On the Other Side: Loreta Janeta Velazquez (1842 -1897)

“Harry T. Buford 1st Lt Indpt Scouts C.S.A” Civil War Veteran, Confidence Woman or both?

My career has differed materially from that of most women; and some things that I have done have shocked persons for whom I have every respect, however much my ideas of propriety may differ from theirs.    Loreta Janeta Velazquez, (1876)  The Woman in Battle. 

On our recent Black ProGen episode on Civil War Pension files had me wondering about Caribbean ties to the Civil War.  As I learned, there were some 3500 soldiers and officers in the Civil War who were Latino, 2500 of them served the Union, while 1000 served the Confederacy with the number rising to 10,000 by war’s end.  

I  came across a Puerto Rican born Union officer, and a Cuban born woman with a remarkable story… and a mustache and goatee.

My aim here is not to do a Civil War blow by blow of her military service, but to weigh in on genealogical details concerning her identity based on what I could find in various archival databases.  I also want to express my thanks to Nicka Smith, Bernice Bennett, Shelley Murphy and Teresa Vega for discussions about the Civil War, pension files and the great city of New Orleans. This is excerpted from a longer work.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez published her exploits in her 1876 memoir, The Woman in Battle. She was known for crossing many lines, ultimately serving the Confederacy as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford. The book’s title page and frontispiece are designed to first assure the reader that the author is indeed a female, while luring the reader with the excitement and experiences reserved for white men across the country and two continents. There is innuendo, as suggested by where she lived and who she loved by the end of the 118 word title. It has everything packed into it for 1876- spying, violence, money, and sex.  

Title page, The Woman In Battle (1876)

The full title reads like a film summary: 

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. 

EDITED BY

C. J. WORTHINGTON,

The dedication lets you know right away what side she was rooting for: 

TO MY 

Comrades of the Confederate Armies, 

WHO, ALTHOUGH THEY FOUGHT IN A LOSING CAUSE, 

SUCCEEDED BY THEIR VALOR IN WINNING 

THE ADMIRATION OF THE WORLD, 

THIS NARRATIVE

OF MY ADVENTURES AS A SOLDIER, A SPY, 

AND A SECRET-SERVICE AGENT, 

Is Dedicated,  

WITH ALL HONOR, RESPECT, AND GOOD WILL.

Madame Velazquez in Female Attire. Frontispiece, The Woman in Battle

Velazquez is very much the rolling stone, moving from one location to another across the United States, Caribbean and Europe between the time she was born throughout her adulthood. I’m working on a longer version of this essay, and wanted to share some of the aspects of her story that go well beyond oral histories and memoir.  What’s also fascinating is that she is a self made woman who basically studied men;  whose genealogical presence failed to produce a tree with descendants, but instead gives us an opportunity to weigh what it means to tell and retell her story in different contexts.

Narrative, genealogy and hidden stories

Reading this text as a genealogist, there’s a big red flag at the outset of Velazquez’ memoirs— the loss of notes paired with a pressing need for income (emphasis added) for a book 376 pages long:

“… The loss of my notes has compelled me to rely entirely upon my memory; and memory is apt to be very treacherous, especially when, after a number of years, one endeavors to relate in their proper sequence a long series of complicated transactions. Besides, I have been compelled to write hurriedly, and in the intervals of pressing business, the necessities I have been under of earning my daily bread being such as could not be disregarded, even for the purpose of winning the laurels of authorship. To speak plainly, however, I care little for laurels of any kind just now, and am much more anxious for the money that I hope this book will bring in to me than I am for the praises of either critics or public. The money I want badly, while praise, although it will not be ungratifying, I am sufficiently philosophical to get along very comfortably without.” [WIB 6]

She worked with an editor, CJ Worthington,, a Naval veteran, who ‘although during the war was on the other side… has shown a remarkable skill in detecting and correcting errors into which I had inadvertently fallen.”

