Loreta’s Civil War: The sensations of pleasure

Velazquez asks Confederate veterans about that one woman who disguised herself as an army officer, and she relishes their responses.

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 56: Velazquez asks Confederate veterans about that one woman who disguised herself as an army officer, and she relishes their responses.

******

From Rheims, we passed on and made a flying visit to Hamburg, the famous watering-place, and from there went to Frankfort on the Main. On one side of the city are to be seen the mountains, while on the other extends a rich, fertile plain. I almost wished that I was the wife of one of those good-natured, honest, industrious German farmers we were constantly meeting so that I might live and die in a snug, home-like little farm-house, half hidden by the grain, and surrounded by flowering shrubs and vines, such as were to be seen on all sides. Nowhere have I beheld more evidences of solid comfort and downright good living than in the vicinity of Frankfort, and there are no people on the earth happier than these hard-working but contented Germans, who know how to enjoy life in right honest fashion. …

Having exhausted the sights of Frankfort, we prepared to move on, and there was considerable debate as to whether we should next go to Italy or to Russia. I was most anxious to visit Poland, and so it was finally determined that we should go there. I was sorry for having taken this trip afterwards, for there was nothing in Krakow — a city ruined and desolated by war — that could give me pleasure. Indeed, the whole land looked as if it was under a blight. I took advantage, however, of the occasion to renew my acquaintance with M. Koskalosky, a young Pole, whom I had met in Paris just before the close of the war. He was a very pleasant, cultivated gentleman and a sincere friend of the South. I hope that the time will come when the people of Poland will be able to regain their independence. They are cruelly oppressed now, and their beautiful country is a waste and desolation.

Instead of going to Italy, we now returned to Paris, having seen much to interest and delight us, but having, after all, found no country that was the equal of America, towards which my heart turned with increasing fondness the longer I was absent from it.

In Paris we met Mr. Dayton, the minister from the United States, and were quite cordially received by him. I had carefully avoided going near this gentleman on my former visit because I was aware that he knew me and thought that, perhaps, he might bear me some ill will. He was pleasant enough, however, and I sincerely regretted not having met him sooner.

At the Hotel de Louvre, where we stopped, there was quite a list of old Confederates, some of whom had been my army companions. I had the advantage of them, for they had only known me as Lt. Harry T. Buford, and they did not recognize me in female attire. Being extremely anxious to know what they thought of me, I obtained introductions to most of them and began to try and get them to commit themselves.

Col. M. was the first one I spoke to on this delicate subject. After inquiring about the condition of affairs in America, I asked him if he knew what had become of that female officer who figured so extensively during the greater part of the war.

“Oh,” said the colonel, “I knew her very well. She was in my corps for a time, but afterwards she went West, and I do not know how she finished her career.”

“What do you think of her?”

“She is a very fine woman and made a good officer. She was very popular indeed.”

“Do you think that it was proper for a woman to do as she did?”

“Well, no, not exactly but she did so much good for the Cause that she can well be excused. If the men had all been as plucky, things would have turned out very different. She always bore an excellent name, and I would fight for her in a moment if I heard any one traducing her. I would like very much to see her again and would be willing to travel all the way back to America to have that pleasure.”

The reader may imagine the sensations of pleasure which this enthusiastic opinion of myself caused me. I was aching to tell him who I was, but there were others whom I desired to question and so concluded to preserve my secret a little longer.

While I was talking with Col. M., a servant in livery appeared with a card on a silver waiter from Col. D. and Maj. C. I did not recognize the names but said I would receive them and so shook hands with Col. M., giving him a hearty request to call on me again. The two gentlemen appeared, and the colonel said, “You do not appear to remember me.”

“No, sir,” I replied. “I think I recollect your face but I cannot recall where I have met you.”

“Do you not recollect meeting me in Cuba, at So-and-so’s house?”

“Oh, certainly I do. I must ask that you will excuse my forgetfulness.”

“I was looking over the list of arrivals, and seeing your name thought that I would take the liberty of calling to inquire after your health.”

I asked whether he had met my brother’s family, and on his saying that he had not, I conducted him and his friend to their parlor. Leaving the major for my brother and his wife to entertain, I took the colonel to a remote part of the room, and after some preliminary conversation, asked him the same questions that I had Col. M.

He expressed admiration of my valor but was so bitter in denouncing me for assuming male attire that I was thoroughly disgusted with him.

A few days after this, I returned with my brother and family to London and immediately on my arrival in that city wrote two letters, one to Col. M. and the other to Col. D., telling them who I was. Col. M. replied, expressing great gratification at having met me and a wish that I had made known to him that I was the heroine of whom he had such a decided admiration. Col. D. did not reply but his friend Maj. C wrote me a letter in French, in which he endeavored to apologize for him and expressed a wish, for his own sake, that I would return to Paris, as he was anxious to be better acquainted with a lady who had performed so many valorous exploits.

We remained about fifteen days in London, stopping at the house of a friend, Mr. T., a right jolly fellow who had resided in England for many years. Shortly after our arrival we visited Hyde Park, a very beautiful pleasure-ground, but not to be compared with the Parisian parks. This event was a source of much gratification to me, as it gave me an opportunity to see her majesty Queen Victoria, who drove by in a carriage with six horses. For this lady I always had a great admiration, esteeming her a model queen and a model mother. She was dressed with great neatness and simplicity, and there was nothing showy or ostentatious about her. …

Our decision to return [to America] … was far from pleasing to my sister-in-law, who desired to reside in Spain. She blamed me for influencing my brother contrary to her wishes and was jealous of my affection for him. The result was that a coolness sprang up between us that made our intercourse with each other anything but a pleasure to either.

On our arrival in New York, my brother was persuaded by his wife to go to Mexico, where her sister resided. I was not willing to go with them, and the result was that we parted company with many regrets on my side at the prospect of a long separation from a brother whom I loved dearer than myself and with whom I had only recently been reunited, after having scarcely seen each other during many years.

