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Mary Chesnut's Civil War Paperback – 1981

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 886 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st edition (1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300029799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300029796
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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154 of 156 people found the following review helpful By on July 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The 1982 Pulitzer prize winner in history, Mary Chesnut's Civil War is a heavily footnoted look at the social and political climate in South Carolina from 1861-1865. Because Mrs. Chesnut was the wife of a prominent politician of the day, she had communication with many famous political figures, such as Varina Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis (the President of the Confederacy.) This book is worth reading cover to cover because of the personal commentary of Mrs. Chesnut about the War between the States, and also her observations on what was being said by others and in the media, nearly on a daily basis. Mr. Woodward's extensive footnotes help the modern day reader to grasp literary references and differences in language made by Mrs. Chesnut, and also aid in the identification of all the personalities she includes in her observations.
Although not unbiased, Mrs. Chesnut makes an attempt to be more objective than subjective and sees her writings as a possible important part of history in the future. One gets a great sense of a real person--someone who shows hope one day, despair the next.
History and Civil War enthusiasts will enjoy this poignant and truthful look on Southern morals, everyday life and behind-the-scenes political observations. Although it is hard to stay focused on at times because of less relevant information, there are many nuggets of valuable observations that make this book worth reading.
Another interesting look at the Southern point of view is Sarah Morgan: Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman.
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66 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Dai-keag-ity on September 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
Mary Chesnut was a name dropper, and thank goodness, because in passing along her gossip, opinions, news, and personal undertakings, she created the most comprehensive day-to-day record of life in the Confederacy that we have. Although this is both a diary and a later refurbishment of earlier writings (to the point it almost becomes a memoir in epistolary form) Mrs. Chesnut, an aristocratic lady in a position to know a great deal about the workings of her short-lived nation, makes everything seem like a first-hand conversation. Chesnut, like Mrs. Grant and Amanda Wilson, a Civil War-era diarist from Cincinnati, Ohio, has a true gift at making the distant seem immediate. Her reports on the initial euphoria of southern independence from the north and later the reality of hardship and war, are touching, even for one not in deep sympathy with her ideals. What I took away from this diary was something of the horror of loss, as Mary Chesnut's society reeled from death after death, not just of men from combat, but children and women in part from the deprivations war mandated they endure. By the mid-point of her diary, it is a rare entry, indeed, in which Chesnut does not tell of the passing of at least one more friend, or son of a friend. She lived through the destruction of a society and a war in which blood flowed in rivers. Chesnut personally knew a number of the primary figures of the American Civil War, including the wife of Jefferson Davis. She gives a point of view that is not hamstrung by being modern in sensibility, and charts a course of the war's prosecution that might vicariously suggest a later alteration of the record in northern-authored history books. For all these reasons, Chesnut's diary is worth reading.
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81 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Schmerguls VINE VOICE on July 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found the reading of this Pulitzer-prize-winning book an excellent way to seem to live in South Carolina and Virginia during the Civil War. I have no Southern background, and have always been pleased the Civil War turned out as it did, but his book gives some insight into the thinking of the secessionists and Southerners in the time of the War. The book is excellently edited, and the literary footnotes are a big help to see what the intelligent Southerner was reading during the war. Now I would like to read a biography of Mrs. Chesnut or of her husband. (The frank tension between Mary and her husband is an interesting sidelight to the main story of the diary.)
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Anne Bolin on March 14, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reading this book is like opening a door through time and having a daily cup of coffee & gossip session with Mary Chesnut. She was from a fine family with her father being a senator and one of the largest slave owners in South Carolina. Her husband, John Chesnut Jr., was also a senator before the war. He remained politically connected in the Confederacy. He was a general and an aid to Jefferson Davis. Given her situation in life it is not surprising that Mrs. Chesnut had an elite circle of friends and knew everyone that was anyone.

Mary loved to gossip and name drop and had very strong opinions on any given subject. She had no children so she had plenty of time to be self indulgent and a bit vain. She really must have been a fascinating person as people seem to be drawn to her. Varina Davis was one of her closest friends and she visited the Davis home frequently. She believed slavery to be wrong & hated the fact that there were so many racially mixed children that looked very much like the master of the plantations. She complained about the costs involved in keeping slaves and thought the time had come to abolish slavery. On the other hand, she spoke of slaves like children that needed to be cared for. She also had never had to take care of herself or run a house. She relied totally on her servants for everything.

She wrote this diary with the intention of including rumors, facts,and anything she might be thinking at the time. John Bell Hood was a frequent visitor and is talked of in her diary quite frequently. She talked about Hood's love for a woman and of his wounds. She referred to him as their "wounded knight". She was a very opinionated, outspoken, and (I think) spoiled women. There are no great military strategies and battle description in her book.
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