Loreta’s Civil War: All the dignity I could command

New Orleans authorities arrest Velazquez as a spy, and she has to find a way to talk herself out of a jail cell or a worse fate.

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Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart will share 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.

Part 17: New Orleans authorities arrest Velazquez as a spy, and she has to find a way to talk herself out of a jail cell or a worse fate.

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From Fort Donelson I went … to Nashville, and took rooms at the St. Cloud Hotel. I was utterly used up from fatigue, exposure, anxiety, and bitter disappointment; and both I and my negro boy Bob — who had been taken quite sick during the battle — needed an opportunity to thoroughly rest ourselves. It was an immense relief to reach a good hotel, where I could have a shelter over my head, a comfortable bed, and wholesome food; but such was the restlessness of my disposition, and the agitation of my mind, on account of the terrible scenes through which I had just passed, that I could not keep quiet; and scarcely had I recovered a little from my fatigue, than I was eager to be in motion again.

Nashville was in an intense state of excitement over the unexpected result of the attack upon Fort Donelson. … Sending my negro boy to Grand Junction in charge of a friend, I went to the headquarters of Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston, and upon asking for employment, was put in the detective corps. There was plenty of work for everybody to do, for the fall of Fort Donelson had rendered it necessary that the whole Southern army should fall back for the purpose of taking up a new line, and I had no reason to complain of a lack of activity. …

While participating in a skirmish with the enemy, who were harassing us whenever an opportunity offered, I was wounded in the foot. This lamed me, and compelled me to have the hurt dressed by the surgeon, at which I was not a little alarmed, for I knew that I was now in imminent danger of having my sex discovered. … I resolved that the only course for me to pursue was to abandon the army before I got into trouble.

I therefore availed myself of the earliest possible opportunity to take French leave, and quietly slipped away to Grand Junction, where I remained for three days, and then, in company with my boy Bob, repaired to Jackson, Mississippi. At Jackson I hired Bob out, as I wanted to get rid of him for a while, having in my mind certain plans, in the execution of which it would have been an encumbrance for him to have been with me. Bob being disposed of in a satisfactory manner, I hastened … to New Orleans, and took up my quarters at the Brooks House.

By abandoning the army, however, and going to New Orleans at this particular juncture, I was, to use a homely phrase, jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Rigid as was army discipline, and strict as were the precautions taken to prevent treachery and the surveillance of spies, I had managed to sustain myself in the army as an independent without difficulty, and was on the best possible terms with everybody. In New Orleans, on the other hand, I found the spirit of suspicion rampant. Confidence in the ability of the city to defend itself against the impending Federal attack was expressed on all sides, but the fact that an attempt was undoubtedly to be made, before a great while, for its reduction, and the uncertainty with regard to the exact nature of the blow, or the exact direction from which it would fall, caused an uneasiness that could not be disguised. The Federals were known to be mustering an enormous fleet at the mouth of the river, and a large army on the Sound, and my surmises of months before, based upon what I had heard in Washington, were, apparently, about to be realized. …

I did not at all appreciate the situation when I went to New Orleans. When I entered Washington it was as a spy, and I consequently had all my wits about me; but in New Orleans I thought I was among my friends, and very imprudently neglected ordinary precautions for avoiding difficulties.

During the eight or nine months I had been wearing male attire, I had, as the reader is aware, seen a great deal of very hard service. My clothing was well worn, and my apparatus for disguising my form was badly out of order; and the result was that I scarcely presented as creditable a man’s appearance as I did upon the occasion of my last visit to New Orleans. I had, too, by this time become so much accustomed to male attire that I ceased to bear in my mind, constantly, the absolute necessity for preserving certain appearances, and had grown careless about a number of little matters that, when attended to properly, aided materially in maintaining my incognito. In addition to all this, I was in very low spirits, if not absolutely sick, when I reached New Orleans, and was not in a mood to play my part in the best manner.

I had not been in the city very long before it was noted by prying people that there was some mystery about me, and for anyone to have a mystery just then, was equivalent to falling under the ban of both military and civic authorities. I, of course, imagining no evil, was not prepared for a demonstration against me, and was accordingly thunderstruck when I was arrested on the charge of being a spy, and taken before the provost marshal.

Terror, dismay, and indignation struggled for mastery with me when this outrage, as 1 considered it, was perpetrated. … Reviewing the matter very rapidly in my own mind, I determined that the best, if not the only plan, was to present a bold front, and to challenge my accusers to prove anything against me, reserving a revelation of my identity as a last alternative.

I entered a vigorous protest against the whole proceeding to the officer who made the arrest, and I could see, from his hesitating and indecisive manner, that he was in possession of no definite charge against me, and was inclined to be dubious about the propriety or legality of his action. This encouraged me, and induced me to believe that I might be able to brave the thing through; but I resolved, if I did get clear, to cut my visit to New Orleans as short as possible. My protest, however, was of no avail, so far as procuring an instantaneous release was concerned, for the officer insisted upon my accompanying him to the office of the provost marshal.

