Loreta’s Civil War: The sensations of a soldier

Velazquez describes the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, condemns the instances of cowardice she witnessed, and recounts the horrors that stayed with her for the rest of her life.

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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 12: Velazquez describes the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, condemns the instances of cowardice she witnessed, and recounts the horrors that stayed with her for the rest of her life.

******

It might be supposed that one battle would have been enough for me, and that after having seen, as at Bull Run, the carnage incident to a desperate conflict between thousands of infuriated combatants, I should have been glad to have abandoned a soldier’s career, and to have devoted myself to the service of the Confederacy in some other capacity than that of a fighter. Indeed, it so turned out, that the most efficient services I did perform in behalf of the cause which I espoused, were other than those of a strictly military character, although quite as important as any rendered by the bravest fighters when standing face to face to the enemy. But it was, in a measure, due to necessity rather than to original choice, that I undertook work of a different kind from that which I had in my mind when first donning my uniform. We are all of us, more or less, the creatures of circumstances; and when I saw that the fact of my being a woman would enable me to play another role from that which I had at first intended, I did not hesitate, but readily accepted what Fate had to offer.

The Battle of Bull Run, however, only quickened my ardor to participate in another affair of a similar kind, and the months of enforced inaction, which succeeded that battle, had the effect of making me long, with exceeding eagerness, to experience again the excitement which thrilled me on the sultry July day, when the army of the Confederacy won its first great victory. The sensations which, on the battlefield, overcome a soldier who knows nothing of fear can only be compared to those of a gambler who is playing for enormous stakes. The more noble origin of the emotions experienced in the one case over those excited by the other does not prevent them from being essentially similar, although the gambler, who is staking his all on the turn of a card, can know little or nothing of the glorious excitement of the soldier engaged in a deadly conflict with an enemy, and feeling that its issue depends upon his putting forth his utmost exertions, and that determined valor can alone secure him the victory.

The sensations of a soldier in the thick of a fight baffle description; and, as his hopes rise or sink with the ebb and flow of the battle, as he sees comrades falling about him dead and wounded, hears the sharp hiss of the bullets, the shrieking of the shells, the yells of the soldiers on each side as they smite each other, there is a positive enjoyment in the deadly perils of the occasion that nothing can equal.

At Bull Run, it so happened that I was placed where the fight was hottest, where the enemy made his most determined attacks, where the soldiers of the South made their most desperate resistance, and where, for hours, the fate of the battle trembled in the balance. When at length victory crowned our banners, the enemy fled from the field, and we saw no more of them, and desperate as was the fight, it was, notwithstanding the great number of killed and wounded, unattended with the peculiar horrors, the mere thought of which is calculated to send a shudder through the strongest nerves.

The second battle in which I participated — that at Ball’s Bluff — was accompanied by every circumstance of horror; and although in the excitement of the moment, when every faculty of mind and body was at extreme tension, and I was only inspired with an intense eagerness to do my whole duty for my cause, I did not fully realize the enormities of such a slaughter as was involved in the defeat of the Federals at that place, I have never been able to think of it without a shudder, notwithstanding that I have fought on more than one bloody field since. Such scenes, however, are inseparable from warfare, and those who take up arms must steel themselves against them. …

[T]here was a tolerably open piece of ground, cut up somewhat by ridges and hollows, and surrounded by a thick growth of woods. This timber for a while concealed the combatants from each other, and it was impossible for us to tell what force we were contending with. The woods seemed to be alive with combatants, and it was thought that the enemy was strongly fortified. Notwithstanding the uncertainties with regard to the number of our opponents, we attacked with spirit, and for a time the fight was bravely carried on by both armies. The enemy certainly fought exceedingly well, especially considering the precariousness of their position, although, of course, we did not know at the time the attack was made that our foes were in such a desperate predicament. …

I thought the struggle at Bull Run a desperate one, but that battle at its fiercest did not begin to equal this; and when finally we did succeed in routing the enemy, I experienced a sense of satisfaction and relief that was overwhelming. For three weary hours the fighting continued without intermission; and although for a long while the result was dubious, at length, as the chilly October day was about closing, the enemy having lost a great number of men and officers … and being hemmed in on three sides, were driven in confusion into the river.

