Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Your dog’s mind / John Bercow, the unlikely hero / Baltimore, the fallen city / La Malinche / Slavery in the Pacific

This week: Your dog’s mind / John Bercow, the unlikely hero / Baltimore, the fallen city / La Malinche / Slavery in the Pacific

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. ‘I shouldn’t really be saying this’: John Bercow on Brexit, backbenchers and why nobody dreams of being speaker
By James Graham | Prospect | April 2019
“The speaker’s chair has become the crucible for the whole Brexit constitutional crisis. And John Bercow is loving it”

2. The Tragedy of Baltimore
By Alec MacGillis | ProPublica | March 2019
“Since Freddie Gray’s death in 2015, violent crime has spiked to levels unseen for a quarter century. How order collapsed in an American city.”

3. Inside the grand and sometimes slimy plan to turn octopuses into lab animals
By Ben Guarino | The Washington Post | March 2019
“In a cavernous laboratory here, scientists are raising thousands of octopuses, cuttlefish and their kin as part of the Cephalopod Program, a three-year-old initiative to transform these sea creatures into the next lab animals. Cephalopods ooze scientific appeal: They have complex bodies, unusual genetics, impressive spatial skills and intelligent minds. Yet the animals can be reluctant to breed, hard to raise and difficult to keep from escaping their tanks.”

4. Let’s Journey Through the Mind of a Dog
By Erica Tennenhouse | The Crux :: Discover | March 2018
“While our grasp of canine cognition may never approach what we know of the human psyche, the latest research has yielded tantalizing nuggets about the inner lives of dogs.”

5. The Democrats’ Dilemma
By Tim Alberta | Politico Magazine | March 2019
“What Ilhan Omar and Dean Phillips tell us about the future of the Democratic Party.”

6. How Regime Change Breeds Demagogues
By Kristen Ghodsee | The New Republic | March 2019
“Economic liberalization can be just as traumatic as military intervention.”

7. Who Was La Malinche?
By Farah Mohammed | JSTOR Daily | March 2019
“La Malinche was a key figure in the conquest of the Aztecs. But was she a heroine or a traitor It depends on whom you ask.”

8. Richmond exhibit seeks to reimagine Confederate statues
By Denise Lavoie | Associated Press | March 2019
“The exhibit grew out of an international design competition that asked architects, planners, designers, and artists to reimagine Monument Avenue, a 5-mile historic urban boulevard where five giant statues of Confederate figures from Virginia stand, including Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson and Confederate naval commander Matthew Fontaine Maury.”

9. How the Daughters and Granddaughters of Former Slaves Secured Voting Rights for All
By Martha S. Jones | Smithsonian Magazine | March 2019
“[T]he history of black women and the vote is one about figures who, though subjected to nearly crushing political disabilities, emerged as unparalleled advocates of universal suffrage in its truest sense.”

10. The Trans-Pacific Slave Trade
By Christopher Rose | Not Even Past :: UT Austin Department of History | January 2016
“At the height of the Spanish Empire, the Manila Galleon – an annual flotilla between Manila and Acapulco – was considered the lifeline of Spain’s economy, bringing silver from the mines of New Spain to the markets of Asia. On the reverse trip, the galleons would be loaded with Asian luxury goods, such as spices, silks — and slaves.”

Amerikan Rambler: Podcast 15: Ed Ayers and Gary Gallagher

From July 2016: “Ed Ayers and Gary Gallagher are two of the best southern historians working today.”

Ed Ayers and Gary Gallagher are two of the best southern historians working today. Ed Ayers is from Tennessee, taught at UVA, and is now president emeritus and professor at the University of Richmond. Gary Gallagher came to UVA by way of Penn State, University of Texas, Colorado, and Los Angeles. Both are now working in the field of Civil War studies.

via Podcast 15: Ed Ayers and Gary Gallagher — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Amerikan Rambler: Podcast 14: Nelson Lankford

From July 2016: “He talks with Colin about doing Civil War history, the publishing industry, the writing process, and the recent exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”

Nelson Lankford is the author of several books about the Civil War, including “Richmond Burning” and “Cry Havoc!: The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861.”

via Podcast 14: Nelson Lankford — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Loreta’s Civil War: The desolation of the great city

Velazquez tours Richmond, the Carolinas, and New Orleans. The scale of destruction horrifies 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 57: Velazquez tours Richmond, the Carolinas, and New Orleans. The scale of destruction horrifies her.

******

Finding that there was nothing to be done in Washington, I went on to Richmond, where I took up my quarters at the Exchange Hotel. The news of my arrival soon spread around, and I received ample attentions from many old Confederate friends who seemed disposed to treat me with all possible kindness.

The Richmond I beheld, however, was a very different place from the beautiful city I had visited for the first time in the summer of 1861, just before the Battle of Bull Run. A four years’ siege, ending in a fire which had consumed a large portion of the city, had destroyed its beauty as well as its prosperity, while the inhabitants wore such forlorn faces that I felt sick at heart at beholding them.

I hastened away, therefore, and passed through Charlotte, N.C., and Columbia, S.C., where the same dismal changes were visible. Charleston was badly battered and burned but was not in quite as bad a plight as the other places named. The finest portion of the city was destroyed, however, and it looked very desolate.

I went to the Charleston Hotel, where I met an old friend from Columbia, who invited me to accompany him and some others on an excursion. His married daughter and several intimate acquaintances, who were of the party, were introduced to me, among them a Yankee captain, who had married a fair daughter of South Carolina, who, with all her relatives, were strong secessionists.

This officer attached himself particularly to me and urged me to give my views about the war and the present condition of affairs in the way of an argument with him. We accordingly had a very animated conversation for some time, and he was obliged, finally, to retire from the contest, saying that he could not quarrel with me as I was a lady, and, moreover, had everybody on my side. I did not think him a very brilliant genius, but he was quite a good fellow in his way, and to show that there were no hard feelings between us, we shook hands and declared ourselves friends.

The next day one of the officers had the audacity to call on me simply out of curiosity. He had heard about my serving in the Confederate army in male attire, and he wished to see what kind of a looking woman I was. I thought it a rather impudent proceeding but concluded to gratify him. I accordingly walked into the drawing-room where he was, and after some little conversation, which was conducted with considerable coolness on my side, he invited me to take a ride with him.

I was astounded that he should make such a proposition, knowing who I was and I being where I was, surrounded by the friends of the cause I had served, while he, of course, expected to figure in his Federal uniform by my side.

