Loreta’s Civil War: A derangement of the plans

As news of President Lincoln’s assassination spreads, Velazquez is torn between respect for the man and loyalty to the Confederacy.

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 53: As news of President Lincoln’s assassination spreads, Velazquez is torn between respect for the man and loyalty to the Confederacy.

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As I did not know and certainly did not appreciate the full extent … of the great disaster that had befallen the Confederate cause, so soon as my business in Wall Street was brought to a conclusion I sought a conference with the agents with whom I had been co-operating. They were inclined to take the gloomiest possible view of the situation. With the fall of Richmond and the surrender of Lee’s army, the people of the North seemed to have concluded that the long contest with the South was over. … It was but natural, perhaps, in view of the intense excitement which prevailed and the unanimity of public opinion that the Confederate agents should have regarded the future of the contest in a great degree from a Northern standpoint and should have been largely influenced by the opinions which they heard expressed on every side.

I, however, was not disposed to give up while a Southern soldier remained in the field, and, after a full discussion of the condition of affairs, I persuaded my companions to view matters as I did. Richmond was our capital, but it was not the whole South, and Lee’s army, important as it was, was far from being the whole Confederate force. Gen. Joe Johnston had an army of veterans very nearly if not quite as large as that of Lee’s and was capable of prolonging the contest for an indefinite period while throughout the West there were a number of detached commands of more or less strength. If these could be united and a junction effected with Johnston, or communication established with him so that they could act in concert, it would be possible to keep the Federals at bay for a good while yet. If the fight was continued resolutely, there was no knowing what might happen to our advantage, for, as we all knew, the people of the North were heartily sick of the war, while England and France were impatient to have it come to an end and would much prefer to have it end with a victory for the Confederates.

Having professed an eager desire to work for the Cause so long as there was a Cause to work for, my associates suggested that I should proceed immediately to Missouri … for the purpose of consulting with the agents in the West with regard to the best methods of proceeding in the present perplexing emergency.

I accepted the mission without hesitation, and, always ready to attend to business of this kind at a moment’s notice, with scarcely more than a change of clothing in my traveling satchel, I was soon speeding westward. … I went to Columbus, Ohio, where I found considerable confusion prevailing on account of the escape of some prisoners. I took rooms at the Neil House and had conferences with several persons concerning the affairs at the South. At an unusually early hour I retired, being very weary on account of having traveled almost without interruption for several days and having lost my sleep the night before but feeling rather happy on account of a Confederate victory of which I had heard.

I was soon asleep, but could not have been so very long before I was awakened by the continual buzzing of the telegraph wires, which were attached to the corner of the hotel. I paid but little attention to this singular noise and dozed off again. A second time I was awakened by it and began to conjecture what could be the matter. I knew that something very important must have happened and thought that the Federals must either have achieved a great victory or have met with a great defeat. I was too tired, however, to attempt any inquiry just then, and, with all sorts of fancies floating in my mind … I dropped off into a sound sleep and did not awaken until morning.

I arose quite early and going to the window saw that the whole front of the building was draped in mourning. Wondering what this demonstration could mean, and thinking that the death of some prominent general must have occurred, but never for a moment suspecting the terrible truth, I made my toilet and descended to find out what was the matter.

A great number of people, notwithstanding the early hour, were moving about the hotel, and a considerable crowd was already assembled in the hall. Still wondering what could have happened, I asked a gentleman whom I met hurrying down stairs what was the news, and he told me that President Lincoln had been assassinated by one J. Wilkes Booth the night before!

This intelligence startled me greatly, both on account of the terrible nature of the crime itself and because I felt that it could work nothing but harm to the South. I also felt for Mr. Lincoln and his family, for I liked him and believed that he was an honest and kindhearted man who tried to do his duty, as he understood it, and who was in every way well disposed towards the South.

Descending to the drawing-room, I found a large number of ladies there, many of whom were weeping, while, in the street, the crowd was increasing, and everyone seemed to be in the greatest excitement. Across the street, the State House was being draped in mourning, while a number of persons already wore mourning emblems. Before the day was over nearly everyone had on some badge of mourning, and nearly every house was draped in a greater or less degree in black. I did not attempt to imitate my neighbors in this matter. I was sincerely sorry both for personal and political reasons that this dreadful event had occurred but, nevertheless, Mr. Lincoln was the enemy of the cause I loved and for which I labored, and it would have been intensely repugnant to my feelings to have made any outward manifestations of mourning. At the same time it is possible I may have mourned in my heart with more sincerity than some of those who were making a greater show of their grief.

