Loreta’s Civil War: One of the most disgraceful

Velazquez completes her uneventful trip to Havana and returns to Washington, where she begins a new mission in the depths of the Treasury Department.

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 47: Velazquez completes her uneventful trip to Havana and returns to Washington, where she begins a new mission in the depths of the Treasury Department.

******

It was a troublesome matter getting our cargo together, but finally, after many anxious days and nights, during which we expected every moment to be pounced upon by the Federal authorities, our schooner was loaded with wines, drugs, boots, shoes, buttons, and military goods. I also filled several private orders and … purchased a handsome sword and belt and a fine pair of pistols. These I obtained through a sergeant stationed at Governor’s Island … who proved useful to me afterwards in a variety of transactions. …

Everything being ready, the schooner set sail and succeeded in reaching her port without being overhauled. So, soon as she was off, I prepared to start by the steamer for Havana, having orders for coffee and other supplies to the Confederate agent there. These goods had been shipped from Antwerp and other places in Europe and from New York, and they were to be sent from Nassau to Brownsville, Texas, under consignment to the Confederate quartermaster or agent there, who, if I recollect rightly, was a Capt. Shankey.

This trip to Havana was scarcely as pleasant as the one I had made to that city from New Orleans in the summer of 1862. The Atlantic Ocean I found to be a great deal rougher than the Gulf of Mexico, and, for nearly half the voyage, the weather was very stormy. The result was that I was too sick to have much enjoyment for a couple of days but, having recovered from my attack of mat de mer, I began to enjoy myself and felt benefited by the sea air. I was not sorry, however, when the shores of my beautiful native island began to appear in the distance, and [I] felt much satisfaction when our vessel steamed in under the guns of the Moro Castle and anchored off the city of Havana.

In Havana, I found a number of my old acquaintances of 1862, who were as busily engaged as ever in running the blockade, although the difficulties and dangers of the business gave them much discomfort. The profits of a successful trip, however, were so great that they could afford to brave them and to submit to large losses through the vigilance of the Federal cruisers. In fact, despite the annoyances experienced from the blockaders, who were becoming exceedingly keen in their scent after prizes, blockade-running was yet a very paying business, and the men engaged in it would have been quite willing that the war should have continued indefinitely, so long as their ventures yielded as handsome results as they did.

What gave these people the most uneasiness … was not the stringency of the blockade but a prospect that the war would speedily come to an end. They watched the course of events critically and anxiously but from a very different standpoint from that of myself and my associates, North or South, and I was not a little startled by the evident belief that the collapse of the Confederacy was near at hand. The cold-blooded way in which they considered such a calamity, and the purely pecuniary light in which they regarded it, shocked me and greatly excited my indignation. I could not but acknowledge the force of much of their reasoning, however, although their total indifference to the fate of the Confederacy, except so far as it affected their opportunities for money-making, had the effect of reviving my enthusiasm and of making me more than ever resolved to labor for the success of the cause while a glimmer of hope remained.

Having transacted my business in Havana, I started for Bridgetown, Barbados, to make arrangements there for the shipment of goods. I went from Havana to St. Thomas in the steamer Pelyo and from St. Thomas to Bridgetown in a British steamer. The purser of the last-mentioned vessel was particularly attentive to me — indeed, I had not had so persistent an admirer since the time I was escorted to Memphis by the Federal lieutenant, whose fancy for me I turned to such good purpose in carrying out my plans. The purser gave me his photograph and made me promise to write to him. The photograph I kept and have given it a proper place in my collection of curiosities, but the promise to write I am afraid I broke. I hope the purser, who was a very good follow in his way, did not break his heart in consequence.

At Bridgetown I was received very kindly by the friends of the Confederacy there but was disappointed at finding that Mr. M., the gentleman whom I was to see, was absent. I, however, left my orders with his secretary and started to return to New York by way of St. Thomas.

At St. Thomas I was compelled to wait some days for the steamer, during which time the Confederate cruiser Florida came in under the noses of the Federal fleet, coaled, and put to sea again. One of the Federal men-of-war which was watching her was deluded into giving chase to a mail steamer, and the Florida succeeded in slipping off and getting out of harm’s way before she discovered her mistake — a performance which afforded me exceeding great delight.

