Loreta’s Civil War: My denunciations of the rebels

Velazquez, now a double-agent working for the Union, uses the cover of her first assignment to make contact with her Confederate allies. But someone might be following her.

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 39: Velazquez, now a double-agent working for the Union, uses the cover of her first assignment to make contact with her Confederate allies. But someone might be following her.

******

Everything being ready, off I started and had but little difficulty in getting through the Federal lines on the passes furnished me by Baker. To get through those of the Confederate forces was a more troublesome operation but, as when I came to the outposts, I was able to declare my real errand, I was not seriously impeded, and once in Richmond I was, of course, perfectly at home.

On my arrival in that city, I immediately communicated with the authorities, delivered the messages and dispatches submitted to me, sent letters to merchants in Wilmington and Savannah as I had been directed to do, and gave all the information I could about the condition of things at the North, the proposed raid, and other matters.

While waiting to hear from the men in Wilmington and Savannah, and for the preparation of such instructions as I was to carry back from the Richmond people, I found myself falling short in funds and accordingly tried to see what could be done with Baker’s bogus Confederate notes. I had no difficulty in passing them and consequently invested the entire batch in greenbacks, but, as the United States promises to pay were worth more, even in Richmond, than those of the Confederacy, I did not make an even exchange. … Indeed, the greenbacks which I pocketed by this operation amounted to a very moderate sum, all of which I knew would be required for my return journey.

Within a few days I heard … from the parties in Wilmington and Savannah. This man delivered to me a package which was to be taken through to Canada [along with] orders and sailing directions for certain blockade-runners and drafts which were to be cashed, and the money disposed of in certain ways for the benefit of the Confederate cause. I also received directions from parties in Richmond to confer with the Confederate agents, and, if agreeable on all sides, to visit the prisons, it being thought that, as a woman, I would be able to obtain admission and be permitted to speak to the prisoners, where a man would be denied.

Then, freighted with my small but precious package, several important dispatches, and other papers, and a number of letters for Confederates in Canada, I started to return. I would have been a rich prize for the Federals if they should capture me, and, while on my way back, I wondered what Col. Baker would think and say in case some of his emissaries should chance to lay hands upon me and conduct me into his presence, laden with all this contraband of war.

In consideration of the value of the baggage I was carrying, it was thought to be too great a risk for me to attempt to reach the North by any of the more direct routes, and I was consequently compelled to make a long detour by way of Parkersburg, in West Virginia. This involved a long and very tiresome journey but it was undoubtedly the best course for me to pursue.

The wisdom in choosing this route was demonstrated by the result, and I succeeded in reaching Parkersburg without being suspected in the least by anyone. At that place I found Gen. Keiley in command, and from him procured transportation to Baltimore, on the strength of my being an attache of Col. Baker’s corps, which was a very satisfactory stroke of business for me as it saved both trouble and expense.

The instructions under which I was moving required me to go to Baltimore and from there inform the different parties interested of my arrival and wait to hear from them as to whether they were ready to meet me at the appointed places. … I was also to wait there for some drafts for large sums which were to be cashed in New York and the money taken to Canada. This involved considerable delay, which was particularly unpleasant just then, as I was getting very short of funds, and was, moreover, quite sick, the excitement I had gone through with — for this was a more exciting life even than soldiering — and the fatigues of a very long and tedious journey having quite used me up.

On arriving in Baltimore, fearing that I would not have enough money to see me through until I could obtain a remittance, I went to a store kept by a lady to whom I was told to appeal in event of being detained on account of lack of funds, and explaining who I was and the business I was on, asked her if she would not assist me. She looked very hard at me, asked me a great many questions, and requested me to show her my papers. I said that this was impossible, as not only my honor and life were at stake but that interests of great moment were involved in the preservation of the secrets I had in possession.

This, I thought, ought to have satisfied her but it apparently did not, for she evidently regarded me with extreme suspicion. Her indisposition to trust me might have been caused by my rather dilapidated appearance, although my soiled traveling dress ought to have been proof of the fact that I had just been making a long and very rough journey. Finally, another lady coming in, she walked back in the store with her, and I, supposing that she did not intend to take any more notice of me, arose to go out. She, however, seeing this movement, called for me to wait a moment. Shortly after she returned, and, handing me a sum of money, said, “I am a Union woman but as you seem to be in distress, I will have to aid you. This is as much as I can afford to give.”

I, of course, understood that this speech was intended for any other ears than mine that might be listening, and, merely giving her a meaning glance, walked out of the store without saying anything further. …

That night I was so sick that I had to send for a doctor. I offered him my watch for his services, stating that I was out of funds and was detained in Baltimore through the non-arrival of money which I was expecting. He, however, refused to take it and said that I might pay him if I ever was able but that it would not matter a great deal one way or the other. The next day I was considerably better and was able to go about a little, and I continued to improve with rest and quiet.

