Loreta’s Civil War: One of the most disgraceful

Velazquez completes her uneventful trip to Havana and returns to Washington, where she begins a new mission in the depths of the Treasury Department.

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 47: Velazquez completes her uneventful trip to Havana and returns to Washington, where she begins a new mission in the depths of the Treasury Department.

******

It was a troublesome matter getting our cargo together, but finally, after many anxious days and nights, during which we expected every moment to be pounced upon by the Federal authorities, our schooner was loaded with wines, drugs, boots, shoes, buttons, and military goods. I also filled several private orders and … purchased a handsome sword and belt and a fine pair of pistols. These I obtained through a sergeant stationed at Governor’s Island … who proved useful to me afterwards in a variety of transactions. …

Everything being ready, the schooner set sail and succeeded in reaching her port without being overhauled. So, soon as she was off, I prepared to start by the steamer for Havana, having orders for coffee and other supplies to the Confederate agent there. These goods had been shipped from Antwerp and other places in Europe and from New York, and they were to be sent from Nassau to Brownsville, Texas, under consignment to the Confederate quartermaster or agent there, who, if I recollect rightly, was a Capt. Shankey.

This trip to Havana was scarcely as pleasant as the one I had made to that city from New Orleans in the summer of 1862. The Atlantic Ocean I found to be a great deal rougher than the Gulf of Mexico, and, for nearly half the voyage, the weather was very stormy. The result was that I was too sick to have much enjoyment for a couple of days but, having recovered from my attack of mat de mer, I began to enjoy myself and felt benefited by the sea air. I was not sorry, however, when the shores of my beautiful native island began to appear in the distance, and [I] felt much satisfaction when our vessel steamed in under the guns of the Moro Castle and anchored off the city of Havana.

In Havana, I found a number of my old acquaintances of 1862, who were as busily engaged as ever in running the blockade, although the difficulties and dangers of the business gave them much discomfort. The profits of a successful trip, however, were so great that they could afford to brave them and to submit to large losses through the vigilance of the Federal cruisers. In fact, despite the annoyances experienced from the blockaders, who were becoming exceedingly keen in their scent after prizes, blockade-running was yet a very paying business, and the men engaged in it would have been quite willing that the war should have continued indefinitely, so long as their ventures yielded as handsome results as they did.

What gave these people the most uneasiness … was not the stringency of the blockade but a prospect that the war would speedily come to an end. They watched the course of events critically and anxiously but from a very different standpoint from that of myself and my associates, North or South, and I was not a little startled by the evident belief that the collapse of the Confederacy was near at hand. The cold-blooded way in which they considered such a calamity, and the purely pecuniary light in which they regarded it, shocked me and greatly excited my indignation. I could not but acknowledge the force of much of their reasoning, however, although their total indifference to the fate of the Confederacy, except so far as it affected their opportunities for money-making, had the effect of reviving my enthusiasm and of making me more than ever resolved to labor for the success of the cause while a glimmer of hope remained.

Having transacted my business in Havana, I started for Bridgetown, Barbados, to make arrangements there for the shipment of goods. I went from Havana to St. Thomas in the steamer Pelyo and from St. Thomas to Bridgetown in a British steamer. The purser of the last-mentioned vessel was particularly attentive to me — indeed, I had not had so persistent an admirer since the time I was escorted to Memphis by the Federal lieutenant, whose fancy for me I turned to such good purpose in carrying out my plans. The purser gave me his photograph and made me promise to write to him. The photograph I kept and have given it a proper place in my collection of curiosities, but the promise to write I am afraid I broke. I hope the purser, who was a very good follow in his way, did not break his heart in consequence.

At Bridgetown I was received very kindly by the friends of the Confederacy there but was disappointed at finding that Mr. M., the gentleman whom I was to see, was absent. I, however, left my orders with his secretary and started to return to New York by way of St. Thomas.

At St. Thomas I was compelled to wait some days for the steamer, during which time the Confederate cruiser Florida came in under the noses of the Federal fleet, coaled, and put to sea again. One of the Federal men-of-war which was watching her was deluded into giving chase to a mail steamer, and the Florida succeeded in slipping off and getting out of harm’s way before she discovered her mistake — a performance which afforded me exceeding great delight.

While in St. Thomas I succeeded in contracting a loan with Messrs. V & Son, a Belgian firm, on account of the Confederate agents in Canada, and, this being done, I was ready to return to New York by the first steamer.

On my return to New York, circumstances occurred which called my special attention to the operations of the bounty-jumpers and substitute-brokers, and having no other schemes on hand, I was induced to interest myself in the business of reducing the strength of the Federal armies in the field by preventing the reinforcements demanded by the government from reaching the front.

