Loreta Janeta Velázquez
|Loreta Janeta Velázquez
"Lieutenant Harry Buford"
Loreta Janeta Velázquez as herself (right)
and disguised as "Lieutenant Harry Buford" (left)
|Born||June 26, 1842
|Years of service||1861-1865|
|Rank||Second Lieutenant (U.S.)|
Loreta Janeta Velázquez (June 26, 1842 – c.1902), was a Cuban-born woman who claimed that she masqueraded as a male Confederate soldier during the American Civil War. According to her memoirs, she enlisted in the Confederate States Army in 1861, without her soldier-husband's knowledge. She then supposedly fought at Bull Run, Ball's Bluff and Fort Donelson, but was discharged when her gender was discovered while in New Orleans. Undeterred, she apparently reenlisted and fought at Shiloh, until unmasked once more. She then became a Confederate spy, working in both male and female guises, supposedly as a double agent also reporting to the U.S. Secret Service. Her husband died during the war and she remarried three more times; being widowed in each instance. The circumstances of her own death are unknown.
The Woman in Battle
Birth and family
Everything known about Velázquez comes from her 600-page book, '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. How much of it is true is unknown. Historians have generally doubted its veracity for the improbability of many of her adventures, her frequent vagueness or inaccuracy about names and places, and the absence of any evidence to corroborate her sensational claims, due to Jubal Early's refusal to accept her memoirs as fact.
Loreta Janeta Velázquez was born in Havana, Cuba, on June 26, 1842, to a wealthy Cuban official and a mother of both French and American ancestry.She also used the name Alice Williams. Her father owned plantations. Was born into a wealthy family. According to her own account, Velázquez was of Castilian descent and related to Cuban governor Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar and artist Diego Velázquez.
Her father was a Spanish government official who owned plantations in Mexico and Cuba. Her father hated the United States due to losing an inherited ranch in the Mexican-American War at San Luis Potosi. She learned the English language due to being sent to school in New Orleans in 1849, living with an aunt. While fourteen years old she eloped with a Texas United States Army officer known only as William on April 5, 1856. She initially continued to live with her aunt, but after a quarrel with her she moved in with her husband and would live at various army posts, estranging herself further from her family by converting to Methodism.
American Civil War
At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Velázquez's husband resigned his U.S. commission and joined the Confederate Army. She failed to convince him to let her join him, so she acquired two uniforms, adopted the name Henry T. Buford and moved to Arkansas. There she recruited 236 men in four days, shipped them to Pensacola, Florida and presented them to her husband as her command.
Her husband died in an accident while he was demonstrating the use of weapons to his troops. Velázquez turned her men over to a friend and began to search for more things to do.
She supposedly fought in the First Battle of Bull Run. She grew tired of camp life and again donned female garb to go to Washington, D.C., where she spied for the Confederacy. She claimed she met Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron. When she returned to the South, she was assigned to the detective corps. She later left for Tennessee.
In Tennessee, she fought in the siege of Fort Donelson until the surrender. She was wounded in battle, but was not exposed. She fled to New Orleans, where she was arrested, suspected of being a female Union spy in disguise. After she was released, she enlisted to get away from the city.
At Shiloh, she found the battalion she had raised in Arkansas and fought in the battle. As she was burying the dead after a battle, a stray shell wounded her. When the army doctor who examined her discovered she was a woman, she again fled to New Orleans and saw Major General Benjamin F. Butler take command of the city. She gave up her uniform at that point.
Afterwards, in Richmond, Virginia, authorities again hired her as a spy and she began to travel all around the USA. At that time, she married a Captain Thomas DeCaulp ; he purportedly died soon after in a Chattanooga hospital. (An officer of that name is known to have survived the war).
After the war, she traveled in Europe as well as in the South. She married a Major Wasson and emigrated with him to Venezuela. When he died in Caracas, she returned to the United States. During her subsequent travels around the U.S., she gave birth to a baby boy and met Brigham Young in Utah. She arrived in Omaha, almost penniless, but charmed General W. S. Harney into giving her blankets and a revolver.  Two days after her arrival in the mining area of Nevada, she received a proposal of marriage from a sixty-year-old man which she refused. After eventually marrying a younger man, whose name is not known, Velázquez soon left Nevada, travelling with her baby.
