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Loreta Janeta Velazquez

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Loreta Janeta Velazquez

While men in the Union and the Confederacy alike were risking imprisonment deserting their armies, Loreta Janeta Velazquez was risking imprisonment trying to fight alongside an army that didn't want her or any other woman. Donning a male disguise, she transformed into Confederate Lieutenant Harry T. Buford and fought in some of the most significant battles of the Civil War.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez Biography

Loreta Janeta Velazquez Portrait StudySmarterPortrait of Loreta Janeta Velazquez,

Loreta Janeta Velazquez Biography: The Woman in Battle

Much of what we know about Loreta Janeta Velazquez comes from her own words in her memoir, 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. It is for this reason that we can’t take all of her stories as absolute fact, but more on that later. First, let’s dive into her incredible story as she tells it.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez Biography: Early Life

Loreta Janeta Velazquez was born to a wealthy family in Cuba in 1842 where she lived until her father, a Spanish government official, resigned from his post in 1844. After his resignation, the family moved to Texas, which was then a part of the Republic of Mexico. In 1846, Loreta experienced her first taste of war when the Mexican-American War began.

While Loreta’s father fought in the war against the U.S. invasion, the rest of the family fled to the West Indies to stay safe. When the war ended, her father refused to stay in what had become American territory and the family moved to Puerto de Palmas in Mexico. There, the family found success in the sugar, tobacco, and coffee trade.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez Biography: Education

Loreta received education from a young age under the tutelage of an English governess. In 1849, she left her family to live with an aunt in New Orleans. While there, she attended a school run by the Sisters of Charity. There, she was supposed to learn how to be a “proper” lady, but she was more interested in being a woman who defied conventions. She had a particular fondness for Joan of Arc:

Whenever I think of the women who have distinguished themselves in battle, my affections turn to the greatest and noblest of them all, and my imagination fires with a desire to emulate the glorious deeds of Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans. A religious enthusiast, as well as a born leader of men, and a martial genius of the first order” - Loreta Janeta Velazquez, A Woman in Battle, 1876

Loreta Janeta Velazquez Biography: Before the Civil War

By the time she was 14, Loreta’s parents had arranged a marriage for her, but she defied their wishes and eloped with an officer in the Texas army. Her parents cut her off and she was left to start her new life with her husband. Leading up to the Civil War, they traveled to different army posts across the West, but when the Civil War began, her husband left the U.S. Army to join the Confederates.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez: Important Life Events




Born in Cuba


Moved to Texas


Mexican-American War


Moved to New Orleans


Eloped with Texas army officer

April 12, 1861

Beginning of the Civil War

July 21, 1861

Battle of Bull Run

February 13-16, 1862

Battle of Fort Donelson

April 6-7, 1862

Battle of Shiloh Hill

April 9, 1865

End of Civil War


Published memoir

Loreta Janeta Velazquez: The Civil War

When the Civil War broke out, Loreta Janeta Velazquez saw it as an opportunity to finally fulfill her dreams of following in Joan of Arc's footsteps. Despite Loreta’s attempts to join him, her husband left to fight in Florida without her. Not one to simply fall in line, she traveled to Arkansas with the goal of recruiting soldiers for the Confederacy.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we have to remember the time period. Women couldn’t just enlist in the army and join their local regiment. Some women of the period overcame this barrier by disguising themselves as men and Loreta was no different. She donned male attire, wore a mustache, smoked cigars, and even took on a more masculine gait.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez Harry T Buford StudySmarterPortrait of Harry T. Buford,

By the time Loreta arrived in Arkansas, she had transformed into Lieutenant Harry T. Buford. Using her new identity, she was able to recruit a regiment of over 200 soldiers that she led to meet her husband in Florida. Unfortunately, he passed away in a gun accident and Loreta was left a war-time widow.

However, Loreta was not one to lay in bed and weep. Instead, she traveled North where she fought in several notable battles, including the Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the Civil War. By this point, Loreta had learned the power of disguises and she took a brief break in combat to engage in espionage in Washington DC, posing as the wife of an officer.

After an injury at the Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee, Loreta (as Lieutenant Buford) returned to New Orleans where authorities arrested her under suspicion of being a Union spy. She revealed her true identity and was released, but not without a fine for impersonating a man. Not idle for long, she returned to Tennessee for the Battle of Shiloh where she reunited with her Arkansas regiment.

Loreta’s time as a soldier came to an end when she received an injury that required medical attention and outed her true identity. After a quick stop home in New Orleans, she traveled to Richmond where she spied for the Confederacy, still using her male disguise when it came in handy.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez Life and Legacy

As we noted earlier, the stories we know about Loreta Janeta Velazquez come from her own memoir which brings into question their authenticity. Even when she first published her memoir, there was debate about the truth of it all and a number of Confederate officers spoke out against her.

Today, historians tend to agree that it is a mix of fact and fiction–some parts are far-fetched and others are verifiable with research. Regardless, Loreta Janeta Velazquez’s memoir offers a unique look into one of the courageous women that took up arms in the Civil War.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez Life and Legacy: Women in Battle

The battlefield was certainly not the typical place for a woman during the Civil War, but there were actually a significant number of women who ignored not only the norm, but the law, to fight alongside men. These women, along with others who aided the war effort, fought against the traditional expectations of their sex and gave fuel to the women’s movement.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez proved a woman could be a soldier, a lady, and anything else she wanted to be:

My experience is, that the language used by the very best men in masculine society is too often not such as pure-minded women would like to listen to... I hope that some of my late associates, when they learn [of] Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, whose ears were so often greeted by their profanity and ribaldry, will have enough self-respect to blush with shame at having addressed the language they did to a woman, and a modest woman at that.” - Loreta Janeta Velazquez, A Woman in Battle, 1876

Loreta Janeta Velaquez - Key takeaways

  • Loreta Janeta Velaquez fought in the Civil War disguised as a man who she named Lieutenant Harry T. Buford.
  • She recounted her stories in 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.
  • She participated in several major battles such as the Battle of Bull Run and engaged in espionage.
  • Her memoir is most likely a mix of fact and fiction but she was a part of a broader phenomenon of female soldiers that would help fuel the women's movement.

Frequently Asked Questions about Loreta Janeta Velazquez

Loreta Janeta Velazquez is famous for dressing up as a man and fighting in the Civil War.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez was not a part of the abolitionist movement and did not try to free slaves.

Loreta Janeta Velazquez disguised herself as a man by dressing in men's attire, wearing a mustache, padding her clothing, and imitating male behavior.

It is not known how Loreta Janeta Velazquez died.

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When was Loreta Janeta Velazquez born?

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What is the name of Loreta Janeta Velazquez's memoir?

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The Woman in Battle

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What war did Loreta Janeta Velazquez experience in her youth?

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The War of 1812

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Why did Loreta Janeta Velazquez's parents cut her off?

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She eloped with an officer from the Texas army even though they had arranged a marriage for her.

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What was the name of Loreta Janeta Velazquez's male alter ego?

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Lieutenant Harry T. Buford

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Did Loreta Janeta Velazquez fight for the Union or the Confederacy?

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the Confederacy

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