The efficiency of the services rendered the Confederacy by these substitute-brokers and bounty-jumpers cannot be over-estimated. Large armies existed on paper but while the generals in command kept constantly and uninterruptedly calling for more men, they failed to receive them in such numbers as were requisite for keeping their ranks full, and many important movements were rendered ineffectual, and thousands of lives were needlessly sacrificed, simply because the recruiting system adopted by the government was far better calculated for giving abundant employment to rogues of the worst class than it was for keeping the strength of the army up to the proper standard.

The majority of these rogues were Northern men who … did not care the toss of a button which side won, so long as they were able to make money out of the contest. The war, to them, was a grand opportunity for driving all manner of schemes for their individual profit, and the longer it was likely to last, the better they were pleased, giving no thought whatever to the enormous destruction of life and property that was going on, or to the incalculable misery that was caused to thousands of people, all over the land, every day it was waged. …

I doubt whether a good many of the people of the North who supported the Federal government in its efforts to conquer the South, under the belief that their cause was a just one and worth making sacrifices for, had any adequate idea of the rascality, in high quarters and low quarters, that was one of the results of the war. We read about certain scandalous doings in the newspapers but, apart from the fact that many of the worst rascalities of the period never were brought to light, it was impossible for the good, patriotic people who contributed their money and goods, and who prayed, day and night, for the success of the Federal cause, to understand the infamies that were being practiced around them. …

Had these infamies been confined to a comparatively few obscure men in the large cities they would have been bad enough and would have been sufficiently demoralizing in their influences to make it a subject for profound regret that opportunities for their practice should have been afforded.

Bad as they were, however, the substitute-brokers and the bounty-jumpers were not the worst villains of the period. Men high in public station and occupying offices of the greatest responsibility were engaged in robbing the government and in swindling the public to an extent that was absolutely startling to me when I obtained cognizance of their doings, and, for the purpose of carrying out my plans, became an accomplice in some of their transactions.

The Treasury Department itself — where the Federal currency and the interest-bearing bonds, upon which was raised money to carry on the contest, were manufactured — was the headquarters of a gang of thieves and counterfeiters, who carried on their operations for months, within my own knowledge, in a most barefaced manner, and who, when at length detected and brought to bay, were able not only to escape punishment but to retain their positions and to find apologists in their official superiors and in prominent members of Congress.

I really did not know what to make of it when I read the report of the committee of Congress, which not only exonerated certain Treasury officials, whose misdeeds were discovered by Col. Baker, but which actually insinuated that the detective was engaged in a conspiracy against them. I knew only too well how guilty they were, and I knew that Baker had ample evidence against them, although he was not informed of a tithe of the villainies they had committed. That the secretary and the solicitor of the treasury should take sides with them, and that a congressional committee composed of statesmen who claimed to be honest and patriotic, should … sustain them and endeavor to punish Baker for having detected them, are things that I have never yet been able to understand.

That they were protected, and that attempts were made to punish Baker, are, however, facts that cannot be denied, and certainly, of all the disgraceful things which occurred during the war, this was one of the most disgraceful. …

My opinion of Col. Baker’s character or of his qualifications for the position he held as chief of the United States Secret Service Corps is not the most exalted, and I have too vivid a recollection of the fears I felt and of the trouble I had in keeping out of his way at the period to which I am alluding. … I was pleased, for my own sake, but I was astonished beyond measure when I learned that his efforts to break up certain practices in vogue in the Treasury Department resulted as they did. … It was almost incredible that Secretary Chase, Solicitor Jordan, and Mr. Garfield and the other members of the congressional investigating committee should have taken the peculiar stand that they did. …

I had little or nothing to do with the bounty-jumpers until after my return from the West Indies. My relations with the officials of the Treasury Department, however, commenced not a great while after my arrival at the North, and it was mainly my transactions with them that made me so much afraid of being discovered by Col. Baker and so extremely anxious to stand well in his good graces. I am convinced that my intimate relations with Baker, as one of his employees, and the confidence in me which I succeeded in inspiring in his mind alone saved me from detection when he went to work to find out what was worth finding out in the Treasury Department. …

When I first learned of the uses which some of my Confederate friends were making of the facilities of the Federal treasury for obtaining cash, I was rather shocked, and it took some time to convince me that even the license of warfare and the right we had to injure our adversaries in every manner possible made such things permissible. When I found out, however, that not only were counterfeit Confederate bonds and notes freely manufactured at the North, without any interference on the part of the government, but that Federal officials actually made use of this bogus Confederate paper whenever they found it convenient to do so, I had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that we would be perfectly justifiable in retaliating, and that we had the same right to raid on the Federal treasury and to injure to Federal credit that the Federals had to try and swamp our finances.