Shortly after the fight commenced, I took charge of a company which had lost all its officers, and I do not think that either my men or myself failed to do our full duty. Perhaps, if I had been compelled to maneuver my command in the open field, I might not have done it as skillfully as some others would, although I believe that I could have played the part of a captain quite as well as a good many of them who held regular commissions as commanders of companies, and a good deal better than some others who aspired to be officers before learning the first rudiments of their business, and without having the pluck to conduct themselves before the enemy in a manner at all correspondent to their braggart style of behavior when not smelling gunpowder under compulsion. In this battle, however, fighting as we were for the most part in the woods, there was little or no maneuvering to be done, and my main duties were to keep the men together, and to set them an example. This latter I certainly did.

After the battle was over, the first lieutenant of the company which I was commanding came in and relieved me, stating that he had been taken prisoner, but had succeeded in making his escape in the confusion incident to the Federal defeat. I did not say anything, but had my very serious doubts as to the story which he told being the exact truth. He had a very sheepish look, as if he was ashamed of himself for playing a sneaking, cowardly trick; and I shall always believe that when the firing commenced, he found an opportunity to slink away to the rear for the purpose of getting out of the reach of danger.

I have seen a good many officers like this one, who were brave enough when strutting about in the streets of cities and villages, showing themselves off in their uniforms to the women, or when airing their authority in camp, by bullying the soldiers under them, but who were the most arrant cowards under fire, and who ought to have been court-martialed and shot, instead of being permitted to disgrace their uniforms, and to demoralize their men, by their dastardly behavior when in the face of the enemy. My colored boy Bob was a better soldier than some of the white men who thought themselves immensely his superiors; and having possessed himself of a gun, he fought as well as he knew how, like the rest of us. When the enemy gave way, I could hear Bob yelling vociferously; and I confess that I was proud of the darkey’s pluck and enthusiasm. …

At the point where I stood the Potomac River was very wide, and it presented a sight such as I prayed that I might never behold again. The enemy were literally driven down the bluff and into the river, and crowds of them were floundering in the water and grappling with death. This horrible spectacle made me shudder; for, although they were my foes, they were human beings, and my heart must have been hard, indeed, could it not have felt for their sufferings. I was willing to fight them to death’s door in the open field, and to ask no favors, taking the same chances for life as they had; but I had no heart for their ruthless slaughter. The woman in me revolted at the fiendish delight which some of our soldiers displayed at the sight of the terrible agony endured by those who had, but a short time before, been contesting the field with them so valiantly, and I could scarcely refrain from making some decisive effort to put a stop to the carnage, and to relieve my suffering foes. For the first time since putting on my uniform I was thrown off my guard, and should certainly have done something to betray my secret had I not fortunately restrained myself in time. Such scenes as these, however, are inseparable from warfare, and they must be endured by those who adopt a soldier’s career. The pitiable spectacles which followed our brilliant victory at Ball’s Bluff, however, had the effect of satisfying my appetite for fighting for a time; and after it was all over, I was by no means as anxious for another battle, as I had been after the victory at Bull Run. …

Loreta’s Civil War: Swaggered about in fine style

Velazquez participates in the Civil War’s first major battle, the Battle of Bull Run. In retrospect, she admits that the Confederate victory was an empty one.

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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 11: Velazquez participates in the Civil War’s first major battle, the Battle of Bull Run. In retrospect, she admits that the Confederate victory was an empty one.

******

As the hot July sun mounted upwards through the almost-cloudless sky, and the mists of the morning disappeared before His ardent beams, the approach of the enemy could be distinctly traced by the clouds of dust raised by the tramping of thousands of feet, and, once in a great while, the gleam of the bayonets was discerned among the heavy clumps of timber that covered the undulating plain which the commanders of the armies of the South and the North had selected for their first trial of strategy and of strength. The desultory firing with which the battle opened soon was followed by rapid volleys, and ere the morning was far advanced, the sharp rattling of the musketry, the roar of the artillery, and the yelling of the soldiers, developed into an incessant tumult; while along the entire line, for miles, arose clouds of yellow dust and blue smoke, as the desperateness of the conflict increased, and the men on either side became excited with the work they had in hand.

