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.
Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.
Part 63: Velazquez ends her Caribbean tour in Havana, where she relaxes with relatives, makes a new friend, and confronts personal tragedy once again.
Through the exertions of my friends to make my visit to St. Thomas a pleasant one, the time passed rapidly, and when the arrival of the steamer Pelyo gave me warning that I must prepare for my departure, I would gladly have prolonged my stay for a number of days more had it been possible to do so.
The time of leave-taking was come, however, and I was escorted on board the steamer by quite a large party, many of whom, as I said goodbye, eagerly requested me to correspond with them and to keep them posted about my movements as they expected that I would scarcely be satisfied unless I undertook some strange adventures.
The steamer stopped at Porto Rico but I did not go on shore, not liking the looks of the place. We only remained for a few hours to take in some freight and passengers and then were off to sea again. Among the passengers was a young Spanish officer. Capt. F. Martinez, whom I had met before and who knew that I had served in the Confederate army. He came up to me and gave an officer’s salute, at which I laughed and held out my hand to him, saying that the time for that sort of thing had passed. We then fell into an animated conversation about the war and other matter, and during the rest of the trip he paid me every attention in his power.
As we were promenading the deck together in the evening, he informed me that he was engaged to a young lady in Santiago de Cuba, and he was very solicitous that I should stop there and see her. I was not unwilling, as I had relations residing near the city whom I was anxious to visit, and so I made arrangements for a return to another of the homes of my childhood.
When we reached Santiago, I called with Capt. Martinez upon his betrothed and was much pleased to see that he had made so excellent a choice. The young lady was very pretty and amiable and belonged to a wealthy family.
Having notified my cousin, who was married to a Prussian gentleman, of my arrival, I went out to her home about ten miles in the country and remained a day or two with her.
In the city, I was waited upon by many distinguished people and was invited to dine at the mansion of the general in command of the Spanish forces. At this dinner my health was proposed, with some complimentary remarks, at which honor I was immensely flattered, and after it was over, the company adjourned to the grand plaza to listen to the military band and to see the beauty and fashion of Santiago.
Santiago de Cuba is a very old town, and it has an extensive commerce. The chief exports are coffee, sugar, cigars, and fruit. The harbor is a fine one, and during the war it was a favorite resort for blockade-runners.
The day after the dinner at the general’s mansion, I went on board the steamer and started for Havana. That city was reached in due time, and once more I found myself on familiar ground and among friends who were ready to extend me a hearty welcome for the sake of old times.
My brother’s family and other relatives resided outside of the walls. I sent them word of my arrival but did not go to the house, on account of differences with my sister-in-law. During my stay in Havana my brother visited me frequently, as did also my niece — my sister’s daughter — and my nephew, who acted as my escort to the theater and other places.
In addition to my relatives, I had many acquaintances in Havana who were glad to extend the hospitality of the place to me. Among others, Gen. Juaquin Mansana and the officers of his staff were all warm friends of mine, and they seemed never to tire of paying me attentions. I was also acquainted with a great number of people with whom I had had confidential business relations during the war, and they too did what they could to make the time pass pleasantly.
Shortly after I reached Havana, there was a grand religious festival, and, at the suggestion of Gen. Mansana, I consented to appear in the procession in uniform. The general, enjoining me to keep the matter a secret, presented me with a handsome Spanish military suit. I attired myself in this, and arranging my disguise so that my most intimate friends would not know me, I took my place in the procession in a carriage beside Col. Montero, which drove just behind that of the general.
The colonel especially requested me not to let the other officers and soldiers know who I was, as there might be some excitement created if any one suspected that a woman disguised as an officer was in the procession. I accordingly kept my secret and was not recognized. During the day, I … passed quite close to Mr. Savage, the United States consul, and the members of his staff, and it amused the general greatly to see that they had not the slightest suspicion as to who I was. I was also introduced to a number of ladies as a young Spanish officer who had been educated in England. …
This procession took place on Friday, and Gen. Mansana, as we were about starting out, told me that there was a steamer in the harbor with some emigrants on board who were going to South America. He asked me if I would not see them, and, by relating my experiences, try and persuade them to return home again. This I promised to do.
In the evening, after the ceremonies were over, we went to the theater, where we found quite a brilliant audience assembled. Before the performance was over, Gen. Mansana said that he was hungry and retired. The rest of the party remained until the curtain fell, when we went to a restaurant and had supper. After supper we drove to the Plaza de Armas, where a room had been assigned me in the palace, and I changed my costume as rapidly as I could, appearing once more in female attire.
As I was coming out. Col. Montero met me in the hall and said that the general had been taken quite sick. I asked if I could see him, and on a messenger being sent, word was conveyed to the colonel that the general wished to speak with him. He soon returned and invited me to go into the sick chamber. The general was in bed, and the doctor was in attendance on him. He complained of severe cramps but did not think that anything serious was the matter and invited me to call on him the next morning, when he expected to be better.
After breakfast, the next morning, I went to the general’s quarters but the guard had orders not to admit any one. I sent in my card, however, and in a few moments the chief of staff came down and asked me to walk up to the reception room. The surgeon in attendance made his appearance and said that the general was worse instead of better but that I could see him if I would promise not to speak. I accordingly went into the sick-room and found the general looking very bad indeed. He smiled at me and seemed to be glad that I had called. I then retired, as I found that I could be of no assistance, and went to see the emigrants.
I gave them an account of my experiences and observations in South America and advised them in the strongest possible terms not to pursue their journey any farther, but to return home, and, if they wanted to get away from the South, to go West. Some of them were much impressed with what I said and came on shore to see me. I invited them to the hotel to take dinner and went into the matter more particularly, showing them the great risks they would run and the small chance they would have of establishing themselves in a satisfactory manner.
This interference on my part was bitterly resented by some of the leaders of the expedition, who expressed a desire that I should not come on board the steamer again. I had no wish to do this, having performed my duty, and I was willing now that they should take their own course and abide the consequences, although I was sorry for some of the poor women who I knew would regret not having followed my advice.
My expostulations proved of no avail, and the steamer sailed for South America after her old, worn-out and worthless boiler had been patched. The vessel itself, like the boiler, was worn out, and they were obliged to put in at St. Thomas with her and charter another boat. Some of the people, I believe, returned to the United States from St. Thomas, while the rest were glad to get back the best way they could after a very brief experience of Para, the port for which they were bound. After reaching their destination and endeavoring to effect a settlement, they very soon came to the conclusion that my advice was good.
On Sunday morning I learned, to my infinite sorrow, that Gen. Mansana was dead. The funeral took place the next day, and the body, having been embalmed, was carried through the streets, followed by his carriage, dressed in crape, and his favorite horse. The funeral was an imposing but sorrowful spectacle, for the general was a good man, and although, like other public men, he had his enemies, he deserved and enjoyed a great popularity.
With this visit to Havana concluded my trip to South America and the West Indies. In some of its aspects it was far from being enjoyable, and yet, on the whole, I managed to have a pretty good time, and I did not regret the journey. I had learned a great deal about a part of the world that it was worthwhile to know something about, and I had met a great many good friends whom I was exceedingly glad to meet. Taking it all in all, the pleasures of the trip far more than counterbalanced its disagreeable features, and the main thing I had to complain of was that I returned to the United States with a much lighter pocket-book than when I set out.