I scarcely knew what to say but finally told him that I could not go, as I had an engagement. This, however, was a mere pretense and was intended to gain time for consultation with my friends. Some of these, however, suggested that I should accept the invitation and give him a genuine specimen of my abilities as a horsewoman.

I accordingly went to every livery stable in the city until I at length found a very swift horse that I thought would suit my purpose. This being secured, I wrote a challenge for him to ride a race with me. We were to ride down the main street. He, without being aware of what was on foot, accepted, and the next afternoon, therefore, we mounted our steeds and started. When we arrived at the appointed place, I said, “Let us show these people what good equestrians we are.”

He gave his horse a lash, but I reined mine in, telling him that I would give him twenty feet. When he had this distance, I gave my steed a cut with the whip and flew past my cavalier like the wind, saying, loud enough for everyone to hear me, “This is the way we caught you at Blackburn’s Ford and Bull Run.”

This was enough for him, and, turning his horse, he rode back to the hotel to find that a large party there [was] interested in the race and that there were some heavy bets on the result, the odds being all against him. This gentleman, apparently, did not desire to continue his acquaintance with me, for I saw no more of him.

A few days after this occurrence I said farewell to my Charleston friends and went to Atlanta, where I was very warmly received. The surgeons who had been attached to the hospital and many others called, and a disposition to show me every attention was manifested on all sides.

The Federal Gen. Wallace and his staff were stopping at the same hotel as myself, as was also Capt. B., one of the officers whom I had met in Washington and whom I had used for the purpose of getting acquainted and of furthering my plans in that city. I met this gentleman in the hall and passed friendly greetings with him, and shortly after he came into the parlor for the purpose of having a friendly chat. The captain, up to this time, had never suspected in the least that I was not and had not been an adherent of the Federal cause, and not supposing that I had any special interest in the war, our conversation turned chiefly upon other topics. I knew that he must shortly be undeceived, but I did not care to tell him about the part I had taken in the contest or the advantages I had taken of his acquaintance with me.

While we were talking. Confederate Gen. G.T. Anderson came in and called me “lieutenant.” The astonishment of the captain was ludicrous. He could not understand what the general meant at first and thought it was a joke. The truth, however, came out at last, and he learned not only that I was a rebel, but that when I met him in Washington I was endeavoring to gain information for the Confederates.

The captain, being somewhat bewildered, took his departure soon after, and at the invitation of Gen. Anderson I went out to visit the entrenchments. “When we got back, I found that Gen. Wallace had been informed as to who I was and that he was anxious to see me. I said that I would be very glad to meet him, and the general and a number of his officers accordingly came into the parlor to see me. Gen. Wallace was very pleasant, and, as we shook hands, he complimented me with much heartiness upon having played a difficult part so long and so well, and with having distinguished myself by my valor. I thanked him very sincerely for his good opinion of me and then fell into a lively conversation with him and his officers.

One of the officers asked me to ride with him but I begged to be excused, as I did not think it would look well, especially in Atlanta, where everybody knew me, to be seen riding out with an escort wearing a Federal uniform. He understood and appreciated my feelings on the subject and said no more about it.

The next evening I started for New Orleans and passed over a good deal of my old campaigning ground before I reached my destination.

My journey through the South had disclosed a pitiable state of things. The men of intellect and the true representatives of Southern interests were disfranchised and impoverished, while the management of affairs was in the hands of ignorant negroes just relieved from slavery and white “carpetbaggers,” who had come to prey upon the desolation of the country. On every side were ruin and poverty, on every side disgust of the present and despair of the future. The people, many of them, absolutely did not know what to do, and it is no wonder that at this dismal time certain ill-advised emigration schemes found countenance with those who saw no hope for themselves or their children but either to go out of the country, or to remove so far away from their old homes that they would be able to start life anew under better auspices than were then possible within the limits of the late Confederacy.

New Orleans, once a great, wealthy, and populous city, was in a pitiful plight. The pedestal of [Andrew] Jackson’s statue in the public square was disfigured by inscriptions such as those who erected it never intended should go there, which were cut during the occupancy of the Federal army, while the once pretty flower-beds were now nothing but masses of weeds and dead stalks.

Along the levee, matters were even worse. Instead of forests of masts or the innumerable chimneys of the steamboats, belching forth volumes of smoke, or huge barricades of cotton, sugar, and other produce, or thousands of drays, carts, and other vehicles such as thronged the levee in olden times, the wharves were now silent and served merely as promenades for motley groups of poor men, women, and children who looked as if they did not know where the next meal was to come from.

The desolation of the great city sickened me, and I was the more indignant at what I saw, for I knew that this general prostration of business and impoverishment of all classes was not one of the legitimate results of warfare but that ambitious and unscrupulous politicians were making use of the forlorn condition of the South for the furtherance of their own bad ends.

I longed to quit the scene of so much misery and fully sympathized with those who preferred to fly from the country of their birth and to seek homes in other lands rather than to remain and be victimized, as they were being, by the wretches who had usurped all control of the affairs of the late rebel states.

Loreta’s Civil War: Playing a desperate game

Her mission accomplished, Velazquez returns to Washington to check in with her Union supervisor. He is impressed with her, while she worries that he may find out how she is manipulating him.

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 41: Her mission accomplished, Velazquez returns to Washington to check in with her Union supervisor. He is impressed with her, while she worries that he may find out how she is manipulating him.

******

On my return from Canada, I went first to New York, where I delivered such matters as had been committed to my care for my associates there, and after a conference with them, hurried on to Washington for the purpose of seeing Col. Baker.

It was not without many apprehensions that I concluded to face the colonel again, for I did not know how much information he might have about me by this time, and it really seemed like walking into the lion’s den. That his officers were aware of some of my movements, as they were following me up rather too closely for comfort, was certain but whether they had yet succeeded in identifying the rebel spy and secret-service agent with the woman whom Baker had employed to go on a confidential mission to Richmond was not so clear. Taking all things into consideration, I concluded that Baker and his men must be rather in a mist about me, for the detective, whom I had met on the cars, was evidently working somewhat in the dark, which could hardly have been the case had his chief suspected me of playing a double game with him. If Baker, however, had the least suspicion with regard to me, the fact of my very prolonged absence would, I knew, be liable to increase it, although under ordinary circumstances there would have been no difficulty in explaining this to his satisfaction, for he well knew that the errand he had sent me on was a difficult as well as a perilous one and that it was not to be accomplished quite as easily as a trip between Washington and New York.

