Loreta Janeta Valazquez
Loreta Janeta Velazquez (Harry T. Buford)
Library of Congress
Loreta Janeta Velazquez – 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 she was only fourteen, Loreta 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 her comrades. “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 memoir 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 in 1897.
Posted in Civil War
and tagged Abraham Lincoln
, Benjamin Butler
, Civil War
, Edwin M. Stanton
, First Battle of Manassas
, Ft. Donelson
, Full Metal Corset
, Joan of Arc
, Loreta Janeta Valezquez
, New Mexico
, New Orleans
, St. Louis
, Washington D. C.
Old Douglas’s Memorial Marker, Cedar Hill Cemetery, Vicksburg, MS
(Almost) Confederate Camels
As preposterous as it seems, Jefferson Davis believed that camels would be beneficial to the army. While serving under President Franklin Pierce as Secretary of War, Davis devised a plan to mount cavalry troopers on camels. The reasoning behind it was to replace horses and mules in the southwest, which were dying in vast numbers because of dehydration. In an experiment encouraged by an enthusiastic public, the U. S. Army imported camels from Africa and the Middle East in 1856 for use in mounted operations in the Southwest. But when the animals arrived in Texas, differences between camels and horses became apparent. Loading and unloading the beasts took practice, and the camels’ loads often ended on the ground.
Because camels have good memories, they remember people better than horses do. So if a handler grew angry or irritated and mistreated one, the camel would later react by hissing, biting, and spitting at the man. Not only that, but camels have a unique aroma, which horses don’t generally take to. One soldier who had the misfortune of being assigned to care for the camels, James Washington “Okra” Walker, complained that the camels “seemed much given to malingering, held grudges for any perceived mistreatment, and had the habit of spitting on those they didn’t like. They also frightened the mules and horses and generally looked mighty out of place.”
Therefore, the horses would react to their new counterparts by bucking, rearing, and bolting. The camels proved adequate for desert country, but they “scared the daylights out of the horses” and the men who had to handle them. In one instance, 86 camels broke loose in Galveston, Texas, which threw the town into a tizzy.
Military leaders were confused about how to appropriately utilize the animals: should they be ridden, used to transport artillery pieces, or serve as pack animals? They decided on all three, and were also used for packing supplies on numerous boundary and road survey expeditions. More than 100 camels were imported by the government. Others were shipped for private use as livestock on farms and plantations.
In 1856, Robert E. Lee wanted to show his support for Jefferson Davis’ experiment, so he sent for two dozen camels from Africa. Known as “The Great Texas Camel Drive,” Charge d’ Affaire, Major Henry C. Wayne, gave the order on June 6, and the dromedaries were herded from Indianola, Texas to San Antonio, where Lee was stationed. Wherever Wayne decided to camp, the people of the area came to see the camels for themselves. The big hit of this free circus was usually the one lone baby camel. The camel caravan arrived on June 18, and a permanent home, Camp Verde, was established for them.
The camels, by performance, had proven themselves to be superior to horses and mules in the desert, but dreams of a U.S. camel cavalry, a true camel corps, faded as the dedicated men involved in the evaluation were divided by the Civil War.
However, one particular camel became a legend. In 1862, the 43rd Mississippi regiment acquired a camel. It is believed that the camel, which was nicknamed “Old Douglas,” was actually a privately-owned animal, and one of scores of camels who were privately imported and “broken to the plow.” Douglas was owned by the Hargrove family, and used on their plantation in Monroe (Lowndes) County, Mississippi. When his owner enlisted with the Confederate army, Douglas came along. First Lieutenant Hargrove of Company B gave Old Douglas to Colonel William Hudson Moore. The camel became the regimental mascot.
W. Cook of Helena, Arkansas, who served with the 43rd Mississippi, Company A, later wrote about the camel: “Col. Moore assigned Douglas to the regimental band, for whom he carried instruments and knapsacks. The camel’s first active service was with Gen. Price in the Iuka campaign. He was sent to the wagon train, and stampeded all the teams. There was only one horse in Little’s Division which would face Douglas at first, and that was Pompey, the little bay stallion belonging to Col. Moore, but it was not long till he was on intimate terms with all. His keeper would chain him to keep him from wandering off, but Douglas would sit back and snap any kind of chain, then proceed to graze at leisure, though never leaving the regiment or interfering with anything that did not interrupt him. When the regiment was ready to start, Douglas would be led up to the pile of things he was to carry, and his leader would say, ‘Pushay, Douglas,’ and he would gracefully drop to his knees and haunches and remain so till his load was adjusted and he was told to get up. His long, swinging gait was soon familiar with the entire command, and ours was called the ‘Camel Regiment.’”