It soon became apparent that the position in which fortune had placed me was to be the chief point of the Federal attack, and that my immediate comrades would be compelled to bear the brunt of the battle. … The Federal artillery, which sent its shell showering over us, and bursting in our ranks, creating terrible slaughter, was commanded by an acquaintance of mine, Ricketts. I did the best I could to give him as good as he sent, for the sake of old times when we were friends, and when neither of us imagined that we would some day be opposed to each other on the battlefield. The Confederates, although greatly outnumbered, succeeded for a long time in maintaining their ground, in spite of the odds against them, and again and again pierced through the enemy’s lines. Our men suffered terribly … Bee was compelled to give the order for us to fall back, the enemy having been heavily reinforced by the commands of Sherman and Keyes.

The Federals, doubtless, thought that the victory was theirs when they saw us in retreat. It was a terrible moment, and my heart failed me when I heard Bee’s order. I was wrought up to such a pitch of excitement while the fight was going on that I had no comprehension whatever of the value of the movements being made by the different commanders. I only saw the enemy before me and was inspired by an eager desire to conquer him. I forgot that I was but a single figure in a great military scheme; and as, while we stood face to face with the foe, every man on the other side became for the moment my personal enemy, whom I was furious to overcome, so, when by the general’s command, we were compelled to fail back, I was overcome with rage and indignation, and felt all the shame and mortification of a personal defeat.

I soon, however, saw the object Bee had in view in his momentary retreat, when he rallied his men in the rear of a house, and gave them a breathing spell. … This movement on the part of Bee afforded me an opportunity to cool off a little, and to observe the ebb and flow of the tide of battle more critically. I ere long was able to understand the general plan upon which the action was being conducted, and to view the combatants as masses to be wielded in a certain way for the accomplishment of definite objects, and not as a mere howling mob, bent only on a momentary success. From this point, therefore, the battle became more interesting than ever, and while nonetheless exciting, simply as a personal adventure — for my spirit rose and sank as victory or defeat seemed likely to rest upon our banners — I was more under the dominion of my reason, and less of my passions, than I had been when the fight commenced.

Bee rallied his men, with a voice of thunder, saying, “My boys, at them again! Victory or death! See how Jackson stands there like a stone wall!” This last expression seemed to please the men mightily, for they took it up immediately; and with a cheer for “Stonewall” Jackson, they made another dash at the enemy.

At noon the battle was at its fiercest, and the scene was grand beyond description. The simile that came into my mind was the great Desert of Sahara, with a broiling sun overhead, and immense whirlwinds of sand rolling along over the plain between heaven and earth. The red dust from the parched and sun-dried roads arose in clouds in every direction, while the smoke from the artillery and musketry slowly floated aloft in huge, fantastic columns, marking the places where the battle was being fought with most bitterness. The dry and motionless air was choking, to the nostrils, from the dust and smoke which filled it, while the pitiless July sun poured its hottest rays upon the parched and weary combatants. It was a sight never to be forgotten — one of those magnificent spectacles that cannot be imagined, and that no description, no matter how eloquent, can do justice to. I would not have missed it for the wealth of the world and was more than repaid for all that I had undergone, and all the risks to my person and my womanly reputation that I incurred, in being not only a spectator, but an actor, in such a sublime, living drama.

At the moment when Bee rallied his men for another grapple with the enemy, I would have given anything could I but have had the strength to make a clean sweep of our opponents, and, by a single blow, end the great struggle. Looking towards the hill which, in the morning, had been occupied by three of our bravest and best generals — Beauregard, Johnston, and Bonham — and their staffs, I saw it covered with men fighting with desperation; all along the valley were dense clouds of dust and smoke, while the yells of the excited soldiery, and the roar of the guns, were almost deafening. … The fiercer the conflict grew the more my courage rose. The example of my commanders, the desire to avenge my slaughtered comrades, the salvation of the cause which I had espoused, all inspired me to do my utmost; and no man on the field that day fought with more energy or determination than the woman who figured as Lt. Harry T. Buford. …

The expression constantly heard, that one Southerner could whip five Yankees, was not mere bounce, but it really represented what nearly everybody thought; and very few had any doubt as to the speedy end of the conflict that had been begun, or that it would end in the recognition of Southern independence. It took time to convince our people that they had no holiday task to perform; but the difficulty of effectively forcing the Federal lines, in spite of victories won by Confederate arms in the field, combined with the privations caused by the constantly increasing efficiency of the blockade, at length compelled all classes of people at the South to realize the fact that they had a tough job on their hands, and that if they expected to obtain their independence it would be necessary for them to work, and to work hard for it.