Making all allowances for the probabilities in my own favor, however, I confess that I experienced some trepidation at the idea of facing the colonel, and I wondered not a little what he would do with me in case he did happen to know who I really was. It was of such great importance, however, that I should gain immediate admittance to the military prisons, and I knew that such admittance could be gained by going there as one of Baker’s corps, whereas it might otherwise be impossible, that I determined to take all the risks, so far as my own safety was concerned, and to try and have the colonel my ally in making the preparations for what … would be one of the most brilliant episodes of the war, so far as the Confederates were concerned, and that would not unlikely have the effect of bringing the contest to a speedy termination.

The idea of being able to use the chief of the Federal detectives for the advancement of the Confederate cause was one that gave me enormous satisfaction, and I more than once fancied what a capital good joke it would be for me, after I succeeded in getting beyond Col. Baker’s reach, to inform him how badly he had been taken in and to ask him what he thought of me and of my performances from a professional point of view.

While on my way to Washington for the purpose of meeting him and of making a report of my Richmond trip, my prospective interview was anything but a joking matter. The thing had to be done, though, so, stifling my fears, I, on my arrival in Washington, walked boldly into the colonel’s presence and announced myself as having just got back from Richmond.

Baker received me with proper cordiality and congratulated me on my safe return. There was nothing whatever in his manner to indicate that he had the slightest suspicion of me. This was reassuring, still I could not be quite certain but that, having once got me into his power, he intended to find out what I had to say for myself before beginning a less agreeable conversation.

I, however, did not propose to commence saying disagreeable things if he did not, and so, presuming that he imagined me to have just returned from the Confederate capital, I proceeded to make such a report of my doings as I thought would suit him.

I told him that I had obtained the name of the spy whom he was anxious to discover, and such a description of him as would enable me to identify him without any difficulty, if I could get to see him. The information I had obtained with regard to him induced me to believe that he was at Johnson’s Island, but of this I could not be certain.

I then went on to say that it was understood in Richmond that arrangements were being made for a grand stampede of the rebel prisoners, and that this spy, in some way, found means to communicate with the Copperheads and the rebel secret service agents. This was the story which it had been arranged between my confederate and myself I should tell Baker, for several reasons. There was the least bit of truth in it, and, in endeavoring to throw a detective like Baker off the scent, a little truth mingled with the fiction would be likely to accomplish the object better than a story which was all fiction.

As there had been rumors more than once of attempted stampedes of the prisoners, it was concluded that Baker would not be likely to regard this one as of any very great importance, especially if he had no inkling of the grand raid which was to take place in connection with the release of the prisoners, while at the same time he would be anxious to find out whether a stampede was really to be attempted, and if I managed right, would most likely employ me to make the investigations for him.

This explanation is worth making, for its own sake, as it will give the reader an idea of my method of working, and at the same time will serve to show that I was not revealing to the colonel any secrets which it was my duty to keep from him.

Baker fell into the trap just as innocently as if he had been a young man from the country instead of the chief detective officer of a great government which was engaged in a gigantic contest. On my suggesting my willingness to follow the thing up by visiting the prisons for the purpose of finding the spy, and if possible discovering the facts with regard to any conspiracy that might be on foot, he did not give me any definite answer at once but said he would think about it — but I saw plainly that he considered the idea as rather a good one and did not doubt that he would speedily make up his mind to send me.

When we had finished talking over this matter, I proceeded to give him a detailed account of what I saw and heard in Richmond. I said that the rebels were very strict and very suspicious and would not allow anyone to go to the front or to visit the prisons or the public buildings. I was, however, able to pick up quite a number of facts that might be useful and then went on to tell him a well-connected story, partly true and partly false, about the way things looked, and the way people talked, what the forces in the field and their locations were, how the blockade-runners managed to get in and out of port, what I had seen and heard on the road as I was going to and fro, and so on. None of the real facts that I gave the colonel were of any importance, although I magnified them as much as I could, but they served to give an air of plausibility to my narrative and to convince him that I was quite an expert spy. …

Baker asked me numerous questions, which I answered to the best of my ability, so far as was consistent with the good of the Confederate cause, and when we had concluded our conversation he praised me very warmly, said that I was a plucky little woman, that he had thought I had vim enough to go through if anyone could, that I had done a good service to the country, and a variety of other nice things, which had the effect of making me feel quite pleasant and quite at my ease with him again. … Baker also remarked [that] he had been getting somewhat uneasy about me, to which I replied, by telling him how and why I had been detained, and the explanation appeared to be entirely satisfactory, for he said no more on that point.

I was curious to know exactly how well he was informed with regard to my real movements and had half a dozen questions on the end of my tongue which I wanted to ask him. I concluded, however, that this would be going rather too far, and would do no good, while it might have the effect of exciting suspicions where none at present existed. I did, however, venture to inquire whether he had told anyone that I was attached to the corps.

“No, no,” he replied, “certainly not, and I don’t want you to tell any one either. If I employ you for anything, it will be for strictly confidential business, which must be between ourselves. I would rather that even my own people should not know anything about you as a secret-service agent.”

Having finished our business talk, I asked for my friends Gen. A. and Capt. B., and was informed that the captain was in the field but that the general was in the city and would doubtless be glad to see me.

On reaching the Kirkwood House, where I had taken a room, I sent my card to the general at Willard’s Hotel, and he came immediately to see me. While we were chatting, in came Baker, who, I judged by his manner, had something which he wanted to say to me and surmised that it was a consent that I should visit the prisoners.

“Ah, general,” said he, “I see that you are bound to continue your attentions to our little friend here. She hasn’t been in Washington many hours and you have found her out already. I guess, however, that she likes me better than she does you, for she came to see me as soon as she arrived.”

The general looked a trifle surprised at this, and said, “Why, Baker, you must be getting to be a lady’s man! I didn’t know that you were particularly inclined that way.”

Baker laughed at this, and said, “She is a first-rate little woman, and I wish there were more like her. She has just made a very successful trip to Richmond and has brought me some important items.”

“Is that so?” said the general. “Why, I did not know that she belonged to your corps.”

“Neither does she in a regular way but as she knew a good deal about Richmond and was acquainted with a number of people there, I thought I would let her make a trip, especially as she was extremely anxious to try her luck.”

The general congratulated me on my success and then proposed that we should all three go that evening to Ford’s Theater. Baker assented, and I was quite willing, as I thought an evening’s entertainment in witnessing a good play would brighten me up a little. Besides, I was anxious to cultivate the acquaintance of these two men and was especially solicitous to have all possible opportunities of conversing with the colonel, with a view of inducing him to accede to my proposition for a visit to the military prisons. Baker and the general then said goodbye … and went away together.

