Harry T. Buford may not have been born a Texan but, after serving
in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, when it came time to
pen memoirs, Texas was the place chosen
to do it.
and good looking, Buford saw bloody action in combat at Manassas (Bull
Run) and Shiloh, among other famous Civil War battles and was wounded
at Bull Run. “No medical care is necessary,” said Buford, remounting
the steed and returning to camp, letting nature heal the wound. It
was worse at Shiloh, when shrapnel tore the foot and leg. Again, “No
medical care!” This time though, when the pain could no longer be
tolerated, Buford agreed to permit medical attention. Upon examination,
the astonished medic found that Lt. Harry T. Buford was not an ordinary
case, not by a long shot. Harry T. Buford was not even a man. He was
Janeta Velázquez was born in Cuba in 1842 to a wealthy government
official and a French-American mother. Although her father's family
owned an estate in Texas, he hated the United States, and served as
an officer in the Mexican army. After Mexico’s defeat, he gave up
his Texas lands rather than become a U.S. citizen. He could not have
known that one day, his darling Loreta, would become a double agent,
working sometimes as a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes in the North,
sometimes in the South. Nor could he have known that she would write
a 600-page memoir, 'The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits,
Adventures, and travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velázquez, Otherwise
Known as Lieutenant Harry T Buford, Confederate States Army,” whose
inscription reads: “To My Comrades of the Confederate Armies ... WHO,
ALTHOUGH THEY FOUGHT IN A LOSING CAUSE, SUCCEEDED BY THEIR VALOR
IN WINNING THE ADMIRATION OF THE WORLD, THIS NARRATIVE OF MY ADVENTURES
AS A SOLDIER, A SPY, AND SECRET SERVICE AGENT, IS DEDICATED WITH
ALL HONOR, RESPECT, AND GOOD WILL" ... Loreta Velazquez
What daddy would have hated most was that she would write it in Texas.
Loreta’s childhood was spent "haunted with the idea of being a man."
Her idol and the inspiration for her future flirtations with manly
danger, was Joan of Arc, and she practiced shooting, dueling, and
hard riding, then exclusive to the world of men. When rebellious Loreta
turned 14, she married a U.S. Army officer known only as “William,”
and was promptly disowned by her parents. She soon convinced her young
husband to resign his commission in the U.S. Army and join the Confederate
Army instead. For herself, Loreta had a special uniform made by a
tailor in Memphis, designed to conceal her womanly physique and, with
padding, suggest masculine physical characteristics. She applied a
false mustache and Van Dyke beard to complete the picture. Hello Lt.
in a bar room in Memphis
her autobiography, she claims to have raised her own Confederate battalion
in Arkansas, though that statement was later vehemently disputed by
one Jubal Early, who cited several inaccuracies, while refusing to
credit her many accuracies. To this day, some scholars refute Velázquez's
memoirs as more hoax than history, but there are enough facts in her
story to refute the refutations.
According to historynet.com, she claimed to have "enrolled 236 men
in four days and shipped them to Pensacola, Florida, where she presented
them to her astonished husband as his to command. Unfortunately, he
was killed a few days later demonstrating a weapon to his troops.
The bereaved widow turned the men over to a friend and proceeded to
search for military adventure at the front."
War era woman in uniform
Courtesy Wikipedia Commons
|Some time after
Bull Run, she reverted to appearing as female. Dressed in women's
clothes borrowed from a Tennessee farmer's wife, she traveled to Washington
D.C. as a spy, and gathered intelligence for the South. She claims
to have met President Lincoln, as well as Secretary of War Cameron.
When bored with being in women's attire, she would again take up arms
for the Confederacy as Lt. Buford.
Harry T. Buford / Loreta Janeta Velázquez
She later attempted
to legitimize her behavior by establishing a (questionable) past
connection to the political and artistic famous (Don Diego Velázquez,
Governor of Cuba, and Don Diego Rodriguez Velázquez, royal Spanish
portraitist) by expressing shock and disdain at the boorish behavior
and loutish language of the soldiers with whom she bivouacked.
She claims to have maintained her feminine gentility, even while
masquerading as Lt. Buford, except of course when she-as-he flirted
with women at official functions to give more credence to her deception.
In short, Loreta Velázquez would have done anything to maintain
Buford's macho image. In her memoirs, she said, "All these months
that, in a guise of a man, I had been breaking young ladies’ hearts
by my fascinating figure and manner, my own woman’s heart had an
object upon which its affections were bestowed, and I was engaged
to be married to a truly noble officer of the Confederate army,
who knew me, both as a man and as a woman, but who little suspected
that Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, and his intended wife, were one
and the same person."
