Thousands of Southerners Fled the U.S. after the Civil War and Ended Up in this Country


The American Civil War left large regions of the United States utterly devastated. Most of that devastation was located in the Southern states that made up the Confederacy. Many cities like Richmond and Vicksburg were captured by Union armies through siege warfare, which involved massive bombardment and prolonged isolation that destroyed infrastructure, crippled industry, and caused severe hunger and even starvation. Widespread societal disintegration soon led to outbreaks of disease.

The ruins of Richmond, Virginia – Circa 1965.

Collapsed urban centers were not the only problem facing Southerners during this time. Social upheaval brought on by the elimination of slavery led to economic chaos. As if all of these catastrophes were not enough, some in the South felt the imposition of what is now known as Reconstruction (1865-1877) to be completely intolerable. Many believed that Reconstruction would transform the South into a socially unrecognizable place, and that it would last indefinitely. Some who felt this way decided the best course of action was to leave their war-ravaged homes and begin their lives in a new place.

The vast majority of those who made the choice to leave the South stayed within the U.S. Most moved to the American West, where land was plentiful, government impositions were scarce or even functionally nonexistent, and where people with a dark past could start anew, as could those who were just looking for a new beginning. It was during this time that the West became wild. Flooded with battle-hardened soldiers, poverty-stricken farmers and former slaves all looking to escape a ruined South, unorganized territories west of the Mississippi became chaotic amalgams of peoples and cultures for decades to come.

But not everyone who no longer felt the South could be their home sought their fortunes in the American West. Some saw the situation so dire that they decided to leave the United States forever. Most that did settled in various places within South America. A few American emigrants who settled in Latin America became famous, such as the fugitives popularly known as “Butch Cassidy” and his partner, the “Sundance Kid”. However, most Americans who resettled in Latin America were simply looking to escape the effects of a devastating war and were not looking to escape justice.

Present-Day Celebration of Confederate Heritage in Americana, Brazil

Most Southerners who left the U.S. after the Civil War settled in Brazil. At the end of Civil War, Emperor Dom Pedro II, ruler of Brazil, expressed serious interest in Americans that could bring with them knowledge of modern agricultural techniques, and an understanding of how to grow cotton, which was still a profitable cash crop. Also, it did not hurt that the Southerners were aware of how slave-based agriculture operated, as slavery was still legal and fully functional in Brazil.  Slavery would not be abolished there until 1888.

  • CrazyAuntJane

    Probably a good decision for those who could afford to leave. Even at the turn of the 20th Century the south was horribly poor. BTW neither side of my family fought in the civil war but they danged near starved.

  • tedgreiner

    A little correction from the impression the intro to this article gives. Most of the devastation of most of the few southern cities that WERE devastated was caused by Confederate officers ordered things that could be of value to the victors to be burned as they left. These fires commonly spread and Union troops when they entered the conquered city often assisted the population in putting them out. Vicksburg and Richmond certainly suffered bombing from sieges. But tobacco warehouses in Richmond were set fire to by fleeing Confederates, ending up destroying 90% of its business district.

    • Jay

      While Confederate troops did in fact burn certain facilities to keep them out of the hands of the aggressors, the union forces are the ones who destroyed homes and some business’s. Many of the civilians who were not killed by union forces were starved to death.

      • maxsnafu

        …and many women were raped.

  • Eric Blust