While in St. Thomas I succeeded in contracting a loan with Messrs. V & Son, a Belgian firm, on account of the Confederate agents in Canada, and, this being done, I was ready to return to New York by the first steamer.

On my return to New York, circumstances occurred which called my special attention to the operations of the bounty-jumpers and substitute-brokers, and having no other schemes on hand, I was induced to interest myself in the business of reducing the strength of the Federal armies in the field by preventing the reinforcements demanded by the government from reaching the front.

The efficiency of the services rendered the Confederacy by these substitute-brokers and bounty-jumpers cannot be over-estimated. Large armies existed on paper but while the generals in command kept constantly and uninterruptedly calling for more men, they failed to receive them in such numbers as were requisite for keeping their ranks full, and many important movements were rendered ineffectual, and thousands of lives were needlessly sacrificed, simply because the recruiting system adopted by the government was far better calculated for giving abundant employment to rogues of the worst class than it was for keeping the strength of the army up to the proper standard.

The majority of these rogues were Northern men who … did not care the toss of a button which side won, so long as they were able to make money out of the contest. The war, to them, was a grand opportunity for driving all manner of schemes for their individual profit, and the longer it was likely to last, the better they were pleased, giving no thought whatever to the enormous destruction of life and property that was going on, or to the incalculable misery that was caused to thousands of people, all over the land, every day it was waged. …

I doubt whether a good many of the people of the North who supported the Federal government in its efforts to conquer the South, under the belief that their cause was a just one and worth making sacrifices for, had any adequate idea of the rascality, in high quarters and low quarters, that was one of the results of the war. We read about certain scandalous doings in the newspapers but, apart from the fact that many of the worst rascalities of the period never were brought to light, it was impossible for the good, patriotic people who contributed their money and goods, and who prayed, day and night, for the success of the Federal cause, to understand the infamies that were being practiced around them. …

Had these infamies been confined to a comparatively few obscure men in the large cities they would have been bad enough and would have been sufficiently demoralizing in their influences to make it a subject for profound regret that opportunities for their practice should have been afforded.

Bad as they were, however, the substitute-brokers and the bounty-jumpers were not the worst villains of the period. Men high in public station and occupying offices of the greatest responsibility were engaged in robbing the government and in swindling the public to an extent that was absolutely startling to me when I obtained cognizance of their doings, and, for the purpose of carrying out my plans, became an accomplice in some of their transactions.

The Treasury Department itself — where the Federal currency and the interest-bearing bonds, upon which was raised money to carry on the contest, were manufactured — was the headquarters of a gang of thieves and counterfeiters, who carried on their operations for months, within my own knowledge, in a most barefaced manner, and who, when at length detected and brought to bay, were able not only to escape punishment but to retain their positions and to find apologists in their official superiors and in prominent members of Congress.

I really did not know what to make of it when I read the report of the committee of Congress, which not only exonerated certain Treasury officials, whose misdeeds were discovered by Col. Baker, but which actually insinuated that the detective was engaged in a conspiracy against them. I knew only too well how guilty they were, and I knew that Baker had ample evidence against them, although he was not informed of a tithe of the villainies they had committed. That the secretary and the solicitor of the treasury should take sides with them, and that a congressional committee composed of statesmen who claimed to be honest and patriotic, should … sustain them and endeavor to punish Baker for having detected them, are things that I have never yet been able to understand.

That they were protected, and that attempts were made to punish Baker, are, however, facts that cannot be denied, and certainly, of all the disgraceful things which occurred during the war, this was one of the most disgraceful. …

My opinion of Col. Baker’s character or of his qualifications for the position he held as chief of the United States Secret Service Corps is not the most exalted, and I have too vivid a recollection of the fears I felt and of the trouble I had in keeping out of his way at the period to which I am alluding. … I was pleased, for my own sake, but I was astonished beyond measure when I learned that his efforts to break up certain practices in vogue in the Treasury Department resulted as they did. … It was almost incredible that Secretary Chase, Solicitor Jordan, and Mr. Garfield and the other members of the congressional investigating committee should have taken the peculiar stand that they did. …

