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Rebel: Voces Special Presentation

Airs Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 4 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Under the alias of Harry Buford, Loreta Velazquez (Romi Dias as Loreta) passed as a Confederate soldier during the American Civil War.

Shrouded in mystery and long the subject of debate, the amazing story of Loreta Velazquez is one of the Civil War’s most gripping forgotten narratives. While the U.S. military may have recently lifted the ban on women in combat, Loreta Janeta Velazquez, a Cuban immigrant from New Orleans, was fighting in battle 150 years ago — one of the estimated 1,000 women who secretly served as soldiers during the American Civil War.

Courtesy of REA

Drawing by REA, of Loreta Velazquez, around 1876. From "The Woman In Battle," by Loreta Janeta Velazquez, sold by subscription, Hartford, T. Belknap, 1876. REA was John Rea Neill, from Philadelphia, Penn, known for his work illustrating the Land of Oz series, and "Little Black Sambo."

Courtesy of REA

Drawing by REA, of Loreta Velazquez, aka Harry T. Buford, around 1876. From "The Woman In Battle," by Loreta Janeta Velazquez, sold by subscription, Hartford, T. Belknap, 1876. REA was John Rea Neill, from Philadelphia, Penn, known for his work illustrating the Land of Oz series, and "Little Black Sambo."

Who was she? Why did she fight? And what made her so dangerous that she has been virtually erased from history? Directed by María Agui Carter, "Rebel: Voces Special Presentation" premieres in May 2013 on PBS.

Deftly weaving lushly dramatized scenes of Loreta’s riveting tale with historical commentary and archival material, "Rebel" explores the story of a complex woman, a myth and the politics of national memory. The story of a wealthy Cuban planter’s daughter sent to New Orleans in 1849, "Rebel" chronicles Loreta’s rebellious relationship with her traditional family and her early marriage to an American soldier known only as William.

After the devastating sudden death of William and her three young children, Loreta turned her grief into transformation. She embarked on a new secret life, disguising herself as a man and, under the name of Harry T. Buford, served first as a soldier in the Confederate Army and later as a Union spy.

"Rebel" is based on Loreta’s 600-page memoir, "A Woman in Battle," which caused a sensation when it was published in 1876 and remains in print to this day. For over a century, Loreta was dismissed as a liar and a prostitute, but new evidence indicates she was no hoax.

“Loreta’s memoir gives us rare insight into war from a woman and a Latina’s point of view. She was an immigrant serving her country by fighting for it, as so many generations have done. Growing up in New Orleans she naturally aligned herself with the South and even kept a slave, but records show she would end up spying for the North. She was a complex woman who ultimately turned against war as a solution to the world’s problems,” says writer/director Carter.

Although Loreta’s memoir, which most historians acknowledge to be somewhat embellished, was dismissed as a hoax for more than a century, historians have recently discovered documents in the National Archives as well as newspaper articles and letters proving that she did indeed exist. “Loreta Velazquez was a rebel who flouted all the rules to become a part of American history,” says Carter.

"Rebel" is on Facebook. VOCES is on Facebook, and you can follow @VocesMedia on Twitter.

Video

Rebel: Voces Special Presentation: Trailer

Above: "Rebel" chronicles the story of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, a Cuban-born teenager from New Orleans who fought disguised as a man during the American Civil War. Based on a 600-page memoir published in 1876, this film tells the story of an unusual Civil War soldier who was considered a hoax for over 100 years, but contemporary historians have found evidence of her existence.