Soldier and Spy

Loreta Velasquez -- H.T. Buford

The Confederates’ most well known woman soldier and spy was Loreta Velasquez but unlike Emma, Rosetta and Jenny, her motivation for enlisting was her soldier husband. She too, like Emma, wrote an autobiography, The Woman in Battle, however, many of the stories cannot be substantiated and were called by some “sensational exaggerations” to increase sales.

Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1842, Loreta was sent to New Orleans to live with her aunt to finish her education. It is there she met and married a wealthy Louisiana farmer and army officer. Sadly, their children died in infancy. When the War Between the States began, Loreta insisted her husband resign his commission and join the Confederate army. "I was perfectly wild on the subject of war; and although I did not tell my husband so, I was resolved to forsake him if he raised his sword against the South. …Having decided to enter the Confederacy service as a soldier, I desired, if possible, to obtain my husband’s consent, but he would not listen to anything I had to say on the subject; and all I could do was to wait his departure for the seat of war, in order to put my plans into execution without his knowledge. I was obstinately bent upon realizing the dream of my life, whether he approved of my course or not." Her dream, the other motivation for becoming a soldier, can be traced to her childhood. "From my earlier recollections my mind had been filled with aspirations of the most ardent kind to fill some great sphere. I expended all my pocket money, not in candies and cakes, as most girls are in the habit of doing, but in the purchase of books which related the events of the lives of kings, princes, and soldiers. … Joan of Arc became my heroine, and I longed for an opportunity to become such another as she. I was fond of imagining myself as the hero of most stupendous adventures."

After her husband was assigned to Pensacola, Florida, to train Confederate soldiers, Loreta sought the help of a friend to acquire a uniform, complete with artificial mustache and beard. She took the name H.T. Buford and promoted herself to lieutenant. To avoid suspicion, she traveled to Hurlburt Station, Arkansas, where, in less than a week, she had formed her own private battalion of 236 recruits, named the Arkansas Independents. She financed the battalion with her own money and headed to Pensacola to present her unit to her husband and hopefully convince him to let her join him. Unfortunately, her husband was killed when a carbine exploded while he was training some men before they arrived.

Loreta abandoned her unit to become an independent soldier, traveling where she could find action. She served the Confederacy as a soldier at the 1st Manassas, Ball’s Bluff, Fort Pillow and Shiloh. She wrote of the elation after the Confederate victory at Bull Run, concluding, the battle “only quickened my ardor to participate in another affair of a similar kind. … there is a positive enjoyment in the deadly perils of the occasion that nothing can equal.” The reality of war became more evident to Loreta after she killed an enemy soldier. "I fired my revolver at another officer -- a major, I believe -- who was in the act of jumping into the river. I saw him spring into the air, and fall; and then turned my head away, shuddering at what I had done, although I believed that it was only my duty. An officer near me exclaimed, 'Lieutenant, your ball took him,' -- words that sent a thrill of horror through me." Her dream of being the second Joan of Arc she decided was a mere girlish fancy, which my very first experience as a soldier dissipated forever… convincing me that a woman like myself, who had a talent for assuming disguises… 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 even to attempt."

She decided to freelance as spy in Washington, D.C., borrowing women’s clothes and managing to mingle with society. She claimed to have met Lincoln and other Federal officials in the two weeks she played this new role. Now she believed she was ready to earn an appointment in the Confederate detective corps to show what she could do. Resuming her male disguise, she set out for Columbus, Tennessee, where she secured a position in the detective corps as a military conductor on the Nashville Railroad for a short time. She related, “I was a personage of considerable importance, not only to the officers and soldiers who were going back and forth, but to the ladies who courted me with remarkable assiduity, with a view of inducing me to grant them favors.” Returning to soldiering duties, she participated in the battle at Fort Donelson. The Confederate defeat almost broke her fighting spirit. If repentance for my rashness in resolving to play a soldier’s part in the war was ever to overcome me, however, now was the time; and I confess that, as the sleet stung my face, and the biting winds cut me to the bones, I wished myself well out of it, and longed for the siege to be over in some shape, even if relief came only through defeat. The idea of defeat, however, was too intolerable to be thought of, and I banished it from my mind whenever it occurred to me, and argued with myself that I was no better than the thousands of brave men around, who were suffering these wintry blasts as much as I. … I could face the cannon better than I could this bitter weather, and I could suffer myself better than I could bear to hear the cries and groans of these wounded men, lying out on the frozen ground, exposed to the beating of the pitiless storm. Several times I felt as if I could stand it no longer, and was tempted to give the whole thing up, and lie down upon the ground and die."

On April 5, 1862, Loreta was seriously wounded by mortar shrapnel while fighting near Shiloh Church and although her true sex discovered during treatment of her wounds, the doctor who treated her aided in her departure before anyone else found out. Loreta pursued her role as a spy but admits she became well known if by rumor only. She was arrested in New Orleans and Lynchburg for impersonating a man but since no one was willing to risk proving it, she was released.

Loreta was reunited with and married Captain Thomas De Caulp, who she fought with at the battle of Shiloh. He left her to return to his unit shortly after the wedding but died soon after being captured. After his death she felt it left her nothing to do but "to launch once more on a life of adventure, and to devote my energies to the advancement of the Confederate cause. … On reviewing the whole subject in my mind, I became more than ever convinced that the secret service rather than the army would afford me the best field for the exercise of my talent." The rest of the years in service to the Confederacy were dedicated to espionage and intelligence gathering. Loreta wrote about her assistance to General Forrest, providing information on the disposition and numbers of Federal troops around Colliersville. She also played a role in the attack on Johnston’s Island. In the summer and fall of 1864, the Confederate secret service turned their activities toward “back door” operations out of Canada to confuse and harass the Federal forces and undermine support for the war. She even penetrated the staff of Colonel Lafayette C. Baker, chief of the U.S. Secret Service. While working for him, Baker confided in her: "Some of my people are after a spy now who has been travelling 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 spy Colonel Baker was talking about was none other than Loreta herself. “I don’t know to this day,” she reported in her memoirs, “whether he ever discovered that I was a Confederate secret service agent.”

On April 26, 1865, (Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s day of surrender) she sailed to Europe with her brother and his family. Not much is known about her life afterwards. She published her book, The Woman in Battle, in 1876 to help support herself and her child. She acknowledges two more husbands after the war and spent her time traveling the world, gold prospecting and wild west adventures among other things. It is apparent her spirit of adventure never failed her. The stories of these soldiers are intended to provide just a glimpse of the contributions by many of their sisters in the struggle between the Union and the Confederacy, but they were not the only women on the battlefield.

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