How did a married mother of two end up fighting in the Civil War battles at the First Bull Run and Shiloh? Loreta Vazquez’s tragic story is the subject of the Voces on PBS documentary Rebel premiering Tuesday, May 28 at 7PM on LPB. It was directed by Maria Agui Carter.
Vazquez, a Cuban immigrant who moved to New Orleans when she was seven, was living a typical life for the time in St. Louis when her whole world disintegrated in a matter of months. First, she had a miscarriage. Then her other two children died from what she called “the fever.” And finally, her soldier husband died in an accident. Not long after that, she cut her hair, dressed like a soldier and began fighting for the Confederacy as Harry T. Buford.
“One reason that almost no one has heard this story is it had been actively erased from historical records,” Carter said. “So to me this story of this one Latina soldier of the American Civil War is partly a metaphor about the ways we tell our national stories of American history and the way that certain groups can get marginalized and forgotten in the national narrative.”
Vazquez was one of an estimated 500 to 1,000 women who fought on both sides of the war even though some of the details are sketchy because the figures were derived from doctors who discovered the soldiers were female when they treated them for wounds and or they died in combat.
“I think one thing that attracted them to disguise their identity and go to war is they were able to earn money and they didn’t want the choices that were available to them during that period,” Carter said. “In the case of Loreta, I think she had something of a death wish and I think she was looking for something to consume her. She decided I was going to be part of something bigger than myself and go in a completely different direction.”
She eventually became a double agent for the Union Army.
Most of the documentary was based on Velazquez’s 600-page memoir A Woman in Battle which Carter discovered in the recesses of the Harvard University Library. Published in 1876, the book had come under attack from Confederate historians who claimed it was a hoax. The biggest outcry came from former Confederate General Jubal A. Early.
“He was outraged at her transgressive writing, her sexuality, and a sort of darker image of the confederate soldier that he felt besmirched the image of the Confederacy,” Carter said. “He actually met with her in person and when he discovered she didn’t have an accent he immediately decided that she couldn’t be Cuban because she had no accent.”
Carter began working seriously on the documentary in 2000 after she discovered newly recovered documents and newspaper articles that established that the story was true with some embellishment. Part of her research was done at Tulane University where she was a visiting scholar. Since there was only picture that was believed to be of Velazquez and no real proof that it was actually her, the documentary had to be done using recreations with Romi Dias playing the part of Loreta.
Published: May 10, 2013
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