It could not be helped, however, and I felt that it was best he should go with his wife and children, leaving me to make my own way in the world, as I had been doing for so long a time. When they were once off, I turned my attention to my own affairs and began to make plans for the future. Before determining, however, on any particular course, I concluded that I would make a trip through the South for the purpose of observing the condition of the country and of finding out whether there was anything I could do to advance the interest of the people among whom my lot had been cast for so many years. …

My first stopping-place was Baltimore, where I met many old friends who expressed themselves as very glad to see me again but who represented the condition of things at the South as most deplorable. What I learned from them made me more than ever resolved to continue my journey, for, although the war was over, I was still anxious to do something, so far as my power extended, for the Southern people. …

I was advised in the strongest manner not to visit Washington at this time and was assured that it would be a very perilous thing to do. Naturally a little obstinate and self-willed, the opposition of my friends only made me the more desirous of carrying out my original intention, no matter what the hazard might be. To Washington, accordingly, I proceeded, and called on some acquaintances, who received me with the utmost cordiality.

The person whom I particularly wished to see — an official in the War Department — had, however, gone South. My friend Col. Baker was also out of the city. I did not know whether to congratulate myself or not at missing a meeting with him. I was resolved, on going to Washington, not to fight shy of him and to give him an opportunity to pay off old scores if he wished. Baker was certainly the person of all others who had a right to have a grudge against me, and yet I had an ardent desire to meet him again, just to hear what he would have to say about the tricks I so successfully played upon him. As the colonel was out of the city, however, I did not have the pleasure of exchanging notes with him, and I do not know to this day whether he ever discovered that I was a Confederate secret-service agent.

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: Wild thoughts that filled my mind

Velazquez has a new assignment: Track down a spy and help suppress a massive Union prison raid. She intends to do the exact opposite.

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 42: Velazquez has a new assignment: Track down a spy and help suppress a massive Union prison raid. She intends to do the exact opposite.

******

The next morning, just as I was sitting down to breakfast, the waiter brought me a note from Col. Baker, in which he stated that he would call to see me at the hotel about half past ten o’clock and requested me to await him at that hour. Still being uncertain whether Baker’s intentions towards me were amicable or not, it was not without some trepidation that I looked forward to this interview. … At the appointed time, Col. Baker made his appearance, and said “Good morning” with a pleasant smile, in which there was apparently not a shade of malice or unfriendliness. After asking me how I had liked the play and making a few other unimportant remarks, he said, “Well, my little woman, I have made up my mind to let you try your skill as a detective once more, if you are in the same mind you were yesterday.”

“Yes,” I replied, “I am just as anxious now as I was then, and I think I can not only find that spy for you, but that I can discover whether there really is any intention among the rebel prisoners to make a break.”

“That is just what I want you to do. I think that a woman can manage a job of this kind better than a man anyhow, and I believe that you are just the woman to manage it in first-rate style.”

“Thank you, colonel, I can at least try.”

“Yes, that’s it, try and find out all you can. I want you to pick out this man for me if he is at Johnson’s Island, as you seem to think he is, and if you succeed in finding him, telegraph to me immediately. If he is not at Johnson’s Island, you had better try and find out if any of the prisoners know anything about him — it is possible, you know, that he may be in some other prison, or, indeed, that he may have escaped. At all events, make every effort to find him.”

“You know, colonel, I am acquainted with a good many people down South, and I may come across somebody I know or somebody that knows somebody I know, and by representing myself as a disguised Confederate, I may be able to get the prisoners to talk plainer than they would to a stranger or a new visitor.”

“Well, I will leave it to you to manage the thing the best way you can think of. It would not be a bad idea, however, if you were to pass yourself off as a Confederate secret service agent, and if you were to intimate that something was likely to be done soon to procure the release of the prisoners, you might be able to induce them to say whether they have any plans of their own, or whether they are in communication with any one outside.”

“That is about my idea of working but the only difficulty will be in getting a chance to talk to any of the men privately.”

“Oh, I’ll arrange that for you by giving you a confidential letter, which, however, you must be careful not to let any one see except the commanding officer. If those fellows are up to any tricks, I want to know all about it at once. There has been a good deal of talk at different times about the prisoners attempting to stampede, but it has been pretty much all newspaper sensation with nothing in it.”

“But, you know, colonel, something of the kind might be attempted, and if a stampede or an insurrection should take place, it would create a good deal of excitement just now.”

“Yes, yes, that’s so. If there is anything on foot I want to discover it, and I want you to find out all you possibly can, and let me know immediately.”

“Well, you can rely upon me, and I think you will find me as shrewd as most of your detectives are.”

“If you will only keep your eyes and ears well open and open your mouth only when you have business to talk about, I will most likely find you a good deal shrewder.”

“Why, colonel, you don’t appear to have the best opinion in the world of some of your detectives.”

“Oh, yes, they do pretty well, some of them are really first-rate men, but they are not as smart as they ought to be for the kind of service they are in.”

“I suppose some of those rebel spies give you a good of trouble in keeping the run of them.”

“Oh, you haven’t any idea of it. Half the people of Washington and its immediate vicinity are rebel sympathizers and would be spies if they dared and knew how. And then they are at work all through the North and in Canada. Some of my people are after a spy now who has been traveling between Richmond and Canada, but they don’t seem to be able to lay their hands on her. If they don’t catch her soon, I have half a mind to let you try what you can do, if you succeed well with your present trip.”

The conversation at this point, I concluded, was getting to be rather too personal, and I thought it best to change the subject, although I could not help smiling at the idea of Baker employing me to catch myself. That, I thought, would be entirely too arduous a task for me to undertake in my then rather feeble state of health, although there might be both amusement and profit in it. Forbearing, however, to enter upon this interesting theme, I asked the colonel when he desired me to start. He said by the first train, if I could get ready, and handing me my confidential letter and two hundred dollars, he asked whether there was anything more he could do for me.

I said that I could think of nothing but would proceed to get ready for my journey immediately. He then shook hands and left, after wishing me a pleasant trip and expressing a hope that he would soon receive a good report from me.

When the colonel was gone, I went up to my room to pack my traveling satchel and, feeling perfectly satisfied from my late conversation with him that I was safe for the present so far as he was concerned, I laughed heartily at the absurdity of the situation and wondered with myself whether I would have dared to attempt anything of this kind at Richmond with old Gen. Winder. I had no difficulty in concluding that if fate had compelled me to play tricks with Winder, as I was doing with Baker, I would have been forced to proceed in a less open and free and easy style about it, and congratulated myself most heartily that I had so easy a customer to deal with under existing circumstances.

