Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Video Review--Rebel presented by Voces on PBS

Premiering on the PBS show Voces, May 24, 2013 is the hour long documentary titled Rebel.

Romi Dias stars as Loreta Janeta Velazquez.
Photo: Gerard Gaskin
Rebel recounts the story of Loreta Velazquez, a Cuban born woman who becomes a Confederate soldier before turning Union spy. This work, directed by Maria Agui Carter, is based upon Velasquez's post war memoir titled The Woman in Battle: The Civil War Narrative of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Cuban Woman and Confederate Soldier (Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography).

Largely a forgotten figure, through the writings of Velazquez and the commentary of academics and historians such as Gary Gallagher we learn the story of a woman who could be considered a tragic figure who was ahead of her time.

Loreta was born to a well off family in Cuba who in 1849 sent her to New Orleans. Here her spiritedness began to show as she  refused what appears to have been a prepared marriage. She eventually marries a white man (i.e. not Hispanic or black) who appears to only be known by the name William. They quickly have two children with a third on the way when William is sent by the army to Indian Territory. Loretta and her children move to St. Louis where her infant child dies days after birth and soon after her other two children die from a fever epidemic that sweeps through St. Louis.

As the political situation worsens war becomes apparent. William resigns his army commission and joins the Confederacy with his home state (I assume this to be a Texas regiment and not the United States Army but this is unclear in the documentary). He is sent to Pensacola, FL where he is killed though it is called an accident.

With no family, no home, and seemingly no country Loreta transforms herself into a Confederate soldier by the name of Harry T. Buford. As Buford she fights at Bull Run, Shiloh, and other locations being injured several times. While serving as a Confederate she acquires a slave by the name of Bob. Bob serves her well until escaping to apparent freedom at Shiloh. It is unclear the relationship with Bob and if he knew Loreta's/Harry's secret.

In July 1863 it is discovered that Harry is a woman and Loreta is considered to possibly by a Union spy. This charge could mean death. General John Winder however frees her several days later now using her in the Secret Service Corps. Shortly there after she goes to work in Baltimore for the Union Secret Service.

In 1875 she and her book ran afoul of Jubal Early, he of the Lost Cause. Early, who is portrayed harshly in Rebel with a wild eyed and untamed look, refuses to believe her story and essentially calls her a female camp follower; or prostitute. For the most part she disappears though she does show in printed records until 1902. According to the documentary her burial location is unknown.

While seemingly short on detail this is still a worthwhile program to view. In the filmmakers defense there really is little detail about Velazquez available. The filmmakers have used her own limited writings for much of the dialogue. During this story we learn of the race issues common in the south during this period. We also see that Velazquez sees a changing in the role of money and finances as the war drags on. Where strongest however is where we learn about the overall role of women in the time period. It is estimated that maybe 500-1,000 served in the war. The role of a woman was not questioned in the mid 19th century. The clothing and appearance of a woman was not open for debate or interpretation. Sexual roles were firm and not to be changed. Society was not ready for women such as Loreta Velazquez.

Loreta Velazquez--Romi Dias

Maria Agui Carter--writer, producer, director
Calvin Lindsay, Jr.--producer

Academics and Historians
Catherine Clinton
Renee Sentilles
Kirsten Silva Gruesz
Christina Vella
Jesse Aleman
Vicki L. Ruiz
DeAnne Blanton
Elizabeth D. Leonard
Richard Hall
Carman Cumming
Gary W. Gallagher

Thank you to CaraMar Publicity for sending a preview copy of Rebel!

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