Loreta Janeta Velázquez

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Loreta Janeta Velázquez
Loreta Janeta Velazquez .jpg
Loreta Janeta Velázquez as herself (right)
and disguised as "Lieutenant Harry Buford" (left)
Nickname(s) Lieutenant Harry Buford
Born June 26, 1842 (1842-06-26)
Havana, Cuba
Died c. 1897 (aged 54–55)
Allegiance  Confederate States of America
Service/branch  Confederate States Army
Years of service 1861–1865
Rank Confederate States of America Second Lieutenant.png Second Lieutenant

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. After her soldier husband's accidental death, she enlisted in the Confederate States Army in 1861. She then fought at Bull Run, Ball's Bluff and Fort Donelson, but was discharged when her gender was discovered while in New Orleans. Undeterred, she reenlisted and fought at Shiloh, until unmasked once more. She then became a Confederate spy, working in both male and female guises, and as a double agent also reporting to the U.S. Secret Service. She remarried three more times, being widowed in each instance. The circumstances of her death are unknown.

The Woman in Battle[edit]

Birth and family[edit]

Velázquez recorded her adventures in 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. The Confederate general Jubal Early refused to accept her memoirs as fact, but recent scholars have verified her claims on the basis of secondary documents, including stories in contemporary newspapers.

Loreta Janeta Velázquez was born in Havana, Cuba, on June 26, 1842, to a wealthy Cuban official and a mother of French and American ancestry. She also used the name Alice Williams. Her father owned plantations. 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. He hated the United States due to having lost an inherited ranch in the Mexican-American War at San Luis Potosi.

Velázquez learned the English language at school in New Orleans in 1849, while living with an aunt.

When 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 lived at various army posts, estranging herself further from her family by converting to Methodism.[1]

American Civil War[edit]

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 Harry 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.[2]

Her husband died in an accident while he was demonstrating the use of weapons to his troops.[2] Velázquez turned her men over to a friend and began to search for more things to do.

She 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 US. 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.)

She travelled north where officials hired her to search for herself. In Ohio and Indiana, she tried to organize a rebellion of Confederate prisoners of 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.[3] Two days after her arrival in the mining area of Nevada, she received a proposal of marriage from a sixty-year-old man,[3] 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[edit]

María Aguí Carter directed Rebel, an investigative documentary, examining the story of Loreta Velázquez.[4][5] The film is a detective story exploring Velázquez's claims and the politics involved in erasing her from history.[4] It was produced in 2013 and lasts for 73 minutes.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tucker, Phillip Thomas, ed. (2002) Cubans in the Confederacy. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. pp. 225, 226
  2. ^ a b 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. pp. 32–33.
  3. ^ a b Brown, Dee (1958). The Gentle Tamers. New York: Bantam Books. p. 200
  4. ^ a b c "Celebrate Women's History Month by coming to a free screening of Rebel". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  5. ^ Filmmakers Collaborative. "Rebel". Filmmakers Collaborative. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 


  • Blanton, DeAnne, and Lauren M. Cook. They Fought Like Demons. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2002.
  • 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.
  • 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.

TV programs

  • Full Metal Corset: Secret Soldiers of the Civil War, The History Channel, 2007
  • REBEL, 2013, PBS home video

External links[edit]