I had little or nothing to do with the bounty-jumpers until after my return from the West Indies. My relations with the officials of the Treasury Department, however, commenced not a great while after my arrival at the North, and it was mainly my transactions with them that made me so much afraid of being discovered by Col. Baker and so extremely anxious to stand well in his good graces. I am convinced that my intimate relations with Baker, as one of his employees, and the confidence in me which I succeeded in inspiring in his mind alone saved me from detection when he went to work to find out what was worth finding out in the Treasury Department. …

When I first learned of the uses which some of my Confederate friends were making of the facilities of the Federal treasury for obtaining cash, I was rather shocked, and it took some time to convince me that even the license of warfare and the right we had to injure our adversaries in every manner possible made such things permissible. When I found out, however, that not only were counterfeit Confederate bonds and notes freely manufactured at the North, without any interference on the part of the government, but that Federal officials actually made use of this bogus Confederate paper whenever they found it convenient to do so, I had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that we would be perfectly justifiable in retaliating, and that we had the same right to raid on the Federal treasury and to injure to Federal credit that the Federals had to try and swamp our finances.

It was Col. Baker who decided me to go into this business. That individual always seemed to have a plentiful amount of bogus Confederate bills on hand to be used on occasion. On my Richmond trip, as the reader will recollect, he gave me a considerable sum in this kind of money to assist in paying my expenses, all of which was just so much saved to the Federal government — or, perhaps, to Baker individually — for I was traveling in the capacity of a Federal secret service agent. On numerous similar occasions Baker found it convenient to meet the expenses of his spies within the Confederate lines with promises to pay — supposed to have been issued in Richmond, but in reality manufactured and given to the world in New York and Philadelphia. He seemed to regard it as quite a proper way of fighting the rebels — to put as many counterfeit Confederate notes as possible into circulation — and when I discovered that he was of this way of thinking, I was not long in deciding that we rebels had a right to make the thing even by circulating as many bogus United States notes and bonds as we could. …

Loreta’s Civil War: Not the handsomest man I ever saw

Velazquez is arrested, brought before the infamous commander of Federal forces in New Orleans, and accused of being a spy.

KS54

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 24: Velazquez is arrested, brought before the infamous commander of Federal forces in New Orleans, and accused of being a spy.

******

I found some Confederate soldiers preparing to cross the lake, and, going to one of them, who seemed to be in command of the party, I told him a number of things which I had thought it more prudent not to commit to writing, and desired him to pass the word along. Then, waiting until the boat was ready to set sail, I gave him an enclosure containing my dispatches, asking him, if possible, to deliver it at headquarters, or if he was unable to do this, to drop it at the earliest moment in the post office. … He promised a faithful compliance with my instructions, and jumping into the boat, he and his companions shoved off from the shore and were soon lost in the heavy mist that rested upon the surface of the lake. …

Unluckily for me, [the] officer to whom I had entrusted my dispatch was captured, and the document was found upon his person. Through some means, which I could not surmise, the provost marshal was informed that I was the writer of the dispatch, although the name signed to it was not the one he knew me by. A negro was found, too, who swore that he had seen me walking along the river, outside of the lines, and the result was that I was placed under arrest, and taken before [Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin] Butler himself.

Butler was not the handsomest man I ever saw in my life, and he certainly looked the tyrant that he was. It was a favorite amusement with him to browbeat people who were brought before him, and he was remarkably skillful in terrifying those who were weak enough to submit to being bullied by him into making just the admission he wanted them to make. I had heard a good deal about his peculiar methods of dealing with those who had incurred his displeasure in any way … and I was therefore prepared, in a measure, for the ordeal which I was now compelled to undergo. …

[W]hen I was brought into his presence, he proceeded on the theory that I was the person he wanted and that I was guilty of the charge made against me. He evidently thought the case was a perfectly plain one and that I would not attempt a denial. I, however, kept cool and refused to look at the matter from his point of view, and, as none of the witnesses who appeared were able to swear positively to my identity as the woman who had acted as the bearer of the dispatch found on the Confederate officer, I began to think that I was going to get clear without a great deal of trouble.

Butler, however, was not one from whom it was easy to get away when his suspicions were once aroused, and I saw plainly that he was convinced of the fact that he had captured the right person this time, and that his prisoner was a spy who had been giving him serious annoyance. He was, therefore, resolved not to let me slip through his fingers if he could help it, and finding that he could not absolutely prove anything against me, he concluded to try whether it would not be possible to force me into committing myself.