While stopping at Barnum’s Hotel, I became acquainted with a young captain in the Federal army, and, as I made a practice of doing with all Federal officers — I did not know when they might be useful to me — I courted his friendship and told him a story about myself similar to that I had told on several other occasions with which the reader is familiar and was especially bitter in my denunciations of the rebels. The captain was so affected by my pitiful narrative that he introduced me to Gen. E. B. Tyler, who was very affable and courteous, and who, learning that I was anxious to travel northward, and was short of money, kindly procured for me a pass to New York.

Finally, I received notice that one of the blockade-runners with whom I was to communicate was at Lewes, Del., and, on proceeding to that place, found an English brig, the captain of which was anxiously waiting to receive instructions as to what port he was to sail for. The cargo was principally powder, clothing, and drugs, and the captain was exceedingly glad to see me, as he wanted to get away as fast as he could, there being a liability that the Federal authorities might pounce upon him at any moment. I accordingly gave him his sailing papers, which contained directions for him to proceed to Wadling’s Island, on the north of Cuba, where he was to transfer his cargo to another vessel, which was to run for any port it could make in the Confederacy. The captain handed me the cards of several houses in Liverpool and Havre, which were extensively engaged in blockade-running, and I bade him adieu, wishing him a safe and pleasant trip.

This errand having been satisfactorily dispatched, I went to Philadelphia, where I took a room at the Continental Hotel and telegraphed for my papers, money package, etc., to be forwarded to me from New York by express. The next morning I received, in reply to this, my expected drafts, and also the following characteristic letter:

“Quebec, Canada.

“Mrs. Sue Battle: You will find enclosed a card of your government agent here, B. Any orders you have for your government, if forwarded, we will execute and dispatch quickly, according to your instructions. Messrs. B. & T. have several clippers, which they will put in the trade, if desired. I will drink your ladyship’s good health in a bottle of good old Scotch ale. Let us hear from you at your earliest convenience. I will await your answer to return to Europe. With great respect, and with hopes of success,

“I am, madam, yours truly, R.W.L.”

I now proceeded, without further delay, to New York, where I was met at the Desbrosses Street ferry by my associate in that city, who conducted me to Taylor’s Hotel, where he had engaged a room for me. He said that he had been getting somewhat anxious for my safety, the more especially as he was informed that the detectives had received some information of my doings and were on the watch for me. This made me a trifle uneasy, as I did not know but my friend, Col. Baker, had discovered some facts about me which had served to convince him that I was not likely to be as valuable a member of his corps as he had supposed I would when he started me on my Richmond trip. Since my return to the North, I had been endeavoring to keep myself concealed from Baker and all his people, as I did not wish to renew my acquaintance with the colonel until I had visited Canada. That accomplished, I proposed to see him again and to make use of his good offices for the purpose of putting into execution a still more daring scheme.

My New York accomplice said that he did not think I was in any immediate danger, although I would have to take care of myself. He himself had seen one of the detectives who were on my track, and, while I was evidently the person he was after, the description he had of me was a very imperfect one, so that, by the exercise of a little skill, I ought to be able to evade him. To put him on the wrong track, my accomplice had told this detective that he thought he knew the person he was searching for and had procured a photograph of a very different-looking woman and given it to him.

Having cashed my drafts and gotten everything ready, I started for Canada, carrying, in addition to valuable letters, orders, and packages, the large sum of eighty-two thousand dollars in my satchel. Mr. L., the correspondent whose letter has been quoted, was requested by a telegraphic dispatch to meet me on my arrival in Canada.

Under ordinary circumstances, the great value of the baggage I was carrying would not have disturbed my peace of mind but I knew that, in addition to the money I had with me, my capture would involve the officers of the Federal government obtaining possession of papers of the utmost importance, from which they would scarcely fail to gain quite sufficient information concerning tlie proposed raid to put them on their guard, and enable them to adopt measures for preventing the execution of the great scheme. It was not comfortable, therefore, for me to feel that the detectives were after me. …

I was absolutely startled when, on approaching the depot, my companion, pointing to a man in the crowd, said, “There, that is the fellow to whom I gave the photograph. He is looking for you, so beware of him.” Then, thinking it best that we should not be seen together by Mr. Detective, he wished me good luck and said goodbye, leaving me to procure my ticket and to carry my heavy satchel to the cars myself.

I watched the detective as well as I could without looking at him so hard as to attract his attention, and saw that he was rather anxiously surveying the people as they passed into the depot. I was really curious to know how he managed to get on my track, for, although he might not be sufficiently posted about me for purposes of identification, it was evident that he was working on some tolerably accurate information with regard to my movements. I also wondered whether Col. Baker had any suspicion of me but made up my mind that he scarcely could have or else this officer would have been better posted.

After getting into the cars I lost sight of the detective until the arrival of the train in Rochester and was congratulating myself that, not seeing the original of the photograph, he had remained in New York. At Rochester, however, to my infinite horror, he entered the car where I was and took a seat near me.

