Many women were determined to take an active role—including taking up arms–in the first battle of the Civil War. One wealthy Southern lady, Loreta Velazquez, was determined to serve the Confederacy and found various methods to accomplish her goal.
Like many of the men in the early part of the war, Velazquez was motivated by patriotism to join the military and become a female soldier. When questioned by a newspaper reporter about her motives, Velazquez said she was “determined to fight the battles of her country.” She was also determined to have adventures. Using Joan of Arc as her inspiration, she was elated “at the prospect before me of being able to prove myself as good a fighter as any of the gallant men who had taken up arms.” Another reason that Velazquez and many other women became soldiers was to be with their husbands. Although her husband tried to discourage her, Velazquez insisted on serving with him. He died while training his men, which made her even more determined to punish the North.
Velazquez and other women who wanted to join the army had to find creative methods to sneak in because the army did not accept women. Her wealth enabled her to form an elaborate disguise. She had uniforms tailored for her and wore wire net shields under her uniform to make her look more muscular. Sometimes she also wore a false mustache. Velazquez drew on her experiences as an army wife prior to the war. She wrote, “having been the wife of an army officer for a number of years, I was…pretty well qualified for the work I had now undertaken, especially as I had paid a good deal of attention to the details of military organizations, and had seen soldiers drilled hundreds of times.” The knowledge she gained from the sidelines helped her blend in when she pretended to be a soldier.
This former army wife had no intention of sitting on the sidelines during the first battle of the war. At Bull Run Velazquez attached herself to Confederate General Bee’s command. In her autobiography, she states that at Bull Run she was temporarily placed in command of a company whose senior officer was killed during an earlier skirmish. She fought well in battle and some of the best soldiers referred to her as the “plucky little devil.”
The “plucky little devil” went on to fight in other battles during the war and became a Confederate spy. At the end of the war, she wrote an autobiography entitled The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and Travels of Madame Loreta Velazquez. Certain historians claim she exaggerated some of her activities, while others feel that the book’s account is accurate.
For more on Loreta Velazquez, see http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/loreta-janeta-velazquez.html
For more information on women soldiers during the Civil War, see http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1993/spring/women-in-the-civil-war-3.html