Sunday, June 2, 2013

Roberta Janeta Velazquez - Cuban Woman was Secret Soldier in U.S. Civil War

I was fascinated to read this article and interview in Cuban Art News about a Cuban woman who disguised herself as a man and fought in the American Civil War.  Cubans started fighting for their independence from Spain in 1868, and she was also involved in the Cuban independence movement.

Whatever your politics today, or the politics of the Civil War, I hope you also find this a fascinating story of women at war, often ignored in our history books.

Loreta wrote her memoirs,  The Woman in Battle, in 1878.  She came from a wealthy Cuban family and was educated in New Orleans. There she met an American soldier, an officer, fell in love and married him, despite her family's objections. After the death of her soldier husband and her children she disguised herself as a man and joined the American Civil War as a Confederate soldier.  

Below is part of an interview with Maria Agui Carter,the director of Rebel, a PBS documentary about Loreta Velazquez

Today people may be surprised that there were Cubans, such as Loreta Velázquez, taking sides in the Civil War, particularly in the South. But to Latinos in the second half of the 19th century, the American Civil War existed in relation to larger geopolitical forces intimately tied to Spain and her colonies in the Americas. The American Civil War was preceded by the U.S.-Mexican War of the 1840s. Cuba sought its liberation shortly after the American Civil War. The U.S.-Spanish war took place in the 1890s.
When the Civil War broke out, Velázquez sided with her home state of Louisiana  in the Confederacy. She grew up in a New Orleans with a rich Hispanic legacy, which the South shared. The South Central Gulf States of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are known for their French heritage and are not usually associated with the Hispanic world. But the three states all fell under Spanish rule at points between 1762 and 1813, and saw heavy immigration from Spanish speakers.
A jewel in the Spanish empire’s crown, Cuba had intimate ties to the United States, particularly in the South. As Latin Americanist and Cuban expert Louis A. Pérez explains, in the 19th century North Americans regularly visited, and owned businesses in Cuba, and the Cuban upper classes did likewise in America, preferring to send their children to study in the United States, as Loreta Velázquez’ family chose to do. Indeed, Pérez writes, “In mid-century, Cuban trade accounted for as many U.S. merchant vessels as were engaged in the total trade with England and France.”
Cuban businessmen flourished in North America, particularly in New Orleans society. And ties to the South were strong. Prominent anti-abolitionist Southerners plotted to annex the slave-holding Spanish colony of Cuba and strongly supported Cuban independence in the 1850s. In fact, as Pérez explains, “Many Confederate officers, politicians, and planters fled to Cuba after Appomattox, from Generals John C. Breckenridge, Robert A. Toombs, to Jubal A. Early, and former Louisiana governor Thomas Overton Moore.”
For Cubans, the experience of being educated and/or living in the United States created a complex shift in their national identities during the 1800s. While Cuba was still a colony of Spain, America had gained self-rule. American technology and industry and politics represented progress. Yet the Cuban economy ran on the backs of slaves, and its closest social and economic ties were to the Southern states. As the daughter of a Spanish aristocrat who owned a plantation, it was natural for Loreta to embrace progressive ideals—such as those of women’s political and social freedom, the ideals of American democracy—and yet to endorse slavery, the source of her family’s subsistence and her country’s economy.
Loreta’s personal journey starting out as a Confederate soldier and ending as a double agent spying for the Union, and ultimately speaking out against slavery later in life, echoes a very fascinating personal growth of an immigrant who comes to embrace the American ideals of democracy. (From To read more click HERE.

For more information also check the PBS Website:

Images, graphics, and video from Cuban Art News


  1. What an interesting story ! Thank you very much for sharing it, Fabolaktuko !

    1. My pleasure always. Thank you for stopping by.


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