About seven o’clock in the evening the general returned alone, and as he was escorting me to the carriage I asked where Baker was. The general replied that he had been compelled to go unexpectedly to the Executive Mansion on some business but would probably join us in the theater.

This aroused all my apprehensions of danger again, and I became fearfully uneasy lest all the colonel’s fine words should merely have been intended to draw me out and conceal some sinister designs towards me. I stifled my fears, however, as well as I could, and after we got to the theater tried to converse with the general in an agreeable and natural manner. I was startled by the least sound, however, and was unable to avoid turning around to look every time anyone came in, almost expecting every moment that Baker or one of his officers would appear for the purpose of arresting me.

My fears proved to be groundless. Baker did come in soon after the play commenced, and, taking a seat beside me, made an apology for not joining the party sooner, but [begged] to be excused, as he had been compelled to go up to the White House for the purpose of having a talk with the president and the secretary of war. There was nothing in his manner then or afterwards to indicate that he was suspicious of me, and both he and the general … were apparently greatly absorbed in what was occurring on the stage.

As for myself, I found it impossible to get interested. I was uneasy for my own safety, knowing that I was playing a desperate game, and was even more anxious lest the grand scheme which I was endeavoring to promote should fail through any fault or misdirection of mine. My thoughts, too, wandered to our brave men in the field and to the sufferings of the poor prisoners. I almost reproached myself for even making an appearance of indulging in an evening’s recreation in company with two Federal officers while so many thousand Confederates were enduring so much but consoled myself with the reflection that I was not doing this for mere pleasure but was engaged in the performance of an important task, which might be greatly promoted through my acquaintance with these men. Finally, to my great relief and satisfaction, the play came to an end and the curtain dropped for the last time.

As we passed out, the general proposed that we should go to the Grand Hotel and have some supper. I did not care to do this, but thought it best to accept the invitation.

We had a really superb repast — one of the finest I had ever sat down to, and, as I was hungry, I ate quite heartily. In the way of drinkables, I confined myself to lemonade but the gentlemen took wine. The general, who was quite fond of his toddy, drank rather more than was good for him and soon became very talkative and a trifle noisy. He was one of those men, however, who never forget to be gentlemen, and he neither said nor did anything offensive. Finally, he began spinning some long yarn, during which Baker took an opportunity to whisper to me that he would probably want to see me in the morning. I nodded assent, although my fears began to rise a little but I hoped that instead of demanding a different account of my doings from that which I had already given him, the colonel would give me my commission for a trip to the West.

After we had finished our supper, we returned to the Kirkwood, where I bade them good night, at about a quarter before twelve, at the drawing-room door, and as soon as they were gone hastened to my own room to obtain the rest of which I stood in so much need, for I was tired out with the fatigues of travel and the excitement and anxieties of the day.

Loreta’s Civil War: Excite terror in the hearts

Velazquez confronts her fear of capture by speaking directly to the Union detective hunting 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 40: Velazquez confronts her fear of capture by speaking directly to the Union detective hunting her.

******

He was a short, thick-set man, with a dull, heavy expression of countenance, deep-set eyes, thick eyebrows, and a coarse and rather scrubby mustache. He did not have the appearance of being a very brilliant genius, but then, as I well knew, it did not do to place too much reliance upon mere outward appearances, especially with members of the detective force.

After passing the compliments of the day we launched into a general conversation, I attempting to speak with a touch of the Irish brogue, thinking that it would induce him to believe me to be a foreigner. I would have addressed him with a Spanish accent but was fearful that it would help to betray me … Baker as well as others having been told that I was of Spanish extraction, while I did not know as yet how much real information the secret-service chief might have with regard to me or whether this fellow was one of his officers or not. I was playing a rather desperate game but I felt tolerably sure of being able to deal with the gentleman. I confess, however, to having felt considerable anxiety, although I strove to conceal it from my companion.

“You are going to Canada, are you not?” inquired my new-made friend.

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you live there?”

“Oh, no, sir. I live in England. I am only going to Canada to visit some friends.”

“Have you been in America long?”

“Only about eight months.”

“How do you like this country? Don’t you think it is a finer country than England?”

“Oh, I like living in England much better than I do here, and expect to go back as soon as I get through with my Canada visit. There is too much fighting going on here to suit me.”

“Oh, you need not mind that, besides, the war will soon be over now.”

“Do you think so?” I queried — I am afraid just with the least touch of sarcasm — and for fear he might have noticed something unpleasant in my tone, added, “I will be glad when the fighting is over. It is terrible to hear every day of so many men being killed.”

“Oh, that is nothing, we get used to it.”

“Yes,” I mentally said, “it may be nothing to such a shirk as you, for you will take precious good care to keep your carcass out of danger.”

The detective now took out of his pocket the photograph which my associate in New York had given him and which I was anxious to see, and, handing it to me, [he] said, “Did you ever see anybody resembling this? I am after the lady and would like very much to find her.”

“She is very handsome,” I replied. “Is she your wife?” — looking him straight in the eyes as I said this.

“Wife! No,” said he, apparently disgusted at the suggestion that he was in pursuit of a faithless spouse. “She is a rebel spy, and I am trying to catch her.”

“Why, what has she been doing? She looks like a very nice lady, and I hardly could think she would do anything wrong.”

“Well, she has been doing a good deal that our government would like to pay her off for. She is one of the smartest of the whole gang.” This I thought was rather complimentary than otherwise. “I am on her track now, however, sure.” — “Yes, the back track,” I thought – “and I am bound to catch her.”

“Well, if she has been doing anything against the law, I suppose she ought to be punished but I hope you won’t treat her unkindly if you do succeed in catching her.”

“She will have to look out for that. It don’t do to show any mercy to these she-devils — they give us more trouble than all the men together.”

“But perhaps this lady is not a spy, after all. She looks too pretty and nice for anything of that kind. How do you know about her?”

“Oh, some of our force have been on the track of her for a long time. She has been working for these Copperheads and rebel agents here at the North and has been running through the lines with dispatches and goods. She came through from Richmond only a short time ago, and she is now on her way to Canada with a lot of dispatches and a big sum of money, which I would like to capture.”

“Doubtless you would,” I thought and then said aloud, “I wonder how you can find out so much when there must be a great many people coming and going all the time. Supposing that this lady is a spy, as you say, how do you know that she has not already reached Canada?”