When the conductor came through, after the train had started, the detective said something to him in a low tone and showed him a photograph. The conductor shook his head on looking at it and made a remark that I could not hear. I did, however, hear the detective say, “I’ll catch her yet,” to which I mentally replied, “Perhaps.”

This whispered conference reassured me a little, as it showed that the officer was keeping his eye open for the original of the photograph which he had in his pocket, while the woman whom he was really after was sitting within but a few feet of him. I concluded that I would try and strike up an acquaintance with this gentleman in order to find out what he had to say for himself and because I thought that perhaps I could say or do something to make him even more bewildered than he was already.

I, therefore, picked up my shawl and satchel and removed the seat immediately back of him. The window was up, and I made a pretense of not being able to put it down, so that after a bit the detective’s attention was attracted, and he very gallantly came to my assistance. When he had closed the window, I thanked him with a rather effusive politeness, and he, probably feeling a trifle lonesome, and also, perhaps, a trifle discouraged, seated himself beside me, and opened a conversation.

Loreta’s Civil War: I had reason to congratulate myself

Her plot to inject paranoia into Federal military plans seems to work out better than she expected. But then she learns that Federal troops captured her brother and sent him to a Northern prison. She determines to head North to help him.

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.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 35: Her plot to inject paranoia into Federal military plans seems to work out better than she expected. But then she learns that Federal troops captured her brother and sent him to a Northern prison. She determines to head North to help him.

******

The provost marshal accordingly furnished me with a sheet of paper, and I sat down at his desk and scribbled off a brief note to the general, telling him enough about the source from which I had obtained the dispatch to induce him to believe in its genuineness, and [I] intimated that if he wanted to know more he could send for me. This note and the dispatch I enclosed in the same envelope and handed it to the provost marshal, with a request that it might be given to the general immediately. I fully expected that when Gen. Washburn received these enclosures he would have me brought before him for … interrogation [but I] was much surprised when he did nothing of the kind. …

To the hotel I accordingly went, under the escort of my friend the lieutenant and registered myself as Mrs. Fowler, not at all grieved at not having seen the general, and quite satisfied not to see him in the future if he did not wish to see me, for I considered the material part of my errand now practically accomplished. …

[A] servant appeared with a very nice supper. This I ate with immense relish, for I was desperately hungry, at the same time making certain inquiries of the servant for the purpose of enabling me to judge whether it would be safe or prudent to attempt to communicate that night with the spy for whom I had the dispatch. … It was now nearly dark, and I decided that no better time for meeting the spy could be found. I accordingly asked the servant to try and borrow for me some rather more presentable articles of attire than those I had on, as I desired to go out for the purpose of making a few purchases and was really ashamed to go into the streets dressed as I was. …

The servant, whose zeal on my behalf was stimulated by a five-dollar greenback, was not long in appearing with a reasonably decent-looking dress, bonnet, and shawl. I then attired myself with as much speed as I could command, and after having the dust and dirt brushed off my shoes, was ready to start. It is scarcely necessary to say that I was well acquainted with Memphis and consequently knew exactly how to go and where to go in search of my man. Fortunately for me, the place was not a very great way from the hotel, and persuading the accommodating servant to show me out the back door … I was not long in reaching it.

I knocked at the door, and the very man I was looking for came to let me in. I had never seen him before, but I knew him immediately by the description I had of him. Giving him the password I was admitted, and he eagerly inquired what I had for him. I handed him the dispatch … [and] gave him the verbal instructions which Lt. Shorter had ordered me to convey to him. …. He, however, said that he thought that a movement of the Federal troops was in contemplation and that he would like to find out exactly what it was before starting, and as I seemed to be on good terms at headquarters, he urged that I should endeavor to obtain the information for him. I consented to try what I could do, while he promised not to delay his departure longer than two days, at the farthest. …

On my way back to the hotel, the prudence of my change of dress was sufficiently demonstrated, for on turning a corner I nearly ran against my friend the lieutenant and another officer, who were walking slowly along the street. My heart leaped into my mouth when I saw who it was, but as there was no retreat, I trusted to the darkness and my change of costume and glided by them as swiftly and quietly as I could and, fortunately, was able to gain my room without discovery.

My errand was now accomplished, and in as satisfactory a manner as could be desired, and the only apprehension I had was lest the spy to whom I had given the dispatch … might not succeed in getting off in safety. If he should be arrested and the document found on him, the finger of suspicion would not unlikely point to me as the original bearer of it. I thought, however, that he was probably well able to take care of himself, and being too much of a veteran to allow myself to be worried about possibilities that might never come to pass, I went to bed feeling that the responsibility of the business was well off my shoulders, and was soon in happy obliviousness of cares of every kind.

The next morning the lieutenant made his appearance bright and early, and said that he had raised a hundred dollars for me by representing me as a Union woman who was flying from persecution in the Confederacy, and who had brought important information into the lines. This money I regarded as lawful spoils of war and therefore had no hesitation in accepting it. Expressing my gratitude to my friend for his zeal in my behalf, I said that he would place me under still further obligations if he would aid me in obtaining some better clothing than that I had on. He expressed the greatest desire to oblige me, and taking half of the money, he invested a good portion of it in a stylish bonnet, a handsome piece of dress goods, and a pair of shoes. He also presented me with a number of little articles, which I was given to understand were meant for testimonials of his individual regard.