Velázquez said that she felt like a gambler playing for extraordinarily
high stakes. She wrote "Fear was a word I did not know the meaning
of, and as I noted the ashy faces, and trembling limbs of some of
the men about me, I almost wished I could feel a little fear, if
only for the sake of sympathizing with the poor devils."
was at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, that Buford was reunited
with the battalion she had raised in Arkansas. "We had not been
long engaged before the second lieutenant of the company fell. I
immediately stepped into his place, and assumed the command of his
men. This action was greeted by a hearty cheer from the entire company,
all the veterans of which, knew me, [sic] and I took the greeting
as an evidence that they were glad to see their original commander
with them once more. This cheer from the men was an immense inspiration
to me; and the knowledge that not my lover only, but the company
which I had myself recruited and thousands of others of the brave
boys of our Southern army were watching my actions approvingly,
encouraged me to dare everything, and to shrink from nothing to
render myself deserving of their praises."
Having fought gallantly the first day, she decided that night to
again gather intelligence. Hidden away in the brush she claimed
to have spotted General Ulysses S. Grant and to have been close
enough to shoot him, but decided against it. ‘It was too much like
murder,’ she said.
was here at Shiloh that she was wounded by a shell while burying
the dead after the battle, and an army doctor discovered her identity.
Believing her military career was over because someone now knew
her true identity, she gave up her uniform, bought a British passport
from a friend, and began her second war career as a drug smuggler,
blockade-runner, and double agent.
Historynet describes how her story ends: "She claimed to have been
hired by the authorities in Richmond to serve in the secret service
corps and began to travel freely throughout the North as well as
the war torn South, pausing only long enough to marry her beloved,
Captain Thomas DeCaulp. Widowed shortly after the wedding when her
new husband died in a Chattanooga hospital, she traveled north,
gained the confidence of Northern officials and was hired by them
to search for herself."
Can you imagine
what a coup it was to be hired by the Yankee secret service to find
"the woman . . . traveling and figuring as a Confederate agent"-
"During her search she continued to serve the Southern cause by
trying to organize a rebellion of Confederate prisoners held in
Ohio and Indiana. She also claimed to have stolen electrotype impressions
of Northern bond and note plates so that the Confederates could
make forgeries. During the last months of the war she claimed to
have traveled to Ohio, Canada, London, and Paris. She arrived back
in New York City the day after Lee’s surrender.
"She spent a number of months after the war traveling through Europe
and the South. She also married for the third time. She and her
new husband, a Major Wasson, left the United States as immigrants
to Venezuela. But when her husband died in Caracas, she returned
to America to convince her friends that immigration was a mistake.
she began to travel, this time through the West, stopping long enough
in Salt Lake City to have a baby and meet Brigham Young. In Nevada
she claimed to have married again for the fourth time to an unnamed
gentleman. Then she was off again. ‘With my little baby boy in my
arms, I started on a long journey through Colorado, New Mexico,
and Texas, hoping, perhaps, but scarcely
expecting, to find the opportunities which I had failed to find
in Utah, Nevada and California.’" She certainly found them in Texas.
Loreta Velázquez asked the public to buy her memoir so she could
support her son with the earnings. She hoped her conduct would be
judged with "impartiality and candor" and offered no apologies.
"I did what I thought to be right, and, while anxious for the good
opinion of all honorable and right thinking people, a consciousness
of the purity of my motives will be an ample protection against
the censure of those who may be disposed to be censorious."
It should come as no surprise to historians and laymen that Valezquez
chose Texas as the place to pen her story.
Everything in Texas is SO VERY BIG. Whatever
the facts are, hers is “an authentic Civil War narrative,” Alemán's
introduction to her book concludes, “that recounts how war disrupts
normal gender roles, redefines national borders, and challenges the
definition of identity.”
Today's policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell would not have mattered back
then, at least not for Loreta Velázquez, because a man’s gotta do
what a man's gotta do, even if he's a she.
"A Balloon In Cactus" June
18 , 2009 column
“They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War” (Deanne
Blanton and Laurel M. Cook); Historynet.com; Wikipedia; Womenshistory.about.com;
History Channel’s “Secret Soldiers of the Civil War;” and 'The Woman
in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and travels of
Madame Loreta Janeta Velázquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry
T Buford, Confederate States Army.”