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Rebel: “An Hispanic Woman in a White Man’s War” Premieres on PBS

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“There was horror in battle, but I was bent on showing I was as good as any man.” Such sentiments by women in uniform may be quite common today, but things were very different when those words were written by Loretta Velazquez nearly 150 years ago. Loretta masqueraded as a man to fight in the Civil War, and her story, which she first told in her 1876 memoir A Woman in Battle, is being brought to television by PBS.

Actress Romi Dias, familiar to many viewers from roles on Law & Order and other television series and movies, brings Loretta to life in the film, entitled Rebel, which dramatizes her story. A Cuban-born widow of an American soldier whose children were taken by a fever, in 1861 Loretta cut her hair, donned her late husband’s uniform and joined the Confederate 7th Louisiana Regiment as “Lieutenant Harry T. Buford.” Aided in her disguise by a male slave named Bob, this former “daddy’s little girl” as she once referred to herself was determined to “play my part in a great game” – and did so on the battlefields of Bull Run and Shiloh. Wounded in that later engagement in April 1862 she was sent to recuperate in Richmond – where her true sex was revealed.

Masquerading as a man was not only a crime in both the Union and Confederate armies; it was considered an act of treason against the state and an abomination against God. Accused of being a Yankee spy she was jailed and faced a hanging – until the head of Confederate military intelligence accepted her offer to spy for the South. The former soldier spent the next two years conducting espionage and smuggling money to other Rebel agents in the North. Near the end of the war she may have become a double-agent, or at least appears to have convinced the U.S. Army Provost Marshal’s office in Baltimore that she was working for the Union in that capacity.

Romi Dias narrates the story using Loretta’s own words to a backdrop of a period costume-drama complete with pretty gowns and bloody battle re-enactments, much of which were shot on location where the original story took place. A number of historians, professors and other experts on the Civil War, among them Vicki L. Ruiz, dean of humanities at UC Irvine, also appear to offer insights into Loretta’s story and the era in which she lived.

Rebel, a film written, directed and produced by Maria Agui Carter, is another in the Voces series and will debut on most PBS stations at 10 p.m., Eastern, Friday, May 24.

The story of Loretta Velazquez is in keeping with other entries on Hispanic-American history and culture in the series, but with the nation in the midst of a modern war and also half-way through the sesquicentennial for the Civil War in which Loretta fought, its focus on a woman warrior gives it a relevance and appeal that goes beyond the normal target audience of other Voces projects.

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Rebel premieres on most other PBS stations at 10 p.m. Eastern, Friday, May 24. Connecticut Public Television has not yet scheduled a showing of Rebel .

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Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer and columnist. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at
…or his blog at
Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at
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