Calling a carriage, I was soon at the Baltimore depot and on board the train. Having to stop at the Relay House for the western-bound train, I made an effort to see the Confederate agent who was stationed there, as I had a number of things I wanted to say to him. He was an old Southern acquaintance of mine, and there were a variety of little matters that I could have whispered in his ear that would have been useful. … There is a good deal in knowing who one’s friends really are in transacting such delicate business as that I was then engaged in. Unfortunately, my friend was away, and as I was in too much of a hurry to wait for his return, I was forced to forego the pleasure of seeing him.

Once on board the western train, I had a long journey before me and had plenty of time to think over affairs generally. I planned and schemed until my brain fairly whirled, and I was glad to chat a little with some of my neighbors or to gaze through the car windows at the gorgeous scenery that met my eyes at every turn in the road, and to try and think for a while only of its beauties as a rest from the wild thoughts that filled my mind.

Try as I might, however, I could not avoid thinking of the situation, the prospects of the Confederacy, and the chances of success for the grand scheme, the execution of which I was endeavoring to assist. What if we failed or, if we succeeded in our first effort, would we be able to accomplish all we intended and expected? These were questions I could not answer. What I dreaded most was the possible effect of a raid by way of the Lakes on the Confederate sympathizers and the anti-war party. Would it stimulate them to make greater exertions than ever to bring the conflict to a close, or would this bringing the war to the doors of themselves and their neighbors turn them against us? I confess that I had fears of the latter result, for I had a not ill-founded distrust of these people, who are neither one thing nor the other, and I believed that had the Copperheads wielded their influence as they might have done, they could either have prevented the war in the beginning or could have forced a conclusion long ago.

What power the opponents of the war were able to exert would, however, be determined very shortly. A presidential election was coming off in a few weeks, and the greatest excitement with regard to the political battle that was being waged prevailed. Nearly everybody admitted that the defeat of Mr. Lincoln for a second term would mean that a majority of the people of the North were ready and anxious to abandon the contest and to let the seceding Southern states go in peace. The fact that the Democratic candidate was a Federal general, who had been commander-in-chief of the armies, and who professed to be willing and anxious to carry on the war did not please me very well, for it indicated to my mind, very plainly, that the anti-war people were afraid to oppose Mr. Lincoln and the war party on a square issue.

I, however, was nothing of a politician and did not profess to understand the ways of politicians, they being a class of men for whom I had no special admiration. But I could not help thinking that the Confederate government and the people of the South were basing too many hopes on what the Democrats would be able to do at this election. I knew that they in many ways were doing what they could to secure a Democratic victory, but, for my part, I relied far more on bullets than on ballots to give the South the victory, and I expected more from the great raid, for which I was now working, than I did from the election of Gen. McClellan. …

Loreta’s Civil War: Hypocrites and traitors

As she prepares a new espionage operation in the heart of Washington D.C., Velazquez identifies her archenemy, Col. Baker, and pauses to study his character and the danger he may pose to her.

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 37: As she prepares a new espionage operation in the heart of Washington D.C., Velazquez identifies her archenemy, Col. Baker, and pauses to study his character and the danger he may pose to her.

******

At the time of my arrival at the North the anti-war party was concentrating its strength for the approaching presidential campaign, and many men who were prominent in it were decidedly confident that the next election would place a president in the White House whose views about the proper policy to be pursued towards the South would be radically different from those of Mr. Lincoln. If an anti-war president could be elected … a speedy wind-up of the war on terms satisfactory to the Confederates would almost certainly follow his inauguration.

This being the situation, it was as much for the interest of the Richmond government that the political dissensions existing within the Federal lines should be kept alive and the success of the anti-war party promoted by every possible means as it was to win victories on the battlefield. Indeed, it was much more important, for victories cost men and treasure which the Confederacy could not well spare, and even more was to be gained by fighting the enemy on his own ground with the ballot than there was by shooting him on Confederate soil with the bullet.

It was an important part of the duty of the Confederate agents at the North to aid by every possible means the success of the anti-war party, and to this end they labored incessantly and effectively in various ways, but outside of the field of politics, there was an immense amount of highly important work being done, the like of which my brief experiences in New Orleans had barely given me a hint of. …

Many officials in the government employ were either secret service agents of the Confederacy or were in the pay of such. There was not a public building at Washington that did not contain a person or persons who was not only willing but eager to do much more than furnish information to the commanders of the Confederate armies and to the Richmond authorities, as far as it was possible to do so without placing themselves in peril. In all of the large cities were men and women, many of them in government employ, who were in constant communication with the Confederate agents, and in all of them were merchants who were rapidly growing wealthy by sending goods of all kinds, including arms and ammunition, to the South, either by having them smuggled through the lines or by shipping them to some neutral port for the purpose of having them transferred to blockade-runners.

Some of these merchants made no pretensions but sold to whoever would buy, having the avowed intention of making all the money they could by every safe means. They simply asked no questions, but took their cash and shipped according to order. Others were blockade-runners, pure and simple, and their only anxiety was to keep their operations concealed from the government detectives.

Millions of dollars’ worth of goods, however, were sold for the Southern market by men who were loud in their protestations of loyalty to the Federal government, who bitterly denounced the South in public and in private, who contributed largely to aid in carrying on the war, and who enjoyed in the fullest manner the confidence of the government, and of those of their fellow-citizens who honestly believed that the war was a just one.

I will not say that all of these men were hypocrites and traitors, for I am confident that very many of them were not. Some, however — and those not the least influential and wealthy — had different opinions about things in general, and the war, in particular, in public and in the social circles which they frequented, and in their counting-rooms, when certain people called on them for the purpose of buying goods. They were more than anxious to sell to any one who would buy, but in case the buyer was known to be, or was suspected of being, a Confederate agent, the question of the moment was to sell without being found out. Of course, some of them were detected occasionally, but there was generally a way to be found for dealing with these gentlemen with tender consciences and highly loyal reputations, by which their goods could be purchased for cash and their reputations spared at the same time.

Another element in the situation was the intense opposition to the conscription which was going on for the purpose of recruiting the armies — the supply of volunteers having long since failed. This opposition, before my arrival at the North, had culminated in bloody riots in New York and several other places which caused the greatest alarm because they indicated in a very positive manner that there was a very large disaffected class in the population, which, if excited to take up arms, might be able to start anew and formidable rebellion within the Federal lines. Many of those, too, who professed to favor the war were opposed to the conscription, that is, they were opposed to being conscripted themselves, although they were willing enough that other people should go and do their fighting for them.