In many respects, the [Confederate] victory at Bull Run was anything but a benefit to the South. The panic which overtook the Federal soldiers, so far from communicating itself to the people of the North, only inspired them with a determination to wipe out the disgrace, and they hurried men to the front with such rapidity and in such numbers, that they soon had a force in the field which compelled the Confederates to act upon the defensive, and to think about the means of resisting invasion instead of attempting to assume the aggressive. On the other hand, not only the men who fought at Bull Run, but the whole South, were greatly elated at having won the first great battle; and, overestimating the importance of their victory, they were more than ever impressed with the idea that whipping the Yankees was a remarkable easy thing to do.

The victory at Bull Run, while it elated the whole Southern people, and very greatly excited their hopes and expectations, was most demoralizing to Richmond, to which city the capital of the Confederacy had been removed a short time before the battle came off. Crowds of soldiers, officers, and privates thronged the streets, when they ought to have been on duty in the field; while innumerable adventurers, male and female, were attracted to the seat of government in the hope of making something out of the war, careless of what happened so long as they were able to fill their pockets. Money was plenty, entirely too plenty, and the drinking-saloons, gambling-houses, and worse resorts, reaped a rich harvest. For a time all went merrily; but after a while, as month after month wore away, and no substantial fruits of our brilliant victory were reaped, and the prospect of a severe contest became every day more decided, those who, like myself, had their hearts in the cause, began to be impatient and disgusted at the inactivity that prevailed, and were disposed to do a good deal of growling. I confess that I enjoyed the excitement of life in Richmond at this period hugely for a time, but I soon had enough of it, and was glad to get away.

After the battle of Bull Run I did as much tall talking as anybody, and swaggered about in fine style, sporting my uniform for the admiration of the ladies, and making myself agreeable to them in a manner that excited the envy of the men, and raised me immensely in my own esteem; for I began to pride myself as much upon being a successful lady’s man as upon being a valiant soldier. …

Not being successful in getting the kind of appointment I desired at Richmond, I concluded to try my luck elsewhere. I went to Danville, and remained a couple of days, and on my return to Richmond obtained a pass and transportation for the West. When I got as far as Lynchburg, however, I changed my mind, owing to meeting some of the boys from Leesburg, who persuaded me to go there with them, as there was every prospect of another fight coming off soon. This suited me exactly, and to Leesburg I accordingly went, with a full determination to take a hand in a battle if one did come off. The fight did occur, although not so soon as I expected or wished, and I played my part in it as successfully as I had done at Bull Run, In the mean time, however, I splurged around Leesburg in fine style, and enjoyed myself immensely, being quite as successful as I had been in other places in winning the regards of the members of my own sex, not one of whom appeared to have the slightest suspicion that I was other than I pretended to be.

One young lady in particular, Miss E., showed a marked regard for me; and as she was a very charming girl, our acquaintance would probably have developed into a decided attachment, had I not been sailing under false colors. I was sorry that I could not reciprocate, in a proper manner, the very evident partiality she displayed towards me; and I more than half regretted that I permitted matters to go as far as I did, when I found what an impression I was making on her susceptible heart. It was necessary for me to sustain the character I had assumed, of a dashing young officer; and, situated as I was, it was important that I should make myself as agreeable as possible to the members of my own sex. Apart from this, however, much of the male society into which I was thrown was so very disagreeable to me, that I was glad to escape from it by seeking that of lady friends. It afforded me some amusement, too, to carry on a bit of a flirtation with a nice girl; and was very much tempted to entertain myself in this manner, without reflecting very deeply as to the consequences. I am very willing to admit that I ought not to have acted as I did in this, and some other similar cases; and if anything should occur to induce me to assume male attire again, I should carefully avoid making love to young ladies, unless I had occasion to do so for the immediate furtherance of my plans. My error in allowing myself to indulge in flirtations with my own sex, arose from thoughtlessness, and from a desire to play my part to the best advantage; and I am sure my readers will forgive me, as I hope the young ladies, whom I induced to indulge false expectations, will, when the publication of this narrative makes known to the world the whole truth about the identity of Lt. Harry T. Buford, C.S.A.