Colonel Robert S. Bevier referred to Douglas as “a quiet peaceable fellow, and a general favorite” with the men. Because Douglas first served under General Price, he acquired the nickname, “Price’s camel.”
The horses of the command were afraid of the camel, [so Douglas’s] driver was instructed to stop just outside the camp when [the regiment] halted. But in a forced march toward Iuka, Miss., the command had halted just after dark, and the camel and driver got in the line of march before he knew it. The result was that a horse made a break with a fence rail attached to his halter, and running through the camp, he stampeded men and animals in every direction. Many men took [to] the trees or any other protection, and the panic spread through much of the brigade, and many men and animals were badly hurt, and one or two horses … were killed.
Douglas became part of the action at the Battle of Corinth under Major General Earl Van Dorn. On the second day of the battle, the camel’s owner, Colonel Moore, was killed.
In early 1863, the 43rd was ordered to Vicksburg, Mississippi, serving under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton. On that hot, humid afternoon of June 27, 1863, Douglas stood silently, observing the battle from a grassy hill safely behind the lines, a little north of his unit’s third redoubt … It was 3 P.M when a rebel soldier at the third redoubt repeated a cry: “Douglas has been shot!”
The news traveled through the trenches like a brushfire. Then someone yelled, “Murderers! Yankee murderers!”
Douglas was shot by a Union sharpshooter while the animal was grazing,” reported J.W. Cook. “The Confederates shot back, but their rifles were just out of range. The Yankee proceeded to mock the Confederates just out of range. However, other rifles were brought in … and the next time the Yankee showed himself to mock the Confederates, a Southern sharpshooter put a bullet between his eyes causing him to fly backwards onto his back. Douglas was avenged.” Colonel Bevier enlisted six of his best snipers to successfully shoot the culprit. Bevier later said, “I refused to hear his name, and was rejoiced to learn that he had been severely wounded.”
Descendants of the soldiers were told that, following Douglas’ death, the Confederates decided the best thing to do (since they were all starving) was to put his carcass to good use, so they carved camel steaks and had a feast. When the Union Army finally gained control of Vicksburg, Yankee soldiers entered the city, passing by the remains of Douglas. According to one Illinois soldier, “…our sharpshooters had killed ‘Price’s Camel’ used as a pack animal by the Confederates. His skeleton was picked up and his bones made into finger rings and other ornaments and sold to curiosity hunters from the North. When the supply was exhausted, the bones of cattle slain for beef were substituted, the souvenir fiend being fully satisfied they were part of ‘Price’s Camel.’”
Douglas was buried near members of his regiment with full military honors.
Once the Civil War ended, military personnel lost interest in pursuing the use of camels, and abandoned the idea of a camel corps. Unionists took control of Camp Verde in March 1866, and sold off the animals to the highest bidders102 to be employed in circuses, zoos, traveling menageries, and mines. Others were turned loose in the desert and, presumably, hunted down and eaten by Comanches who were not particular about their diet. Some of the camels were used in Austin’s Mardi Gras parade. The King of the Carnival’s float was drawn by 32 camels, and each one was lead by a costumed freed slave holding a lighted torch.
After Major Henry Wayne was released from prison, he was awarded the First Class Medal of Honor from the Societe Imperiale Zoologique a-Acclimination de Paris for his efforts and achievements with the camels. It is believed that the last descendant of the army’s camels was seen in an Arizona desert in 1941. However, some people claim to have seen camels roaming remote areas of Texas, Arizona, and California to this day. The last captive offspring of a government camel, Topsy, died in the Griffith Park Zoo in Los Angeles in 1934.
In 1995, founder Doug Baum established the Texas Camel Corps, whose mission is to promote stories of camels that were used during the Civil War. On April 12 and 13, 2011, Vicksburg National Military Park hosted “Douglas the Camel,” a dromedary reenactor. After giving a presentation about the use of camels during the Civil War, Douglas, along Doug Baum, who is his handler and a U.S. Camel Corps re-enactor, visited a local school.