The story of the Confederates who fled to Mexico after the Civil War starts with a story of events
which to this day have a secretive and sinister nature. At the time when the southern states in the US
had begun to secede from the Union, Benito Juárez had assumed power as President of Mexico in
January 1861. In the time span of the American Civil War, Juarez was overthrown and Austrian
Prince Maximilian, brother to Emperor Franz Josef, was installed as Emperor of Mexico. He
welcomed settlers to Mexico as part of his quest to turn it into a modern European type country.
This aspect of the story first introduces a Southern gentleman named Matthew Fontaine Maury
(1806–1873). A true renaissance man, brilliant and intriguing Matthew Fontaine Maury had a variety
of nicknames, including "Pathfinder of the Seas", "Father of modern Oceanography and Naval
Meteorology" and later, "Scientist of the Seas". He was an astronomer, historian, oceanographer,
meteorologist, cartographer, author, geologist, and educator. His many books made important
contributions to, among other things, charting winds and ocean currents, including pathways for ships
at sea. His "Physical Geography of the Sea" in 1855 was the first extensive book on oceanography to
ever be published.
Maury was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, but his family moved to Franklin, Tennessee
when he was five. From old Huguenot and Dutch stock, his studious and intelligent family can be
traced back to 15th century France. His grandfather taught three future US Presidents: Thomas
Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. Maury obtained a Naval appointment through the
influence of Senator Sam Houston in 1825, and at the age of 19 joined the Navy as a midshipman on
the same frigate which was carrying the Marquis de La Fayette home to France.
After breaking his hip and knee at the age of 33 in a stagecoach accident, he devoted his time to the
study of naval meteorology, navigation, charting the winds and currents. He became the first
superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory in 1842 and remained as such until April
1861. Here, he discovered a vast trove of old ships' logs and charts which had been stored since the
beginning of the US Navy. He studied these documents to collect information on the oceans and seas
internationally, the winds, tides, calms and currents in all seasons, and even charted the migration of
whales from the information he gleaned.
Brilliant and energetic, Maury published numerous books to assist the navy and sailors, such as his
"Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic" and "Sailing Directions and Physical Geography of
the Seas". He also had an extensive Naval Observatory team and worked at astronomical and
nautical work at the same time. He strongly advocated naval reform, including a school for the Navy
that would rival the army's West Point and his ideas helped with the creation of the US Naval
Academy. He sent a team to explore regions in South America, and even championed the idea of a
transcontinental railroad to join the eastern US to California with a southerly route running through
Texas to open up trade with northern Mexico.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Maury handed in his commission as a U.S. Navy Commander in
order to serve Confederate Virginia as Chief of Sea Coast, River and Harbor Defences. He was sent
abroad to elicit support for the Confederacy and to purchase ships. He went to England, Ireland and
France, speaking and publishing news articles while acquiring ships and supplies for the Confederacy.
But he did more than just talk and write: the amazing Maury can also be credited with the electric
torpedo which harassed northern shipping. Since he had worked with Cyrus Field and Samuel
Morse, Maury had experience with the transatlantic cable. The torpedoes were said to have cost the
Union more vessels than all other causes combined.
Maury was unable to return home to Virginia after the Civil War because of his work for the
Confederate Secret Service. Fredericksburg, where Maury's immediate family lived, was all but
destroyed. Some Confederates in similar situations went to places like Brazil (their descendants are
to be found to this day), while others went to Venezuela or simply to Mexico. Maury was an old
friend of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.
The two had much in common as men of the sea, for Maximilian had once headed the Austrian navy
and he was one of the world leaders who awarded Maury a medal for his work in oceanography.
Maximilian was eagerly seeking settlers from Germany, Austria, and France to rebuild Mexico into a
modern European type country. Commodore Maury conceived of an immigration plan whereby ex-
Confederates were invited to Mexico to settle into communities planned for this purpose, among
them the New Virginia Colony in central Mexico which he founded for this purpose. Maximilian liked
Maury and his idea of inviting Confederates to Mexico, and he offered land grants to any who would
come and stay.
Maury's settlements were to be primarily in the agricultural regions surrounding Mexico City, but also
in the northern areas around Monterrey and Chihuahua. On September 5, 1865, Maximilian set aside
a tract of 500,000 acres for the new immigrants. The largest settlement would be in the little
community of Carlota, named in honor of the Empress, between Mexico City and Vera Cruz, where
a man with a family was offered 640 acres at $1 an acre, plus a lot in town. The land was free from
mortgage and exempt from taxes the first year. The Mexican Government was even willing to
provide transportation to Mexico in some cases and to arrange for the journey to Mexico. American
"colonization agents" were appointed to districts, and Maury started to survey the proposed colonies.
Maury's eldest son emigrated to Mexico and Maury hoped his entire family to eventually move there.
By January, 1866, about 260 immigrants had landed in Campeche and Tampico and their numbers
increased. 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 fled
south of the border and settled in Mexico, among them several prominent Confederate governors
governors and generals generally from the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas
and Louisiana. Men such as "Fighting Joe" Shelby ( who refused to surrender and led what was left
of his forces south of the Rio Grande ), John B. Magruder, Sterling Price, Alexander W. Terrell,
Edmund Kirby-Smith, James E. Slaughter, John George Walker, and Thomas C. Hindman all made
their way to Mexico along with thousands of others who refused to live in a Reconstructed South.