For Worthington, however, the importance of the book is not her gender crossing but spy craft:

In the opinion of the editor, however, the most important part of the book is that in which a revelation is made, now for the first time, of the exact manner in which the Confederate secret-service system at the North was managed. There is no feature of the civil war that more needs to have light thrown on it than this; and, as the story which the heroine of the adventures herein set down recites, is an exceedingly curious one, it is deserving of the special consideration of the public, both North and South.

The South was mistaken, but one couldn’t ‘doubt their sincerity or honesty of purpose.’ [10] He calls Velazquez ‘a typical Southern woman of the war period’. Oh, right.

Worthington says of the manuscript (emphasis added):

 “The manuscript, when it was placed in his hands, was found to be very minute and particular in some places, and rather meagre in others, where particularity seemed desirable. Having undertaken to get this material into proper shape, correspondence was opened with Madame Velazquez, and a number of interviews with her were had. A general plan having been agreed upon, it was left entirely to the judgment of the editor what to omit or what to insert,–Madame Velazquez agreeing to supply such information as was needed to make the story complete, in a style suitable for publication. From her correspondence, and from notes of her conversations, a variety of very interesting details, not in the original manuscript, were obtained and incorporated in the narrative. The editor, also, in several places has corrected palpable errors of time and place, and has added a few facts not supplied by the author.” [11]

“Owing to the loss of her diary, Madame Velazquez was compelled to write her narrative entirely from memory, which will account for the errors to which allusion has been made. Indeed, considering the multiplicity of events, it is very remarkable that she has been able to relate her story with any degree of accuracy. It is possible that, despite the pains that have been taken to make the narrative exact in every particular with regard to its facts, a few errors may have been permitted to remain uncorrected. These errors, however, are not material, and do not in any way impair the interest of the story.” [12]

Velazquez herself admits to generating ‘alternative facts’ as needed, which was frequent while she served as a spy or officer in drag and for excuses to the young ladies who find themselves drawn to the ambiguously gendered officer: [111] “… I made up a story that I thought was suited to the occasion and the auditor; and, among other things, told her that I was the son of a millionnaire, that I had joined the army for the fun of the thing, and that I was paying my own expenses.”

Later in the book she takes on blockade running, purchasing supplies, donating money and scamming funds for the Confederate cause during and after the  Civil War. Still, her argument for the national fight is the win, not the economic structure that locked so many in, and built the structure of inequality based on race. One could argue that she is an example of working with family histories that present a particular point of view that can bring into question ideas of self fashioning with a basis in forms of systemic inequality. It is the polar opposite of Abolitionist writings.

Velazquez’ family

Velazquez’ book begins with two genealogies— one of women in war that culminates in her being the ideological heir of Joan of Arc, the other, is of a nobility clawed out of the Caribbean, belied by newspaper articles of mid-1863 that spoke of her exploits in the service.

According to her, she was born on 26th of June, 1842, the last of six children on Calle Vellagas, just outside the walls of Havana, Cuba, Loreta Janeta Velazquez states that her father was a Spanish Ambassador born in Cartagena, (implied) Spain, of noble descent.  Her mother  was from France, daughter of a French naval officer and an American heiress. Her mother’s only brother resided on St. Lucia, but this is not explained in more detail until much later in the book.

Her parents had three sons and two daughters born in Madrid before her birth in Cuba, but in between the time of his appointment to the time of her birth in 1842, the family moved across continents and oceans. Her father is an aristocrat, a learned ambassador who spoke at least three languages, and ultimately supported the Southern cause. The weight of his experience and wealth serve to anchor any charge regarding class in terms of Loreta’s social standing and wobbly gender identification in her memoir. She mentions her brother Josea and a family reunion in St Louis, but is careful not to name her parents in any detail beyond that of moral standing until 1891, when a New York newspaper article quotes her saying that father’s name is Joaquin Velazquez.

