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on March 19, 2012
Mary Boykin Chesnut was born into a wealthy South Carolina family.She grew up on a plantation receiving a good education in Charleston. Mary married James Chesnut when she was seventeen years old. Her husband served as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. The Chesnuts were childless. The American Civil War war destroyed their fortune. Mary's words will live forever in the hearts and minds of all who read her diary. Mrs.Chesnut was a friend of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his charming wife Varina. Chesnut comments on her relationships with the Davis family and a panoply of famous Southerners whose homes she often visited. Mary was a bookish woman who enjoyed the novels of Dickens, Trollope, Thackery and George Eliot among others. She enjoyed parties, eating out and dancing. She was a sociable woman who loved good food and gossip. She did not care for Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and was a strong Southern patriot. Mary had a good relationship with her slaves but considered them inferior to whites. In this attitude she mirrors the prejudices of her time. Her diary is a treasure trove of memorable quotes and observations about the Southern war effort and the people of the Confederacy. I include a smattering of her sage and witty remarks to give you the flavor of her diary entries:
"...Jackson whose regiment stood so stock still under fire that they were called a stone wall."-p. 78
"...Beauregard writes that is army is upon the verge of starvation..."-p. 85
"People avoid great talkers, men given to monologue, as they would avoid fire,famine or pestilence."-p. 105
"I like Disraeli because I find so many clever things in him. I like the sparkle and glitter."-p. 119
"Mr. Yancey says we have not one jot of hope. He could bowstring Mallory (Secretary of the Confederate Navy) for not buying arms in time."-. 133
"General Preston accused me of degenerating into a boarding house gossip..."-p. 142
"Not one foot of Virginia soil is to be given up without a bitter fight for it."-p. 143
"The ticking of the clock begins and I take up the burden of life once more."-p. 159
"The women came out screaming with joyful welcome as soon as they caught sight of our soldiers' gray uniforms; ran bringing them handfuls and armfuls of food."-p. 167
"Our men strip the Yankee dead of their shoes, but will not touch the shoes of a comrade. Poor fellow they are nearly barefoot.-p. 177
"The Yankees are spreading themselves our our fair Southern land like red ants"-p. 178
"Then we paid our respects to Mrs Lee. Her room was like an industrial school; everybody so busy."-p. 255
"Cavalry are the eyes of an army; they bring the news; the artillery are the boys to make a noise; but the infantry do the fighting and a general or so gets all the glory."-p. 255
Mary Chesnut's (1823-1886) diary was composed by a true Scarlet O'Hara! Mary and her family suffered through the tragic American Illiad. In her experience we see reflected the tragedy of the southern homefront. By reading this book with attention the reader will have illuminated:
a. the life of Confederate women and the Southern home front during the Civil War
b. A history of the war told from an observant woman. Her diary covers events from the fall of Ft. Sumter to surrender in 1865. I wish Mary Chesnut could have met Jane Austen! What a conversation that would have been between two brilliant authors of sparkling prose!
c.Witty comments on Confederate life in Richmond Virginia and Chesnut's native South Carolina. Her husband James was a US Senator from South Carolina prior to the war and later seved as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. Mary lived in various cities during the war: Camden and Columbia South Carolina; Richmond Va.; Lincolnton North Carolina.
Any college course on the American Civil War would be strengthened by adding this essential diary to the curriculum. A beautifully rendered account of a suffering women in a time of deep sorrow and death in our American story.
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on January 27, 2014
An insightful and articulate journal, from the point of view of a wealthy Charleston woman who knew or met...though her statesman, and later, military husband...many of the main players on the confederate side. She also travels though the south from Charleston as the war progresses. All I can say, for those true civil war buffs, it's well worth the read. I think it's essential. In fact it's a good read for anyone.

Chestnut personally knew Jefferson Davis for example, and reports not only his conversations but his state of mind and deeper moods. It was almost as if, he had a grip on the short odds the south faced, and while others were cheering initial victories, Davis maintained a more reserved and cautious tone...sometimes bordering on melancholy. This Chestnut reports with honesty and sensitivity.

With insight, intelligence and real nuance, she reports on important issues like rights of states, slavery, economics, as well as her ideas of honor, virtue, victory, defeat, and mercy. She speaks from a southern perspective, but never shirks from the hard veracity of Dixie's deteriorating prospects. Her commentary upon African slaves is quite powerful: "People talk before them as if they were chairs and tables. They make no sign. Are the stolidly stupid, or wiser than we are; silent and strong, biding their time?"

A great bonus, is that she's also quite readable, mixing the mundane with historic events. She's a good writer and holds one's attention. With the Penguin Edition, readers also get excellent footnotes, which elucidate a sometimes missing chronology. And not to be missed, is the Catherine Clinton Introduction, as it explains Chestnut's personal life, politics, and a writing process, which includes thoughts and insights on her later embellishments.
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on October 13, 2015
As I grow older, the history of our country becomes more interesting. Mary Chestnut has contributed greatly in my opinion to the history of the Confederacy and living conditions during that time period. Reading this book is almost like living through those times with Mary Chestnut. Her words and opinions live on in this diary and it makes for fascinating reading. I have seen bits and pieces of her diary before even in history books and am so glad to have the entire diary now. It is amazing.
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on December 5, 2014
Excellent insight as to the inner circle of the Chesnut's as her husband was also aide to Jefferson Davis and a Brigadier General plus their relationship with Jefferson Davis, Mrs. Davis and other wives and officer's of the era. Her diaries also clarified the importance of cotton to the south and the error made in not shipping cotton over seas for safe keeping. It is a shame she apparently quit writing or keeping a journal for the remaing some twenty years of her life after the Civil War. I can see where that would ,even though sad, have been very interesting. Also interesting that both Mr and Mrs Chesnut didn't treat their slaves like "slaves" per se and their slaves actually liked and respected both of them and they were treated like family. I almost detected that, had it not been for them being from South Carolina and he in government, that they might have been on the other side.
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on September 9, 2013
If you want a civilian's view of the War this is the book to get. She and her diary are well known to Civil War buffs. An excellent perspective from a woman who was there.
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on September 18, 2014
This is a high profile historic diary brought into popular culture by excerpts included on Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War.
The Penguin edition introduced by Catherine Clinton would have benefited enormously if (1) the dozens of historical names were, in addition to foot-noted when they appeared, could have also been listed in alphabetical order in an appendix. And , (2)there must be an index!
The diary was edited years later, several times, and we will never know the extent of the post-insertions and deletions, save there were quite a few of them. These were done by Mary Chestnut herself, and a friend who inherited the unpublished mss.
For reasons I cannot explain, I think the entries smack of “being there, doing that” with a minimum of changes later. So, I view it as virtually all by Mary Chestnut at the time (1861-1865).
Mary Chestnut was a woman of her time and place, and in the four years of entries we see the death of her class and privilege and the abomination of slavery. .
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on March 12, 2014
This book is a 'must read' for anyone interested in the American Civil War and the Southern experience.
A classic.
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on September 5, 2013
The book was good and exposed many facts about the war from inside the Confederate government that people most likely do not know. If you can read between the pages of her dribble about herself and other wealthy friends, parts of the war really hits home from someone in the know at the top of the government party life. Too bad her husband did not keep a diary that would be some good reading.
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on October 17, 2015
Takes you back in time like you were there
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on May 24, 2013
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