They faced difficult journeys through country filled with hostile Indians, bandits, and Juarista
soldiers. The exiles were numerous enough to have their own newspaper in Mexico City. Among the
governors who fled to Mexico was Pendleton Murrah, the 10th governor of Texas. Only when Union
occupation forces were en route to Texas did Murrah flee with other Confederate leaders to Mexico,
but the trip was too much for his fragile health, and he died in Monterrey, Mexico of tuberculosis in
August 1865. Sadly, Maury's advertisements also lured many indigents and his office was overrun
with penniless immigrants who soon proved to be a burden, and the free land set aside proved to be
inadequate for the numbers.
Unfortunately, this was also an unstable time in Mexico. Throughout this period, Maximilian's regime
was under attack by Juarez and Porfirio Diaz who from 1865 had been secretly supplied from a US
Army depot in El Paso, Texas. Maury wrote his wife that he "despaired of ever seeing his 'New
Virginia' firmly established" in Mexico, and he abandoned his office and fled to England, leaving his
"New Virginia" settlers to shift for themselves. In 1866, when Napoleon III withdrew the French
troops, many New Virginia colonists were killed by bandits or anti-Maximilian partisans, and after
Maximilian's assasination in 1867, the New Virginia Colony settlers, who probably numbered a few
thousand, mostly vanished as their colonies were plundered and burned by the triumphant Juaristas.
After serving Maximilian in Mexico and building Carlotta and New Virginia Colony, Maury accepted
a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), holding the chair of physics. During this
time he wrote "The Physical Geography of Virginia" based in part on his experience as a gold mining
superintendent. Maury helped create the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (Virginia Tech)
in Blacksburg, Virginia in 1872. Matthew Fontaine Maury died at home in Lexington, and he died a
famous, greatly respected man. He had been knighted by several nations and given numerous medals.
Rather than surrender, in June 1865, Shelby and approximately 1,000 of his surviving troops rode
south into Mexico. They have been immortalized as "the undefeated". They planned to offer their
services to Emperor Maximilian as a 'foreign legion', but Maximilian declined. He did, however, grant
them land for an American colony in Mexico near Vera Cruz (which was revoked two years later
following the collapse of the empire). Shelby returned to Missouri in 1867, resumed farming and died
there. Magruder also fled to Mexico and entered the service of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico as a
major general in the Imperial Mexican Army. After Maximilian's murder, Magruder returned to the
US and settled in Houston, Texas, where he died in 1871. Likewise, Price was a leader of the exile
colony in Carlota, Veracruz before returning to Missouri, impoverished and in poor health. He died
of cholera in St. Louis, Missouri.
Terrell fled to Mexico after the war but returned to Texas where he served in both the Texas Senate
and House of Representatives and was later a minister plenipotentiary to the Ottoman Empire. He
died in Texas in 1912. Smith fled to Mexico and then to Cuba to escape potential prosecution for
treason. He returned to take an oath of amnesty at Lynchburg, Virginia, on November 14, 1865.
Afterward, Smith was active in the telegraph business and education. At the time of his death in
Sewanee, he was the last surviving man who had been a full general in the war. Slaughter
commanded Confederate forces during the Civil War at Bonna San Jago, Texas, and after the war
lived in Mexico, where at the age of 87, he died in Mexico City. At the close of the Civil War,
Walker fled to Mexico, where he remained for several years. Returning to the United States, he later
served as the United States Consul in Bogotá, Colombia, and as a Special Commissioner to the Pan-
American Convention. Walker died in Washington, D.C. Hindman joined Confederate refugees in
the Mexican town of Carolota, where he engaged in coffee planting and attempted to practice law but
returned to Arkansas in April, 1867 and was later assassinated.
Note: America's most famous clipper ship in its day was Flying Cloud out of Marblehead, Mass. The
ship was launched in East Boston on April 15, 1851 and Captained by Josiah Perkins Creesy and
navigated by his wife Ellenor Prentiss-Creesy. That summer, using Matthew Maury's Wind and
Current Charts as well as his Sailing Directions, Flying Cloud made her record-breaking voyage from
New York around Cape Horn to San Francisco, arriving there on August 31, after a passage of 89
days, 21 hours.
Ellenor Prentiss-Creesy was the first person to navigate around the Horn by using Maury's new
route. Three years later, the Flying Cloud bested herself by sailing to San Francisco in 89 days, 8
hours, a sailing ship record that stands unbroken to this day. Eleanor Prentiss Creesy's great skill with
the sextant, her mathematical ability, knowledge of the winds and currents of the Cape Horn passage,
plus her skill at dead reckoning on the many days when there was no sun to shoot, kept Flying Cloud
on her course, helped guide the great ship through dangerous waters to its destination. None of this
would have been possible, however, had it not been for Matthew Maury. Flying Cloud continued
sailing as a working merchant vessel for the next 23 years in both the Atlantic and Pacific trades until
she met her end in 1874, when she was driven ashore by a heavy gale at St. John's, New Brunswick.