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Florida Hispanic Confederate History Month

Loreta Janeta Velaszquez

Velazquez was born in Cuba on June 26, 1842 to a wealthy family. In 1849, she was sent to school in New Orleans, where she resided with her aunt. At the age of 14, she eloped with an officer in the Texas army. When Texas seceded from the Union in 1861, her husband joined the Confederate army and Velazquez pleaded with him to allow her to join him. Undeterred by her husband’s refusal, Velazquez had a uniform made and disguised herself as a man, taking the name Harry T. Buford.

Now displaying the self-awarded rank of lieutenant, Velazquez moved to Arkansas, where she proceeded to raise a regiment of volunteers. Locating her husband in Florida, Velazquez brought the regiment to him, presenting herself as their commanding officer. Her husband’s reaction is not recorded in history, as just a few days later he was killed in a shooting accident.

Velazquez headed north, acting as an “independent soldier,” she joined up with a regiment just in time to fight at the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run) and the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Shortly afterwards, she once again donned female attire and went to Washington, DC, where she was able to gather intelligence for the Confederacy. Upon her return to the South, Velazquez was made an official member of the detective corps.

Apparently espionage did not hold enough excitement for Velazquez, and she once again sought action on the battlefield. Resuming her disguise as Lieutenant Buford, she traveled to Tennessee, joining up with another regiment to fight at the Battle of Fort Donelson on February 11, 1862. Velazquez was wounded in the foot, and fearing that her true gender would be revealed if she sought medical treatment in camp, she fled back to her home in New Orleans.

Still in her male disguise, Velazquez was arrested in New Orleans for being a possible Union spy. She was cleared of the charges, but was fined for impersonating a man, and released. She immediately headed back to Tennessee, in search of another regiment to join. As luck would have it, she found the regiment she had originally recruited in Arkansas, and fought with them at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862. While on burial detail, she was wounded in the side by an exploding shell, and an army doctor discovered her true gender. Velazquez decided at this point to end her career as a soldier, and she returned to New Orleans.

Not content to sit out the rest of the war, Velazquez then went to Richmond to volunteer her services as a spy. She was able to travel freely in both the South and the North, working in both male and female disguises.

Joseph Paul Robles

Robles emigrated to America from Spain in the 1830s, married and settled in Hernando County in Florida in the 1840s. The growing city of Tampa drew the young Robles family away from the primitive settlement at Bentenville. When the Civil War broke out, the father and three eldest sons entered into the service for the Confederacy. The oldest son served in the Army of Tennessee, the next two eldest joined the Cow Cavalry to protect the local beef needed to feed the Confederate army. Joseph Paul due to his age volunteered for the local home guard for the city of Tampa.

As the war moved into the later stages, Florida's coastal salt making facilities was raided frequently by Union troops with locals scrambling to repair them afterwards. One of the more prominent salt works in the Tampa Bay area was located at Frazier’s Beach and run by Captain James McKay.

Because of the blockade, Union gunboats were frequently nearby and saw this facility as a primary target. One morning in the fall of 1864, a Union gunboat entered the bay. It sent out a landing party who sought to raid and destroy McKay’s salt works. Unbeknownst to the Union soldiers, someone had spotted them coming ashore- Joseph Robles was on guard. A dingy filled with about a dozen Union troops arrived on the beach, with a second landing party behind them.

The courageous five-foot four and weighed 135 pounds Robles hid in a wrecked steam boiler that had been left on the shore from a previous raid. As the landing party disembarked, Robles emerged from the boiler and opened fire with a double-barreled shotgun. The Union soldiers were in complete disarray following this surprise attack. and Robles was able to capture the party and single - handedly march them back to Tampa as prisoners.

Maria Dolores “Lola” Sánchez

Miss Sanchez was one of the most unsuspecting Confederate spies during the War. Born to Cuban parents who immigrated to Florida in the mid-1840s, Lola spent her days tending to household duties at her family’s home in Palatka, Florida. Between taking care of her parents and managing the household she had little time for the war.

But as the war wore the fight came to her back yard when forces set up camps in Palatka, Florida. The last straw for Lola occurred when Don Mauricio Sánchez, Lola’s father, was falsely accused of being a Confederate spy by neighboring Union soldiers. Union soldiers imprisoned Mauricio at the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, and every plea of the Sánchez family for Don’s release fell on deaf ears.

From here on out, Lola and her two sisters utilized their close proximity to Union soldiers to their advantage. In particular, Lola amplified her hospitality to Union soldiers when they searched Palatka homes for Confederate spies. While Union soldiers dined on Cuban cuisine at the Sánchez home, Lola eavesdropped on their conversations in order to get ahold of information valuable to the nearby Confederate army.

Lola's hospitality-based tactics prevailed on May 21, 1864, as she learned the Union was planning a raid on Confederate supplies at St. Augustine via the USS Columbine the next morning. After this raid, Union forces planned to push forward to Horse’s Landing and ambush Confederate soldiers while they were asleep. Lola rode a mile and a half on horseback to inform Captain John Jackson "JJ" Dickison, the commander of the local Confederate forces, of the Union’s planned ambush. While Lola made this trek, her sisters kept the Union soldiers occupied back at their Palatka residence.

Sánchez’s efforts proved to be a success, as Dickinson and his troops successfully countered the Union ambush on May 22, 1864. John Jackson Dickinson ambushed the USS Columbine at Horse’s Landing. Confederate troops captured and burned the USS Columbine, making this one of the few instances when a Union warship was destroyed by land-based forces. The remaining Union soldiers were captured. In the end, the Battle of Horse’s Landing proved to be a resounding victory for Confederates.

Matthew Solana

The Solana's immigrated from Spain during the Spanish colonial period. A Solana was deputy governor of Apalachee, a Spanish outpost and mission at today's Tallahassee, in the late 1600s; several Solanas were priests in St. Augustine. and was one of the few families that stayed in 1764 when the rest of St. Augustine's 3,100 residents fled to Cuba after the British took possession of the colony.

When delegates were chosen about the future of Florida and her affiliation with the "Old Union", a representative from one of Florida's oldest family, Matthew Solano, was chosen. Solano attended Florida's Succession Convention in March 1861 in Tallahassee, and was a signed of the Ordinance of Secession.

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