During the day I was called upon by several officers and others, and one lady — an officer’s wife — loaned me a dress to wear until mine should be finished. Taking my piece of goods to the dressmaker’s, I stated that I was in a great hurry, and she accordingly promised to have it finished by the next evening. Thus, I was in a short time fitted out in good style. … My new friends were extremely anxious to know exactly what was going on within the rebel lines and asked me all sorts of questions. I endeavored to gratify their curiosity as well as I could without committing myself too much, and in return made an effort to find out what I was so desirous of knowing about the contemplated movement of the Federal troops.

I did not have a great deal of trouble in learning very nearly everything that was to be learned about the number and disposition of the [Federal] troops along the line of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. … This information I promptly communicated to my [Confederate] confidant. … The concentration of the Federal force at Colliersville, I had every reason to believe, was induced by the dispatch I delivered to Gen. Washburn. At any rate, it had the effect of leaving a gap in the Federal line beyond Grand Junction for [Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford] Forrest to step through; and, when in a day or two, intelligence was received that he was on a grand raid through western Tennessee, I knew that the plot in which I had been engaged had succeeded in the best manner.

I made a great to-do when the news of Forrest’s raid was received and pretended to be frightened lest an attack should be made on Memphis and the rebels should capture me. The fact is that Forrest, before he got through, did come very near the city, and some of my new acquaintances were just as much frightened in reality as I pretended to be. He, however, did not make any demonstration in the city, but after a brilliant campaign of several weeks slipped by the Federals again, carrying back with him into Mississippi sufficient cattle and other booty to amply repay him for his trouble.

I thought that I had reason to congratulate myself upon the success of the enterprise in which I had been engaged. Taking it altogether, it was as well planned and as well executed a performance as any I ever attempted during the whole of my career in the Confederate service.

My friend the lieutenant, whose regard for me really increased with each succeeding interview, was obliged to return to his camp after having assisted me in obtaining a new outfit. In a day or two, however, he returned, having obtained a ten days’ leave of absence, and he began to increase the zealousness of his attentions. On his return to Memphis he brought with him a fine horse, which he claimed to have captured, and said that it should be reserved for my use, if I would accept of it, so long as I remained in the city. I was not at all averse to having a good time, although I was beginning to wonder how I was ever to get back to my starting-place again, and I rode out [several] times with the lieutenant and accepted his escort on all occasions that he offered it.

It was while attending church on the Sunday following the arrival on leave of this rather overattentive young gentleman that something occurred which caused a very material alteration in my plans, which induced me to abandon my design to return to Mobile, and which resulted in my entering upon an entirely new field of operations. I, of course, at the time, had no idea whatever how things were going to turn out, but if all had been arranged beforehand they could not have turned out more in accordance with my desires.

During the service I noticed in the congregation a Confederate officer in citizen’s clothes, whom I knew by sight, and who belonged to my brother’s command. He did not know me, especially as a woman, although he had seen me a number of times attired in the uniform of a Confederate officer. I was most desirous of communicating with him for the purpose of inquiring about my brother, of whom I had received no intelligence whatever for a number of months. So, after the service was over, I watched him as he left the church, and seeing him turn the corner, said to the lieutenant, “Let us take a walk down this street.” Keeping him in sight, I saw him turn down towards the Hardwick House and consequently suggested to the lieutenant that it would perhaps be as well to return to the hotel instead of indulging in a promenade. My escort thought that I was disposed to be whimsical but I did not bother myself very greatly about his opinion of me one way or the other, being now only intent upon devising some means of obtaining an interview with the disguised Confederate.

On reaching the hotel I found that the man I was after had disappeared, and I was considerably perplexed to know what course to pursue. I was afraid to send him my card for fear of compromising him in some way, as I thought it highly probable that he was stopping at the hotel under an assumed name. I was bent on securing an opportunity to converse with him, however, and hoped to be able to meet him and to attract his attention before evening, but failing in this, I was resolved to find out what I could about him from some of the servants and to send him a note requesting a private interview, giving him a sufficient hint as to who I was to induce him to think that he would be in no danger. Fortunately, however, I was not compelled to resort to any such expedient as this, for, on going into dinner at five o’clock with the lieutenant, I saw him at one of the tables, having apparently just sat down.

The lieutenant was conducting me to the seat which we usually occupied, but I said, as if seized with a sudden freak for a change of locality, “Suppose we go over to this table today. I think we will find it pleasanter,” and, before my Federal friend had time to object, I had walked him across the room and seated myself beside the Confederate, indicating for the lieutenant to take the seat on the other side of me. When the waiter came up to get our orders for dinner, I asked him to bring me a couple of cards.