When, therefore, instead of ordering my release, Butler settled his pudgy figure back in his chair, and, apparently, making a vigorous attempt to look straight at me with both eyes at once — an impossibility, by the way — said, with a harsh, grating voice, and with what was intended to be an intensely satirical manner, “Well, madam, you have shown your hand nicely. I have been wanting you for some time past, and I propose to send you to Ship Island” — I felt that the real ordeal was but just commencing.

Without permitting myself to be disconcerted, either by his manner or by his threat, I replied, “I guess not; the law does not permit you to sentence anyone on mere hearsay or belief, and no evidence has been produced against me. …”

“Come, come, madam, I don’t want any of this nonsense,” struck in Butler, sharply. “I know you, and your tricks; and as your little game is played out, you might as well confess, and be done with it.”

“There is no difficulty about your finding out who I am,” I retorted. “My name, and residence, and circumstances are well known to your officers, and have been ever since the capture of the city. You have no proof against me, and I have nothing to confess.”

“Do you mean to say,” continued the general, “that you are not the writer of that letter, or that you did not smuggle it through the lines?”

“I don’t mean to say anything about it,” I answered, “and I don’t mean to confess what I didn’t do.”

By this time Butler, seeing that he was not making much headway with me, began to get angry, and he roared out, “Well, madam, if you won’t confess without compulsion, I’ll see whether I can’t compel you. I’m tired of this sort of thing, and I’m going to make an example of you for the benefit of the other female spies who are hanging about this city.” I replied, as cool as possible, “You may get yourself into trouble, sir, if you attempt to punish an innocent woman on a false and scandalous charge like this, when there is not a particle of evidence to sustain it.”

This appeared to infuriate Butler more than ever; and, turning to one of his officers, he gave an order that I should be locked up in a cell in the Custom House until my case was investigated further. When I heard this order I turned to him with all the dignity I could command, and said, “One word, sir, you will please to understand that I am a British subject and that I claim the protection of the British flag.”

Butler, who displayed a particular antipathy to foreigners, and especially to the English, on all occasions, blurted out, “We will see about that. I don’t care for Johnny Bull,” and then turning to the officer he said, “Take that woman to the Custom House.”

This ended the investigation, and I left the presence of the general, feeling tolerably well-satisfied with having got the best of him thus far, but dubious about the ultimate issue of the affair, for I was confident that he would make an endeavor to fasten the charge on me in such a manner that there would be no escape. …

I, however, was not disposed to vex myself with troubles before they came, and preserved my equanimity, trusting to my usual good luck to bring my present difficulties to a satisfactory conclusion. The officer in whose charge I was placed was a gentleman in every respect, and he treated me in the most courteous manner while escorting me to the Custom House, apologizing for being compelled to perform so unpleasant a duty, and, on our arrival at the building which was to serve as my prison, he procured a nice camp bed for my cell, and in other ways tried to make me as comfortable as circumstances would permit. He ordered that my meals should be sent me regularly and promised that an effort would be made to prevent my incarceration from being any more unpleasant than was absolutely necessary. …

A friend of mine, Sergeant B., hearing that I was imprisoned, came to see me, and on my expressing a great desire to have some pens, ink, and paper, he promised to procure them and slip them in to me. He also said that he would carry any message I might desire to send to my friends outside. I thanked him and requested him to try and let me have some writing materials as soon as possible. He therefore procured them, and I immediately wrote a note to Mr. Coppell, the British consul, in which I explained my situation briefly, and asked his assistance.

Mr. Coppell called upon me at once, and I, claiming that I was a British subject … asked his protection and his influence for a release without more delay. He promised to do what he could for me and asked for my proofs of British citizenship. I therefore gave him my trunk key and the number of my room, with a description of the papers I had purchased in view of just such an emergency as this, and he, having obtained them, went to Butler’s headquarters to demand my liberation.

I do not know what passed between the consul and the general, but the result of the interview was an order for my release, and I accordingly walked out of the Custom House under Mr. Coppell’s escort, and with all the rebel in me exultant at having got the better of Butler.

