There are several accounts told through the ages, and concerning several conflicts, of women who went to war for the cause they espoused and who not only performed extraordinary feats of daring and bravery, but acted disguised and undetected in the roles of men. The history of the American Civil War offers several examples where the women concerned came from both sides of the conflict and all are incredible. Several of these dauntless Amazons have left posterity riveting accounts of their experiences, but among them all this book, written by the Cuban born Loreta Janeta Velazquez, is widely regarded not only as an extraordinary narrative among those where all are extraordinary, but also as an account of a woman’s wartime experiences that has virtually no equal in history. This was an exceptional woman by any standards and her story will inform, astonish and entertain. Indeed, it has long been the subject of disputed veracity in its entirety, but modern historians have confirmed much of its authenticity. If it does contain a few ‘tall stories’ it will not be exceptional among memoirs irrespective of the gender of the author. Loreta enlisted for the South in 1861 as a regular soldier and, of course, as a man, under the name of Lieutenant Harry Buford. She fought at First Bull Run, Balls Bluff, Fort Donelson and at Shiloh. This remarkable woman then gave up uniform to travel behind the Union lines, there working as a spy, gathering intelligence and undertaking other dangerous and subversive activities on behalf of the Confederacy. This is an indispensable book for all those interested in outstanding women of action. Available in softcover and hardcover with dustjacket.
At the moment when Bee rallied his men for another grapple with the enemy, I would have given anything could I but have had the strength to make a clean sweep of our opponents, and, by a single blow, end the great struggle. Looking towards the hill which, in the morning, had been occupied by three of our bravest and best generals—Beauregard, Johnston, and Bonham—and their staffs, I saw it covered with men fighting with desperation; all along the valley were dense clouds of dust and smoke, while the yells of the excited soldiery, and the roar of the guns, were almost deafening.<br>
Hard pressed by the greatly superior Federal force, our men at several points wavered and fell back, and at one time there was every prospect of a panic. This disgrace was spared, however, largely by the personal exertions of Beauregard and Johnston, who darted along the line, and succeeded in rallying the men, and in bringing them up to their work again. General Johnston turned the fortunes of the day by charging on the enemy, with the colours of the fourth Alabama regiment at his side. This was the pinch of the fight; for the enemy were bearing down upon us with a large force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and the personal example of Generals Beauregard, Johnston, and other prominent officers, who plunged into the thickest of the mêlée, had an immense effect in encouraging the men to resist to the last, no matter what the odds against them might be.<br>
The fiercer the conflict grew the more my courage rose. The example of my commanders, the desire to avenge my slaughtered comrades, the salvation of the cause which I had espoused, all inspired me to do my utmost; and no man on the field that day fought with more energy or determination than the woman who figured as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford.<br>
At two o’clock the right of Beauregard’s line was ordered to advance—with the exception of the reserves—to recover the plateau, for the possession of which both armies had been fiercely contending. Stonewall Jackson succeeded in piercing the enemy’s centre, but his troops suffered terribly in doing so. Bee, while leading his Fourth Alabama regiment in a charge, fell mortally wounded about a hundred yards from the Henry House. Fifty yards farther north, Bartow was shot, and was caught, as he fell from his horse, by General Gartrell, then commanding the 7th Georgia, and by his order carried to the rear. His last words were, “Boys, I am killed; but don’t give up the field.” Colonel Fisher, of the Sixth North Carolina regiment, was also among the killed. He was a noble fellow.<br>
The conflict now became more bitter than ever, and at one time it seemed that we should be compelled to succumb to the fierce attacks which the enemy were making against us. At this crisis, a courier came up to me with a message for General Johnston, to the effect that the Federals had reached the line of the Manassas Gap Railroad, and were marching on us with a heavy force. Had this information been correct, it would have been all up with us. Fortunately, however, the advancing troops were those of Kirby Smith, and consisted of about two thousand infantry and Beekman’s artillery. The arrival of this force decided the fate of the battle, and the Federals fled, defeated, from the field, while our army fell back to Manassas Junction.<br>
After the battle, I appealed to General Jackson for the promotion which I considered that I had fully earned, and he gave me a recommendation to General Bragg for a recruiting commission. This I did not care about, for I thought that I did not need his permission or his aid to do recruiting duty, and determined to wait and see if something better would not offer. I accordingly remained for some time with my acquaintances of the Fifth and Eighth Louisiana regiment, hoping that another battle would come off at an early day. Finding, however, that there was no prospect of a fight very soon, and becoming tired of inactivity, I determined to return to Richmond, for the purpose of seeing whether it was not possible for me to find some work to do suited to my abilities.