The most obnoxious feature of the draft, however, had been in a measure overcome — the different states, cities, and towns offering liberal bounties for men to enlist. In this manner most of the quotas were filled, but the payment of bounties — a demoralizing proceeding under any circumstances — opened the way for the most shameless and gigantic frauds. The story of the bounty jumping during the last two years of the war is not one that any patriotic American citizen can read with complacency or satisfaction, and for pure infamy I think that it surpasses anything that the future historian of the war will be compelled to put on record.

I had a good deal to do with these bounty-jumping frauds and with a number of other matters very nearly as bad … and it may be thought that I was as culpable as those whom I now denounce. To those who are only willing to consider such a subject as this from one point of view, I have simply nothing to say. But fair-minded persons, North and South, will, however, freely admit that my actions as a secret agent of the Confederate government are not to be put in comparison with those of the dealers in human flesh and blood, the counterfeiters, and others who did what they did solely from motives of gain. At any rate, acting as I was under orders from the only government the authority of which I acknowledged, and animated only by an ardent desire to advance the interests of the cause which I had espoused, I felt that I was justified in embarrassing the enemy by any means in my power, and that the kind of warfare which I carried on in the rear of the Federal armies was just as legitimate as that which was carried on face to face with them in the field. …

It took me some little time, of course, to master the entire situation, but a very brief residence at the North enabled me to see that there was a vast amount of most important and valuable work to be done within the Federal lines, and that it was exactly the kind of work that I could do with the very best effect. I arranged my plans, therefore, for a series of operations in behalf of the Confederate cause, and, at the earliest practicable moment, placed myself in communication with the Richmond authorities and with the various secret service agents in the Northern States and in Canada, and also with Federal officials of various kinds with whom I desired to establish confidential relations. …

[In] going to Washington I had no very definite idea of what I would do, or, indeed, what I could do. I was now about to work under different auspices from any under which I had hitherto been placed, and it was necessary for me to look around a bit and study the situation. In a general sort of way I hoped to get access to the different departments so that I would be able to find out what was going on and to place myself in communication with persons who would be able to give me such information as I desired. It was also important that I should make the acquaintance of and be on friendly terms with officers of the army and others who would have the power to help me in case I wanted to run through the lines, or in event of my getting into any trouble through meddling with affairs that the government might not desire an irresponsible outsider like myself to know too much about.

The visit I had paid to the prison where my brother was confined made me think deeply about the privations and sufferings endured by the brave Southern boys captured on a hundred battlefields and now in the hands of the Federal authorities. The more I thought of them the more I was moved by an intense desire to do something to secure their release, and more than one crude suggestion of a plan for the accomplishment of so desirable an end floated through my mind. …

I hoped, on going to Washington, to find there someone with whom I was acquainted and through whom I might fall in with those who could aid me in the execution of my designs [or] meet some of my military friends of the good old days before the war, and I was not long in learning that Gen. A and Capt. B were both on duty in or near Washington. I will remark here that I designate these gentlemen by the two first letters of the alphabet because I desire to avoid giving any clue to their real names. They were both men of unimpeachable honor, and, had they suspected in the least what my designs really were, I believe that they would immediately have procured my arrest, in spite of any private friendship they might have had for me. I made use of them for the furtherance of my plans in the interest of the Confederacy, but they neither of them, on any occasion, wittingly gave me any information that they should not have given. On the contrary, they declined to be of any assistance to me in visiting the departments or in going to the front, on the plea that the stringent rules in force would not permit them to do so. … [T]he chief aid which they extended was in introducing me to people whom I could use and in maintaining intimate and friendly personal relations with me by which I was enabled to gain a standing in certain quarters without trouble.

The general, when I introduced myself to him, appeared to be very glad to see me and asked me innumerable questions about myself, my friends, and my adventures since we last had seen each other. I had a plausible story ready to tell him, in which fact and fiction were mingled with some degree of skill, and expressed myself with considerable bitterness concerning the rebels, wishing that I could do something to aid in securing a speedy termination of the war by their defeat. After a very pleasant intercourse with the general, I parted from him with a request that he would do me the honor to call on me at the hotel, which he promised to do.

The next day I met Capt. B in the street and we exchanged greetings. He, too, promised to call upon me. This promise he kept, and I had quite a long talk with him on general topics, preferring to see more of him before attempting to make him useful.

I saw both the general and the captain several times after that, and in the course of conversation with one of them, I forget which, he happened to say something about Col. Baker which excited my interest and induced me to make particular inquiry concerning him. I had never heard of this individual before, but I now speedily learned that he was the chief government detective officer and that he was uncommonly expert in hunting down rebel spies and in putting a stop to their performances. I immediately concluded that Col. Baker was a personage whom it was eminently desirable that I should become acquainted with at the earliest possible moment and that it would be much more advantageous for me to make his acquaintance through the introduction of one of my military friends than through finding him on my track just when I had some enterprise for the benefit of the Confederacy in process of consummation.

Whichever of the two it was that I had my original conversation with about Baker, it was the general who made me acquainted with him and who spoke of me in such a manner as to put me in the good graces of this terrible man at the start.

Col. Lafayette C. Baker occupied at Washington a somewhat similar position to that held by Gen. Winder at Richmond, although he scarcely had the large powers and extensive authority of the chief of the Confederate secret service department. In fact, Col. Baker was a detective officer more than anything else, and he had comparatively little to do with military matters. The chief employment of himself and his assistants was to hunt down offenders of all kinds, and he was much more successful in this than he was in procuring information for the use of the war department, although he prided himself considerably on his own performances as a spy and upon several not unsuccessful secret service expeditions into the Confederacy that had been made by his directions. …

I confess that I came into the presence of so formidable an individual with some degree of trepidation but I very soon learned to regard him as not half so ferocious as he looked and as very far from being as difficult and dangerous a personage to deal with as he was made out to be. …

Baker was a tolerably fair-looking man, after a certain fashion. He was a returned Californian, having resided in San Francisco for a number of years before the war, and having been a member of the famous vigilance committee which made such short work with the rogues of that city in 1856. He had the bronzed face and the wiry frame of a western pioneer, and his manners were marked by a good deal of far-western brusqueness. His hair was dark and thick, and he wore a full and rather heavy beard but his eyes were the most expressive feature of his face. These were a cold gray, and they had a peculiarly sharp and piercing expression, especially when he was talking on business. He also had a particularly sharp and abrupt manner of speaking at times, and more than once, when I have had reason to think that he might have knowledge of some of my transactions as a Confederate secret service agent, I have felt cold creeps all over me as he looked me straight in the eyes and spoke in that cutting tone of voice he was in the habit of using on occasions.