“Maybe she has,” he replied, “but I don’t think so. I have got her down pretty fine and feel tolerably certain of taking her before she gets over the line.”

This was a highly edifying and entertaining conversation to me, and I would willingly have prolonged it indefinitely, for the purpose of trying to get some points from my companion which might prove useful. As he, however, seemed inclined to change the subject, I was afraid to seem too inquisitive, and we consequently dropped into a general conversation of no interest to the reader.

The detective seemed determined to be as polite to me as he could, and on leaving the cars he carried my satchel, containing eighty-two thousand dollars belonging to the Confederate government and a variety of other matters which he would have taken possession of with the utmost pleasure, could he have known what they were. When we passed on board the boat I took the satchel from him, and, thanking him for his attention, proceeded to get out of his sight as expeditiously as I could.

When the custom-house officer examined my luggage, I gave him a wink and whispered the password I had been instructed to use, and he merely turned up the shawl which was on my arm and went through the form of looking into my satchel.

On reaching the Canada shore I was met by Mr. L., who gave me a very hearty greeting but I cautioned him to say as little as possible just then, as we might be watched. Glancing back, I saw my friend the detective, anxiously surveying the passing crowd, and, calling Mr. L.’s attention to him, I said, “Do you see that heavy man with the black eyebrows and scrubby mustache, who looks as though he had lost something?”

“Yes. What of him?”

“He has been traveling on the train with me all day and has been exceedingly polite and attentive. He is a detective, and I am the individual he is after, but he isn’t half smart enough to catch me.”

I then, as we moved off, related my adventure with the detective to my Canadian friend. He thought it a capital good joke and said that I seemed to be tolerably well able to take care of myself.

On my arrival in Canada I was welcomed with great cordiality by the Confederates there, who were eager to know all about my trip, how things were looking at Richmond, whether I had letters for so and so and anything else that I was able to tell them. I distributed my letters and dispatches according to instructions, mailed packages for the commanders of the cruisers Shenandoah and Florida, which I had received with special injunctions to be particularly careful of, as they were very important, and then proceeded to the transaction of such other business, commercial as well as political, as I had on hand.

As this was my first visit to Canada, there was much for me to do and much to learn. I therefore became acquainted with as many people as I could, and found out all I could about the methods of transacting commercial and financial business, who the proper parties to deal with were, and everything else worth knowing that I could think of.

There were a good many matters of more importance than trade and finance, however, which demanded my immediate consideration, and many and long were the conferences held with regard to the proposed grand movement on the enemy’s rear. There were a number of points about this grand scheme that I would have liked to have been informed of but those who were making the arrangements for the raid were so fearful of their plans in some way getting to the ears of the Federal authorities that they were unwilling to tell me and other special agents, more than was absolutely necessary for the fulfillment of the duties entrusted to us. This excessive caution was, perhaps, demanded by the peculiarities of the situation but it is certain, in my opinion, that could there have been a more definite understanding between the various co-workers, the chances of success would have been very largely increased. I, for one, could have performed my part with far more efficiency — although I did all that it was arranged that I should do — had I been trusted more largely with the details of the proposed movement.

As it was, I was merely furnished with a general idea of the contemplated attack and was assigned to special duties in connection with it. These duties were to visit Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie, and, if possible, other military prisons for the purpose of informing the Confederates confined in them of what was being done towards effecting their release, and what was expected of them when they were released. I was then to telegraph to certain agents that the prisoners were warned and such other information as I might deem it important for them to be possessed of, in accordance with an arranged system of signals. This being done, I was to proceed to the execution of other tasks, the exact details of which, however, were made dependent upon circumstances, and upon directions I might receive from the agents in the States, under whose orders I was to act.

This plan for a grand raid by way of the lakes excited my enthusiasm greatly, and I had very strong hopes of its success. I knew how desperate the situation at the South was getting to be and felt that a diversion of this kind, which would excite terror in the hearts of the people of the North, and which would probably cause a considerable force to to withdrawn from the front, would help the Confederate cause at this particular juncture more, even, than a series of brilliant victories on the well-trodden battlegrounds of the South. A large number of the people of the North were, I knew, getting heartily sick of the war, and I thought that it would only need a brilliant movement for transferring some of the fighting and some of the desolation to Northern ground to cause the anti-war policy to demand that peace should be had at any price.

Whether the proposed raid would have accomplished all that was expected of it can, of course, never be determined. It is probable, however, that I, as well as others interested, underrated the difficulties of executing such a complicated scheme. Be that as it may, something could have been done, more than was done, had everybody been as enthusiastic and as determined as myself and had there been no traitors with us. The scheme failed when it should have been, at least, partly successful but it need not have failed so utterly as it did, had it been managed with wisdom, backed up by true daring.

Loreta’s Civil War: I am willing to risk it

Velazquez angles her way into a job as a spy for the Union. It’s a crucial part of her role in an astounding Confederate covert operation to turn the tide of the war.

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 38: Velazquez angles her way into a job as a spy for the Union. It’s a crucial part of her role in an astounding Confederate covert operation to turn the tide of the war.

******

On being introduced to Col. Baker by Gen. A., I asked him if he could not give me a position in his detective corps in some capacity, explaining as my reason for making a request that, having lost everything through the rebellion, I was in urgent need of obtaining some remunerative employment by which I could support myself. … I told pretty much the same story that I had to the Federal officers at Memphis: I was of Spanish extraction, and all of my friends and relatives were either in Spain or Cuba. My husband, who was a United States army officer … had died about the outbreak of the war, and I had been plundered and otherwise so badly treated by the rebels that I had been compelled to come North, where I had resided for a considerable period, but without being able to do much in the way of supporting myself. I was well acquainted throughout the South, having traveled a great deal … and I did not doubt but that I possessed much information that would be of value to the government and believed that I could obtain more. …

Baker asked me a good many questions — not particularly skillful ones it seemed to me — about myself, my family, how long I had been at the North, what induced me to take up with the idea of joining the secret service corps, what employment I had hitherto been engaged in, and a variety of other matters. To his interrogatories I replied promptly and with seeming frankness, and I left his presence tolerably confident that he believed all I had told him. … [But] was cautious — he would see about it, he would talk further with me on the subject, he did not know that he had anything he could give me to do just at present, but he might have need of me shortly, and would let me know when he wanted me — and all that sort of thing. …

This interview with Col. Baker convinced me that he was the man to begin with if I wanted to get admission behind the scenes at Washington and if I wanted to execute any really masterly coup at the North in behalf of the Confederacy. As a member of his corps, I would not only be able to do many things that would be impossible otherwise. … As for Baker himself, I made up my mind that he was an individual wise in his own esteem, but with no comprehensive ideas whom it would not be difficult to fool to the top of his bent. All that it would be necessary for me to do, in case he employed me, would be the performance of some real or apparently real services for him to secure his fullest confidence, while at the same time I could carry on my real work to the very best advantage.