I met Miss E., by accident, in a store, and she was introduced to me by a young dry goods clerk, with whom I had struck up an acquaintance. After a little conversation on indifferent subjects, she gave me a very pressing invitation to call on her. I said that I would do myself the honor, and accordingly put in an appearance, dressed in my best, at her residence. She received me with many smiles and with great cordiality, and introduced me to her father and mother. As I noticed that the old people were rather inclined to be a little cool, and evidently did not regard me with overmuch favor, I cut short my visit, and, politely bowing myself out, determined, in my own mind, never to enter the house again. Had I been a man, the conduct of the parents would probably have spurred me to court the favor of the daughter with more pertinacity than ever. I have noticed that parental opposition to a young man generally has this sort of stimulating effect upon him; but, being a woman, I did not look at the thing exactly from a masculine point of view, and, as the French say, Lejeuri’en valait jxis la chandelle. I was sufficiently piqued, however, to accept any advances the young lady might make with some degree of favor, and to revenge myself upon the old people, by making myself intensely agreeable to the daughter, in spite of them. When Miss E., therefore, showed a very marked disposition to continue our acquaintance. …She then informed me that, if I wished, I could see her at her cousin’s, and as she seemed to be exceedingly anxious to have me call upon her again, I consented to do so. As we walked up the street together she pointed out her cousin’s house, and I made an appointment to meet her there the next day, at five o’clock. …

I was punctual in keeping my appointment with Miss E. … she was even more cordial in her manner towards me than on the previous occasions when we had met. She asked me innumerable questions about myself, where I was from, who were my parents, and seemed to be particularly anxious to find out all about me. I made up a story that I thought was suited to the occasion and the auditor; and, among other things, told her that I was the son of a millionaire, that I had joined the army for the fun of the thing, and that I was paying my own expenses. This seemed to make a great impression, on her; and, with a very significant smile, she said she wished that the war would soon end, and that I would settle permanently in Leesburg.

This was a rather broad hint, and I could scarcely refrain from laughing at it; but restraining myself, and keeping my countenance straight, I asked, “Why do you take such a fancy to me, Miss E., when there are so many elegant, accomplished, and wealthy young men in Leesburg, with whom you have been acquainted for along time? You know nothing whatever of me.”

“It won’t be hard for us to become better acquainted,” she replied.

‘”Well,” said I, “I don’t want to deceive you; but the fact is, I am as good as married already,” and producing a young lady’s photograph, which I had in my pocket, added, “I expect to be married to this lady as soon as the war is over.”

She turned pale at this, and the tears sprang to her eyes, while I could not but feel regret at having permitted the matter to go thus far. For a time neither of us spoke; and at length, to put an end to a scene that was becoming embarrassing to both of us, I arose, and, extending my hand, said that I must bid her good evening. She looked at me in a pitiable sort of way, and said, “Will I never see you again?” I answered that she might, if I was not killed, but a battle was expected shortly, and it was my intention to take part in it. I then said adieu, and precipitately left her, not feeling altogether comfortable about the affair; but judging, as a woman, that the young lady would, before a great while, find herself heart-whole, and be none the worse for having permitted herself to become unduly interested in Lt. Harry T. Buford.

So ended my Leesburg flirtation; and a desire to avoid meeting Miss E. again, at least until she had had time to recover her equanimity, as well as my eager wish to see some more fighting, induced me to leave the town as soon as possible.

Loreta’s Civil War: The plucky little devil

Velazquez experiences combat for the first time, and she realizes that it is nothing compared to what is to come.

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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 10: Velazquez experiences combat for the first time, and she realizes that it is nothing compared to what is to come.

******

On going to my room, I found a note from my lady friend, requesting me to visit her in her chamber. This considerably astonished me, and assuredly did not increase my good opinion of her. I was almost tempted, however, to comply, just for the sake of hearing what she had to say to me, but wisely concluded that, situated as I was, it would be more prudent to avoid any further acquaintance with such a forward specimen of my sex.