Her book appeared in print in 1876. In the preface, Velázquez stated that she had written the book primarily for money so she could support her child. The veracity of the account was attacked almost immediately, and remains an issue with scholars. Some claim it is probably entirely fiction, others that the details in the text show a familiarity with the times that would be difficult to completely simulate. Shortly after its appearance, former Confederate General Jubal Early denounced the book as an obvious fiction. In 2007, The History Channel broadcast Full Metal Corset, a program that presented details of Velázquez's story as genuine. However, the overall truthfulness of her account remains indeterminate and highly questionable. Loreta Janeta Velázquez is said to have died in 1897, but historian Richard Hall asserts that the place and date of her death are unknown. Richard Hall, in Patriots in Disguise, takes a hard look at The Woman in Battle and analyzes whether its claims are accurate or fictionalized. Elizabeth Leonard in All the Daring of the Soldier assesses The Woman in Battle as largely fiction, but based on real experience. A newspaper report mentions a Lieutenant Bensford arrested when it was disclosed "he" was actually a woman, and gives her name as Alice Williams, which is a name which Loreta Velázquez apparently also used.
In Popular Culture
María Aguí Carter directed Rebel, an investigative documentary, examining the story of Loreta Velázquez. The film is a detective story exploring Velázquez's claims and the politics involved in erasing her from history. It was produced in 2013 and lasts for 73 minutes.
- Hispanics in the American Civil War
- List of wartime cross-dressers
- Deborah Sampson, impersonated a man to fight during the American War of Independence
- Sarah Taylor
- Tucker p. 225,226
- Eggleston, Larry G. (2003). Women in the Civil War: Extraordinary Stories of Soldiers, Spies, Nurses, Doctors, Crusaders, and Others. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 0786414936, page 32-33.
- Eggleston, Larry G. (2003). Women in the Civil War: Extraordinary Stories of Soldiers, Spies, Nurses, Doctors, Crusaders, and Others. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 0786414936, page 33.
- Dee Brown, The Gentle Tamers, p. 200
- Brown, p.200
- "Celebrate Women's History Month by coming to a free screening of Rebel". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Filmmakers Collaborative. "Rebel". Filmmakers Collaborative. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Blanton, DeAnne, and Lauren M. Cook. They Fought Like Demons. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2002.
- Brown, Dee. The Gentle Tamers. New York: Bantam Books, 1958
- Cumming, Carman. Devil's Game: The Civil War Intrigues of Charles A. Dunham. Urbana: U. of Illinois Press, 2004.
- Hall, Richard. Patriots in Disguise. N.Y.: Marlowe & Co., 1994.
- Leonard, Elizabeth. All the Daring of the Soldier. N.Y.: Norton, 1999.
- Tucker, Phillip Thomas, ed. Cubans in the Confederacy. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2002.
- Velazquez, Loreta Janeta. The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures and travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry J. Buford, Confederate States Army (1876)
- Young, Elizabeth. Disarming the Nation. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1999.
- Full Metal Corset: Secret Soldiers of the Civil War. The History Channel, 2007.
- "REBEL" PBS, 2013, pbs home video
- The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and Travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army. In Which Is Given Full Descriptions of the Numerous Battles in which She Participated as a Confederate Officer of Her Perilous Performances as a Spy, as a Bearer of Despatches, as a Secret-Service Agent, and as a Blockade-Runner; of Her Adventures Behind the Scenes at Washington, including the Bond Swindle; of her Career as a Bounty and Substitute Broker in New York; of Her Travels in Europe and South America; Her Mining Adventures on the Pacific Slope; Her Residence among the Mormons; Her Love Affairs, Courtships, Marriages, &c., &c. Richmond, Va.: Dustin, Gilman & Co., 1876.
- "What part am I to act in this great drama?
- DeAnne Blanton - Women soldiers of the Civil War
- K.G. Schneider - Women soldiers of the Civil War[dead link]
- Hispanic Americans in the US Army Profile, US Army
- Pvt Loretta Jeneta Velasquez at Find a Grave
- Famous Trannies