Loreta’s Civil War: His death perfectly infuriated me

Velazquez participates in the Battle of Shiloh, savoring the Confederates’ victory on the first day. But she fears an opportunity for total victory is slipping away.

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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 19: Velazquez participates in the Battle of Shiloh, savoring the Confederates’ victory on the first day. But she fears an opportunity for total victory is slipping away.

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At length, all the officers in Memphis were ordered to proceed to without delay, and then everyone knew that a big battle was expected to come off shortly. As a consequence, the greatest excitement prevailed, and many of the officers found it hard work parting from their friends. In order to avoid a scene with Miss M., I wrote her a note, bidding her farewell, which was not to be delivered until after I left the city; and, jumping aboard the train, was soon on my way to Corinth.

On arriving at Corinth, I found great preparations being made and everything nearly ready for a forward movement. I met a considerable number of old friends, some of them old Virginia comrades, whom I had not seen for a very long time. We exchanged very cordial greetings, but otherwise we had not much time to give to each other, they having important duties to perform, while I was eagerly endeavoring to obtain some official position that would enable me to participate in the coming fight in a manner advantageous to myself. All the commanding officers, however, were too busy just then to attend to me, and so I resolved to follow the army to the field in my independent capacity, and take my chances there. The order to advance being given, the army moved out of Corinth in the direction of Pittsburg Landing, animated by the expectation of being able to fall upon the enemy and deliver a crushing blow at a moment when it was least expected.

After the capture of that position, the Federals had swept in triumph through Tennessee, the Confederates having been compelled to abandon their lines in that state and in Kentucky, and to seek a new base of operations farther south. The Federals were now concentrating a great force at Pittsburg Landing, on the Tennessee River, their immediate object of attack evidently being Corinth, and Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, who was in command of the entire Confederate army, resolved upon striking a vigorous blow at once, with a view of turning the tide of victory in our favor before the enemy were assembled. …

The reports which we received from our scouts, and from the country people, indicated either that the Federals were unaware of the strength of the Confederates in their immediate neighborhood, or else that, flushed with victory, they were over-confident, and were taking comparatively few precautions against a surprise. These things were the common talk of the Confederates for days before the battle took place; and while not a little astonishment was expressed at the temerity of the enemy, considerable jubilation was felt at the idea of our being able to gain a comparatively easy victory, which would put an end to the invasion, or at least so stagger the Federals that subsequent operations against them would be unattended [without] any great difficulties. …

Obtaining a pass from the provost marshal, I put my tent in an army wagon, and then Bob and I mounted our horses and started for the field, on Saturday, April 5, 1862. The roads were in a horrible condition from the heavy spring rains, and we made rather slow progress … and I was very tired when, at nightfall, I reached a village of half a dozen scattered houses called Monterey, about half way between Corinth and Shiloh Church, a little Methodist meeting-house, just outside the Federal picket lines. It was necessary for me to halt here until morning, so, obtaining sufficient forage for my horse from a Mississippi regiment, I prepared to camp for the night, and hoped to get a sound sleep, to fit me for the hot work of the next day.

My animals having been fed, I took off the saddles, and raking up a quantity of leaves, arranged my bed by spreading a saddle blanket to lie upon, and placing a saddle for a pillow. Then throwing myself on this extemporized couch, I wrapped myself in an army blanket, and was soon lost in slumber as profound as would have visited me had my accommodations been of the most luxurious description.

I was not destined, however, to have a quiet, uninterrupted slumber, such as I needed, for ere long I was awakened by the rain, which began to fall in torrents, and which compelled me to seek some more sheltered spot in which to finish the night. My first care was for my horse, and covering him well with the blanket, I went as fast as I could to one of the deserted houses of the village and stopped there until the rain was over.

It was quite three o’clock before the shower ceased, and it was high time for me to be moving if I expected to take part in the opening of the battle, as I was exceedingly anxious to do. I therefore ordered the horses to be saddled, and was in a few moments ready to start. A soldier very generously offered me a cup of army coffee, which … was swallowed with great relish, and with many benedictions on the giver, whose courtesy I rewarded by a good-sized drink of brandy from a flask I carried for the benefit of my friends. His eyes fairly sparkled with delight as he gulped it down, and he smacked his lips as if he had not had such a treat for many a day. Then mounting my horse, I set off at a smart pace for Gen. Hardee’s headquarters.

I found the general stationed near Shiloh Church, and rode up and saluted him just as he was mounting his horse. Showing him my pass, I said that I wanted to have a hand in this affair. Hardee looked at the pass, “and replied, “All right; fall in, and well see what can be done for you.”

The fighting had already commenced between the skirmish lines of the two armies while I was conversing with the general, and the troops were hurrying forward to attack the Federals before they could gain time to prepare them- selves for an effective resistance.

