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        Rebel: Loreta Velazquez Civil War Soldier and Spy | Lesson Plan: Hidden Histories

        “What a woman may do if only she dares, and dares to do greatly.” - Loreta Velazquez

        Rebel: Loreta Velazquez Civil War Soldier and Spy, the true story of Loreta Velazquez, Confederate soldier turned Union Spy.

        Shrouded in mystery and long the subject of debate, the amazing story of Loreta Velazquez, confederate Soldier turned Union Spy, 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 an estimated 1000 women who secretly served as soldiers during the American Civil War. Who was she? Why did she fight? And what made her so dangerous she has been virtually erased from history? Directed by María Agui Carter, REBEL is the story of a woman, a myth, and the politics of national memory.

        Lesson Summary

        It is estimated that between 500 and 1,000 women went into military service during the American Civil War, yet their contributions to major events of that era are often overlooked, misunderstood, misrepresented, or undocumented. Using the documentary film REBEL as a guide, students will learn about the stories of women, such as Loreta Velazquez, and examine the motivations that led them to become soldiers, spies and strategists during the American Civil War. They will also examine the factors and forces that determine how history is shaped for future generations, and why some stories are overlooked or suppressed while others are celebrated or mythologized

        Time Allotment

        90 to 120 minutes + Assignments

        Learning Objectives

        • Consider how factors such as gender and race shape our understanding of history
        • Learn about the stories of women, such as Loreta Velazquez, and examine the motivations that led them to become soldiers, spies and strategists during the American Civil War
        • Explore how women’s opportunities and roles changed during that period, and why women’s participation was an important aspect of our history
        • Understand the factors and forces that determine how history is shaped for future generations and why some stories are overlooked or suppressed while others are celebrated or mythologized
        • Compare and contrast the challenges that women in combat experienced during the Civil War era with the circumstances women soldiers face today


        • Computers with Internet access
        • LCD projector
        • Rebel Student Handout
        • Student Handout A: Draw a Soldier
        • Student Handout B: Women at War
        • Student Handout C: Soldiers, Spies and Strategists
        • Student Handout D: Hidden Histories
        • Whiteboard or blackboard
        • Pen and writing paper

        Media Resources

        • Film Modules
        1. Rebel: Loreta Velazquez Civil War Soldier and Spy
        2. Rebel: Women at War
        3. Rebel: Hidden Histories

        Introductory Activity


        Time: 25 minutes

        Film Module: Rebel Module 1 (03:06 minutes)

        You will need: LCD projector and Internet access, pens/pencils, white/blackboard, markers/chalk, and Student Handout A: Draw a Soldier

        Summary: Students will be asked to draw a soldier and use their work as a jumping-off point for a discussion of preconceptions about women in combat. Teachers will record the responses and revisit/reflect on them following a screening of Rebel Film Module 1 which introduces the story of Loreta Velazquez.

        • Write the word SOLDIER on the board.
        • Ask your students to create a mental image of a soldier. What kind of person do they see? What clothes is the soldier wearing? What is the soldier doing? Where is the soldier?
        • Using this mental image as a guide, tell the students that they have 1 minute to draw a picture of their soldier. The students should draw quickly and not worry about drawing the soldier precisely. They are welcome to draw stick figures, but should add clothes and any details that will help to illustrate who the soldier is. Students may also use Student Handout A: Draw a Soldier to help with their drawing.
        • When time is up, ask the class to share what they have drawn and quickly record a list of common traits included in their drawings, using the following prompts:
        1. What does your soldier look like?
        2. What is s/he wearing and carrying?
        3. What is s/he soldiers doing?
        4. What traits did you choose not to include? Why?
        5. What gender is your soldier? How did you illustrate that?
        6. What race is your soldier?
        7. What traits are most common among all of the drawings? Why do you think we think of these traits when we imagine a soldier?
        • Follow the discussion with a screening of Rebel Film Module 1 and discuss the excerpt using the following prompts:
        1. During our brainstorming session, how many people drew female soldiers?
        2. How many people drew soldiers that were black, Latino/a, Asian?
        3. How does our image of soldiers compare to the historical reality?
        4. Where do we learn what soldiers look like?
        5. How do you think our understanding of history is shaped by our assumptions about the roles that men and women play?
        6. What does it mean to be a soldier?
        7. What other roles do soldiers play other than participating in combat?
        8. What ways do people fight for their country or a cause other than becoming a soldier?

        Learning Activities


        Time: 60 minutes + Homework

        Film Module: Rebel Module 2 (06:20 minutes)

        You will need: pens/pencils, white/blackboard, markers/chalk, LCD projector and Internet access, Student Handout B: Women at War, and Student Handout C: Soldiers, Spies and Strategists

        Summary: Following from the story of Loreta Velazquez, students will explore the lives of a selection of women who participated in the Civil War and consider the motivations for and barriers to their active participation in the conflict.