It was Col. Baker who decided me to go into this business. That individual always seemed to have a plentiful amount of bogus Confederate bills on hand to be used on occasion. On my Richmond trip, as the reader will recollect, he gave me a considerable sum in this kind of money to assist in paying my expenses, all of which was just so much saved to the Federal government — or, perhaps, to Baker individually — for I was traveling in the capacity of a Federal secret service agent. On numerous similar occasions Baker found it convenient to meet the expenses of his spies within the Confederate lines with promises to pay — supposed to have been issued in Richmond, but in reality manufactured and given to the world in New York and Philadelphia. He seemed to regard it as quite a proper way of fighting the rebels — to put as many counterfeit Confederate notes as possible into circulation — and when I discovered that he was of this way of thinking, I was not long in deciding that we rebels had a right to make the thing even by circulating as many bogus United States notes and bonds as we could. …

Loreta’s Civil War: Villains of the blackest dye

Despite her frustration with Confederate military setbacks, Velazquez turns her attention to a secret logistical operation that will take her back to Cuba.

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 46: Despite her frustration with Confederate military setbacks, Velazquez turns her attention to a secret logistical operation that will take her back to Cuba.

******

It was a comparatively easy matter to persuade me to continue to act as a Confederate secret service agent, although I was too angry over the Johnson’s Island matter to be willing to place myself in peril very soon again by attempting to play a double game, as I had been doing with Col. Baker and other Federal officials. I was willing to risk as much as anyone when there was a fair chance of accomplishing anything, but I was not willing to undertake enterprises of extraordinary peril, and to run the chance of being betrayed through either the stupidity or the treachery of those who professed to be working with me. … I did not care to cultivate the acquaintance of Baker and the members of his corps any further just then and was not sorry to have an opportunity to leave the country for a time.

This opportunity was afforded in a proposition that I should purchase a quantity of goods in Philadelphia and New York to fill Southern orders, and should go to the West Indies with them as a sort of supercargo for the purpose of arranging for their shipment to different Southern ports. I was also to supervise the shipment of a variety of goods of various kinds from Europe.

It was thought that, as in the cases of the proposed raid, a woman would be able to do a great many things without exciting suspicion that it would be hazardous for a man to attempt. It was daily getting to be more and more difficult to smuggle goods, especially merchandise of a bulky nature, through the blockading fleet. The tribulations of the blockade-runners, however, did not begin when they approached the beleaguered ports of the Confederacy. There were great difficulties in the way of purchasing goods, especially at the North, and of getting them shipped in safety, and then, in the majority of cases, they had to be taken to some point in the West Indies to be re-shipped, all of which involved trouble, expense, and risk.

The purchase and shipment of goods at places like New York and Philadelphia required particularly discreet management. There were, doubtless, some merchants and manufacturers who would not knowingly have sold to Confederate agents or for Confederate uses in any shape. For such, I had and have every respect, for they were entirely honest and consistent in their opposition to the secession of the Southern States. I am very much afraid, however, that these were few in number, and I know that the prospect of cash payments and handsome profits caused many men — who were loud in their profession of loyalty to the Federal government and bitter in their denunciations of the South — to close their eyes to numerous transactions of a doubtful character when opportunities for making a good round sum without danger of detection were presented.

Some Northern merchants and manufacturers sold goods, either immediately or at second hand, to Confederate agents innocently enough, being deceived as to the nature of the transactions. No dealers could be expected to maintain a corps of detectives for the purpose of watching their customers and of tracing out the destination of the goods purchased from them, and thus the most ardent and enthusiastic supporters of the Federal government were liable to be imposed upon. That some of these men were honest I know, for I am aware of instances where the sale of goods has been refused, on the plea that there was reason to believe that the intention was to send them South. These refusals have been made where the sales could have been effected with entire safety and with perfect propriety, so far as outward appearances went.

These very fastidious people were not numerous, however, and in the majority of business houses the practice was to welcome all customers and to ask no questions. In many large establishments, the chiefs of which were noted for their “loyalty,” confidential clerks could be found with whom it was possible to transact any amount of contraband business, especially if the cash was promptly forthcoming. Some of these people, I am sure, were well aware of what their subordinates were doing. With regard to others, I am in doubt, but think that they could scarcely have been ignorant of what was going on and only wanted to be able to say, in case of any difficulties occurring, that they, personally, were not to blame.

There were, of course, numerous manufacturers, merchants, jobbers, brokers, and others, who were eager to make money wherever it could be made, and whose only object in concealing their transactions, so far as the Southern market was concerned, was to avoid getting into trouble. Some of these people were loyal to the Federal government after a fashion, while others were as undisguised in their expressions of sympathy for the South as they dared to be. Political partisanship was, however, not a very strong point with either set — they considered it legitimate to make money by the buying and selling of goods without regard to what the politicians at Washington and elsewhere might think or do. So long as they bought and sold in a reasonably honest manner, their consciences did not trouble them. With such as these, I and my associates found it easy to deal.

