Inventing Loreta Velasquez
William C. Davis
Southern Illinois University Press
1915 University Press Drive
SIUC Mail Code 6806, Carbondale, IL 62901
9780809335220, $39.95, HC, 376pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: She went by many names (Mary Ann Keith, Ann Williams, Lauretta Williams, and more) but history knows her best as Loreta Janeta Velasquez, a woman who claimed to have posed as a man to fight for the Confederacy. In "Inventing Loreta Velasquez: Confederate Soldier Impersonator, Media Celebrity, and Con Artist, academician and Civil War historian William C. Davis delves into the life of one of America's early 19th Century celebrities, peeling back the myths she herself created to reveal a startling and even more implausible reality.
This groundbreaking biography reveals a woman quite different from the public persona she promoted. In her bestselling memoir, "The Woman in Battle", Velasquez claimed she was an emphatic Confederate patriot, but in fact she never saw combat. Instead, during the war she manufactured bullets for the Union and persuaded her Confederate husband to desert the Army.
After the Civil War ended, she wore many masks, masterminding ambitious confidence schemes worth millions, such as creating a phony mining company, conning North Carolina residents to back her financially in a fake immigration scheme, and attracting investors to build a railroad across western Mexico.
With various husbands, Velasquez sought her fortune both in the American West and in the Klondike, though her endeavors cost one husband his life.
She also became a social reformer advocating on behalf of better prison conditions, the Cuban revolt against Spain, and the plight of Cuban refugees.
Velasquez was also one of the first women to venture into journalism and presidential politics. Always a sensational press favorite, she displayed throughout her life an uncanny...