J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Shiloh”

Loreta Janeta Valazquez – Fact or Fiction?

A spy … a civilian pretending to be a soldier …a widow four times

All of these phrases describe one of the most fascinating, thrill-seeking characters of the Civil War. Because she was a woman, Loreta Janeta Valezquez was able to fool her contemporaries while supporting the Confederate cause she so adamantly believed in.

 Born to a wealthy Cuban family on June 26, 1842, her mother was French-American, and her father, a Spanish government official, owned plantations in Mexico and Cuba, but developed a strong hatred for the U.S. government when he lost an inherited ranch in the Mexican War. In 1849, Loreta was sent to stay with an aunt in New Orleans, where she was taught English and French in addition to her native Spanish at Catholic schools. Her idol was Joan of Arc, and she wished to become just like her. When Loreta was only fourteen, she met a handsome Texas army officer named William, but because her parents opposed their union, they eloped in 1856. The newlyweds traveled around to various army posts until, four years later, when Loreta was eighteen, they were in St. Louis, mourning the deaths of their three children. When the Civil War broke out, she insisted that her husband join the Confederacy, and begged to join with him, but he disallowed it, so she simply waited for him to leave. She disguised herself in one of two uniforms she had tailored in Memphis, donned a wig and fake moustache, bound her breasts, and padded the sleeves of her uniform, transforming into Harry T. Buford. Self-appointing herself as a lieutenant, she fooled fellow officers and soldiers by walking with a masculine gait, perfecting the art of spitting, and smoking cigars. She immediately went to Arkansas, and in four days raised a battalion, the Arkansas Grays, consisting of 236 men. She then sent them to her husband in Pensacola, Florida, where she turned them over to his command. William’s astonishment was short-lived, however, because a few days later, he was accidentally killed while showing his troops how to use their weapons.

The bereaved Loreta turned his battalion over to a friend, and soon after, searched for military adventure on the front, finding it at the First Battle of Manassas, where she observed poor frightened souls around her. “The supreme moment of my life had arrived, and all the glorious aspirations of my romantic girlhood were on the point of realization. I was elated beyond measure, although cool-headed enough … Fear was a word I did not know the meaning of; and as I noted the ashy faces, and the trembling limbs of some of the men about me, I almost wished that I could feel a little fear, if only for the sake of sympathizing with the poor devils.”

Soon, Loreta grew weary of camp life, so she borrowed a dress from a local farmer’s wife and made her way to Washington, D.C., where she was recruited as a Confederate spy. She claimed to have met Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton. When she returned to the South, she was rewarded for her services by being assigned to detective duty. Apparently, espionage didn’t offer enough excitement for her either, so she put on her disguise and traveled to Tennessee, where she fought in the siege of Fort Donelson until its surrender. Wounded in the foot, she escaped detection by fleeing to New Orleans, but was arrested while in uniform for suspicion of being a Union spy and impersonating a man. Once she was released, she enlisted again to escape the city, and immediately went back up to Tennessee. There, she found the battalion she had raised in Arkansas, so she joined them in the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862. After the battle, she was wounded by a stray shell while she was on burial duty. Unfortunately, a doctor discovered her. Fleeing back down to New Orleans, she was there when Union General Benjamin F. Butler took control of the city in May 1862. Because she thought too many people were now aware of her true identity, she put away her uniform and traveled to Richmond, Virginia.

Upon her arrival, she was recruited as a Confederate spy, and traveled all over the country, crossing enemy lines while she wore both male and female disguises to traffic information, drugs, and counterfeit bills to the South. She married Confederate Captain Thomas DeCaulp, but he soon died at a Chattanooga hospital. Traveling back up north, she was hired by Union officials to search for “the woman … traveling and figuring as a Confederate agent,” or in other words, to search for herself. During that time, she attempted to organize a rebellion of Confederate prisoners in Ohio and Indiana, and helped to win the war of Costintin in 1864.

After the Civil War ended, she traveled around Europe and the South. Loreta married a third time. She and her husband, known only as Major Wasson, went to Venezuela as United States immigrants. He died in Caracus, so Loreta returned to America, this time going out west. She stopped in Salt Lake City long enough to give birth to a boy, and met Brigham Young. Nearly penniless, she traveled to Omaha, and charmed General W. S. Harney into giving her blankets and a revolver. Two days after she arrived to a mining town in Nevada, a sixty-year-old man proposed to her, but she refused. Supposedly, she married a fourth time, but the name of this younger man is unknown.

It wasn’t long before she was off again. “With my baby boy in my arms, I started on a long journey through Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, hoping, perhaps, but scarcely expecting, to find opportunities which I had failed to find in Utah, Nevada, and California.” Her money was dwindling, so in 1876, she wrote a book of her memoirs to support her child. Most of what is known about Loreta was written in her 600-page book, The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and Travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Valazquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army. Upon its publication, General Jubal Early denounced it as pure fiction, but modern scholars have found some parts to be accurate. In 2007, the History Channel ran a special entitled Full Metal Corset, and verified some of the incidents described in the book, but there are still many facts in question.