All this time I took not the slightest notice of the Confederate but chatted with the lieutenant in the liveliest and most animated manner possible, my object being to so engage his attention that he would not think of observing what I was doing for the purpose of letting the gentleman on the other side of me know that I was interested in him.

On one of the cards I wrote some nonsense, which I sent by the waiter, after having shown it to the lieutenant, to another officer whom I saw on the opposite side of the room. On the other one I wrote, “Meet me at my room at half past ten o’clock this evening, unobserved. Important.” This I made a pretense of slipping in my pocket, but dropped it on the floor instead, touching the Confederate officer as I did so, and half-turning towards him in such a manner that he could readily understand that I was endeavoring to attract his attention. While this was going on, the lieutenant was watching to see what would be the effect of the jesting remark I had written on the first card on the gentleman across the room to whom I had sent it. He laughed and nodded, and the lieutenant and I did the same — all of us, apparently, being satisfied that there was a capital joke in progress, which indeed there was, but not exactly the kind of one they imagined.

The Confederate officer, when he looked down and saw the card on the floor, quickly dropped his napkin on it, and stooped to pick it up. He found an opportunity to read my message before he left the table but I took no further notice of him whatever, until just as he was about to retire, when I turned slightly and, looking him full in the face, gave him a meaning glance so that he could understand that there was no mistake about the matter.

At the hour named on the card the Confederate officer came to my room, evidently very much perplexed, and uncertain what the end of the adventure would be. I hastened to apologize for the liberty I had taken and to place him at his ease by explaining matters.

I said, “You will pardon me, sir, but this is Lieutenant B. of Arkansas, is it not?”

“Yes, madam, that is my name,” he replied.

“You need be under no apprehension, sir. I know you, although you do not know me. I am the sister of Captain […], and I am exceedingly anxious to learn where he is and how he is, for I have not been able to hear from him for a very long time.”

The announcement that I was the sister of Captain […] was evidently an immense relief to Lieutenant B., whose face brightened up immediately. He stated that he was very much pleased to meet me, but that he was sorry to have to tell me that my brother had been captured by the Federals about four months before, and was now a prisoner at Camp Chase.

This was unpleasant news, and it determined me to give up the idea of returning to Mobile but to go North and visit my brother for the purpose of assisting him in any way possible. From what I had learned during my late stay in Memphis, too, I was very well convinced that, as a secret service agent, I would be able to operate with far more effect at the North than I would if I remained in this region of country, which was an additional inducement for me to travel northward, rather than to essay the hazardous experiment of regaining the Confederate lines without having some definite object in view.

Loreta’s Civil War: An awkward, lubberly manner

Velazquez manipulates a young lieutenant to bring her closer to her goal: a meeting with a Union general.

ks39

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.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 34: Velazquez manipulates a young lieutenant to bring her closer to her goal: a meeting with a Union general.

******

As I stated before, my disguise, as I had arranged it with Lt. Shorter, was that of a poor countrywoman, and the story I was to tell was that I was a widow and was flying for protection to the Federal lines. Having disposed of the pistol, I sat down for a few minutes to think over the situation and to decide upon the best method of procedure with the first Federal soldier I met. Experience had taught me, however, that no settled plan … amounts to much, so far as the details are concerned, and that it is necessary to be governed by circumstances. I resolved, therefore, to regulate my conduct and conversation according to the character and behavior of those I chanced to meet. And so, having first ascertained that my papers were all right, I mounted my pony again and started in the direction where I supposed I would find the Federal camp.

Letting my pony take his own gait — and he was not inclined to make his pace any more rapid than there was necessity for — I traveled for a couple of miles before I saw any one. At length a picket, who had evidently been watching me for some time, stepped out of the woods into the road, and when I came up to him, he halted me and asked where I was from and where I was going.

“Good morning, sir,” I said, in an innocent, unsophisticated sort of way. “Are you commanding this outpost?”

“No,” he replied. “What do you want?”

“Well, sir, I wish you would tell the captain I want to see him. …”

The soldier then called to his officer, and in a few moments up stepped a good-looking young lieutenant, whose blouse was badly out at the elbows, and whose clothing generally bore marks of very hard service. Although his attire was not of the most elegant description, he was a gentleman, and, as he approached me, he tipped his hat, and said, with a pleasant smile, “Good morning, madam. What is it you wish?”

“Well, captain,” said I, “I want to go to Memphis, to see Gen. Washburn. I have some papers here for him.”

This made him start a little, and he began to suspect that he had a matter of serious business on hand, and, evidently with a different interest in me from what he had felt before, he inquired, with a rather severe and serious air, “Where are you from, madam?”

“I am from Holly Springs. A man there gave me these papers and told me that if I would get them through he would pay me a hundred dollars.”

“What kind of looking man was he, and where did he go after he left you?”

“I mustn’t tell you that, sir. The man said not to tell anything about him, except to the one these papers are for, and he would understand all about it.”

“Well, madam, you will have to go with me to headquarters. When we get there I will see what can be done for you.”