If it was easy, it was not always satisfactory to deal with people of this kind, and during the last year of the war, especially, some of the largest transactions were with houses that had reputations to lose, and that were managed by men who aimed to stand high in the regards of the government. … To do business with such houses required some finesse, but, except in rare instances, it could be done without a great deal of trouble, and … with the approbation of the heads of the concerns.

Looking at this buying and selling from a Southern point of view, it was not only legitimate and proper, but it was a violation of every natural or political right for the Federal government to interfere with it. From a Northern point of view, however, it was giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and it was … sustaining the government in the prosecution of the war.

The sale of goods for the Southern market and the active or surreptitious encouragement of blockade-running were, however, very venal offenses compared with some others that were committed by people at the North, who professed to be eager for the subjugation of the South. Now that the war is over, a good many who made money by supplying the South with contraband articles other than munitions of war can afford to laugh at the perils they then ran … without fear of the kind of business they were engaged in. As the reader, however, will discover, there was an immense amount of evil and rascality going on, and some of the most trusted officers of the government were engaged in transactions concerning which there could not possibly be two opinions.

With some of these transactions I had considerable to do, and I was cognizant of undiluted villainy that unveiled depths of human depravity such as I never would have believed to be possible, had I not been brought in such close contact with it.

It may be thought by some who read this part of my narrative that I was as much in fault as those with whom I consented to associate for the purpose of accomplishing the object I had in view. I do not despair, however, of finding readers, even in the Northern States, who will be able to take a liberal and charitable view of my course. …

These things have, many of them, never been told before, although dark hints with regard to them have been dropped from time to time. … In fact, there is a secret history of the war, records of which have never been committed to paper and which exists only in the memories of a limited number of people. That this secret history will ever be written out with any degree of fullness is scarcely possible for reasons that will readily be understood but some idea of what it will be like, should it ever be written, may be gathered from these pages….

With regard to my associates. Confederates and others, who were mixed up with me in certain transactions, the case, however, is different. I deem it proper, in certain cases, to refrain from mentioning their names, as many of them are still living and might yet get into trouble through my utterances. I kept faith with them when we were acting together, and will do so still, although some of them were villains of the blackest dye who richly deserve any punishment that the law against which they offended is capable of inflicting upon them.

Having consented to make a trip to the West Indies, I commenced my preparations immediately and was soon as deeply engaged in commercial matters as I had recently been in some of not quite so peaceful a character. Having once got started, I speedily found trade — and especially this kind of trade — quite as exciting as warfare, while it had certain attractions in the way of prospective profits that lighting certainly did not possess.

I had some few transactions with Philadelphia houses, but they were none of them very important, and most of my fitting out was done in New York, where I … labored for a number of weeks with all possible zeal, being resolved to make the venture a profitable one for ourselves as well as of advantage to the Confederacy.

The first thing done was the chartering of a schooner and the engaging of a warehouse. In this warehouse our goods were stored until we were ready to load. The watchman was perfectly aware that we were engaging in contraband traffic, but, as he was paid handsomely for holding his tongue, he kept his own counsel and ours. When everything was ready, the schooner was loaded at Pier No. 4, North River, and she sailed for Havana. …

The greatest trouble we had was not in getting our schooner to sea, but in making our purchases without exciting suspicion that we intended to find our market in some Confederate port. To do this required circumspect management but some of those with whom I was co-operating had done this sort of thing before and knew how to go about it, while I was not long in learning all the tricks of the trade. …

According to the plan which we arranged, I was to pretend that I intended opening a store and was to visit some of the largest houses and obtain their prices and terms of payment. The terms varied from sixty to ninety days, or so much off for cash. At one of the most extensive dry goods establishments in New York — Messrs. C & Co. — I inquired for a Mr. B, who, on being informed that I had been sent to him by certain parties, whose names I mentioned, introduced me to a confidential clerk, who undertook to fill my orders and deliver the goods in accordance with my instructions. He understood the whole matter thoroughly, and, from various expressions he let drop in conversation, I had no difficulty in concluding that his firm was doing a big contraband trade, although the principals, like many other prominent merchants, were taking especial good care not to be known as having anything to do with it.

The leading members of this firm were very prominent as upholders of the Federal cause, and it would have been ruin to them had it been found out that they were surreptitiously shipping goods to the South. I never was quite able to make up my mind whether they really knew what was going on or not. At any rate, all the arrangements for carrying on a contraband traffic were very complete in their establishment, and anyone going there with proper credentials was sure of receiving every attention. If these gentlemen did not know what their employees were doing, they were much less shrewd than they had the credit of being, and I am afraid that a love of gain was a more powerful incentive in their bosoms than loyalty to the cause for which, in public, they professed so much devotion, and for which they professed a willingness to make almost any sacrifices. …

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