Loreta’s Civil War: That queer gait of his

Velazquez returns to the U.S., where she decides to restart her life in the West, far from the post-war ruins of the former Confederacy.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 64: Velazquez returns to the U.S., where she decides to restart her life in the West, far from the post-war ruins of the former Confederacy.

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Shortly after Gen. Mansana’s death I took the steamer for the United States and was soon in New York, making but one brief stoppage at Matanzas on the way.

On my return to the United States, I found the financial and political situations, especially at the South, more deplorable than ever. The era of true Reconstruction seemed to be even farther off than it did when Lee surrendered, and the freedmen and carpetbaggers were having things completely their own way throughout the length and breadth of the late Confederacy. The people were oppressed and harried without mercy and without hope of redress by the black and white adventurers whom the fortunes of war had given the control of their affairs, and it was very apparent that there could be no revival of business worth speaking of while such a state of affairs existed. I greatly desired to settle in the South, but my own fortunes were at a low ebb, and I saw very plainly that if I expected to improve them it would be necessary to go elsewhere.

After giving the matter mature consideration and making inquiries in a number of quarters, I determined to try my luck in the mining regions of the Pacific slope, as they seemed to hold out inducements that no other part of the country did. Apart, however, from all questions of pecuniary profit, I was animated by a strong desire to explore for myself a territory concerning which I had heard so much.

Having once resolved to cross the continent in search of a home, I did not stop to make many or very elaborate preparations, being too old a traveler to encumber myself with an excess of baggage. Purchasing a ticket for Omaha, I was soon on my way to that place by the Niagara, Fort Wayne, and Chicago route.

At Omaha, I found snow on the ground and the weather quite cold, too cold for one who had just come from a tropical climate to venture on a stage journey of many hundred miles, through the wilderness with no thicker or warmer clothing than that which I had with me. I was now in somewhat of a predicament and began to regret that I had trusted quite so much to my traveler’s luck and had not furnished myself with a more comfortable outfit.

I went to a dry goods store to purchase some woolen underclothing but was unable to procure any. Fortunately, at the International Hotel, where I was stopping, there was a lady who intended to remain at Omaha for some time and when she learned of my difficulties, offered to sell me hers. This offer I accepted without hesitation, and thus, by the merest chance, found myself equipped in proper style for my long and tedious journey and its necessary exposures to the weather.

At the International I had the good fortune to meet an old friend whom I had not seen for a number of years and with whom it was a pleasure of the most genuine kind to renew my acquaintance. This was the veteran soldier Gen. W.S. Harney. He was, apparently, as glad to see me as I was to see him and insisted on escorting me in to dinner, rather, I think, to the astonishment of some of the guests.

The general had a special table for himself and friends, and as we took our seats the eyes of everybody in the room were fixed on us. The dinner was a good one in its way, the bill of fare being largely made up of buffalo and antelope meat and various kinds of game, and, as I was desperately hungry, I enjoyed it greatly. While we were dining the general chatted very freely and narrated many curious incidents of his career in the army and expressed his views on the late war with the utmost freedom. He said that he was a true Southerner in his sympathies and that his extreme age alone had prevented him from offering his services to the Confederacy. He, however, had helped the Cause as much as he could with his means and influence, and his only regret was that he had not been able to take an active part in the great conflict.

Gen. Harney, it appears, had heard some mention of my adventures and was very anxious to ask me about them. He did not, however, think that the dinner-table of the International Hotel of Omaha was exactly the suitable place to bring up a subject about which I might have some hesitation in speaking, and so deferred asking me any questions until a better opportunity offered.

When we returned to the drawing-room I met some St. Louis people whom I knew, and, engaging in conversation with them, the general politely asked to be excused and said that he would like very much to have a conversation with me in his private parlor after four o’clock.

When he was gone, Gov. C, a tall, lank, shambling backwoodsman, stalked up to me, and, in an awkward sort of a way, introduced himself. He desired to make the acquaintance of Gen. Harney and wished to know if I would not do the “polite thing” for him, that is, give him an introduction to the general. It struck me that, considering his official position, he might as well have introduced himself but, as he apparently did not know how to do this gracefully, I told him that if the general was willing, he and the governor should become acquainted after four o’clock, if he would meet me in the drawing room.

At the appointed hour I descended from my room, where I had been arranging my toilet, and found this model specimen of a statesman pacing uneasily backwards and forwards in the hall, waiting for me. For a wonder, his hat was in his hand instead of on his head, which I took to be an indication that his mother had taught him one or two points of etiquette in his youth, which he had managed to retain in his memory.

When he saw me, he came shambling up with that queer gait of his, and said, with a grin, “I am on hand, you see. We Western men are generally prompt when we have engagements with the fair sex.”

