Velásquez, Loreta (1842–1897)

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Velásquez, Loreta (1842–1897)

Cuban-born American Confederate soldier. Name variations: Loreta Janeta Velasquez; Loretta Velasquez; Loreta Velazquez. Born in 1842 in Cuba; died in 1897; married an American Confederate Army officer.

Loreta Velásquez was born in 1842 in Cuba and educated in Louisiana. After she married a Confederate Army officer, she was determined to accompany him into battle, so she disguised herself as a man, complete with a false mustache and a wire-based chemise that minimized her waist and breasts. Under the assumed name of Harry T. Buford or Burford, she enlisted with a group of independent volunteer scouts.

Velásquez fought valiantly at the Battle of Bull Run in 1861 and several times penetrated Northern lines as a spy and blockade runner. Even the death of her husband in battle did not dampen her fighting spirit. She remained in active combat and earned praise for her efforts from General Stonewall Jackson, who never discovered her true identity. Later arrested by her own forces as a federal spy, she was able to talk her way out of imprisonment. At this point, she joined the 21st Louisiana Regiment, engaging in guerrilla warfare before she was wounded. Some say it was at this time that she was forced to confess her gender; other accounts claim that her sex remained hidden until her wire encasement fell apart. In the end, Confederate officers fined her $10 and sentenced her to ten days in jail for her misrepresentations.

Following the war, Velásquez joined an expedition to Venezuela and eventually returned to live in the southwestern United States. There she dabbled in gold mining and traveled on the women's lecture circuit. She ultimately published her story in 1876 as The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and Travels of Madame Loreta Velásquez. She died in 1897.

sources:

Felton, Bruce, and Mark Fowler. Famous Americans You Never Knew Existed. NY: Stein and Day, 1979.

Macksey, Joan, and Kenneth Macksey. The Book of Women's Achievements. NY: Stein and Day, 1976.

Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice Hall, 1994.

Lisa S. Weitzman , freelance writer, Cleveland, Ohio