        • Screen Rebel Film Module 2 and instruct students to take notes using Student Handout B: Women at War as a guide. They should identify the roles women played during the war, their motivations for joining in battle, and strategies they used to avoid detection. Following the screening, discuss the students’ notes and record their responses.
        • THINK-PAIR-SHARE: Print out or provide the link to one or both of the following articles. Instruct the students to read the article and discuss with a partner. Guide their discussion by asking students to identify how the articles address women’s roles, motivations, and strategies for participating in and contributing to the war. Ask pairs to share their observations with the class.
        1. Blanton, DeAnne. “Women Soldiers of the Civil War”, National Archives Prologue Magazine Spring 1993, Vol. 25, No. 1:
        2. Righthand, Jess. “The Women Who Fought in the Civil War“,, April 08, 2011:
        • Divide the class into groups of three to five students and ask them to choose (or assign them) a research subject from a selection of women who made critical but often-unrecognized contributions to the Civil War on both sides of the North South divide. Using Student Handout C: Soldiers, Spies and Strategists as a guide, instruct each group to examine the motivations women had for joining the War, the ways these women contributed during this period, the strategies they used, and the sacrifices they made. (FACILITATOR TIP: To save class time, students can be asked to complete part or all of this research assignment as homework.)
        • Possible research subjects:
        1. Sarah Emma Edmonds: Canadian woman who joined the Union Army where she served as soldier and scout in the 2nd Michigan Infantry under the alias, Franklin Thompson
        2. Harriet Tubman: African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy who was born into slavery and later helped rescue more than 300 slaves through the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad
        3. Jennie (Irene) Hodgers: Irish-born immigrant who served as a male soldier in the Union Army during the American Civil War and continued to live her life as a man named Albert D. J. Cashier
        4. Elizabeth Van Lew: Well-born Richmond, Virginia resident who built and operated an extensive Union spy ring during the American Civil War
        5. Rose O'Neal Greenhow: "Wild Rose", as she was called from a young age, was a leader in Washington society, a passionate secessionist, and one of the most renowned Confederate spies in the Civil War
        6. Susie King Taylor: Former slave and army nurse who worked with black Union troops during the Civil War. She wrote Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers, the only wartime memoir published by an African American woman
        7. Kate Warne: Union spy and first female detective in the United States who helped to uncover a plot to assassinate President Elect Abraham Lincoln
        • Class Reflection: Ask each group to complete the activity by presenting their research subject to the class followed by a class discussion using the following discussion prompts:
        1. What common factors motivated these women to participate in the Civil War?
        2. How did the Civil War period change the opportunities these women had to participate in society?
        3. What if anything did they have to sacrifice by joining the Civil War?
        4. What similar challenges, if any, do women today face?



        Time: 30 minutes

        Film Module: Rebel Module 3 (09:10 minutes)

        You will need: pens/pencils, white/blackboard, markers/chalk, LCD projector and Internet access, Student Handout D: Hidden Histories

        Summary: Why do we know so little about the thousands of women who have participated in every major American conflict? Who writes our history? What are primary sources and how do they inform our understanding of the past? Students will examine the conflict between Loreta Velazquez and Jubal Early and consider the forces that drive the construction of a community or society's historical narrative, as well of as the consequences for those whose stories conflict with or undermine that narrative.

        • Revisit the results from Activity 1 and tell students that women have contributed in multiple roles during every US military conflict, including combat. Ask students to consider why we know so little about women’s contribution to military history and brainstorm factors that could contribute to the lack of information about women’s role in US military history. Record the students’ responses on the board to revisit later in the activity.
        • Screen of Rebel Film Module 3. Ask students to take notes during the screening using Student Handout D: Hidden Histories as a guide, and record quotes, events, and evidence that provide insight into how and why the stories of figures like Loreta Vasquez and their own research subjects have been lost, suppressed, or erased from history.
        • Following the screening, discuss the circumstances that lead to Loreta Velazquez’s story being suppressed. Revisit the results of the pre-screening brainstorm, and ask students if the film module revealed any additional factors that could be added to the list.
        • Complete the activity with a class discussion using the following prompts:
        1. Do you think the histories of women in combat today are subject to the same resistance and censorship as women in the Civil War era? Why or why not?
        2. How are circumstances for women the same? How are they different?
        3. Who do you think is writing the history of contemporary events?
        4. Are there any contemporary communities whose histories are being misrepresented, suppressed, or erased from history? If so, who? What factors are contributing to their histories being distorted or lost?