His relief came … and off we started for headquarters. As I had informed my new-made friend that I was hungry, having ridden for a considerable distance since very early in the morning, he stopped with me at a white house near the road, … went in with me, and asked the woman … to give me some breakfast. Quite a comfortable meal was soon in readiness, and while I was eating, the lieutenant busied himself in trying to ascertain something about the number and position of the Confederate troops. I told him that there seemed to be a large force of them near Holly Springs, but beyond that statement — which was, I believe, far from being the truth — I am afraid he did not find me a very satisfactory witness. I am sure that such information as I did give him was not likely to be of very great use.

After I had finished my breakfast, the lieutenant took me to Moscow, on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and here, for the first time, I was subjected to very serious annoyance and first began to appreciate the fact that I was engaged in a particularly risky undertaking. The soldiers, seeing me coming into the town mounted on a ragged little pony, and under the escort of an officer, jumped at the conclusion that I was a spy and commenced to gather round me in crowds. …

Finally we reached the building occupied by the colonel in command, and I was ushered by that official into a private room, in the rear of the one used as an office. The lieutenant accompanied me and related the manner of my coming to the picket station, and the story which I had told him.

The colonel then proceeded to cross-question me, being apparently desirous of finding out whether I was possessed of any information worth his knowing, as well as whether I was exactly what I professed to be. I flattered myself that I played my part tolerably well. I knew very little about the movements of the Confederates, or their number, but, under the process of rigid cross-questioning to which I was subjected, I said just enough to stimulate curiosity, pretending that what I was telling was what I had picked up merely incidentally, and that, as I took no interest in the fighting that was going on, except to desire to get as far away from it as possible, I really knew scarcely anything, except from rumor.

As for myself, I stuck close to one simple story. I was a poor widow woman whose husband had died about the time of the breaking out of the war. I was for the Union and had been badly treated by the rebels, who had robbed me of nearly everything, and I had been anxious to get away for some time with a little money I had collected and had finally got tired of waiting for the Federal troops to come down my way and had resolved to try and get through the lines … that a man had promised I should be paid a hundred dollars if I would carry a dispatch to Gen. Washburn …

The colonel tried to make me vary this story and he several times pretended that I had contradicted myself. He was tolerably smart at a cross-examination, but not by any means smart enough for the subject he had to deal with on this occasion. I had the most innocent air in the world about me and pretended half the time that I was so stupid that I could not understand what his interrogatories meant, and, instead of answering them, would go off into a long story about my troubles, and the hardships I had suffered, and the bad treatment I had received. The colonel then tried to induce me to give him the dispatch, saying that he would pay me the hundred dollars and would forward it to Gen. Washburn. This I refused to do, as I had promised not to let anybody but the general have it, if I could help it. Neither would I tell who it was that had entrusted me with the dispatch. …

When we reached the depot, the colonel procured me a ticket and gave me five dollars, and I overheard him say in an undertone to the lieutenant, “You get in the rear car and keep an eye on her movements. I think that she is all right, but it would be just as well to watch her.”

The lieutenant said, “There’s no doubt in my mind but she is all right.”

This little conversation made me smile to myself and served to convince me that I would have no trouble in getting along nicely with my friend the lieutenant.

The colonel moved off, and the lieutenant and I stepped aboard the train. … The lieutenant was overwhelmingly polite, and after having got me fixed comfortably in my seat, he said, in a low tone, “I may go up with you as far as my camp, if I can get anyone to hold my horse.”

I thought that this would be a good chance to improve my acquaintance with him and perhaps do something for the furtherance of my plans, so I said, “I would be so glad if you would. I would so much like to have company.” And I smiled on him as sweetly as I was able to impress him with the idea that I profoundly appreciated his courtesy. The young fellow was evidently more than half convinced that he had made a conquest, while I was quite sure that I had. If he had known what my real feelings were and with what entire willingness I would have made a prisoner of him, could I have got him into the Confederate lines, perhaps he would not have been quite so eager for my society. …

As matters turned out, the lieutenant not only did accompany me, but he let out many things that he ought to have kept quiet about, knowing, as he did, the manner in which I had come into the lines and having no assurance whatever beyond my bare word that I was not a spy. To be sure, the information I obtained from him with regard to the main object of my errand was not very momentous, for I was afraid to say too much on points relating to my errand. But I … learned enough to enable me to know exactly how to go to work to find out a great deal more. Besides this, he was really of much assistance to me in other ways and saved me considerable trouble at headquarters — for all of which I hope I was duly thankful.

It may be thought that an officer of the experience of this one — he had been through the war from the beginning — would have understood his business sufficiently by this time to have known how to hold his tongue concerning matters that it was desirable the enemy should not become informed of, when in the society of a person whom he well knew might be a spy. If all the officers and men in an army, however, were endowed with … plain common sense, the business of the secret service agents would be a very much more difficult and hazardous one than it really is. The young fellow was only a lieutenant, with no great responsibilities, while some of my most brilliant successes in the way of obtaining information have been with generals, and even with their superiors, as the reader will discover, if [the reader] feels sufficient interest in my story to follow it to the end.