“Yes, I see you are punctual. It is a good habit. I once knew a man who made a large fortune by punctuality.”

“Haw, haw, haw!” roared the governor, stretching, his mouth nearly from ear to ear. “That’s pretty good. All of us people out here are trying to make fortunes and to make ‘em quick, so I guess we’d better make a point of being punctual. Haw, haw, haw!”

I then led him to the general’s private parlor without more ado and gave the desired introduction.

This ceremony performed, the governor evidently did not know what to say or do, but after a moment’s hesitation he extended his hand, and seizing that of the general, shook it as if he were working a pump-handle. The general, who understood what kind of a customer he had to deal with, stood up and saluted his new friend with a characteristic gesture and passed a few formal words with him. After a very brief conversation, the governor, impressed by the general’s peculiar manner and appreciating the force of the maxim that “two are company and three a crowd,” said that he would give himself the pleasure of calling again and bowed himself out.

When we were alone, in compliance with the general’s request I gave him an account of my adventures while acting as an officer in the Confederate army and as a secret-service agent. He appeared to be intensely interested and frequently interrupted me to ask questions or to express commendation. We conversed for two hours, when the announcement was made that supper was ready.

After supper we returned to the private parlor again, and I explained my plans for the future and asked his advice. This he gave in the kindest manner, and, as his experience of affairs in the West and his knowledge of the western country and people was most extensive, it was extremely valuable to me.

He said that I was a young woman yet, and that I would, undoubtedly, have offers of marriage but, for my own sake, he hoped that if I did marry again, I would choose the right kind of a man and not permit myself to fall into the hands of some adventurer. He thought that I was taking a great risk in going out to the mining region and believed that it would be much better for me to settle in my native island or else somewhere in the South. After all that I had done for the South, he said that I ought to be able to live there like a princess.

I told him, however, that the idea of receiving any assistance from the Southern people, situated as they were, was most abhorrent to me, and that, as I was young and in good health, I preferred to seek my own fortune and in my own way.

“Have you any arms?” he inquired.

“Yes, two strong ones,” I replied, holding them out.

The general laughed and said, “Yes, those will be of service to you if you are going to seek your fortune, but out among the mines you will need arms of another kind.”

He then gave me a revolver, saying that I might have need for it, and also a buffalo robe and a pair of blankets, which he was certain I would find useful.

That night I slept but little, thinking of the general’s advice and of the unknown future before me. Towards morning I fell into something like a doze, but before I was fairly asleep I was called and told that it was time to get ready for the stage.

I found Gen. Harney up and waiting for me. We took breakfast together, and as I got up to go to the stage, he said, “Remember the advice of your best friend. I only wish that I was thirty-five years younger — you should not make this journey alone.”

This was so flattering that I could not help permitting my wishes to run in the same channel.

After I was seated in the back of the coach, snugly wrapped up in my blankets and buffalo robe, a basket of eatables was handed in to me, and just as we were about to start the general leaned in, and, kissing me on the forehead, said, “Farewell, my child. If we should never meet again, God will take care of you,” and then turning to the driver, he told him to take good care of me, as I was a particular friend of his.

The driver said, “All right, sir. I will look after her,” and, cracking his whip, off we went, with nearly half the continent yet before me to be traveled before my journey should be ended.

Loreta’s Civil War: More bombast than true enterprise

Velazquez decides it is time for a fundamental change in her life. She marries again, and she joins an expedition of Southerners ready to start over in the Venezuelan wilderness.

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 58: Velazquez decides it is time for a fundamental change in her life. She marries again, and she joins an expedition of Southerners ready to start over in the Venezuelan wilderness.

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Taking advantage of the condition of mind and pocket which a great many people were in, a number of emigration schemes were started, most of them, I am confident, by swindlers. Many persons were so anxious to get away that they did not exercise even common prudence in investigating the facilities that were offered them, and the result was that they did much worse than if they had remained. The sufferings endured by some of these emigrants cannot be estimated, and the story of their attempts to find homes for themselves and their children in some land where they could live in peace and quietness and enjoy the fruits of their labor without fear of being plundered is one of the saddest and dreariest pages in the history of the country.

I was much interested in these emigration schemes when I first heard of them and was extremely anxious to investigate them, for my own sake as well as for that of my suffering fellow-country people of the South. Venezuela was one of the countries which it was proposed to colonize, and representations were made to the effect that the Venezuelan government would extend a cordial welcome to emigrants and would aid them in establishing themselves.