In obedience to Hardee’s command, I fell in with his men, and we advanced briskly upon the enemy’s camp. It was a complete surprise in every respect. Many of the enemy were only half-dressed and were obliged to snatch up the first weapons that came to hand as the Confederates rushed out of the woods upon them. The contest was brief and decisive, and in a few moments such of the enemy, as [they] escaped the deadly volleys which we poured into them, were scampering away as fast as their legs could carry them. We took possession of their camp … almost without resistance, and I thought that this was an excellent … beginning of the day’s work, especially as I had the pleasure of eating a capital hot breakfast, which had been prepared for some Federal officer. …

1 had scarcely finished eating when I came across Gen. Hardee again. He was in a high good humor at the course events had taken thus far, and said to me in a jocular sort of way, “Well, lieutenant, what can I do for you?” I replied that I was anxious to do my share of the fighting, and wanted to be stationed where there was plenty of work to be done. The general laughed a little at my enthusiasm, but just then his attention was called away for a moment, and I, glancing down the line, spied the Arkansas boys whom I had enlisted at Hurlburt Station nearly a year before. I was immediately seized with a desire to go into the fight with them, so I said, “Ah, there is my old company, general; with your permission, I will see the captain. Perhaps he can give me a chance.”

Hardee nodded an assent, and, giving him a salute, I started off at full speed to the rear, where I got my commission out of my pocket, and then darted along the line, closely followed by Bob, my idea being to avoid being stopped by giving the impression that I was bearing an order from the general. Dismounting from my horse, I forced my way through the ranks until I reached Captain De Caulp, who shook me heartily by the hand and was evidently delighted to see me, as we had not met since I parted from him in Pensacola the previous June, when starting for Richmond. …

Notwithstanding the number of strange faces that met my eyes as I glanced along the ranks, I saw enough old acquaintances to make myself very much at home, and I was delighted beyond measure in an opportunity to take part in a great battle … and to show that, even if I was a little dandy, I was as good a soldier as the best of them when any hard fighting was to be done. In- deed, all the circumstances were such as to inspire me to distinguish myself by some unusually gallant action, and I resolved that, if it were possible to do so, the occasion should be made a memorable one for us all.

[T]he reader will please know that Captain De Caulp and I were under an engagement of marriage, having been in correspondence with each other since my departure from Pensacola. I had his letters in my breast pocket, and his photograph in the lining of my coat, while, I doubt not [that] I was the especial object of his thoughts when … we dashed at the enemy. He little suspected, however, that the woman to whom his heart and hand were pledged was by his side as he led his men into that bloody fray, for, as I have before explained, he had an acquaintance with me both as a woman and as a man, but did not know that the two were the same. …

It may be thought that, even if I felt no fear for myself, as a woman I should have had some tremors when beholding my lover advancing into the thick of a desperate fight, at the head of his men. The idea of fear, either on his or on my own account, however, never occurred to me at the time. … As for him, I desired for his sake … that the occasion should be a glorious one, and I had a strange delight in following him into the thickest of the melee, and in watching with what undaunted spirit he bore himself throughout the long and sternly-fought battle. …

Our assaults upon the enemy were made with irresistible fury, and we rushed through their lines, literally mowing them down like grain before the mowing machine. … The bullets whistled through the air thick and fast, cutting the trees, and making the branches snap and fly, splintering the fence rails, striking the wagons, or sending some poor soldier suddenly to the earth. A corporal who was by my side was shot through the heart by a Minie ball. He fell heavily against me, and all my clothing was reddened by his blood. His only words were, “Damn the Yankees! They have killed me.” He was a very handsome young man, only about twenty-two years of age, and his death perfectly infuriated me, as it did his other comrades. …

Shortly before three o’clock in the afternoon, our commander-in-chief, Gen. Johnston, was numbered among the slain. His death, however, was carefully concealed from the army, and was known to but few until the battle was over. He was a great soldier, and his loss was an irreparable one, for had he lived to superintend the conduct of the battle to the end, it is scarcely possible that he would have failed to push his advantages to the utmost, or that he would have committed the mistakes which turned a brilliant and decisive victory into an overwhelming and most maddening defeat.

When the sun set that day the Confederates were successful at every point, and although they had suffered terribly, they had forced the enemy’s lines back almost to the Landing so that there was nothing now left them to do but to make a final successful stand, or else be crowded over the bluffs into the river, just as I had seen them crowded, six months before, at Ball’s Bluff. … There was absolutely no escape for the Federals, and their only hope was to hold their last rallying ground, and to gain time until the arrival of reinforcements. … Why the Confederate advantages were not pushed that night, before [Union] Gen. [Don Carlos] Buell could arrive with his fresh troops, and that Federal army either captured or annihilated … was a mystery to me then, and is now.

Loreta’s Civil War: Strike terror to my soul

Velazquez finds herself at Fort Donelson as U.S. Grant’s Union forces attack and conquer the Confederate fort on the Cumberland River.

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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 16: Velazquez finds herself at Fort Donelson as U.S. Grant’s Union forces attack and conquer the Confederate fort on the Cumberland River.