Having waited about Washington for a week or two without hearing anything from Col. Baker … I decided to return to New York as I thought, from a hint given me in a letter from my brother, that I might be able to commence operations there. I resolved, however, to cultivate Baker’s acquaintance at the earliest opportunity but thought that perhaps it would be best not to trouble him again until I had some definite scheme to propose.

When I reached New York and saw my brother, he was expecting every day to be exchanged, and he told me that he had been visited by several Confederate agents who wanted him to try and carry some documents through when he went South. He was afraid, however, to attempt anything of this kind, and, besides, did not think that it would be honorable under the circumstances. Without saying anything about my plans to him, therefore, I went and saw the agents in question, told them who I was, referred them to people who knew me in the West, and in a general way disclosed to them my schemes for aiding the Confederacy. I did not, however, tell them about my interview with Col. Baker or that I had the intention of becoming an employee of his. This, I thought, was a matter I had best keep to myself for the present for fear of accident.

These agents were exceedingly glad to see me and had several jobs of work cut out which they were anxious that I should attend to. They did not strike me as being very important, but I thought that they would do to begin with and that they would aid me in becoming acquainted with the Confederate working force in the North. I, therefore, promised to give them my aid so soon as my brother should leave for the South.

They then evinced a great eagerness to have me persuade my brother to carry some dispatches through but I said that it would be useless to ask him, and that the most I could expect of him was that he would take a verbal message from myself to the officials who knew me in Richmond to the effect that I was at the North, endeavoring to aid the Confederate cause by every means in my power, and filled with zeal to do whatever was to be done. It required considerable persuasion to induce my brother to do even this much, but finally, to my great satisfaction, he consented.

Shortly after this my brother went South on a cartel of exchange, and in due time I received information that my message had been delivered and that I was recognized as a Confederate secret service agent.

In the meanwhile I made a large number of acquaintances among the adherents of both the Federal and Confederate governments and did a great deal of work of one kind or another. None of my performances, however, for several months were of sufficient importance to warrant special mention in these pages, and their chief value to me was that they kept me employed and taught me what kind of work there was to do and how to do it. During this time, I visited Washington frequently and always made it a point to see Col. Baker, to whom I furnished a number of bits of information, the majority of which were of no particular value to him, although several were of real importance and aided him materially in his effort to break up certain fraudulent practices and to bring the rogues to justice.

By this means I retained his favor and succeeded in gaining his confidence to a degree that the reader will probably think rather astonishing, considering my antecedents and the kind of work that I was engaged in sub rosa. It should be borne in mind, however, that Baker did not know and could not know anything of my previous history, that I had been highly recommended to him, and that I was constantly proving useful to him. …

My grand opportunity at length did arrive, and the cunning secret service chief fell into the trap laid for him as innocently and unsuspectingly as if he had never heard of such a thing as a spy in his life. The colonel, as I have before remarked, was not a bad sort of a fellow in his way, and as I had a sincere regard for him, I am sorry he is not alive now that he might be able to read this narrative and so learn how completely he was taken in, and by a woman, too. He was a smart man but not smart enough for all occasions. …

[My] magnificent scheme was on foot during the summer and fall of 1864, for making an attack upon the enemy in the rear, which, if it had been carried out with skill and determination might have given a very different ending to the war. As it was, the very inefficient attempt that was made created an excitement that almost amounted to a panic and seemed to show how effective a really well-directed blow … would have been. … A large extent of country was to be operated upon, [and] several distinct movements of equal importance were to be carried on at the same time, the failure of any one of which would imperil everything, and a neutral soil was to be the base of operations.

That a considerable number of persons should be informed of the essential points of the proposed campaign could not be avoided, and, of course, each person admitted to the secret diminished the chances of it being kept. … Besides all this, two great difficulties in the way of success existed. There was no thoroughness of organization … and there was no recognized leader whose authority was admitted by all and who had the direction of all the movements. …

We were utterly unable to tell how much we could count on in the way of active assistance from the Southern sympathizers, or “Copperheads,” as they were called. … These people were really traitors both to the South and the North, and in the long run they did the cause of the Confederacy far more harm than they did it good. They professed to believe that the South was right, and yet they were not willing to take up arms for her. … They annoyed the government by their captious criticisms of all its actions, by opposing the prosecution of the war in every way that they could with safety to themselves, and by loud expressions of Southern sympathy. All they accomplished, however, was a prolongation of the war and the disfranchisement of nearly the entire white population of the South after the war was ended, for to them — more than to the Southerners themselves — was due the imposition of the hard terms which were the price of peace. To the “Copperheads,” therefore, as a class, the South owe little or nothing, and, according to my view, they were the kind of friends that people in difficulties had best be without.

The great scheme to which I have alluded was no less than an attack upon the country bordering upon the Great Lakes; the release of the Confederate prisoners confined at Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio, and at other localities; their organization into an army, which was to engage in the work of devastating the country, burning the cities and towns, seizing upon forts, arsenals, depots, and manufactories of munitions of war, for the purpose of holding them … or of destroying them; and … of creating such a diversion in [the Union] rear as would necessitate the withdrawal of a large [Federal] force from the front.

It was expected … that the Federal forces would be placed between two fires and that the commanders of the Confederate armies in the South and in the North would be able between them to crush the enemy and dictate terms of peace, or at least give a new phase to the war by transferring it from the impoverished and desolated South to the rich, prosperous, and fertile North. …

While the plans for the proposed grand attack in the rear was maturing, I was asked to attempt a trip to Richmond and consented without hesitation. I was to consult with and receive final instructions from the Richmond authorities with regard to the proposed raid on the lakeshores and was also to attend to a variety of commercial and other matters, and especially to obtain letters and dispatches for Canada.

Now was my time to make use of Col. Baker, and I accordingly resolved to see what I could do with him without more delay. Having received my papers and instructions, therefore, I went to Washington and called on the colonel, who received me … and asked what he could do for me, for he saw … that I had some definite project on hand and began to believe that I really meant serious business.

