Confederate Exiles

Failed rebels traditionally faced one of two fates: flight into exile or hanging. American Confederates had another choice: returning to their homes and living in the restored country. Nearly all of them did — but not all. Some could not stand the notion of life under a government they had fought against for so long; they headed off into exile instead. General John Breckinridge and naval commander John Wood fled to Cuba. So did a number of other ex-Rebels. Other generals sailed for Europe.

Missouri cavalry leader Jo Shelby would not surrender. He led his men through Texas toward the Rio Grande. Such notable Confederates as Generals Sterling Price, John Magruder, and Kirby Smith joined him; so did Texas governor Pendleton Murrah. Hundreds of disaffected civilians added to the growing column.

Upon crossing into Mexico, Shelby and his cohorts sided with the French-supported Emperor Maximilian, who, sensing growing hostility from his subjects, thought it best not to enlist Anglo soldiers as mercenaries. But the emperor did offer the group of former Rebels a piece of land near Vera Cruz that they could live on.

They called their settlement Carlota. After a few years, however, the French withdrew their troops from Mexico and Maximilian was executed. The heart went out of the exile colony and it dissolved.

An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Confederates left the United States rather than live under its government. The number would have been higher had not Robert E. Lee urged his fellow Southerners to remain in their states and make lives as good citizens.

The most successful Confederate colonies were established in Brazil. Many Southerners favored Brazil because slavery was still legal there (it was abolished in 1888). The Brazilian government welcomed the Southerners, hoping they would establish cotton plantations and turn Brazil into a cotton-producing country. Thousands of former Rebels helped establish a handful of colonies.

They and their descendents spoke English for decades, and they ran their own schools and churches. The exiles sent back for teachers and ministers to join them. Some of the descendents of these Confederate settlers became prominent Brazilian elected officials and businessmen. Today there are 350 members of Brazil's Fraternity of the Confederate Descendents.

For the most part, Confederate exiles drifted back to the United States after a few years. They could see there were no reprisals, and some had not been as prosperous in their new settlements as they had dreamed they would be.

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