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It was really, however, my intention to go back to Virginia, so soon as I could get relieved from the duty I was engaged in, and had that object in my mind when I sent in my resignation, although circumstances occurred that induced me to change my plans. My resignation was accepted without much hesitation at headquarters, and once more, after three weeks service as a military conductor, I was free to follow my own inclinations. …

It was because I thought that there would be a chance for me, ere a great while, in Kentucky, to demonstrate my value either as a soldier or as a spy — for some heavy fighting was undoubtedly about to begin. … I decided to try what could be done at the other end of the Confederate line of operations — at Bowling Green. …

On arrival at Gen. Hardee’s headquarters, I went to him, and showing him my commission, stated that I wanted to go into active service as a scout. He said that he thought there would soon be a chance for me; which was so nearly like the answers I had received from a number of other commanders, that I did not feel especially encouraged by it. …

I was bent, however, notwithstanding the disappointment under which I labored, on showing my devotion to the cause of Southern independence; and, in accordance with my general plan of not letting slip an opportunity of being on hand when there was any real, serious work to be done, I took part in the fight at Woodsonville, on Green River. … The affair at Woodsonville was something of a diversion from the monotony of camp life, but it did not satisfy my ambition or my intense desire for active service; and coming to the conclusion that lounging about Bowling Green and vicinity was much too slim a business for me, I decided to shift my quarters to where there was a somewhat better prospect of hard fighting to be done. It was by this time evident that the Federals intended making a determined attempt to capture Forts Henry and Donelson, on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, and as I felt confident that our people would make a brave and desperate resistance, I resolved to go and take a hand in the approaching battle. …

When I reached Fort Donelson, Gen. Pillow was in command, and preparations for meeting the enemy were being pushed forward with all possible energy. Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, about fifteen miles from Fort Donelson, had been captured by the Federals, and Donelson, everyone knew, would be the next object of attack, both by land and water. The fortifications were very strong, although, being built for the purpose of commanding the river, they were weaker on the land than on the water side, and the great duty of the hour was the construction of earthworks for the protection of the exposed side. The labor required for the execution of this task was immense, but everyone went at it with a good will, and with a feeling of confidence in our ability to give the Federals the repulse that the garrison of Fort Henry had failed to do, although we were certain that they were about to assail us with a very large force, and that they considered the capture of the position a matter of such vital importance that they would spare no effort to accomplish it. …

My boy Bob and I, therefore, went into the trenches, and commenced to shovel dirt with all possible energy and good will. In the execution of such a task as this, Bob soon proved himself to be a much better man than I was, and he easily threw two shovelfuls to my one, and was apparently in a condition to keep on indefinitely, when I, finding that I had miscalculated my strength, was compelled to desist. There are some things which men can do better than women, and digging entrenchments in the frozen ground is one of them. … I repaired, with aching back and blistered hands, to the headquarters of Gen. Floyd, who had just arrived with his Virginians, where I lounged about, waiting for events so to shape themselves that I would be able to show my fighting qualities to advantage, for nature had evidently intended me for a warrior rather than for a dirt-digger.

The Federals made their appearance on the afternoon of Wednesday the 12th, and they could be seen at various points through the woods making preparations for commencing their attack by stationing themselves in advantageous positions for the environment of the fort on its land side, while the gunboats were to give us the benefit of their heavy ordnance from the river. … The battle opened on Thursday, February 13, 1862, and, as if to increase the discomforts and sufferings of the combatants, the weather, which had been quite moderate and pleasant, suddenly became intensely cold. On Thursday night, about eight o’clock, a tremendous storm of snow and sleet came on, to the full fury of which I was exposed. …

If repentance for my rashness in resolving to play a soldier’s part in the war was ever to overcome me, however, now was the time; and I confess that, as the sleet stung my face, and the biting winds cut me to the bones, I wished myself well out of it, and longed for the siege to be over in some shape, even if relief came only through defeat. The idea of defeat, however, was too intolerable to be thought of, and I banished it from my mind whenever it occurred to me, and argued with myself that I was no better than the thousands of brave men around, who were suffering from these wintry blasts as much as I.

The agonized cries of the wounded, and their piteous calls for water, really affected me more than my own discomfort. … Every now and then a shriek would be uttered that would strike terror to my soul, and make my blood run cold, as the fiercest fighting I had ever seen had not been able to do. I could face the cannon better than I could this bitter weather, and I could suffer myself better than I could bear to hear the cries and groans of these wounded men, lying out on the frozen ground, exposed to the beatings of this pitiless storm. …

In such a situation as the one I am describing, the most singular ideas run through one’s mind. The minutes are lengthened out into hours, and the hours into days, until the reckoning of time is lost; and as the past seems to fade away into a remoteness that makes the painlessness of yesterday appear like the fragment of a happy dream, so the future, when it will all be over, and the commonplace routine of uneventful everyday life will commence again, is as far off as a child’s imagination pictures heaven to be. We actually catch ourselves wondering whether it has always been so, and whether it will always be so until we die, and when we die, whether eternity will have anything better to offer. …

The battle lasted four days and nights, and, although the Confederates fought with desperate valor, they were at length compelled to yield, and the humiliation of defeat was added to the unspeakable sufferings which the conduct of a fierce and prolonged contest like this, in the middle of a winter of unparalleled severity, entailed upon them. Fortune, which had favored the side of the Confederacy in the battles in which I had heretofore been engaged, was against us now, however, and in spite of the fierce resistance which the garrison made to the Federal attacks, the result was, that nothing was left for us to do but surrender.