This sad event rendered it necessary that I should have an immediate conference with my associates in the East, and I therefore returned as fast as I could to New York, and from thence went on to Washington.

The assassination of Mr. Lincoln had caused a derangement of the plans, and no one knew exactly what had best be done next. I was requested, however, to make a trip west again for the purpose of communicating with certain parties and accordingly departed on my last errand in behalf of the Confederacy.

My business being transacted, I started to return and again found it necessary to pass through Columbus. When I arrived there the body of Mr. Lincoln was lying in state. The town was crowded with people, and it was impossible to get a room at any of the hotels. I went to the Neil House but was obliged to content myself with a bed on the drawing-room floor, my accommodations being, however, quite as sumptuous as those of hundreds of others.

I doubt if the little city ever had so many people in it before, and all day long a stream of men and women poured in at one door and out at the other of the apartment where the casket containing the remains of the president was lying in state. It was a sad sight, and it troubled me greatly — so greatly that I was scarcely able to eat or sleep, for, in addition to my natural grief, I could not prevent my mind from brooding on the possibly detrimental effects which the assassination would have on the fortunes of the South.

After an early breakfast the next morning, I took the eastward-bound train and returned to Washington, and on reaching that city called to see Col. Baker. We exchanged but a few words, as Baker said that he had an engagement, which he would be compelled to attend to immediately, but he would see me at half past seven o’clock at my hotel. …

In the Capitol, I met a Confederate officer whom I knew. I was astonished to see him, and going up, I said, “Oh, what could have induced you to come here at such a critical time as this?”

“To see and hear what is going on,” he replied.

“This is an awful affair.”

“Yes, and it is particularly unfortunate that it should have happened at this particular time.”

“When will you return?”

“Tonight, if somebody less amiable than you are does not recognize me and take me in charge.”

I then asked him if he would carry a letter through for me to my brother, and on his promising me that he would, I made an engagement for him to go to my room in the hotel. He would find the door unlocked and the key inside, and I would meet him at five o’clock or shortly after. I then took leave of him, bidding him be careful of himself, as the people were excited and suspicious and he might easily get himself into serious trouble.

Returning to the hotel, I noticed quite a number of ladies in the drawing-room as I passed by. I thought I would join them for the sake of listening to the different conversations that were going on, thinking that perhaps I might hear something that it would be advantageous for me to know. On reaching my room, therefore, I dressed myself in a handsome black gros-grain silk dress, and putting a gilt band in my hair, descended and took a seat at one of the drawing-room windows facing on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Those around me all appeared to be discussing the tragedy and many absurd theories and speculations were indulged in with regard to it. I was indignant … to hear President Davis and [other] Confederate leaders accused of being the instigators of the crime. I well knew that they were incapable of anything of the kind, and Mr. Davis, in particular, I had reason to believe entertained a high respect for Mr. Lincoln and most sincerely lamented his death and especially the manner of it, feeling that he and the whole people of the South would be … held censurable for something they had nothing to do with and which they were powerless to prevent.

Book gems of 2016, Part 2

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on presidents and the political world.

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Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on presidents and the political world.

Editor Edith Gelles presents Abigail Adams: Letters (Library of America, 1180 pp., $40), a stellar collection of correspondence capturing the complexity, nuances, and uncertainties of the American Republic’s earliest era and of its first generation of political and intellectual leaders. It is a tribute to her intelligence, insight, bravery, and patriotic devotion. It is best read alongside John Adams: Writings from the New Nation, 1784-1826, edited by Gordon S. Wood (Library of America, 905 pp., $40). Taken together, the books illustrate a decades-long romance between a brilliant man and woman, the intellectual and cultural forces that shaped their lives, and an inspirational example for all Americans who should be just as devoted to the enrichment of their democracy as the Adamses.

