Civil War History: Confederate Descendants in Mexico Part 2
About the Civil War vets who left the United States for Mexico after the war and their descendants.
Confederate Descendants in Mexico
By January of 1866, some 260 immigrants had landed in Campeche and Tampico. During the spring, their numbers swelled, with many colonists having to sail from the States under pretext of heading for Havana. The U.S. Government was arresting Maury's agents when they could be found, in an attempt to end the Southerners' exodus to Mexico. In all, about 2,500 Confederates eventually settled in Mexico in an attempt to perpetuate their past way of life. The largest settlement of these self-exiled Southerners was in and around the town of Carlota, located some 70 mi. west of the port of Vera Cruz, where several hundred colonists banded together.
Unfortunately, Maury's advertisements and promises were more enticing to the indigent who were escaping fear and future poverty, than to those with remnants of personal wealth. He found his office overrun with penniless immigrants, and these people soon became a burden either to their friends who were already in the country or to the Government. For those who hoped to establish plantations run by slave labor, like those they had known at home before the War, it came as a shock to learn that slavery had been outlawed in Mexico for years. The land area set aside to be given without cost proved to be inadequate for the numbers appearing daily, and Maury had difficulty in obtaining enough free or cheap land to satisfy their demands. It was a time of disillusionment and a period of real hardship for the Confederates with their dreams. Private land companies stepped in, hoping to make exorbitant profits, and colonization efforts began to founder in the chaos of disorganization. As word of true conditions seeped back to the States, departures slackened considerably and finally came to a halt. Maury, who wrote his wife that he "despaired of ever seeing his 'New Virginia' firmly established" in Mexico, abandoned his office and fled to England, leaving his "New Virginia" settlers to shift for themselves.
In the years immediately following Maury's departure, the Mexican revolutionists were able to ovethrow the French, and in the turmoil of that time, no accurate statistics were kept of the stranded Confederates. A few stayed on, married into Mexican families, and were absorbed into the Mexican culture (names like Obregon and Alire in modern Mexico have their origin in the O'Briens and O'Learys from Confederate States). But the Confederate colonies themselves were plundered and burned by the triumphant Juarista forces, and the colonists were driven out of Mexico.
"Today few traces of the Mexican exodus exist below the border or above it," wrote Andrew Rolle in The Lost Cause. "Carlota and the other Confederate towns have disappeared. . . . Because they did not cling together in tight enclaves, the Confederates made little impression on the country's history or its population pattern. Rather, the exodus was striking for its futility, the delusion of its participants, and the inevitability of its failure. The colonists went to Mexico at the wrong time, with the wrong attitudes, and chose the wrong occupations. It was a spontaneous, informal exodus, without proper organization and with few goals. Yet, even if all this had been otherwise . . . the exodus would still have failed. Colonists could not, indeed would not, in most cases, have stayed abroad permanently."
Within 2 years of the end of the Civil War, a great majority of the Confederates-in-exile had pulled up stakes and headed north out of Mexico back to Texas. Many settled in the Lone Star State. The rest returned to the depleted South they had earlier left with so much hope, ready now to join in the job of reconstruction.
For further reading: Rolle, Andrew F. The Lost Cause: The Confederate Exodus to Mexico. Norman, Okla.: Univ. of Okla. Press (c. 1965). A thorough account of Confederates-in-exile.
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