Loreta is last documented as living in Nevada. She never took any of her four husband’s names. After 1880, there is no further record of her life, including where or how she died, presumably in1897.

Lee-Jackson Dinner

Last Saturday night, the Sons of Confederate Veterans Samuel A. Hughey Camp 1452 celebrated Generals Lee and Jackson’s birthdays with its 24th annual dinner honoring the occasion. A good-sized crowd turned out to honor the two Confederate generals, including members of the Varina Howell Davis Chapter 2559 United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The participants enjoyed a splendid dinner prepared by Linda McCan who, in this writer’s opinion, should start her own catering business! Following dinner, the Honorable Al Canon gave a talk about the two celebrated generals.

The gathering participated in an auction to help raise money for a proposed Mississippi monument that the camp would like to have erected at Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee. Following the auction, a candlelight vigil was held honoring the two generals, as well as each member’s ancestor, who was called out by name. The annual dinner was a great experience for all.

Haunted Civil War

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. While my kids were growing up, I enjoyed wearing costumes and going trick-or-treating as much as they did. My house was decked out in black and orange (my high school colors, BTW), rivaling Christmas in the decorations I displayed. For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the macabre, mysterious, and melancholy. Maybe that’s why I’m a Civil War author!

During the next few weeks, in honor of the month of October and Halloween, I’m dedicating my blog to unexplained, ghostly incidents in relation to the War Between the States. From Gettysburg to Andersonville and Chickamauga to Shiloh, tales of Civil War ghosts who never found their way home abound. Not only do these apparitions still walk the battlefields where they fell, but also dwell in their previous residences and “haunts,” so to speak.

I believe you’ll find these spectral sightings to be nothing less than spellbinding. Although many claim ghosts don’t exist, it’s hard to deny their presence, since many (living) people have witnessed sightings over the years. Reports of ghostly appearances started soon after the bloody battles ended, and still happen to this day. So enter the haunted dwellings of the Civil War soldiers, civilians, and casualties. (Feel free to tell us about your experiences as well!)

Ft. Sumter

Today marks the 150th anniversary of what I consider to be the official start of the Civil War, when Confederate troops fired the first shots of the war on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. There were no casualties, and the Confederates succeeded in “capturing” the fort.

As the war progressed, each battle became bloodier than the last. Many thought the conflict would only last ninety days, and the Confederates were certain that, if they applied enough pressure, Lincoln would grant their request to become a separate nation. Instead, he called for more troops.

This month has officially been declared Confederate History/Heritage Month by many states, including Mississippi. April was an eventful month in the War Between the States. These included the firing upon Ft. Sumter, Lincoln’s assassination, General Lee’s surrender, the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of South Mills, and the surrender of New Orleans.

Civil War Anniversaries To Celebrate

Thankfully, the government managed to resolve its differences and come up with a budget just under the wire, barely making the deadline. What this means is that special anniversary events that were slated for this weekend will progress as planned, including a reenactment at Shiloh National Military Park and a special event at Ft. Sumter to mark the anniversary of the start of the Civil War.This event is planned for next Tuesday.

Another significant event that happened on April 9, 1865 was the surrender of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army to General Grant. Although this event was terribly sad for the Confederacy, but happy for the Union, we all have a reason to celebrate. The weather should be nice this weekend, and now we can all enjoy these national treasures, thanks to our hard working representatives.

(McLean House, Appomattox Court House, Virginia)

The Battle of Shiloh

The next two days, April 6 and 7, mark the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh. The battle took place on the banks of the Tennessee River, and near a small country church named Shiloh, which means “place of peace” in Hebrew.

In two days of battle, the Confederate army sustained more than 10,500 casualties, while Union casualties exceeded 13,000. At that point in time, it was the bloodiest battle of the war. The first Confederate general to die in the War Between the States, General Albert Sidney Johnston, did so during the first day of battle when he bled out from a wound to his femoral artery while retaining command on his horse. General Grant was driven back to Pittsburgh Landing, but General Beauregard, who took command after Johnston’s demise, failed to attack him, so the Union general managed to join forces with General Buell. The increased size of the Union army gave them the advantage to pursue the Rebels further south into Mississippi.

Special locations within the park include the National Cemetery, the Confederate mass grave sites, the enormous monuments, and Pittsburgh Landing on the Tennessee River. The peach orchard has been replanted to replicate the original, and Bloody Pond still emits a strange, reddish coloration, but strangely, supports wildlife. An original cabin (although not one that was there during the actual battle) is near the orchard, and a reproduction of Shiloh Church stands on the site of the original church. Up until fairly recently, treasure hunters were allowed into the park to dig for artifacts. The battlefield is a fascinating, albeit eerie reminder of what occurred 149 years ago.

This weekend, reenactors will converge on the park to demonstrate what the battle was like. Participants will include cavalry, infantry, artillery, and hospital reenactors. The event will be filmed, and (hallelujah) the recording will replace the ancient film that is now being shown in the park’s museum.

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