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Rebel: Loreta Velazquez Civil War Soldier and Spy

Directed by María Agui Carter, 2013

No Civil War saga is more improbable than the life of Confederate soldier Loreta Janeta Velazquez recounted in her 1876 autobiography, A Woman in Battle. Filmmaker María Agui Carter knew of Cuban-born Velazquez and, like many others, thought the memoir a clever hoax. When she learned from National Archives historian De Anne Blanton of documents supporting major elements of the story, Carter knew she had a strong tale to tell.

Drawing liberally on Velasquez’s prose, Carter dramatizes episodes from Loreta’s life, mixed with commentary by researchers. Rebel is a Civil War story, but the major narrative tension is Velazquez’s determination to create a life on her own terms.

A child of upper-class Cubans, Velazquez was sent for instruction in New Orleans to tame her tomboy spirits. She rebels there, too, marrying a U.S. Army officer in a clandestine ceremony. The couple soon has three children, who all succumb to disease before their parents’ fifth wedding anniversary. Then, when Velazquez’s husband resigns from the Army and is killed fighting for the Confederacy, she dons men’s clothing and goes to battle as Rebel Harry Buford.

Eventually she is captured and becomes a spy for both the Union and the Confederacy. The kicker comes in the form of General Jubal Early, who assailed Velazquez’s memoir when it was published—and nearly consigned her astounding life to oblivion.

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Originally published in the September 2013 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.