Col. Baker was, in my opinion, a first-rate detective officer and nothing more, for something more is necessary in the chief of a secret service department in time of war than to be a good hand at hunting down offenders. Give him a definite object to go for, and a very slight clue, and he would … accomplish a creditable piece of work. He had, however, very little skill in starting enterprises for himself. Gen. Winder, in his place, would have made Washington a much more uncomfortable residence for Confederate spies and agents than it was during the war, and the fact that I was able to play double with the colonel … and to carry on … a number of important operations on behalf of the Confederacy, so to speak, under his very nose, was not very creditable to him. …

Colonel Baker, however, was not without his good qualities, even if he was far from being as great a personage as he thought he was. He was stern and severe, but he was a kinder man at heart than Gen. Winder, although he lacked the intellectual attainments of the Confederate officer. With regard to the relative honesty of the two, it is perhaps as well that I should express no opinion.

Loreta’s Civil War: Introduced to entirely new scenes

Velazquez successfully manages a parole for her brother, and as she moves into the Northern states, she gains a close-up view of the society determined to destroy her beloved Confederacy.

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 36: Velazquez successfully manages a parole for her brother, and as she moves into the Northern states, she gains a close-up view of the society determined to destroy her beloved Confederacy.

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I had quite a lengthy conversation with Lieutenant B. about my brother and about affairs generally, and, having announced to him my intention of visiting the North and perhaps of acting as a secret service agent if I saw opportunities for doing anything for the advancement of the Confederate cause, I obtained from him quite a number of hints about the best methods of proceeding, and he gave me the names of persons in different places who were friends of the Confederacy and with whom I could communicate. He also advised me to talk with certain parties … in Memphis who could advise me and give me much valuable information.

The next day I conferred with some of the persons whom he had mentioned, and, having become thoroughly posted, I began to prepare for my departure. My friend the Federal lieutenant, whose attentions had been getting more and more ardent every day, was, or pretended to be, very much cut up when he heard that I intended to leave. I promised, however, to write to him as soon as I arrived in New York — having given him to understand that that city was my immediate destination — and intimated that I might possibly correspond regularly. He, in return for the very slight encouragement which I gave to his hopes that we might meet again when the fighting was all over, procured for me a pass and transportation from Gen. Washburn, and off I started, leaving Memphis, where I was liable at any time to be recognized and consequently get into trouble, with but little regret. As for the lieutenant, I certainly appreciated his attentions to me, but I thought that any heart pangs he might feel at parting would scarcely be so severe that he would not be able to recover from them in course of time.

My first object was to see my brother, to give him such assistance as 1 was able, and to discover whether I could not do something towards having him released. I had not seen him for a number of years, and, as the reader will remember, had only learned of his being in the Confederate army some little time before my second marriage. He was the only relative I had in the country, and I felt very anxious about him, fearing greatly that he might be sick or suffering for some of the necessities of life. I therefore pushed forward as rapidly as I could and made no stoppage of any moment until I reached Louisville, Ky., where I took a room at the Gait House and communicated with a Mr. B., a gentleman whose name had been given me as one in whom I could confide and to whom I could appeal in case I was in need of assistance. …

I had no hesitation in informing him that after having seen my brother and made an effort to procure his release, my intention was to operate as a secret service agent, as I had had considerable experience in that line of duty. I did not think it necessary or proper to entertain him with a recital of the enterprises in which I had been engaged, but told him just enough about myself to let him understand that my pretensions were genuine and that I really meant business. He, for his part, posted me very thoroughly about the best method of going to work, not only for procuring the release of my brother but for picking up information of value to the Confederate authorities, and [he] gave me the names of a number of persons in New York and Washington as well as in the West with whom it would be well for me to become acquainted as early as possible. …

Before taking his leave, he suggested that I should retire early and be ready to go by the first train in the morning, and said that he would see that I was provided with funds. The name of this gentleman I could never discover, although I had considerable curiosity on the subject. He was very much of an enthusiast on the subject of the Confederacy and was evidently an efficient secret worker for the cause but he was either excessively timid or else he believed that he could do more to advance the interest of the cause by being, as far as practicable, unknown even to those with whom he co-operated.

Early the next morning I was awakened by a knock on my door, and someone outside asked if I was going on the early train. I replied that I was and hastened to dress myself for the journey. As I was dressing, I was somewhat startled to see a large envelope on the floor, which must either have been pushed under the door or thrown in over the transom during the night. On opening the envelope I found in it five hundred dollars in greenbacks and letters to a couple of persons in Columbus, Ohio. This money was very acceptable, for I had very little cash with me, and it enabled me to resume my travels with a mind completely free from care. …

I concluded, before delivering the letters I had received in Louisville, that I would try and see what my own unaided efforts would do for my brother. I therefore, the next day, called upon the general in command — I have forgotten his name — and introducing myself, said, that if it was allowable, I would like very much to visit that rebel brother of mine. The general asked me if I had a brother in the prison, and I told him that such was unfortunately the case, but that, notwithstanding he was on the wrong side, I could not help having an affection for him and was desirous of assisting him in case he should be in need.

The general asked me a number of questions about myself and my brother, in answer to which I gave him to understand that I was from New York, was a strong Unionist, and had only recently heard that my brother was a prisoner, although I was aware that he entered the rebel army shortly after the breaking out of the war. Having satisfied himself that I was all right, the general without hesitation gave me the desired permit, and, with a profusion of thanks, I bowed myself out of his presence.

On reaching the Todd Barracks, where the prisoners were confined, I found a one-armed major in command. He was very polite indeed and entered into quite a conversation with me, during which he told me that he had lost his arm in the Mexican War. When my brother came, the major gave us his own private room so that we might talk together without fear of interruption.

My meeting with my brother was a most affectionate one. It had been a very long time since we had seen each other, and there was much that each of us had to say. I disclosed to him part of my plans and instructed him how to talk and act towards me. He was to call me his Union sister and was to speak of me as a New Yorker. I expressed considerable hope that I would be able to effect his release and stated that I would go on to Washington for the purpose, if necessary, and see the president and secretary of war.

