Everything known about Velazquez comes from her 600-page book, 'The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T Buford, Confederate States Army. How much of it is true is unknown. Historians have generally doubted its veracity for the improbability of many of her adventures, her frequent vagueness or inaccuracy about names and places, and the absence of any evidence to corroborate her sensational claims.
According to her own account, Velazquez was of Castilian descent and related to Cuban governor Don Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar and artist Don Diego Velázquez. Her father was a Spanish government official who owned plantations in Mexico and Cuba. At the age of 14, she was sent to a school in New Orleans, but ran away from home and married an American officer named William. They had three children, all of whom died four years later.
At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Velazquez's husband resigned and joined the Confederate army. She failed to convince her fiance to let her join him, so she acquired two uniforms, adopted the name Harry T. Buford and moved to Arkansas. There she recruited 236 men in four days, shipped them to Pensacola, Florida and presented them to her husband as her command.
Her fiance died in an accident while he was demonstrating the use of weapons to his troops. Velazquez turned her men over to a friend and began to search for more things to do.
She supposedly fought in the First Battle of Bull Run. She grew tired of camp life and again donned female garb to go to Washington D.C., where she spied for the Confederacy. She claimed she met Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron. When she returned to the South, she was assigned to the detective corps. She later left for Tennessee.
In Tennessee, she fought in the siege of Fort Donelson until the surrender. She was wounded in battle, but was not exposed. She fled to New Orleans, where she was arrested, suspected of being a female Union spy in disguise. After she was released, she enlisted to get away from the city.
In Shiloh, she found the battalion she had raised in Arkansas and fought in the Battle of Shiloh. As she was burying the dead after a battle, a stray shell wounded her. When the army doctor who examined her discovered she was a woman, she again fled to New Orleans and saw Major General Benjamin F. Butler take command of the city. She gave up her uniform at that point.
Afterwards, in Richmond, Virginia, authorities hired her as a spy and she began to travel all around the USA. At that time, she married Captain Thomas DeCaulp; he died soon after in a Chattanooga hospital. (An officer of that name is known to have survived the war).
After the war, she travelled in Europe as well as in the South. She married Major Wasson and emigrated with him to Venezuela. When he died in Caracas, she returned to the United States. During her subsequent travels around the U.S., she gave birth to a baby boy and met Brigham Young in Utah. In Nevada, she married an unnamed man but soon moved along, travelling with her baby.
Her book appeared in print in 1876. In the preface, Velazquez stated that she had written the book primarily for money so she could support her child.
Shortly after its appearance, former Confederate General Jubal Early denounced the book as an obvious fiction . In 2007, The History Channel broadcast Full Metal Corset, a program that presented details of Velazquez's story as genuine. However, the overall truthfulness of her account remains indeterminate and highly questionable.
Loreta Janeta Velazquez is said to have died in 1897, but historian Richard Hall asserts that the place and date of her death are unknown.