I slept late the next morning, having forgotten to give directions for being called, and found, much to my satisfaction, on inquiring of the clerk, that my lady had left before I was out of bed. After breakfast, I ordered Bob to have everything ready for our departure by the six o’clock train. While strolling about the street, I was accosted by an officer, who asked me to show my papers. I told him that I had none, but that I was an independent, and had recruited, and put in the field, at my own expense, a battalion of two hundred and thirty-six men. This seemed to highly delight him, for he shook me warmly by the hand, asked me to step over to his office, where he could furnish me with transportation, and otherwise showed a desire to be of service to me. I thanked him, but declined the offer, on the plea that I proposed to pay my own way.

During the day I bought two horses and shipped them, and provided myself with a number of articles necessary for the campaign upon which I was about entering. Returning to the hotel, I paid my bill, had a lunch put up, and my baggage got ready, while Bob blacked my boots and brushed my coat. As ill luck would have it, however, I missed the six o’clock train, and was consequently compelled to remain another night in Richmond. … I was now about to enter upon the realization of all my dreams, to see some real warfare, to engage in real battles, to do some real fighting, and, as I fondly hoped, to have some opportunities of distinguishing myself in a signal manner. I was never in better health and spirit than on that bright summer morning, when I left Richmond for the purpose of joining the forces of the Confederacy in the face of the enemy ; and the nearer we approached our destination, the more elated did I become at the prospect before me of being able to prove myself as good a fighter as any of the gallant men who had taken up arms in behalf of the cause of Southern independence. I had only one fear, and that was, that I should be stopped on account of not having the proper papers; but my motto was, “Nothing venture, nothing have,” and I was bent on facing the thing through, and trusting to luck to bring me out all right. Fortunately I had no trouble of any kind, and arrived safely at Clifton — a supply-station about a dozen miles from the headquarters of the army in the field.

At Clifton I bought a couple of fine horses, and on the 15th of July set out for headquarters, with a view of being assigned to a command where I should have a chance to see some fighting. I sought an interview with a prominent general, but he was in rather a crusty humor; and as he did not seem inclined to talk with me, I concluded not to bother him, but to take my chances as matters might shape themselves for the accomplishment of my designs. His adjutant was more polite and desired to employ me as a courier; but this did not suit my notions, and I consequently declined. I told him that I was an independent, paying my own expenses, and that the only thing I wanted was an opportunity to take a hand in the coming fight. I suppose he thought that I was entirely too independent for him, for he said no more, but turned away, and went about other affairs.

Gen. [P.G.T.] Beauregard was in command of the entire army; but I felt a hesitation in approaching him, especially after the rebuff I had just received. Thinking that the shortest way to get what I wanted was to obtain a regular commission, I offered an officer, with whom I became acquainted, five hundred dollars for his. He would not sell, however; and I then went over to Brig. Gen. Bonham, who was holding Mitchell’s Ford, and introduced myself to him. Gen. Bonham looked at me sharply and asked what company I belonged to.

“To none,” I replied. “I belong wherever there is work to do.”

“Well,” said Bonham, “you are the right sort to have around when a fight is going on. If you stay here a little while, I reckon you will be able to find plenty of work.”

I took this as a hint that I might make myself at home, and, bowing myself out of the general’s presence, went to look after my boy Bob. The darkey was just beginning to have some appreciation of what fighting was really like and was badly scared. I told him that if he ran off and left me, I would kill him if I ever caught him again; which threat had its desired effect, for he stuck to me through thick and thin.

At half past twelve o’clock, on the 18th, the enemy made a sharp attack, but did not do any great damage. … As they broke and ran, I fired a last shot at them with a dead man’s musket, which I picked up. During the greater part of this fight, the men belonging to the two armies who engaged in it were often not more than a few feet from each other, and it seemed more like a series of duels than anything such as I had imagined a battle would be. …

This skirmish was but the prelude to the great battles of Manassas or Bull’s Run, which was fought on the 21st of July, 1861. It served, however, to initiate me, and to make me impatient to see an engagement of real importance, in which I should have an opportunity to make a first-rate display of my fighting qualities. I was the more anxious for a big fight soon, as I had been placed temporarily in command of a company, the senior officer of which had been killed, and I was afraid that if a fight was long delayed I should be superseded, and should be compelled to lose my best chance of distinguishing myself. I had no occasion, however, to be afraid of a fight not coming off, for we had ample information of all the movements of the enemy, and knew that he was about to advance upon us in full force, so that the conflict was likely to begin at almost any moment. I was able, therefore, to take part m the first great battle of the war, under the best possible auspices, and to thus accomplish what had been one of the great objects of my ambition from my earliest childhood. There may have been men who did harder fighting at Bull Run than myself, but no one went through the fight with a stouter heart, or with a greater determination to behave valiantly, and, if possible, to give the enemy a sound thrashing, if only for the sake of affording him an idea of the magnitude of the job he had undertaken in attempting to coerce the Southern people.