This proceeding, however, I found to be unnecessary, for Gov. Brough of Ohio, a hearty, pleasant-spoken, and good-natured old gentleman, happened to be stopping at the same hotel with me, and I contrived to obtain an introduction to him. I cultivated the acquaintance of the governor with considerable assiduity, and he took quite a fancy to me, so much so that he promised to use his influence to obtain a parole for my brother. This promise the governor kept, and in a short time the prisoner was released and ordered to proceed east and to report first to Gen. Cadwalader at Philadelphia and then to Gen. Dix, at New York, the idea being that he was to remain with me in the last-named city.

In company with my brother, therefore, I proceeded east, and went to New York, where I left him while I went on to Washington for the purpose of seeing what could be done in the way of aiding the Confederate cause by a series of operations at the Federal capital.

I was now introduced to entirely new scenes, new associations, and a new sphere of activity. I had never before been farther north than Washington, and my visit to the Federal capital was the hasty and secret one made shortly after the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. …. It was almost like going into another world to pass from the war-worn Confederacy to the rich and prosperous states which adhered to the Federal government, and when I saw the evidences of apparently inexhaustible wealth around me, and contrasted them in my mind with what I was leaving behind in the yet unconquered Confederacy, I confess that my heart began to fail, and I despaired of the Cause more than I had ever done before.

In a great portion of the South the towns and villages were few and far between, the forests large and dense, the population thin and scattering, while the most imposing of the Southern cities were far less splendid than New York and Philadelphia, and such prosperity as they had at one time enjoyed was now all but destroyed through the rigidness of the Federal blockade. Back of the Northern cities, too, was a rich, highly cultivated, and thickly populated country, with numerous large towns, abounding in wealth, and with apparently as many men at home, attending to the ordinary duties of life, as if there was no war going on, and no huge armies in the field.

Not only was there no blockade to put an end to commerce and to cause a deprivation of many of the necessaries of life, but commerce, as well as all manner of home industries, had been greatly stimulated, so that the war — while it was starving the South and forcing the male population into the field until there were scarcely left enough to carry on absolutely needful trade and tillage — actually appeared to be making the North rich, and thousands of people were literally coining money with government contracts and by means of innumerable industries brought into being by the great conflict.

The subjugation of the South was therefore simply a question of time, if matters continued as they were, and the Federals would achieve the ends they had in view by sheer force of numbers and practically inexhaustible resources, no matter how valiantly the Confederate soldiers might fight or how skillfully they might be led. Was this subjugation of the South inevitable, however? This was the question that addressed itself to my mind and upon the determination of which the course it would be best for me to pursue in the future would have to depend.

I was not very long in coming to the conclusion that a triumph of the Confederate cause was not by any means an impossibility, provided the right means were used to bring it about. I also speedily satisfied myself that the interests of the cause could be advanced just as much by diligent and zealous workers at the North as by the men who were fighting the battles of the Confederacy in Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and I was so well convinced that at last I had found the best field for the exercise of my own peculiar talents that I greatly regretted not having made my way into the midst of the enemy’s country long before.

For very nearly a year now I had done very little that was at all satisfactory to myself, or at all really helpful — that is, helpful in a large and positive way — to the Confederate cause, whereas, all this time I might have been carrying on a series of important operations at the North. It looked, indeed, like a great waste of time but, if it was wasted, I resolved to do my best to redeem it by the activity of my performances in the future, and I had great reason to hope that these performances would be productive of not unimportant results.

It required but a slight acquaintance with the condition of affairs to discover that the surface indications of wealth, prosperity, and overpowering strength at the North were delusive. The North certainly was wealthy and powerful but, unfortunately for the Federal government’s efforts to conquer the South and to put a speedy end to the war, the people were very far from being united.

At the South there were few, if any, genuine adherents of the Federal government, and public opinion was united on the subject of achieving independence. At the period of which I am writing — the winter of 1863-64 — there may have been, and doubtless were, many persons who were heartily tired of the war and who would have been glad of peace on almost any terms. The vast majority, however, were still in favor of fighting the thing out in spite of poverty and in spite of the privations of every kind which they were compelled to suffer.

At the North, on the other hand, the majority of the people had entered upon the war with reluctance — many who did go into it with considerable enthusiasm, with the idea of preserving the Union, were disgusted when it became day by day more apparent that the emancipation of the slaves was a part of the policy of the government. … [M]any who went into it for the sake of seeing some fighting were heartily tired and wanted to stop. … and many more who were eager enough to begin a fight, simply out of animosity to the Southerners, sickened of the thing when their pockets were touched by the enormous advance in prices and by the heavy taxes which the prolongation of the contest necessitated, and [they] were quite willing for peace at almost any price.

In addition to these elements of discord, there was a large, influential, powerful, and wealthy anti-war party composed of people who were and always had been opposed to the war, and who numbered among them many who were not only opposed to the war, but who were warm and earnest friends of the South. These latter believed that the government had no right to coerce states which desired to leave the Union to remain in it, and they were bitterly antagonistic to any and all attempts to subjugate the South and did everything in their power to baffle the efforts of the government to carry on the war efficiently. These people constantly aided, with their money and their influence, the Confederate agents who were working and scheming for the advancement of their cause at the North and did a great deal to embarrass the Federal government.

Besides these, there were a great number of weak-kneed or indifferent people who had no opinions of their own worth speaking of, and whose chief anxiety was to be on the winning side. These were for the war or against it, as the tide of battle turned in favor of the Federals or the Confederates. The news of a tremendous defeat inflicted on the Confederates or of the capture of an important position would excite their enthusiasm and make them talk loudly of fighting the thing out until the rebels were whipped, while a season of prolonged inactivity or a succession of Confederate victories caused them to look gloomily on the situation and to suggest that there had been about enough fighting, that it was about time prices were coming down a little, and that as the war had been going on so long, without any practical results, there was not much use in killing more men and spending more money, when there was no more chance this year than there was last of a speedy end to the contest. In this class the Confederates found many allies.

Loreta’s Civil War: Making myself liable to suspicion

Velazquez tours the enemy capital city and collects intelligence she deems valuable to the Confederate war effort.

KS28

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 14: Velazquez tours the enemy capital city and collects intelligence she deems valuable to the Confederate war effort.

