The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration across the Borderlands after the American Civil War

The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration across the Borderlands after the American Civil War

The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration across the Borderlands after the American Civil War

The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration across the Borderlands after the American Civil War

Synopsis

After the Civil War, a handful of former Confederate leaders joined forces with the Mexican emperor Maximilian von Hapsburg to colonize Mexico with former American slaveholders. Their plan was to develop commercial agriculture in the Mexican state of Coahuila under the guidance of former slaveholders with former slaves providing the bulk of the labor force. By developing these new centers of agricultural production and commercial exchange, the Mexican government hoped to open up new markets and, by extending the few already-existing railroads in the region, also spur further development.
The Southern Exodus to Mexico considers the experiences of both white southern elites and common white and black southern farmers and laborers who moved to Mexico during this period. Todd W. Wahlstrom examines in particular how the endemic warfare, raids, and violence along the borderlands of Texas and Coahuila affected the colonization effort. Ultimately, Native groups such as the Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, and Kickapoos, along with local Mexicans, prevented southern colonies from taking hold in the region, where local tradition and careful balances of power negotiated over centuries held more sway than large nationalistic or economic forces. This study of the transcultural tensions and conflicts in this region provides new perspectives for the historical assessment of this period of Mexican and American history.

Excerpt

Isham G. Harris left for Mexico with a price on his head. As the former Confederate governor of Tennessee, Harris fled the country after the American Civil War. in mid-June 1865, “with my baggage, cooking utensils and provisions on a pack mule,” he wrote, “I set out for San Antonio, where I expected to overtake a large number of Confederate, civil and military officers, en route to Mexico.” He was too late. Having missed that group of Confederate migrants, he decided to head for Eagle Pass, Texas, which he reached “on the evening of the 30th, and immediately crossed over to the Mexican town of Piedras Negras.” the next morning he set out for Monterrey, Mexico, the meeting ground for Confederate exiles crossing the border away from Reconstruction.

Harris was among the vanguard of white southerners who migrated to Mexico after the Civil War, one of the elite Confederates who composed the leadership of the southern migration movement and helped establish the first Confederate colony in Mexico. These Confederate officers were vital to defining southern colonization in the post–Civil War era. Indeed, the planning largely sprang from another top-ranking Confederate—Matthew Fontaine Maury, a renowned scientist and Confederate naval officer who came to the helm of this initiative. For Maury, Mexico represented an enticing opportunity for white southerners in the post–Civil War world. His fellow white countrymen could escape from U.S. Republican rule and make a fresh economic start by taking advantage of Mexico’s agricultural resources. These migrants were expected to contribute their farming skills and a labor force—especially their former slaves—to stimulate the Mexican economy through commercial agriculture. in return, they would . . .

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