Diego Velazquez de Cuellar By Unknown – John Carter Brown Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4865322

For her ancestral lineage, she invokes a conquistador of the New World, Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, (1465-d. 1524, Santiago de Cuba), an interesting choice: Velazquez led the conquest of Cuba with 300 men in 1511, noted for being a particularly brutal episode. Just as with Columbus, those Indigenous people that resisted, if not killed or maimed, were sold into slavery across the Atlantic and to Mexico, Central and South America to work the mines. It did not go as planned, so he authorized the importation of enslaved Africans in 1513, and an expedition to the Yucatan. He lost his governorship in 1521 for the misuse of indigenous labor, facts that never ruffle the lineage.

Maybe it was the mustache?   Self portrait By Diego Velázquez – [2], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1963704
The other Velazquez claimed as a great grandfather is Diego Velazquez, leading artist in the court of Philip IV, whose full name was Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez (1599-1660) born to Portuguese parents in Seville. Velazquez went to Madrid in 1622 and became the court painter. He had two daughters, one who survived to adulthood and married a painter. She married Juan Bautista Martinez de Mazo, and their children bore the Martinez surname.

As mentioned, she describes visiting various Caribbean islands, and at Saint Lucia, states that this is where her mother was born:

Velazquez, My Childhood Home, WIB

The connection to Saint Lucia, with its family cemetery and vault, a stone cottage that she describes, now owned by her cousin.  The house itself, like the family, is a hybrid site, ‘a stone house built in the English fashion’ with ‘ancient furniture of Spanish make.’ Both her unseen  sister and brother are entombed in the family burying-ground, together with other relatives in St. Lucia. No further details regarding which port she entered, what parish the family once lived in, is given for locations she mentions before 1868.  [WIB 566]

The Many Names of Lorena Janeta Velazquez 

Another flag in the text and in newspaper accounts are the various aliases she used over four decades (if not longer). It’s an unusually long and overlapping set of identifiers:

Loreta Janeta Velazquez

Mrs. Alice Williams

Mrs. Alice Tennent

Mrs. ST Williams

Mrs Major De Caulp

Mrs Loretta De Caulp

Mrs DeCaulp Buford

Mrs Loretta J. Beard

Mrs Sue Battle

Lieutenant Roach

Lieutenant Bensford

Lieutenant HT Buford

She was married to:

ST Williams, army officer, 

Major Jeruth DeCaulp 

Major Wasson, confederate officer, married in New Orleans

‘Col.’ W Beard

Perhaps the person that can be confirmed in her account is DeCaulp.  ‘Major’ Jeruth DeCaulp was born in Edinborough, arrived in 1857 with his brother, and they traveled the US until 1859, and signed up for the confederacy when the war broke out.  “His father was of French descent, and his mother was a Derbyshirewoman. “He was very highly educated, having studied in England and France with the intention of becoming a physician. His fondness for roaming, however, induced him to abandon this design.. He was tall in stature, with a very imposing presence. His hair was auburn, and he had a large, full, dark, hazel eye.”  It is unclear whether that referred to a pair, or the result of wartime injury. 

His brother held the rank of Captain and died in Nashville at the close of the war; his wife died in New York.  Despite the call to his standing, DeCaulp’s extant letters are full of spelling errors such as ‘cince’ for since, details that cast doubt on his education.  Velazquez has elaborate backgrounds for her husbands and her parents, and if its too good to be true, it probably is.

Reviving Loreta Velazquez

Running into a historical figure like Velazquez is both exhilarating and troubling. There’s the fact of her intense, incredulous story that she tells and then there’s the reality of locating information. At first, I came across the image of the goateed Velazquez, and a broader history of the involvement of women in the military. Next, there is the documentary, Maria Angui Carter’s Rebel (2013) which establishes Velazquez’ existence, but does not really suss all the details regarding her ancestry. Instead, it’s presented as fact, because it was published, which has a circular, closed kind of reasoning. There’s no argument that Velazquez worked to further the aims of the Lost Cause. Then there is historian William C Davis’s book, Inventing Loreta Velasquez: Confederate Soldier impersonator, Media Celebrity and Con Artist. (SIU: 2016).  Davis strains through newspaper accounts and establishes that it is likely you couldn’t trust what Velazquez has to say about family, lineage or history.