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The information of most vital moment, however, that I succeeded in obtaining from him was that active preparations were being made to secure possession of the upper Mississippi, and that a very large fleet was being fitted out for the purpose of blockading the mouth of the river. I instantly surmised from this that an attack on New Orleans was in contemplation, and resolved to bend my energies, during my stay in Washington, to the task of finding out all I could with regard to the actual intentions of the Federal government. I did succeed in obtaining ample confirmation of all my friend told me, and to a limited extent of my guesses. Those, however, who really knew, were very close-mouthed about what particular work was being cut out for the fleet to perform, and the desire seemed to be to leave the impression that it was to undertake blockade duty simply, and to close the mouths of the river to the ingress and egress of vessels. There were some things which I heard, however, that did not exactly conform to this theory, and by the time I left Washington, I was tolerably well convinced that a grand blow was shortly to be struck, either at Mobile or New Orleans, but most likely at the latter city. I pumped, in a quiet way, everybody I met, who was at all likely to know anything; but I was really afraid to push my inquiries too far, or to seem too inquisitive, as I did not care to be suspected as a spy and put under surveillance, especially as I learned that the government was greatly annoyed by the presence of numbers of Confederate spies in Washington, and was disposed to deal vigorously with them if they were caught.

This, it must be remembered, was simply a reconnoitering expedition, undertaken entirely on my own account, without authority from anybody; and while I, of course, wanted to find out all I could, my real object was more to make an experiment than anything else, and I did not wish to spoil my chances for future operations — for I fully expected to visit Washington again on similar service to this — by getting into trouble just then, and consequently making myself liable to suspicion in the future.

After a somewhat prolonged and very pleasant conversation with my friend, he took his departure, promising, however, to call the next day, and as I was a stranger in Washington — having never visited the city before — to take me to the different places of interest. This was exactly what I wanted, for I was desirous of being informed, as soon as possible, exactly where the public offices were situated, and the best means of obtaining access to them, and I counted greatly upon this obliging and very gallant gentleman unsuspectingly starting me on the right road for the accomplishment of the ends I had in view.

He made his appearance promptly at the appointed hour the next morning, and took me to see the Patent Office, the Treasury Department, and the War Department. … I led him up to making a proposal that he should introduce me to the secretary of war. In a demure sort of way, I expressed myself as delighted at the honor of being able to meet so great a man, and so, in a few moments more, I was bowing, in my politest manner, to Secretary [Simon] Cameron. …

I cannot say that the secretary of war impressed me very favorably. He was abundantly courteous in his manners, but there was a crafty look in his eyes, and a peculiar expression about his mouth, that I thought indicated a treacherous disposition, and that I did not like. I concluded that Mr. Cameron would be a hard man to deal with, unless dealing were made well worth his while; but in spite of his evident knowingness, and his evident confidence in his own abilities, I left him, feeling tolerably sure that I could prove myself a fair match for him in case our wits were ever brought into conflict. …

From the War Department we went to the White House, where my friend said he would introduce me to the president. I really had some dread of this interview, although I experienced a great curiosity to see Mr. Lincoln … I considered him more than any one person responsible for the war. Mr. Lincoln, however, was an agreeable disappointment to me, as I have no doubt he was to many others. He was certainly a very homely man, but he was not what I should call an ugly man, for he had a pleasant, kindly face, and a pleasantly familiar manner, that put one at ease with him immediately. I did not have an opportunity to exchange a great many words with Mr. Lincoln, but my interview, brief as it was, induced me to believe, not only that he was not a bad man, but that he was an honest and well-meaning one, who thought that he was only doing his duty in attempting to conquer the South. … I left the White House, if not with a genuine liking for him, at least with many of my prejudices dispelled and different feelings towards him than I had when I entered.

My tour around Washington, and especially my visit to the War and Post Office Departments, convinced me, not only that Washington would be a first-rate place for me to operate in, if I could obtain a definite attachment to the detective corps, but that I had the abilities to become a good detective, and would, in a very short time, be able to put the Confederate authorities in possession of information of the first value with regard to the present and prospective movements of the enemy.

Having fulfilled my errand, and accomplished all that I had expected when starting out on this trip, I left Washington as suddenly as I had entered it, giving my friend to understand that I was going to New York. I had as little trouble in getting back to Leesburg as I had in getting away from it, and put in an appearance at the house of the old colored woman, who had my uniform hid away for me, within thirteen days from the time I left it.

Attiring myself once more in the garb of a Confederate officer, I returned the old woman her calico dress, shawl, sun-bonnet, and shoes. … My other suit of female clothing I took up to the hotel with me, and told my boy Bob, who seemed to be very curious about them, that I had bought them for my girl. Bob seemed to be delighted to see me again, as he had been apprehensive, from my long absence, that something had happened, and that I might never return. He was most anxious to know where I had been; but I put a short stop to his questionings on that topic, by giving him orders to have everything ready for an early start on a long journey in the morning. The next day we were en route for Columbus, Tennessee, where I expected to find Gen. Leonidas Polk, under whom I was now desirous of serving.

Loreta’s Civil War: The insatiate desire

Velazquez pauses her adventure as a Confederate soldier, for the moment, and heads for Washington, D.C., for a new challenge.

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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 13: Velazquez pauses her adventure as a Confederate soldier, for the moment, and heads for Washington, D.C., for a new challenge.

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We may regret that the dreams of our youth do not come true, just as we once loved to hope that they would, almost without endeavor on our part; but who shall say that our own life romances, woven out of the tissues of events from day to day, with much labor, doubt, and pain, are not fairer and brighter than any imagination could create? It is good to do one’s duty quietly amid the rush of great events, even when the path of duty lies in hidden places, where the gaze of the crowd penetrates not, where applause cannot follow; and one’s own satisfaction at duty well and nobly performed, is, after all, the best recompense that can be had.

To be a second Joan of Arc was a mere girlish fancy, which my very first experiences as a soldier dissipated forever; and it did not take me long to discover that I needed no model, but that, to win success in the career I had chosen, I must be simply myself, and not a copy, even in the remotest particular, of anybody else; and that the secret of success consisted in watching the current of events, and in taking advantage of circumstances as they arose. … The experiences of actual warfare, however, soon had the effect of convincing me that a woman like myself, who had a talent for assuming disguises, and who, like me, was possessed of courage, resolution, and energy, backed up by a ready wit, a plausible address, and attractive manners, had it in her power to perform many services of the most vital importance, which it would be impossible for a man to even attempt.

The difficulty which our commander experienced in gaining accurate and thoroughly reliable information with regard to the movements of the enemy, the rumors that prevailed of the enormous preparations being made by the Federal government to crush the South, an insatiable desire to see and to hear for myself what was going on within the enemy’s lines, all stimulated me to make an attempt, the hazardous character of which I well knew; but, trusting to my woman’s wit to see me safely through, I resolved that the attempt should be made.

