband cargo to put to sea and did not pretend to give chase until she was so far away that there was no hope of overtaking her.

As the reader will, perhaps, remember, on the occasion of my previous visit to St. Thomas, I had the satisfaction of seeing the Confederate cruiser Florida come in, and coal, and get away again in safety through a clever trick played upon the Federals. The Florida took in her coal and supplies at the King’s wharf, and when she was ready for sea, one of the sailors pretending to be an Englishman went to the consul, Mr. Smith, and told him that as they were coming in they saw the Florida off to the westward of the island. Mr. Smith, accordingly, gave orders to the Federal man-of-war to go out and look for her, and so soon as the Federal cruiser was out of the harbor, and heading westward. Capt. Maffitt, having steam up, put on all speed and went out after her. Before the Federal commander discovered that he had been duped, the Florida was out of sight and out of danger.

The Danish commandant told me that he was heartily sorry the war closed so soon, for the people of St. Thomas profited greatly by it. He was of the opinion that could the South have held out for another year, the great powers of Europe would have interfered in her behalf and she would have secured her independence.

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