The fact is that human nature is greatly given to confidence, so much so that the most unconfiding and suspicious people are usually the easiest to extract any desired information from, provided you go the right way about it. This may seem to be a paradox but it is not. It is merely a statement of a peculiar trait of human nature. Women have the reputation of being bad secret-keepers. Well, that depends on circumstances. I have always succeeded in keeping mine when I have had any worth keeping, and I have always found it more difficult to beguile women than men into telling me what I have wanted to know when they had the slightest reason to suspect that I was not a suitable recipient of their confidence. The truth seems to be that while women find it often troublesome, and well nigh impossible, to keep little and inconsequential secrets, they are first-rate hands at keeping great ones.

For certain kinds of secret service work women are, out of all comparison, superior to men. This, I believe, is acknowledged by all detectives and others who have been compelled to employ secret agents. One reason for this is that women, when they undertake a secret service job, are really quicker-witted and more wide awake than men. They more easily deceive other people and are less easily imposed upon. Of course there is a great deal of secret service work for which women are not well-fitted, and much that it is scarcely possible for them to perform at all, but, as a rule, for an enterprise that requires real finesse, a woman will be likely to accomplish far more than a man.

I was just thinking that my lieutenant had deserted me or that he was in another car for the purpose of keeping an eye on me unobserved when he appeared beside me, having jumped on the rear end of the car as it was starting.

He said, “You have no objections to my occupying the same seat with you, have you, madam?”

“Oh, no, sir!” I replied. “I shall be exceedingly glad to have the pleasure of your society, so far as you are going.”

“Well, I only intend going up to my camp now, but I have half a mind to run on as far as Memphis — that is, if my company will not be disagreeable to you.”

“I will be very greatly pleased if you will go through with me. It has been a long time since I have met any agreeable gentlemen, and I particularly admire officers.”

As I said this I gave him a killing glance and then dropped my eyes as if half-ashamed of having made such a bold advance to him. The bait took, however, as I expected it would, and the lieutenant, giving his mustache a twist, and running his hand through his hair, settled himself down in the seat with a most self-satisfied air, evidently supposing that the conquest of my heart was more than half completed, and began to make himself as agreeable as he knew how. Finesse was certainly not this youth’s most marked characteristic, and he went about making himself agreeable and endeavoring to discover who I was, where I came from, and all about me in such an awkward, lubberly manner that it was mere play for me to impose upon him. …

At length the whistle blew, and the train stopped at his camp. He jumped up and rushed out without even saying good-bye, and while I was wondering where he had left his politeness, I saw him running as fast as he could go and presently dodge into a tent. In a moment or two more out he came in his shirt sleeves and ran for the train, with his coat in his hand, and jumped on board just as we were starting. I turned around and watched him as he got into the car behind me and saw him put on a rather better-looking uniform coat than the out-at-the-elbows blouse he had been wearing, and a paper collar and black necktie. These last I considered as particularly delicate attentions to myself.

When he had completed his toilet, he came forward, and, seating himself beside me, said, “I will allow myself the pleasure of going through to Memphis with you.”

I assured him that I was pleased beyond measure and came to the conclusion that it would be my fault if long before we reached Memphis I did not stand so well in his good graces that I would be able to make a most useful ally of him in carrying out my plans for the benefit of the Confederacy. …

[Our] conversation amused me and gave me a good number of points worth knowing in the particular business in which I was engaged until at length the train reached Memphis, and my escort assisting me to alight, requested me to wait on the platform for him while he engaged a carriage.

In a few moments he returned with a close-bodied carriage, and when I was seated in it [the] driver was accordingly directed to take us to headquarters, and before many more minutes I was ushered into the presence of the provost marshal, to whom I stated my errand. The fact of the lieutenant being with me undoubtedly prevented a great many questions being asked, some of which it might not have been agreeable, or even possible, for me to answer, and I accordingly was more than ever impressed with the value of having him for an acquaintance, especially as he put in a word now and then which had the effect of establishing me on a satisfactory footing with the provost marshal. That official, when he had heard my story, said, “Madam, I am sorry, but the general is very much indisposed, and cannot see you. I will be glad to receive anything you may have for him, and to give him any message from you. …”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Huntsman’s moment / Childish norms / The Literary King / Digital archives / Self-deception

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. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Huntsman: ‘Sane Republican’ ready for his moment
By Steve People and Holly Ramer | Associated Press | Jan. 7
“After sitting out the Iowa caucuses and investing all his hopes in this state, [Jon] Huntsman has struggled to find a voice that resonates with voters. The former Utah governor is proud to announce that he’s no longer ‘the margin-of-error candidate’ — in New Hampshire, at least. But he’ll need to do far better than that for his campaign to continue after Tuesday’s primary.”

2. Beyond Pink vs. Blue
By Dana Goldstein | The Nation | December 2011
“Parents of young children often marvel that, despite their own egalitarian intentions, their kids are the ones who police traditional gender norms.”