Whose side are you on?

One of the things I found disturbing was no real engagement with what it meant to identify with a supposedly light skinned Latina who fought for the Confederacy, without really unpacking the weight of that affiliation. What Loreta discovered was that her ‘possessive investment in whiteness’ had a pay off. People could deal with a Cuban better than say, a mixed race child from New Orleans or Mississippi, instead a Cuban with alleged ties to minor nobility and foreign governments was much more appealing. Ultimately, nostalgia is what Velazquez supplies, full of the dream of the South’s ‘hotel civilization’, where dirt, mess and disorder were disavowed and left for the enslaved help to deal with. What of 18 year old Bob, the young man she bought and enslaved to serve her in the field, who ultimately ran off to the North to claim his freedom? Why the silence on the enslaved help who would have served her family?

This newspaper featured an article on Velazquez, and note the date: 1875. The masthead is rather telling, and perhaps a little startling given where the US is today:

Masthead, Tarborough Southerner, NC, Friday Aug. 27, 1875

But look more closely at the central image:

The image reads: “White Men Must Rule America: The Constitution of Our Fathers”  Ultimately, this image of white femininity upholding white masculinity as the ultimate arbiter of order in the world is what Velazquez puts her faith in. Regardless of her crossing gender, her allegedly West Indian origins, to not acknowledge the fundamental bias at the heart of her project is to ignore the weight and moral failing of justifying enslavement.

She either died in Austin, Nevada in 1897, her grave conveniently destroyed by development, if it ever existed, or, according to Davis, the author of Inventing Loreta Velazquez, she died in 1923 in an insane asylum in Washington DC.

A reference

In case you’re wondering about ‘hotel civilization’: It’s a great term that Cornell West coined in the 1990s.  “We live in a hotel civilization,” said West. “A hotel civilization is a civilization in which people are obsessed with comfort, contentment, and convenience, where the lights are always on. [We] don’t have time for questions. We don’t have time for such interrogations.”

Frankly, America always has been a hotel civilization. This is no joke. West continues: “To escape the pull of the American culture of denial, West urged individuals to examine and question America’s “night-side” – the dark under-belly of society. He added that part of this process of enlightenment is acknowledging real death and violence and also experiencing metaphorical death.

“We must come to terms with the forms of death in the midst of the American past and present. Education itself is a learning how to die. Every time you give up an assumption. it’s a form of death so you can mature,” said West.

http://www.studlife.com/archives/News/2006/02/03/CornelWestdeliversinspiringlecture/

Podcasts for Genealogists & Family Historians: 1: Uncivil

Uncivil: Episode 10: The Portrait

Sgt. Alexander Chandler, 44th Inf. Reg. Co. F, MI and Silas Chandler, enslaved body servant.

I recently discovered the podcast Uncivil (Gimlet Media) in searching for significant events for discussion on the upcoming episode of Black ProGen Live. Right now, Uncivil consists of 10 episodes so far,  spanning different episodes in nineteenth century US Civil War history The latest show ( Ep. 10 podcast, released 27 December 2017) dealt with the myth of the Black Confederate soldier.

Uncivil is hosted by Chenjerai Kumanyika, author, journalist, and professor of journalism and communications at Rutgers University, and Jack Hitt, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, author and radio producer. The programs intend to bring “stories that were left out of the official history of the Civil War, ransacks America’s past and takes on the history you grew up with.” Indeed, we need these reexaminations, and it’s great to have this material available to think with.

Uncivil, Ep 9: The Portrait (image only)

The trajectory of this particular story followed an arc that began with unpacking of historical knowledge via a young caller to the show, and culminates with the descendants of Silas Chandler (1 Jan 1837-Sept 1919). They discovered their ancestor being discussed in a photograph brought to Antiques Roadshow in 2009.  During the program, the moment to explain enslavement was lost, the myth took over, leading to a division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans placing a metal cross on his grave in Mississippi, and stealing Silas Chandler’s image by reproducing it on various surfaces from t-shirts to films, prints and photos all proclaiming this evidence of participation.