I consulted with a number of wise and prudent men with regard to this Venezuelan project but did not get much encouragement from them. They said that they would prefer to see the country for themselves and to find out exactly what the government was willing to do before they would care to invest any money. They thought that the country was rich and fertile but that many of the reports about it were palpably exaggerations, having been gotten up in the interests of speculators. It would consequently not be a prudent thing for anyone to emigrate there unless some trustworthy person should undertake to go and see what was to be seen, for the purpose of making a strictly truthful report. …

It having been announced that I intended to go to Venezuela, I was called upon at the City Hotel, where I had my quarters, by Capt. Fred. A. Johnston, who was fitting out an expedition. He gave me a most glowing account of the country, describing it as a perfect paradise, although I speedily judged, from his conversation, that he knew nothing about it except from hearsay.

I had no difficulty in reading Capt. Johnston’s character, and what I saw of him subsequently only confirmed my first impressions. He was a nervous, excitable man, with more bombast than true enterprise. He was anxious to make money, and to make it very quick, and was consequently not particularly scrupulous about the means. He had a tolerably good education but was not smart enough to put it to good use, and he was always engaged in some wild speculation or other, but never could accomplish anything. He was a plausible man, however, and a good talker, and, considering how many people felt at the time, it was no wonder a number were deceived by him.

After a long conversation with Johnston, I made up my mind to go with him, and in the meantime secretly advised my friends not to put any money in his or any other expedition until they heard from me. I was visited by a number of persons, who, on being informed that I proposed to go with Johnston’s expedition, said, in effect, “We will depend upon the report you make as to the climate and the country, for we have families to support and we do not want to run the risk of going to a foreign land, about which we know absolutely nothing.” I promised to make a faithful report. …

I commenced making my preparations, and Johnston, who was apparently beginning to consider me a valuable ally, came and invited me to go over to Algiers, across the river from New Orleans, with him for the purpose of meeting the others who were going. I found a number of proposed emigrants at Algiers who were waiting for the vessel which was to convey them to their new homes. They all seemed to be in a cheerful mood and well satisfied at the prospect of speedily getting away from a land where there was so much suffering. A meeting was called for the purpose of consultation with regard to chartering a vessel and arranging for supplies, and Johnston greatly desired me to deliver an address. This I declined to do but I took occasion to say, that while it might be well enough for single men to engage in an enterprise of this kind, it was, in my opinion, rather too risky a thing for those who had families dependent upon them.

After my return to the city I reviewed the situation in my mind more clearly than I had hitherto done. I was becoming less and less satisfied with the way things looked and could not help asking myself. Why should I make any attempt to leave the country I had fought for and give it up to the carpetbaggers and negroes? Why should I interest myself in such an enterprise as this one of Johnston’s merely for the purpose of gaining information for people whose duty it was to look out for themselves? I called, in my perplexity, on an old gentleman who had been a good deal in California and asked his opinion of the Pacific slope and of the advisability of those who wished to emigrate from the South going there.

He said that there was not a country in the world equal to California, and it would be vastly better for those who wanted to find new homes to find them there or in some other portion of the far west rather than to go to South America. As for Johnston, he said that he would not take his own family to Venezuela until he had looked at the country himself, and it was doubtful whether he would then.

The poor people whom Johnston had enlisted in his scheme, however, had their hearts set upon going to Venezuela, and nowhere else, and though my heart ached at the disappointment and perhaps severe suffering that was in store for them, I saw that it was useless to attempt to turn them from their purpose. They had their new homes all pictured in their imaginations, and Venezuela appeared to them like a second Garden of Eden, where all was peace, happiness, and prosperity, with no free negroes or carpetbaggers to intrude upon them.

Many of this band of emigrants were most estimable people, but, as I speedily discovered, there were some worthless ones among them, and I dreaded more and more the execution of the task I had set myself to do. Having, however, announced my intention of going, and having excited the expectations of my friends, I concluded that it would not do to back out, and so determined to go through with the thing, no matter what the consequences might be.

Among the emigrants who had enlisted in Johnston’s band was a young Confederate officer, Maj. Wasson. He was a remarkably fine-looking man, with long, wavy, flaxen hair, which he wore brushed off his forehead, blue eyes, and fair complexion. The day before going over to Algiers with Johnston I had seen him on one of the street cars and was very much struck with him. At Algiers I had some conversation with him and invited him to call on me at the hotel. This he did, and I discovered that he was a stranger to all the rest of the band of emigrants, that he was anxious to get out of the country, and that, attracted by Johnston’s representations, he had resolved to go to Venezuela with his expedition.

After that I saw a great deal of Maj. Wasson, and a strong attachment sprang up between us. A few days before we were to sail, he asked me to accept his hand, and I did so willingly, for not only did I admire him greatly but I felt that it would be better in every way that I should accompany the expedition as a married woman.

We were accordingly married and for some days kept the matter secret, it being our original intention not to say anything about it until after we were out at sea. As I was, however, pursued by the attentions of several other gentlemen, we finally concluded that the fact of our being husband and wife had best be announced.