My plans were tolerably well matured when the Battle of Ball’s Bluff took place, and I should probably have put them in execution before I did, had it not been for the insatiate desire I had to take part in another fight. After that battle, I more than ever felt the necessity for some constant, active employment, for I chafed under the ennui of the camp, and felt irresistibly impelled to be moving about and doing something. I accordingly was not long in resolving that the time had now arrived for me to attempt something more than I had yet done, and for me to effect a coup that might either make or mar my fortunes, but that, whatever its result might be, would give me the excitement I craved, and demonstrate my abilities, and my disposition to serve the Confederacy in such a signal manner that it would be impossible for those in authority any longer to ignore me.

A woman labors under some disadvantages in an attempt to fight her own way in the world, and at the same time, from the mere fact that she is a woman, she can often do things that a man cannot. I have no hesitation in saying that I wish I had been created a man instead of a woman. This … is the matter with nearly all the women who go about complaining of the wrongs of our sex. But, being a woman, I was bent on making the best of it; and having for some time now figured successfully in the garments of the other sex, I resolved upon resuming those of my own for a season, for the accomplishment of a purpose I had in my mind. This purpose I felt sure I could accomplish as a woman; and although I had a tolerably good appreciation of the perils I should run, I had confidence in my abilities to see myself through, and the perils attending my enterprise were incentives, rather than otherwise, for me to attempt it.

Having obtained a letter of introduction to Gen. Leonidas Polk, and my transportation papers — for it was my intention, after making the trip I had immediately in view, to visit the part of the country in which his army was operating, as it was more familiar to me, and I thought that I could perform more efficient service there than in Virginia — I turned in my camp equipage to the quartermaster, and bidding farewell to my friends, started off in search of new adventures. …

Going to an old negro woman who had washed for me, and who had shown considerable fondness for me, I told her that I intended visiting the Yankees for the purpose of seeing them about coming and freeing the colored folk, and asked her to let me have a suit of woman’s clothes, so that I could get through the lines without being stopped. I made up quite a long yarn about what I proposed to do, and the poor old soul, believing all I told her without a moment’s hesitation, consented to aid me in every way she could, her ardor being materially quickened by a twenty dollar Confederate note which I handed her.

She was not long in having me attired in the best she had — a calico dress, a woolen shawl, a sun-bonnet, and a pair of shoes much too large for me — and hiding away my uniform where it would be safe during my absence, she started me off with a full expectation that I would be back in a couple of weeks, with the whole Yankee army at my back, for the purpose of liberating all the slaves. The old woman put such implicit faith in me that I really felt sorry at deceiving her, but quieted my conscience with the thought that lying was as necessary as fighting in warfare, and that the prospects were that I would be compelled to do much more fibbing than this before the errand upon which I was about starting would be achieved.

Managing to make my way to the river without attracting any particular attention, I found an old negro who had a boat, and making up a story that I fancied would answer the purpose, I struck a bargain with him to take me across to the Maryland shore for twenty-five dollars. He was eager to get the money, probably never having handled so much before in his life at any one time, but warned me that it would be a risky piece of business, for the weather was very cold, the river broad and deep, and the current strong, and there was considerable danger of my being fired at by the pickets on either bank. I told him that I was not afraid to take all the risks, and that I thought I could stand the cold. I accordingly concealed myself in his cabin until the time for commencing the crossing arrived, neither of us deeming it prudent to start before midnight. …

At length we reached the Maryland side of the river, to my infinite satisfaction, for I was numb with the cold, and stiff in all my limbs, from the cramped position in which I had been obliged to sit in the boat, and was heartily glad of an opportunity to tread dry land once more. Dismissing the boatman, and enjoining him not to say anything, I made my way to a farm-house which I espied a short distance from the place of landing, and about four o’clock in the morning, finding no better place to rest my weary limbs, I crept into a wheat-stack, and slept there until daylight. …

[Once I] penetrated the lines of the enemy, there was, I knew, little to fear. As a Confederate soldier, I was figuring in a disguise which was likely, at any time, to get me into trouble of some sort, and not the least danger I saw was that of being arrested as a spy. When I first undertook to be a soldier, this was an idea that never occurred to me; but a very short experience in actual campaigning taught me that I would have to be careful to prevent the fact that I was disguised from being found out, if for no other reason than that my loyalty to the Southern cause might not be suspected. I relied, however, upon the good fighting I had done, and the other services I had rendered, which were proofs of the genuineness of my devotion, as well as the influence of my friends to get me out of any scrape into which I might fall through the discovery that I was not a man.

Here, in the enemy’s country, however, I passed for exactly what I was, with nobody nearer than Memphis who knew me, both as a man and as a woman, and I consequently felt perfectly secure in moving about pretty much as I chose, having a plausible story on the end of my tongue to tell anybody who might question me. I concluded that, as it was most likely I would meet in Washington people who knew me as a woman … that it would be safer, and in all respects better for me to attempt no disguise, but to figure as myself, and as nobody else. …

Between my starting-point on the Maryland side and Washington, I saw a good many soldiers, from which I judged that the approaches to the Federal capital were strongly guarded, and that very efficient means were being taken to prevent anything like a surprise on the part of the Confederates. This was the most important information I succeeded in obtaining; and except that I was enabled to form some estimates of the force that was guarding the Maryland side of the Potomac it was of no special value, as it was well understood among the Confederates that the enemy were well prepared to resist an attack upon Washington, and were concentrating a large army in and about the city. …

On arriving in Washington, I went to Brown’s Hotel, and having learned that an officer of the regular Federal army, with whom I was well acquainted, and who had been a warm personal friend of my late husband, was in the city, I sent him a note, asking him to call on me. He came to see me very promptly on receiving my message, and greeting me with a good deal of cordiality, expressed a desire to aid me in any manner that lay in his power. I told him that I was just from New York, and making up a plausible story to account for my being in Washington, began to question him about the progress of the war. He evidently had not the slightest idea that I was in Washington for any other purpose than what he would have considered a perfectly legitimate one, and consequently spoke without any reserve concerning a number of matters about which he would certainly have kept silent had he suspected that I had just come from the other side of the Potomac, and that my object was to pick up items of information that would be useful to the Confederacy.