Confederado — the word caught Casey Clabough by surprise.
“My reaction, I think, was the reaction most people have,” said the Lynchburg College professor and Appomattox County farmer. “Which is, gosh, strange I’ve never heard of this before. What’s a Confederado?”
The story of the thousands of Confederates who — devastated by war and outraged over the constraints of Reconstruction — left for foreign soil after the Civil War is not a widely known part of history.
Clabough, aVirginianative who’s authored seven books and numerous short stories, first heard the term from his wife’s grandfather, a charismatic man Clabough described as a great storyteller.
He told Clabough the tale of a family ancestor who rode with Mosby’s Rangers during the war and later decamped for Brazil, which actively courted Southerners for their agricultural expertise, particularly in cotton.
The expatriates become known as Confederados — a term whose mix of adventure and hardship captured Clabough’s imagination.
“These people suffered incredible devastation and destabilization,” he said. “They were losing their homes and facing the uncertainty of going to a new place, often with little more than the shirts on their backs.”
This year, Clabough published a novel, “Confederado,” a blend of historical fact and creative fiction that follows its hero on an epic journey from the farms of Appomattox to the shores of Brazil.
By writing the book, Clabough said he wanted to both draw attention to this little-known part of history and pay tribute to his wife’s family.
“It’s good to keep the in-laws happy,” he joked.
Clabough, 38, splits his time among writing, teaching English at Lynchburg College and tending to his 100-acre farm.
He took a break to field questions on writing, Confederados and finding inspiration.
Q: When did you first become interested in writing?
I discovered in college there were things going on in certain books that I didn’t run into in other books or on television. I was drawn to the mystery that words could convey in the hands of certain writers.
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I like the idea of moving people — even if it’s only a few readers — and also the notion of creating things (books) that will outlast me and still be sitting on a library shelf somewhere a couple hundred years from now — even if no one checks them out.
Q: Explain who the Confederados are and why they immigrated to Brazil.
The best way to think of it today is some of these war-ravaged countries you see on CNN. Essentially that was Virginia in 1865. The cities and economy were wrecked, people were afraid of what Reconstruction might be like, and some had legal problems. Brazil had been actively recruiting Southerners toward the end of the war based primarily on their advanced agricultural knowledge. That country has a massive interior and people who went received land grants from the Brazilian government.
Q: Tell us about the next projects you’re planning.
I have a biography under contract about a writer who taught a long time at UVA named George Garrett — he’s kind of a legend to many Virginia writers. There’s also an edited collection of writing by Virginia women who lived through the Civil War I’m trying to finish up. It grew out of the research for Confederado. Obviously they had their own kind of nightmare, which was different from the men.
Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?
I live on a farm that keeps me busy. It’s an unconventional lifestyle for a writer/professor, but the skills sometimes come in handy. When the big storm hit I came in the city and cut up trees for friends. It was a good time and my wood stove will be awfully happy come winter.