The Weight of Images & Problematic Histories

The photograph is a tintype, and close up, its surface reveals a cracked emulsion with an ornate copper colored metal edge. Notable details are the position of the two men, side by side, visually composed to emphasize their inequality. The younger Andrew Chandler’s hips were elevated to lend height well above Silas, whose seat is tilted back at the hips to make him seem shorter than his slave owner’s. To read Silas’ smile is to read a face weary of waiting for a moment, if not the war and slavery itself, to be over.

Sites that proclaim that they have ‘evidence’ of Black Confederate soldiers, and one features a painting of a Civil War battlefield, no location just a battle scene. Just off center, is a kneeling black man holding the head of a white man wearing the gray uniform of the South. The military serviceman is injured and bleeding into a large handkerchief. It’s white surface creates an area that visually marks and makes central for the viewer, the tableau with a enslaved adult man at the center. He has no arms no gun, no rifle, he simply serves and tends to the white master, an ideological composition that seeks to deny historical reality by providing a romanticized tableau. This same idea was extended to the photograph,  a plain effort to define Silas Chandler as a soldier. He was not.

As Myra Chandler Sampson (Silas Chandler’s great-granddaughter) and Kevin M Levin note, “Interest in Silas’ military career has been fueled by a desire to affirm that Southern blacks were just as eager as whites to fight back against the invaders— an attempt to validate the belief that the war did not ignite over slavery but over predatory Northern acts.” They go on to ask: So what role did Silas really play in the war, and why did he choose to fight for the South—if he actually did? One thing is clear: Ever since the SCV posthumously ‘honored’ Silas, an enslaved body servant who accompanied his white master into service, accounts of black Confederate troops have surged in popularity, with some now claiming that upwards of 100,000 blacks fought willingly in Southern ranks.

While there were  a small number of enslaved black men who served in the Confederacy, but they comprised less than 1% of those who served. A 2015 article in The Root, goes into further details about this controversy. In a nutshell: “How many supported it? No one knows precisely. But by drawing on these scholars and focusing on sources written or published during the war, I estimate that between 3,000 and 6,000 served as Confederate soldiers. Another 100,000 or so blacks, mostly slaves, supported the Confederacy as laborers, servants and teamsters. They built roads, batteries and fortifications; manned munitions factories—essentially did the Confederacy’s dirty work.”  Note that African Americans were unable to enlist in the Confederacy until an order was issued in March 1865, the last month of the war. In contrast, almost 187,000 African Americans  joined the Union Army over the course of the war, with numbers rising for the last two years.

Details That Matter: The move towards freedom

Why does the story matter? Because this was a myth fed to fourth grade children in social studies texts and museum exhibits organized by descendants of the confederacy. There’s potential for these scenarios to be incorporated and disseminated into some family histories and genealogies, effectively casting the shadow of confederate myth over a lineage while declaring a white nationalist identity.

Silas was born into slavery on 1 January 1837 in Virginia and two years later, his slaveholder, Roy Chandler moved him and 39 other enslaved people along with the Chandler family to Palo Alto in Clay County, Mississippi. As an adult, once freed, Silas kept his owner’s surname.

Roy Chandler claimed a land grant after an 1831 treaty that displaced thousands of American Indian peoples in the area, and gave white settlers some 11 million acres of state land. Silas became the body servant to Roy Chandler’s son, Andrew born in 1844. Silas sits alongside Sergeant Andrew Chandler, the white man in uniform in the photograph. Yet the fear of armed black men ran rife through the Confederacy, and they supplied no guns, nor permitted combat roles for African Americans until the final weeks of the war; add the fact that thousands of African Americans were supportive of the North, to the point of escaping to Federal lines, and the desperation to legitimize the myth of participation becomes evident.