Ronald L. Feinman’s Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman & Littlefield, 274 pp., $38) grimly examines the consistent danger faced by presidential candidates when the harsh public spotlight is perverted into a bullseye on their lives. Feinman turns the historic attempts and successful murders into case studies analyzing the government’s and public’s reactions to the crimes, providing fascinating and important perspectives on a too-often understudied aspect of presidential and political history. Mel Ayton’s Plotting to Kill the President: Assassination Attempts from Washington to Hoover (University of Nebraska Press, 376 pp., $32.95) takes a broader and more casual approach to the same issues, but from a different time frame and with many more details and anecdotes. They should complement each other quite well.

Seymour Morris Jr.’s Fit for the Presidency? Winners, Losers, What-Ifs, and Also-Rans (Potomac Books, an imprint of University of Nebraska Press, 462 pp., $32.95) arrives at the perfect time, just when Americans are overwhelmed from the campaign season’s speeches, news coverage, political ads, and scandals. If it makes us feel any better, previous generations of Americans did not have it much better. Morris unfurls an amazing and very colorful tapestry of personalities, ambitions, bizarre surprises, and the raw emotions of victory and defeat. Nothing better complements or enriches presidential history than the shadow history of the people those presidents defeated.

Jefferson Cowie’s The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics (Princeton University Press, 288 pp., $27.95) promises to be a fascinating and sobering reminder that any progress toward economic equality in American society is essentially paddling against the stream of traditional social and economic inequality. A strong, centralized, pro-active federal government forcibly reordered the democratic system to better benefit the lower-class citizens, from the early 1930s to the early 1960s, and that may be what is required for today’s America. Cowie’s book is not just a smart history but a call to action for today’s citizens and political leaders, along with a warning from the past of what resulted from inaction.

Marne L. Campbell’s Making Black Los Angeles: Class, Gender, and Community, 1850-1917 (University of North Carolina Press, 246 pp., $29.95) paints an extraordinary portrait of black families from the post-Mexican War era to World War I, illustrating how they grew, endured countless forms of discrimination, and struggled to build and sustain a viable community as the town steadily grew into an important city. Women, she discovered, were key to strengthening the relationships between different classes of black communities, thereby enabling their entire community to fight for economic independence, racial expression, and, ultimately, political power.

LBJ’s Neglected Legacy: How Lyndon Johnson Reshaped Domestic Policy and Government, edited by Robert H. Wilson, Norman J. Glickman, and Laurence E. Lynn, Jr. (University of Texas Press, 493 pp., $29.95), is an excellent essay anthology examining the lasting effects of Great Society legislation on modern American society, government, and economics. As the title suggests, the contributors argue that Johnson receives too-little credit for how his ambitions and political skills built the governmental and ideological architecture shaping today’s American society and the issues over which today’s loudest debates take place.

Doreen Mattingly’s A Feminist in the White House: Midge Costanza, the Carter Years, and America’s Culture Wars (Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $23.96) reminds us that the fight for feminism and equal rights could be difficult even under Democratic presidents. Costanza challenged President Jimmy Carter to support women’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, and gender equality. She was a bright light in a dark America desperate for an undeniable and intelligent voice in the halls of power. Mattingly’s portrait challenges today’s generations to remember the heroic efforts that lead the initial assaults in the civil rights struggles still waged today.

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Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Kate Stone’s Civil War: He deserves killing

Stone reports an astonishing rumor: Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman has killed President Andrew Johnson.

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From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Stone reports an astonishing rumor: Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman has killed President Andrew Johnson.

July 2, 1865

Tyler, Texas

We all joined forces and quilted a silk comfort yesterday, and my fingers are sore from it today. Quilting is my pet aversion, though Mamma says I am a most rapid hand. I hurry up to get through a disagreeable job.

Capt. Smith is making himself very pleasant and we see him frequently. There are compensations in our lot as one goes, another comes. We have known him from our first residence, but he has not been a regular attache until recently. The Irvine girls brought their brother, Lt. Irvine, a handsome gentlemanly fellow but inclined to corpulancy much to his distaste, to call. Capt. Smith is shorn of half of his hirsute glories, and, while he looks more civilized, it is not an improvement. …

My Brother should be at Brokenburn today and Uncle Bo I suppose in Vicksburg. We heard from the boys. They will not get back for two weeks.

Andy Johnson, the detested, is reported killed by Sherman. Since his amnesty proclamation, what a mockery on a name — he deserves killing.

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