Civil War History: Confederate Descendants in Mexico Part 1
About the Civil War vets who left the United States for Mexico after the war and their descendants.
Confederate Descendants in Mexico
After the Civil War, the men and women who left the defeated Confederate States and set out for Mexico and South America were journeying toward a dream. For the soldiers of the losing army, it was a dream of battles; for the civilians, who had seen their gracious antebellum way of life destroyed, it was a dream of reestablishing that graciousness. For both, it was also an escape from the repressive measures of the victors.
Some of these expatriates traveled to Brazil, and their descendants are to be found to this day in the communities of Santarem, near Belterra, and Villa Americana, in the State of Sao Paulo. Others went to Venezuela. But Mexico proved by far the most enticing destination, as it seemed to offer a nearly perfect site for relocation. What drew the exiles to Mexico? Geographical proximity was by no means the only consideration. The current political situation in Mexico invited their immigration, and one of their staunchest Confederate compatriots was deeply involved with the colonization movement sponsored by Maximilian and Napoleon III. Napoleon had seized control of the country in 1863 and placed it under the rule of his Habsburg relative, Maximilian. Then, in 1865, an appeal for settlers was made by Maximilian's protege Matthew Fontaine Maury, an internationally respected oceanographer who was revered in his native Virginia as a Civil War leader. Commodore Maury had spent long months in England seeking tangible aid for the Confederate cause during the war, and his word was enough to inspire confidence in any colonizing venture. The colonization boom now took on real impetus.
There had been an earlier scheme fostered by Dr. William M. Gwin, who had visualized a grand colony of ex-Confederates in the province of Sonora, in the northwest district of Mexico. Napoleon had approved Gwin's plan, knowing that an exploitation of the metals in that region would yield France an appreciable return on her investment. However, Gwin's grandiose ideas and his desire for personal glory had antagonized Maximilian, and nothing came of the plan.
With Maury, it was different. He had known Maximilian when the latter was archduke of Austria and in command of the Austrian navy in 1854; the 2 seafarers had much in common and understood each other well. It was natural that Maximilian should turn to his old friend to head colonization from the States. Their effort got under way formally on September 5, 1865, when Maximilian set aside a tract of 500,000 acres for the new immigrants. The little community of Carlota offered a man with a family 640 acres, at $1 an acre, plus a lot in town. The land was given with a certificate that it was free from mortgage. In addition, it was exempt from taxes the 1st year. For those who had lost everything in the Civil War, the Mexican Government was willing to provide transportation to Mexico and arrange for the colonist's trip to the undeveloped parts of the public domain set aside for this type of immigrant.
Maximilian's offer was, needless to say, attractive to the civilians anxious to flee the ruthless reconstruction going on in their beloved South under the direction of Northern occupation forces. Even those Confederate soldiers-among them Generals Kirby-Smith, Magruder, Shelby, Slaughter, Walker, and Hindman-who went to Mexico in search of new battles in the service of either Juarez, the leader of the rebel forces, or Maximilian and his Imperialist forces, were soon drawn to colonization when they found little welcome from these opposing armies. True, some of the disillusioned returned to Texas, but more stayed on in Mexico to take advantage of the land offers being made under Maury's direction as commissioner of immigration and colonization.
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