On the 18th I assisted, with the rest, to bury the dead, my boy, Bob, rendering us efficient service in the performance of this duty. When night came I was tired out, and, lying down on the bare ground, slept soundly until four o’clock the next morning. When I awoke, I was weary and sore in all my limbs through the unusual exertions I had been compelled to make, and the exposure to the hot sun in the day time, and the damp air and cold ground at night. I was not sick, however; and as I had no doubt that I should soon get used to this kind of rough life, I never thought of giving up, especially as a great battle was impending, upon taking part in which my heart was bent.

At daybreak, on the 19th, I was in my boots, and ready to march. Passing through Ashby’s Gap, we reached the little town of Piedmont, on the Manassas Gap Railroad, where we halted. On the 20th, Gen. [Joseph E.] Johnston arrived at Manassas about noon, and was followed by two Georgia regiments and [Thomas] Jackson’s brigade of gallant Virginians. Then came Bernard E. Bee, with the 4th Alabama Regiment and the 2n Regiment, and three companies of the 11th Regiment of Mississippians. On account of some delay, or detention on the railroad, it was now found necessary to hold a council of war, and to make some changes in the plans already arranged. …

On the morning of the day of the battle I was awake at dawn, and ready to play my part in the great drama which was about to begin; and although some of the men around me had been disposed to laugh at the efforts of the little dandified independent to get a chance to display his valor, not one of them was more eager for the fight than myself, or was more bent upon doing deeds of heroism. If I had allowed myself to be irritated by snubs from officers, who behaved as if they thought the results of the war depended upon them alone, I should have gone back to Richmond in disgust several days before the battle came off, and should have resumed the garb of my sex, with a determination never to figure as a man again. I was not to be bluffed by anybody, however; and having come thus far to see and to take a hand in a great battle, I had no thought of turning back for any cause, or under any circumstances, no matter what might be said or thought of me.

I labored under some disadvantages in not having a regular commission, and not being attached to a regular command. This exposed me to slights that would otherwise not have been put upon me, and prevented officers, who would, under some circumstances, have gladly taken advantage of my readiness to attend faithfully to any task assigned me, to avail themselves of my services. On the other hand, my being an independent, enabled me, to a great extent, to choose my own position in the battle, and I probably, therefore, had a better opportunity of distinguishing myself than I should have had otherwise. I was especially bent upon showing some of them, who were disposed to smile at me on account of my petite figure and jaunty air, that I was as good a man as any one of them, and was able to face the enemy as valiantly. This I did show them before the day was over, and I was highly elated at the commendations which some of the best soldiers bestowed upon the “plucky little devil,” as they called me.

By the time it was fairly daylight, the preparations for meeting the enemy were well advanced, and the sun rose in all his majesty upon a host of men drawn up in battle array — the brave among them anxious for the fray to begin, the cowards — and there were plenty of them in both armies — trembling in their boots, and eager for a pretext to sneak away, and hide themselves from the coming danger. The morning was a beautiful one, although it gave promise of a sweltering day; and the scene presented to my eyes, as I surveyed the field, was one of marvelous beauty and grandeur. I cannot pretend to express in words what I felt, as I found myself one among thousands of combatants who were about to engage in a deadly and desperate struggle. … Fear was a word I did not know the meaning of; and as I noted the ashy faces, and the trembling limbs of some of the men about me, I almost wished that I could feel a little fear, if only for the sake of sympathizing with the poor devils. I do not say this for brag, for I despise braggarts as much as I do cowards; but, in a narrative like this, the reader has a right to know what my feelings, as well as my impressions, were, upon so important an occasion as my appearance as a combatant upon the battlefield, where the Confederate troops first gave the enemy a taste of their genuine quality, and achieved their first great victory.