In order to understand the situation from Col. Baker’s point of view, it may be necessary to state that more than once rumors that attempts to liberate the Confederate prisoners were to be made had been in circulation and that Baker, as I knew, was exceedingly anxious to effect the arrest of some of the more active of the Confederate agents engaged in this and similar schemes.

I told him, therefore, that I had obtained information to the effect that a noted Confederate spy had been captured and was now in one of the prisons, from whence he could doubtless find means to communicate with Confederates outside. My proposition was that I should go to Richmond, where, by passing myself off as a Confederate among people with whom I was acquainted, I would not only … succeed in finding out exactly who this man was and where he was, but what he and his confederates were trying to do. I suggested, also, that I could most likely pick up other information of sufficient value to pay for whatever the trip would cost the government.

When I had explained what I proposed to do, Baker said, “I am afraid if you attempt to run through the lines the Rebs will capture you. [If] they do, they will use you rough.”

I replied, “I am not afraid to take the risk if you will only give me the means of making the trip and attend to getting me through the Federal lines.”

“It will be a troublesome thing to get you through our lines,” said Baker, “for it don’t do to let everybody know what is going on when a bit of business like this is on hand, and after you pass our lines you will have to get through those of the rebels, and that you will find no easy job, I can tell you, for they are getting more and more suspicious and particular every day.”

“Oh, as for that,” said I, “I can … go to Havana, where my relatives are living, and try and run through from there. I believe, however, that I can get through from here if I make the right kind of an effort — at any rate, I would like to make the attempt, if only to show you what I am capable of.”

The colonel laughed at my enthusiasm and said, “Well, you are a plucky little woman, and as you seem to be so anxious to spy out what the Rebs are doing, I have half a notion to give you a chance. You must not blame me, however, if you get caught, and they take a notion to hang you, for, you know, that is a way they have of dealing with people who engage in this sort of business, and your sex won’t save you.”

“Oh,” said I, “I don’t think that my neck was ever made to be fitted in a noose, and I am willing to risk it.”

[H]e gave me a variety of instructions about how to proceed and about the particular kind of information I was to endeavor to obtain. I saw very plainly that he did not entirely trust me, or, rather, that he was afraid to trust me too much, but I attributed his lack of confidence in me to the fact that I was as yet untried and consequently might be led by my enthusiasm into underrating the difficulties of the task I was undertaking rather than to any doubt in his mind with regard to my fidelity. I resolved, therefore, to give him such proofs of my abilities as well as of my fidelity as would insure me his entire confidence in the future.

It having been determined that I should make the trip, Baker told me to get ready for my journey immediately, and, in the mean time, he could procure me the necessary passes to enable me to get through the Federal lines, and money to meet my expenses.

When we next met, he gave me five thousand dollars in bogus Confederate bills and one hundred and fifty dollars in greenbacks, which he said ought to be enough to see me through all right. I suggested that if the Confederates caught me passing bogus currency, they would be apt to deal harder with me than they would simply as a spy. Baker laughed at this and said that that was one of the risks I must run but that he did not think there was any danger, as these bogus notes passed more readily in the Confederacy than the genuine ones did, which he could only account for on the supposition that the Confederacy was a bogus government. He seemed to think that this was rather a good joke, although I was not able to see exactly where the laugh came in, and am afraid that I must have struggled hard with the faint smile that I attempted.

Loreta’s Civil War: The proper costume of my sex

Velazquez barely escapes a hotel fire, reunites with her missing slave, and returns to Richmond to resume her espionage activities.

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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 25: Velazquez barely escapes a hotel fire, reunites with her missing slave, and returns to Richmond to resume her espionage activities.

******

In leaving New Orleans I had no very definite plans for the immediate future … but did not doubt of my ability to find a field for the display of my talents ere a great while. I was now more intent than ever upon being employed on detective and scouting duty, for which my recent residence in New Orleans had been an excellent schooling; so excellent, indeed, that I considered myself as well out of my apprenticeship, and as quite competent to assume all the responsibilities of the most difficult or dangerous jobs that might be thrust upon me. …

I judged that matters ought soon to be approaching a crisis somewhere, although exactly what definite aims the belligerents were driving at, if, indeed, they had any just then, I could not comprehend. I resolved, if a grand movement of any kind was coming off, that I must have a hand in it in some shape but that if something of importance was not attempted before a great while I would return to Virginia and see what Fortune had in store for me there. I judged, however, that I would not have much difficulty in finding work to do in the West if I went about looking for it in the right way, and I knew of no better locality in which to seek the information I needed before commencing operations in the field again than Jackson.

To Jackson, therefore, I went … and arrived just in time to witness an occurrence for which I was sincerely sorry. This was the burning of the Bowman House by [Confederate Gen. John C.] Breckenridge’s men, who were infuriated at being told that the proprietor had permitted the Federals to occupy the hotel, and that he had entertained them. … The unfortunate man was in reality not to blame in the matter, for the Federals had occupied his house without his consent. … This incident will serve to show the desperately unpleasant position of the non-combatants throughout this whole region at this and later periods of the war. They were literally between two fires, and no matter how peaceably disposed they might be, they could satisfy neither party and were made to suffer by both. The proprietor of the Bowman House was forced to witness a fine property destroyed before his eyes through the reckless and unthinking anger of men who never stopped to inquire whether he was guilty or not of any offense against them or their cause before taking vengeance upon him. He was reduced to poverty by the burning of his hotel, and I could not help feeling the keenest regret for the occurrence, although I recognized it as one of the inevitable calamities of warfare.

I was, myself, in the hotel when it was fired and barely succeeded in escaping from the building with my life. Not expecting any such occurrence, I had taken rooms and was proceeding to make myself comfortable when, all of a sudden, I found that it was in flames, and that it would be as much as I could do to get out unscathed. The men who fired the building did not give the proprietor an opportunity to make explanations, or if they did, they refused to believe him. …

Several times already had the Federals made attacks of greater or less importance on Vicksburg, which city was now the most important position held by the Confederacy, and commanding the Mississippi River as it did, its possession was considered a matter of the most vital importance. The fall of Vicksburg, everybody knew, would practically give the Federals possession of the river throughout its entire length, and as such a calamity would … be an even greater blow to the Confederate cause than the fall of New Orleans had been. … That sooner or later the Federals would make a more determined effort than they had done previously to take this post appeared to be certain but the natural advantages of the position were such and the fortifications in course of construction were so strong … that the utmost confidence in the ability of the garrison to hold it was felt by every one. …

On my arrival at Jackson I heard of my negro boy Bob for the first time since I had lost him, just after the battle of Shiloh. I therefore proceeded to Grenada, where I found the darkey, who appeared to be heartily glad to see me again after such a long separation. Bob, it seems, had gone plump into a Federal camp, having missed his road, after I had started him off for Corinth but, not liking the company he found there, had slipped away at the earliest opportunity and had wandered about in a rather aimless manner for some time, seeking for me. Not being able to hear anything of me, he had made up his mind that I was dead, and was quite surprised to see me turn up again alive and well. …

From Grenada, I returned once more to Jackson and found the place in considerable excitement over the prospective army movements but as there did not seem to be much for me to do in the particular line of business I desired to take up, I now determined to put my old intention of returning to Virginia into execution, and … I was soon speeding eastward again on my way to Richmond.