While on my way to the provost marshal’s, my conductor questioned me closely, but I gave him such answers as evidently increased his uneasy feelings, and I soon saw that he was beginning to seriously doubt whether he was doing exactly the correct thing in making the arrest. Finally, he proposed to release me; but to this I objected in very decided terms, and insisted on knowing exactly what accusations there were against me.

To the office of the provost marshal we accordingly went, and, after a very few questions, that official decided, with gratifying promptness, that there was no justification for holding me, and ordered my discharge from custody.

This appeared to astonish the individual who had made the arrest very much, and it was evident that he was repenting of his rashness, and was anxious to get out of an unpleasant predicament the best way he could. I enjoyed his discomfiture immensely, and, turning to him with all the dignity I could command, I demanded his name. This, with very evident reluctance, he at length gave me, and making him a stiff bow, I said, in a quiet but threatening manner, “I will see you again about this matter, sir,” as I walked out of the office.

Looking Back: Virtue of the war

Today in 1922, Simon Duarte Botello was born in Central Texas. Botello and his four brothers fought in World War II, and their younger brother immortalized their experiences in a small book.

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Today in 1922, Simon Duarte Botello was born in Central Texas. Botello and his four brothers fought in World War II, and their younger brother immortalized their experiences in a small book.

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LOOKING BACK
A special series

During my time as a contributing editor to the magnificent Voces Oral History Project at the University of Texas at Austin, I came across some amazing stories. The project, which I celebrated in 2011, collects the stories of Latino veterans and civilians who saw and felt the effects of war, from World War II to Vietnam. This occasional series highlights a few of these fascinating lives.

Simon Duarte Botello, born on Jan. 5, 1922, and his four brothers helped their father on their family farm in Central Texas. When World War II began, the boys enlisted, leaving behind their parents and eight younger siblings. The family gave up farming when the boys — the farm’s labor force — departed for war.

Three brothers were wounded. All five brothers returned home once the war ended in 1945. A younger sibling, Thomas, immortalized most of their experiences and memories in a small book, based on interviews and wartime letters.

The war’s greatest legacy on the homefront, Thomas concluded, was that it led to educational opportunities for millions of children, including many of the younger Botello siblings.

Visit the Voces website. Like them on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter.

Looking Back: It has to be done

Today in 1910, Johnnie W. Flores was born near Somerset, Texas, southeast of San Antonio. In 1941, Flores joined the Army, and, as part of the 36th Infantry Regiment in the European Theater, he saw and paid the war’s ultimate price.

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Today in 1910, Johnnie W. Flores was born near Somerset, Texas, southeast of San Antonio. In 1941, Flores joined the Army, and, as part of the 36th Infantry Regiment in the European Theater, he saw and paid the war’s ultimate price.

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LOOKING BACK
A special series

During my time as a contributing editor to the magnificent Voces Oral History Project at the University of Texas at Austin, I came across some amazing stories. The project, which I celebrated in 2011, collects the stories of Latino veterans and civilians who saw and felt the effects of war, from World War II to Vietnam. This occasional series will highlight a few of these fascinating lives.

Johnnie W. Flores, born on Feb. 10, 1910, was one of seven children living with their parents on a farm near Somerset, Texas. In his mid-twenties, Flores moved to California. He joined the Army in 1941.

His letters home encapsulated the evolution of the man’s character. The soldier faced down the horrific realities of war with practicality. He bought life insurance, and he sent half of his paycheck back to his mother. His letters also captured his romantic entanglements with young women in the U.S.

World War II brought him and his 36th Infantry Regiment to Europe, where he saw in late 1944 how war destroyed French communities and the “very green and beautiful” landscape. His letters captured his horror and his determined justification for such destruction.

By the end of the year, his family received news of the unthinkable. Read about what they learned and how they reacted, and the rest of wonderful profile here.

Visit the Voces website. Like them on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Solar-powered White House / Interactive Afghan wars / 10 overlooked novels / Political apologies / The new Army

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This week: Solar-powered White House / Interactive Afghan wars / 10 overlooked novels / Political apologies / The new Army

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Solar panels return to the W.H.
By Alex Guillen | Politico | May 9
“Three decades after Ronald Reagan had Jimmy Carter’s solar panels tossed into the energy dustbin, the White House has finished putting sun-powered electricity back on top of the executive mansion in a small but symbolic gesture.”

2. Portait of the Army as a Work in Progress
By Rosa Brooks | Foreign Policy | May 2014
“The service’s plan to revamp itself for the post-post-9/11 world is ambiguous and rife with contradiction. That’s what makes it brilliant.”