Silas weighed his situation, and “likely gained even more freedom of movement when Andrew was wounded and captured at Shiloh in April 1862 and imprisoned… Deemed human property he was legally bound to Andrew.” Although Silas returned and helped his master return home after injuries at the Battle of Chickamauga. Extant correspondence shows Silas’ return would be to his wife and newborn child. Silas served again in 1864, going with Andrew’s younger brother Benjamin, who served in the 9th Mississippi Calvary.

Why Silas Chandler’s Story Matters

Silas Chandler was a carpenter and helped found the first black church, Mount Hermon Baptist Church in West Point, Mississippi. He married Lucy Garvin about 1860, “daughter of a house slave named Polly and an unnamed plantation owner.” They had 12 children, 5 who survived to adulthood, and one son was the great-grandfather of Myra Chandler Sampson.  Silas lived to appear in the 1910 US Federal Census, where a glimpse of the life he built with his wife Lucy can be seen, some nine years before he died. In contrast, Palo Alto, MI, where he first lived in bondage, became a ghost town.  It’s worth noting that the Wikipedia article on Palo Alto mentions that “In 1876, Palo Alto was the site of an incident in which a group of heavily armed white men brought a piece of field artillery and broke up a meeting of the Republican Club in order to suppress black voters.” This is just one of myriad examples of retaliation committed against people of African descent  that numerous whites committed after Reconstruction and the passage of ‘black codes’ in 1865 and 1866.  Despite their efforts, Silas Chandler raised his family and contributed to his community.

Silas Chandler & family, West Point Ward 2, Clay, MI, US Federal Census 1910. Lines 93-99.
Silas Chandler & family US Census 1910, detail.

What I appreciate about the Uncivil podcast is the content, and the website’s clear layout and availability of transcripts, allowing one to easily search for subjects. As an adjunct to genealogical study, it helps bring to the table some of the issues that POC genealogists and their families face when working on family lines that head straight into terrain already complicated by locating material. Understanding documentary context helps with document analysis, and depending on one’s location, its easy to see how details can be used and misused to serve very different needs. Hearing voices waver, be insistent, vulnerable or firm, reminds one that this history still matters enormously. The events in Charlottesville last summer speaks to the urgency of projects that seek to unpack the historical pain and experience of those populations born or taken into slavery who made this country possible from its inception, and this foundational fact can no longer be ignored. We are still navigating this past.

In this case, the attempt to hijack family history for an ideological purpose was foiled, precisely because these descendants pressed on to tell their stories, writing, broadcasting and, Myra Chandler Sampson continues to speak truth to power. May we all find the strength to bring our ancestors into the light.

References

“The Portrait.” 27 Dec 2017. Uncivil Gimlet Media. Podcast. http://uncivil.show/

“Silas Chandler.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silas_Chandler Accessed 8 Jan 2018.

Myra Chandler Sampson and Kevin M Levin, “The Loyalty of Silas Chandler.” Civil War Times, Feb 2012, 30-35. https://www.academia.edu/5196718/The_Loyalty_of_Silas_Chandler  Accessed 5 Jan 2018.

“Yes There Were Black Confederates. Here’s Why.” The Root, 20 Jan 2015.  https://www.theroot.com/yes-there-were-black-confederates-here-s-why-1790858546 Accessed 8 Jan 2018.

“Military History of African Americans in the American Civil War.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_African_Americans_in_the_American_Civil_War Accessed 8 Jan 2018.

“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9RVX-DC?cc=1727033&wc=QZZW-XXL%3A133641901%2C134134901%2C135097501%2C1589089008 : 24 June 2017), Mississippi > Clay > West Point Ward 2 > ED 67 > image 10 of 10; citing NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

“Palo Alto, Mississippi.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palo_Alto,_Mississippi Accessed 8 Jan 2018.

“Reconstruction.” https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/reconstruction.htm Accessed 8 Jan 2018.