        Culminating Activity


        Using the film modules and previous activities as a guide, instruct students research and complete an essay on the following subject:

        • Women in Combat Then and Now: Should women be on the front lines? As the role of women in the US military continues to change, the debate about how and if women should participate in armed conflict continues. Students should research and examine the arguments for and against women in combat and compare today's debate with the prevailing attitudes of Loreta Velazquez's time.



        This Just In: Dispatches from the Civil War

        Ask students to imagine they are reporters during the Civil War and have them select a woman to “interview”. Students can use this opportunity to further examine the life of their research subject from Activity 2.

        • Instruct students to ask questions about their subject’s life before the war, her motivations for taking action, how her life has changed, and how she views the war and its goals now that she has been in combat.
        • Remind students to write the subject’s answers in her “voice” and to include specific details and vivid imagery to make the subject come alive.
        • Students can take it further by creating Civil War period portraits for their subjects, and using the cinematic style of Rebel as inspiration, film recreations of scenes described in the “interview”. An alternative would be to collect public domain images (available from the National Archives or the Library of Congress) to illustrate their subject’s stories.
        • Going Further: Create a Dispatches from the Civil War website that features the students videos as well as a Profiles from History page that provides academically rigorous and historically accurate background information on the subject. Make sure that students cite their sources for their subjects and encourage them to include primary source material that is available for reproduction in the public domain. The following websites and online tools can help to make the presentation more engaging and dynamic:
        1. Weebly for Education:
        2. Tumblr:
        3. Animoto:
        4. Capzles:
        5. Prezi:


        Passing: How women soldiers appropriated and subverted the conventions of Race, Gender, and Class

        When Loreta Velazquez became Harry T. Buford, she transformed not only her gender but also racial identity and consequently her place in the social hierarchy.

        • Ask students to consider the questions and issues raised by Loreta’s story and posed by scholars in the film including the following:
        1. “How does someone who is Hispanic and different, try to assimilate, cross, or pass into sameness, and what does that do? How does that pit her against racial others?” – Jesse Alemán
        2. Loreta buys a slave named Bob and attempts to “expand her own boundaries of the possible while enslaving another human being.” – Vicki Ruiz
        3. “When Loreta makes him [Bob] a comrade in arms…she is essentially humanizing the slaves.” –Renée Sentilles
        4. “For someone like Loreta Velazquez, you have an immigrant trying to find a sense of identity within this country, and the way she does it is by fighting for it.” – Jesse Alemán
        • Using the discussion as a jumping-off point, have students consider under what circumstances individuals may attempt to “pass” in the present day. What circumstances might motivate a person to attempt to pass themselves off as a different race, gender, religion, nationality, etc.?
        • Ask students to research the role that passing plays in contemporary society including the social, political and cultural factors that motivate individuals or communities; strategies used for avoiding detection; and the positive and negative consequences. Students should also consider how modern media, such as the internet, contribute to an individual or group’s ability to mask or enhance their identities.


        In Plain Sight: The History of Women in Espionage

        In the film, Loreta Velazquez states that, “A woman labors under some disadvantage in an attempt to find her own way in the world, and at the same time she can do things that a man cannot.”

        • Students will view the complete film (available at and research the history of women in espionage using the following questions as prompts:
        1. What does Velazquez mean when she says that a woman do things that a man cannot?
        2. How have social restrictions, stereotypes, and preconceptions related to gender contributed to women’s success as spies and secret agents?
        3. Do you think women spies today have the same advantages?
        • Have each student identify one female spy from World War II through present day to focus on as a research subject, and compare her experiences with those of a woman spy from the Civil War.
        • Ask students to write a dialogue between the woman from each era. They should discuss their motivations for joining their movements, their methods of participation, and what they each hope
to accomplish.
        • Students should also consider what questions they might have, what lessons they could learn, and what choices each woman might make if she were in the other’s shoes.
        • Students can work with a partner and present the dialogues to the class or they can record the interviews on video and edit them into a Women in Espionage collection. 




        • Blanton, DeAnna. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002.
        • Blight, David W. Race and Reunion : The Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001.
        • Clinton, Catherine, 1952-, and Nina Silber. Divided Houses : Gender and the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
        • Clinton, Catherine. Tara Revisited: Women, War, & the Plantation Legend. New York: Abbeville Press, 1995.
        • Faust, Drew Gilpin. Mothers of Invention : Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
        • Gallagher, Gary W. Jubal A. Early, The Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1995.
        • Hall, Richard. Women on the Civil War Battlefront. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008.
        • Leonard, Elizabeth. All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999.
        • Ruiz, Vicki L., and Virginia Sánchez, eds. Latina Legacies: Identity, Biography, and Community. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
        • Velazquez, Loreta Janeta, 1842-, and C. J. Worthington. 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. Hartford,: T. Belknap, 1876.






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