3. You Can’t Always Get What You Want: On Stephen King
By Charles Taylor | The Nation | December 2011
“Thirty-seven years after the publication of his first novel, Carrie, King still seems not just underrated but uncomprehended.”

4. The gift of tongues
The Economist | December 2011
“What makes some people learn language after language?”

5. Fire in the Library
By Matt Schwartz and Eva Talmadge | Technology Review | January/February 2012
“Once, we stored our photos and other mementos in shoeboxes in the attic; now we keep them online. That puts our stuff at the mercy of companies that could decide to throw it away—unless Jason Scott and the Archive Team can get there first.”

6. The secret life of J Edgar Hoover
By Anthony Summers | The Observer | December 2011
“For half a century, the FBI director waged war on homosexuals, black people and communists. Now, a controversial film by Clint Eastwood [opening in England] is set to reveal some of the explosive truth about him. Here, his biographer Anthony Summers tells all.”

7. How to Mobilise a Million
Activate :: Al Jazeera | November 2011
“Thousands of young Sudanese are demanding an end to the violent rule of Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan.”

8. What Are the Limits to Human Self-Deception?
By Stanton Peele | Psychology Today | November 2011
“People have no limits to their ability to reconstruct reality self-servingly”

9. Control Yourself!
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | March 2011
“Is there evidence that Kegel exercises really strengthen bladder control?”

10. The Delicious Mr. Ed
By Brian Palmer | Explainer :: Slate | October 2011
“Why don’t Americans eat horse meat?”

**************

TUNES

My soundtrack for today included:
1. PLAYER’S ANTHEM Junior M.A.F.I.A., Lil’ Cease, Lil’ Kim & Notorious B.I.G.
2. REBIRTH OF SLICK Digable Planets
3. THIS D.J. Warren G
4. STILL DRE Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre
5. HANDS UP Lloyd Banks
6. SPELL CHECK Lil’ Kim
7. SHADOWBOXIN’ GZA
8. PASSIN’ ME BY Pharcyde
9. TIPSY J-Kwon
10. ROCK THE PARTY Benzino

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Stephen Hawking / The real Downton Abbey / The real unemployment rate / Facebooking for organs / Growing nails

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. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Stephen Hawking to turn 70, defying disease
By Maria Cheng | Associated Press | Jan. 5
“British scientist Stephen Hawking has decoded some of the most puzzling mysteries of the universe but he has left one mystery unsolved: How he has managed to survive so long with such a crippling disease.”

2. Make it federal
The Economist | December 2011
“If their country is to function, Iraqis need to share power”

3. Turkey’s Museum of Shame
By Jenna Krajeski | Foreign Policy | December 2011
“Diyarbakir Prison is a notorious site of torture and repression. Now, activists want to transform it into a symbol of Turkey’s long war against the Kurds.”

4. The Real Downton Abbey: Juiciest Bits From ‘The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle’
By Tom Sykes | The Daily Beast | Jan. 1
“Séances, Rothschild love children, the Curse of Tutankhamen. Tom Sykes on the shocking real-life history of Highclere Castle, the setting for the smash-hit British TV drama.”

5. Who Are the 6 Million?
By Derek Thompson | The Atlantic | December 2011
“If they counted toward unemployment, the official rate would be 11 percent rather than 8.6 percent. As the economy picks up, and these people re-join the job hunt, the unemployment rate will go up before it goes down.”

6. For some in need, Facebook is route to new kidney
By Donna Gordon Blankinship | Associated Press | Jan. 1
“Between the kid photos and reminiscences about high school, more and more pleas for help from people with failing kidneys are popping up. Facebook and other social media sites are quickly becoming a go-to place to find a generous person with a kidney to spare, according to the people asking for help and some national organizations that facilitate matches.”

7. Pakistan: The New Radicals
Activate :: Al Jazeera | October 2011
“Activist Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi has dedicated his life to challenging the complex religious, economic and social divisions which threaten to strangulate Pakistan.”

8. The Toolbox of Self-Deception, Part I
By Sam Sommers | Psychology Today | September 2009
“To thine own self be true. But only some of the time.”

9. Watching Nails Grow
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | May 2011
“Why do fingernails grow faster than toenails? And why do the growth rates vary as I age?”

10. Justin Bieber’s One Time
By Forrest Wickman | Explainer :: Slate | November 2011
“Are virgins any more or less fertile than other people?”

**************

TUNES

My soundtrack for today included:

1. ANGEL Massive Attack
2. LOVING’ TOUCHIN’ SQUEEZIN’ Journey
3. I WANT YOUR HANDS ON ME Sinead O’Connor
4. CREAM Prince
5. SENSUAL WOMAN The Herbaliser
6. MORNING HAS BROKEN Cat Stevens
7. IF YOU WERE THE WOMAN AND I WAS THE MAN Cowboy Junkies
8. HOLD ON Sarah McLachlan
9. YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL Joe Cocker
10. READY FOR LOVE India.Arie