Guest Author - Rebecca M. Cuevas De Caissie
The Sanchez sisters, like most women who served during the Civil War period, have very little information recorded on their bravery and sacrifices. The little information I could find is contained here in this short yet powerful tale of the Sanchez sisters.
The Sanchez sisters moved to Florida from Cuba with the return of Mauritia Sanchez before the civil war ever broke out. The family settled on the banks of the St. John's River opposite Palatka, which is about 63 miles due south of Jacksonville. The Sanchez family was comprised of an ailing father, an invalid mother, a son who served in the Confederate army and three acclaimed beauties; Panchita, Lola and Eugenia.
After the Civil War had broken out there began a constant leak of information about the Yankees to the Confederate army. Due to the breach of information on Yankee plans to the Confederate army an investigation was launched an the decision was made that Mauritia Sanchez was the spy they were looking for. This in part was aided, no doubt, by the fact that he had a son who served in the Confederate Army. To protect his family, Mauritia relented, was arrested and imprisoned in Fort San Marco. No one ever suspected the three beautiful Sanchez sisters as the real culprits even though information continued to reach the Confederate army. Guards were stationed to watch over the house every evening and periodic house searches were held in attempts to catch the spies.
With the imprisonment of their father and absence of their brother, the Sanchez sisters took over the care of their invalid mother. Evening in the Sanchez house was usually spent entertaining the “assigned” guests, the Yankee officers, who enjoyed wiling the evenings away in the company of three beautiful Cuban girls. There was always lively conversation, singing and the soft voice of the Spanish guitar in the Sanchez hacienda. Conversations were purposely kept light and airy but under the siren’s spell the soldiers unknowingly gave information which was then fed to the Confederates.
The Sanchez sisters were entertaining company on a Saturday evening, like so many before, in the company of three Yankee officers. The evening conversation was flowing freely and nothing seemed extraordinary about the evening until the sisters left the drawing room to prepare supper for them and their guests.
It was Lola Sanchez who, by crossing the pantry to the dining room, overheard a private conversation between the officers about plans to be carried out the following day. The plans were as follows, in the early morning hours, while the confederate soldiers were yet asleep, the Yankees would stage a gunboat raid; the second part of the plan entailed a party of Yankee soldiers heading southward from St. Augustine raiding and seizing all that they came across. Lola Sanchez, having heard this information and knowing time was of the essence, decided to apprise Captain Dickerson of the Confederate Army who was stationed at Camp Davis nearby that night.
Lola Sanchez let her sisters know what she had heard. Panchita decided take on the role of entertaining the Yankee officers while her sister, Eugenia, would prepare the supper with the supposed aid of Lola Sanchez. This would hopefully by the needed time for the Sanchez sisters to get the information to the Confederate troops.
Lola Sanchez set out that night on a mile and half journey between the Sanchez Hacienda and Camp Davis. In this journey she would cross dense tropical Florida woods and the strong currents of the St. John's River. The first leg of her journey was by horse, thru the woods to the edge of the St. John’s RIver, and then by skiff, over the water to the Confederate camp. On her way she came upon the Confederate picket told him what she had learned but he was unable to leave his post as lookout on the river bank so she continued on to deliver the message directly to Captain Dickerson.
With the journey longer than she had anticipated, to Lola it felt as though she had been gone for a very long time yet she knew she had to return to the hacienda or the Yankees would then know they were the spies. In the end, she had only been absent for an hour and a half and her sisters had effectively covered her absence. In fact Panchita was still entertaining the unsuspecting guests and the aromas of Eugenia's cooking gave the illusion that nothing was amiss.
As Dawn broke over Florida the following day, the Confederate battalion set the trap and waited for the Yankee transport and gunboat. The plot was foiled, the transport and soldiers were captured and the gunboat disabled.
In the area South of St. Augustine preparation was made to intercept the foraging party. The Confederate soldiers ambushed the enemy, the Yankee General Chatfield was killed, Colonel Nobles was wounded and the larger part of the company captured, including wagons and mules.
The Sanchez sisters truly were valuable assets to the Confederate Army who effective upset the plot of the Yankees and kept a constant train of information flowing for the Confederate Army.
Later, Panchita Sanchez became determined to see to the release of her ailing and elderly father from prison. She made her way to St. Augustine suffering untold hardships but did see to the freedom of her father.
“In 1909, the State Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was held in St. Augustine and the two daughters of Panchita and Lola were pages, in honor of their mothers' service to the Confederacy.” Ref: Confederate Veterans, Volume XVII, No.8, August 1909.