I should have mentioned that after leaving New Orleans I resumed male attire at the earliest possible moment and figured once more as Lt. Harry T. Buford. Perhaps if I had gone to [Confederate Gen. Joseph E.] Johnston or some other commanding officer of high rank and frankly stated that I was a woman, giving at the same time a narrative of my exploits, and furnishing references as guarantees of the truthfulness of my story, I would have obtained the kind of employment I was looking for, with permission to use the garments of either sex, as I might deem expedient for the particular errand I had in hand. …

Once past the Confederate pickets, I believed that I could easily reach Washington, and I felt certain that a skillful spy, such as I esteemed myself now to be, could, without great difficulty, find out plenty of things which the Richmond authorities would be glad to know, and for the furnishing of which they would be glad to extend me such recognition as I desired. The military situation in Virginia, too, was more satisfactory than it was in the West, and I had a hankering to be where the Confederates were occasionally winning some victories. Since I had been in the West, I had witnessed little else than disaster, and I greatly desired to take a hand in a fight when the victory would rest with the Confederates, if only for the sake of variety. …

The war had now been in progress nearly two years, and, although the South had not been conquered, affairs were beginning to look decidedly blue for us. All our fine expectations of an easy achievement of our independence had long since vanished, and the situation every day was getting more and more desperate. The country was becoming exhausted, and had not its natural resources been enormous, our people must, ere this, have given up the contest. As it was, with a large portion of the male population in the field, and with heavy drafts being constantly made upon it to fill the ranks of the armies, the cultivation of the ground was neglected, and the necessities of life every day became scarcer and dearer. We were shut out, too, owing to the stringency of the Federal blockade, from anything like regular intercourse with Europe, and all kinds of manufactured articles, and the food we had been accustomed to import, were held at such enormous figures, that they were utterly beyond the reach of any but the most wealthy. The suffering among the poorer classes in all parts of the South was very great, and in those portions which had been devastated by the tramp of the different armies, many of the people were very nearly on the verge of starvation.

It was fast becoming a serious question how long the contest could be prolonged, unless some signal advantage could speedily be achieved in the field by the Confederate forces. It is impossible to express in words how eagerly all classes looked for the achievement of some such advantage, and how bitter was the disappointment, as month after month wore away, and in spite of occasional victories, the people saw, day by day, the Federals drawing their lines closer and closer, and slowly but surely closing in upon them.

We were now entering upon the desperate stage of the war, when the contest was conducted almost against hope, and had the South been inhabited by a less determined race, or one less animated by a fixed resolve to fight to the very last, and until it was impossible to fight any longer, the Federal forces would have succeeded long ere they did in compelling a surrender of the Confederate armies. The men who commanded the armies, however, were not the sort to give up until they were absolutely defeated, and it was starvation, rather than the Federal arms, that at length forced the contest to the conclusion it reached, by the surrender of the armies under the command of [Robert E.] Lee and [Joseph E.] Johnston. …

Richmond … was a very different place from what it was on my last visit to it, as I soon found to my cost. Martial law was in force in its most rigorous aspect. … Beleaguered as Richmond was, every person was more or less an object of suspicion, and strangers, especially, were watched with a vigilance that left them few opportunities to do mischief, or were put under arrest, and placed in close confinement. …

It is not surprising, therefore, that almost immediately upon my arrival in Richmond I fell under the surveillance … as a suspicious character, and was called upon to give an account of myself. My story was not accepted in the same spirit of credibility that some rather tough yarns I had manufactured in the course of my career, for the purpose of satisfying the curiosity of inquisitive people, had been. … There was, evidently, something suspicious and mysterious about me, and, suspicion having once been excited, some lynx-eyed detective was not long in noting certain feminine ways I had, and which even my long practice in figuring as a man had not enabled me to get rid of, and the result was, that I was arrested on the charge of being a woman in disguise, and supposedly a Federal spy, and was conducted to Castle Thunder to reflect upon the mutabilities of fortune until I could give a satisfactory account of myself.

I thought that this was rather hard lines, but as good luck often comes to us in the guise of present tribulation, as matters turned out it was the very best thing that could have happened to me, for it compelled me to reveal myself and my plans to persons who were willing and able to aid me, and to tell my story to friendly and sympathetic ears.

The commander of Castle Thunder was Major G. W. Alexander, a gentleman who, ever since I made his acquaintance through being committed to his custody as a prisoner, I have always been proud to number among my best and most highly-esteemed friends. Major Alexander and his lovely wife both showed the greatest interest in me, and they treated me with such kindness and consideration that I was induced to tell them exactly who I was, what my purposes were in assuming the male garb, what adventures I had passed through, and what my aspirations were for the future. They not only believed my story, but thinking that my services to the Confederacy merited better treatment than I was then receiving at the hands of the authorities, interested themselves greatly in my behalf.

Both the major and his wife … seemed to be shocked, however, at the idea of a woman dressing herself in the garb of the other sex and attempting to play the part of a soldier, and they eagerly urged me to resume the proper costume of my sex again, assuring me that there would be plenty of work for me to do if I were disposed still to devote myself to the service of the Confederacy. The major, however … was urgent that I should abandon my disguise and represented, in forcible terms, the dangers I ran in persisting in wearing it.

To these remonstrances I turned a deaf ear. I had passed through too many real trials to be frightened by imaginary ones, and I did not like to change my costume under compulsion. I accordingly refused positively to put on the garments of a woman, except as a means of gaining my liberty, and with the full intention of resuming male attire at the earliest opportunity. Major Alexander, therefore, finding me fixed in my determination to have my own way, undertook to have matters arranged to my satisfaction without putting me to the necessity of discarding my disguise. …

Loreta’s Civil War: The plucky little devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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