Fighting the Civil War — in drag

ON THIS DATE in 1861, eighteen-year-old Janeta Velázquez fought under the name of Harry Buford at the Civil War’s first Battle of Bull Run.

Loreta Velazquez, without and with her soldier's disguise.

Sorting fact from fiction is difficult with Velázquez, who wrote an 1876 autobiography titled Women in Battle that was filled with exaggerations. She was apparently born in Cuba, raised in New Orleans, and fought for the Confederate Army in several Civil War battles, including the first Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. According to Smithsonian.com, about 400 women disguised as men fought in the Civil War.

Married in 1856, Velázquez enlisted in 1861 without the knowledge of her soldier-husband, who was off fighting when she donned a beard, mustache, and adopted the name Harry Buford. She claimed to have recruited a battalion of 236 soldiers for the Confederate army before seeing action in the first Battle of Bull Run.

Bored of camp life, she later departed for Washington to spy for the South, using both male and female disguises. Velázquez returned to the Confederacy and fought in other major battles, including the 1862 Battle of Shiloh, where she sustained an injury from a stray shell and was revealed to be a woman. According to her autobiography, she retired as a soldier after that but continued to spy for the South.

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