I understood plainly that my operations as a spy in New Orleans were now at an end, and that the safest and best thing I could do, if I did not want to get into further trouble, would be to leave the city at the earliest possible moment. There was, however, no longer any necessity for keeping my rebel sympathies concealed, and I was really glad of an opportunity to let them be seen. As we were going out of the Custom House I heard some one bragging how they were going to thrash Johnny Bull, and I could not resist the temptation of turning to Mr. Coppell, who must also have heard the remark, and saying, “That fellow must be crazy. He and his friends had better wipe out secession first, before they talk about whipping Johnny Bull.” I said this loud enough for everbody to hear me, and it made the speaker and others around us furious, and elicited several retorts, at which we only laughed. This was a foolish proceeding on my part, but I could not help taking a bit of womanly revenge on my enemies for what they had done to me.

Having obtained my freedom again, I prepared to forsake New Orleans and applied for a pass. This, however, was refused me, and I saw that if I intended to get out of Butler’s power so as to be able to resume operations either as a spy or as a Confederate officer, it would be necessary for me to run the blockade. Situated as I was, and under suspicion of being a spy, this, I was well aware, would be a particularly risky thing to attempt; but there was no alternative left me except to either attempt it, or else remain in the city in idleness, and in constant danger of having some of my many previous transactions, in the way of carrying information to the Confederates, found out. I felt very certain that if Butler did succeed in discovering who I was … I would not get off so easily as I had done in my first controversy with him, and I therefore concluded that I ran a greater risk in remaining in New Orleans than I did in attempting to leave it surreptitiously. …

I knew well that some of the stanchest adherents of the Confederacy were to be found among the poor white population of New Orleans and vicinity. I knew that if I could once make the other side of Lake Pontchartrain I would be safe, and that there would be fewer risks to run in attempting an escape in that direction than in any other. I accordingly laid my plans for a trip across the lake, with a view of striking a point near the railroad so that I could reach Jackson with the least inconvenience.

Going down to the lake, I found a fisherman who was pursuing his avocation under a permit from Butler, and taking advantage of an opportunity to speak to him when our conversation could not be overheard, I asked, “Do any rebels ever cross the lake without papers?”

“Yes,” said he, “sometimes.”

“Do you think that you could take me over if I were to make it worth your while?” said I.

“Are you a Reb?” he questioned, looking at me sharply.

“They say I am,” I answered.

“Well, I might take you over if you will pay enough.”

“I’ll give you a good deal more than you can get for any job you do for the Federals.”

“All right, then,” said he, and without more argument we struck a bargain and arranged time and place of meeting, my boatman giving me some directions how to proceed so as to avoid attracting attention, from which I inferred that this was not the first time he had been engaged in running the blockade. … At the appointed time I was at the rendezvous, and saw my boatman waiting. Fearful, however, of being apprehended just as I was about to start, I did not show myself at first, but crept cautiously through the bushes until I could see whether any one was observing my movements. Finding the coast apparently clear, I made a signal to the man, and he approached and took me into the boat.

In a moment more the sail was hoisted, and we were speeding over the lake before a good breeze, which promised, ere a great while, to waft me beyond Butler’s jurisdiction, and enable me once more to give the Confederacy the benefit of my services.

I had a reasonable amount of confidence in the fidelity of the boatman, but at the same time was determined to be prepared against any attempt at treachery on his part. I had, accordingly, provided myself with a six-shooter and had taken pains to see that it was loaded and all in condition for instant use before leaving my room. On taking my seat in the boat I placed my hand on this weapon, and was resolved to put it to the head of the man if he showed the slightest indication of a desire to betray me. I had no fancy for a sojourn on Ship Island, and would, without the slightest hesitation, have used my revolver freely before submitting to a capture. The man, however, was faithful enough, and with the prospect of a liberal reward before him, he was only eager to reach the other side of the lake as soon as he could, and to avoid the Federal patrols in doing so.

Fortune favored us, and it was not long before we were out of the reach of immediate danger, and in a fair way to make the Mississippi shore without being interfered with. On landing I paid the boatman his money, according to the bargain I had made with him and started off for the nearest railroad station for the purpose of going to Jackson. Thus ended my career in New Orleans as a Confederate spy. It was a successful one, taking all things into consideration, but I was not sorry to get away, and considered myself fortunate in being able to make my escape with as much ease as I did.

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