3. How Russia arms America’s southern neighbors
By Ioan Grillo | GlobalPost | May 9
“Russia is now the largest weapons dealer to governments in Latin America”

4. 10 overlooked novels: how many have you read?
By John Sutherland | The Guardian | May 6
“A hilarious romance by a precocious nine-year-old. The fantasies of a septuagenarian foot fetishist. An aristocrat’s life spent doing nothing on a sofa. Just some of the riches contained in 10 little-known books that deserve to be treasured”

5. Interactive Timeline: War in Afghanistan
By Zack Stanton | The Wilson Quarterly | May 2014
“If you want to understand the U.S. War in Afghanistan, place it in a larger historical context: Afghanistan’s 35-year civil war.”

6. The Art of the Political Apology
By Edwin Battistella | Politico Magazine | May 7
“From Bill to Monica and everyone in between, a guide to saying sorry.”

7. America’s Purpose and Role in a Changed World
By Carl Gershman | World Affairs | May/June 2014
“One important question we face today, however, more than five years into the Obama presidency, is whether the current policy of retrenchment is a standard correction after a period of maximalism, or something else.”

8. John Oliver, Charming Schold
By Ian Crouch | Culture Desk :: The New Yorker | May 8
“Regarding the death penalty — which was in the news last week, after a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma — Oliver reached for simile: ‘The death penalty is like the McRib. When you can’t have it, it’s so tantalizing. But when they bring it back, you think, This is ethically wrong.’ ”

9. Onward to Europa
By Lee Billings | Aeon Magazine | May 2013
“The oceans of Jupiter’s ice worlds might be swimming with life — so why do we keep sending robots to Mars?”

10. All the World’s Glaciers, Mapped
By Megan Garber | The Atlantic | May 7
“The first statistical analysis of the world’s glacier distribution offers insight into melting ice. ”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Inside the Costa Concordia / What women want / Army recruits lose the BCGs / Confederate Heroes Day / Easing combat stress

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism.

1. Military dumps infamous ‘BCG’ eyeglasses
By Patricia Kime | Army Times | Jan. 20
“Military recruits who wear glasses no longer will have to endure the embarrassment of sporting BCGs — those beloved standard-issue specs, technically called S9s, which are universally known as ‘Birth Control Glasses’ because they’re supposedly so unattractive.”

2. Today’s Women: Newfound Power, Persistent Expectations
Schawk | January 2012
“[W]omen still feel the age-old pressure to do it all, look good and be liked. Anthem’s original research suggests that this creates a tension in women’s lives, and that traditional marketing messages that leverage these pressures might not be as effective as marketers think.”

3. Inside the Wreck of the Costa Concordia
By Alan Taylor | In Focus :: The Atlantic | Jan. 20
“Rescue workers have spent the past seven days rappelling from helicopters, scaling the hull, scrambling inside and diving beneath the wreckage, racing against the clock to find anyone alive inside the massive wreck.”

4. Celebrating Confederate Heroes Day in East Texas
By Forrest Wilder | The Texas Observer | Jan. 20
“The official state holiday is a day for Confederacy apologists to strut their stuff.”

5. Diagramming the Costa Concordia Disaster
By Heather Murphy and Vivian Selbo | Slate | Jan. 20
“An annotated look at the cruise ship fiasco.”

6. Wars lessons being applied to ease combat stress
By Julie Watson | Associated Press | Jan. 18
“When the Marine unit that suffered the greatest casualties in the 10-year Afghan war returned home last spring, they didn’t rush back to their everyday lives. Instead, the Marine Corps put them into a kind of decompression chamber. …”

7. Famous Photogs Pose With Their Most Iconic Images
By Jakob Schiller | Raw File :: Wired | Jan. 20
“Many of us can automatically recall these photos in our heads, but far fewer can name the photographers who took them. Even fewer know what those photographers look like.”

8. This much I know: Robert Harris
By John O’Connell | The Observer | April 2010
“The novelist, 53, on Polanski, his Hitler house, and Bob Monkhouse”

9. Flies in the Dark
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | June 2011
“Where do flies go at night? In summer in Australia, flies are everywhere in the daytime but seem to disappear at night.”

10. People Power in the Philippines
Witness :: BBC News | February 22
“In 1986, thousands of peaceful demonstrators took to the streets of the Philippine capital, Manila. Just days later, President Ferdinand Marcos was forced from power.”

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TUNES

Tonight I’m spending some time with the blues, specifically with the Texas Blues Café. Check out the line-up and then listen here.

1. Kenny Wayne Shepherd — Everybody Gets The Blues
2. Mark Kerr — Every Dog Has It’s Day
3. Doyle Bramhall — Jealous Sky
4. The Mark Knoll Band — You’ve Got A Lot To Learn
5. Grady Champion — Policeman Blues
6. The Shawn Fussell Band — Tulia, TX
7. Too Slim & The Tail Draggers — Been Through Hell
8. ZZ Top — Just Got Back From Babys
9. Brian Burns with Ray Wylie Hubbard — Little Angel
10. Johnny Lang — Livin’ For The City
11. Bleu Edmondson — 50 Dollars and a Flask of Crown
12. Dennis McClung Blues Band — The Red Rooster