Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut

A Diary from Dixie, as Written by Mary Boykin Chesnut, Wife of James Chesnut, Jr., United States Senator from South Carolina, 1859-1861, and Afterward an Aide to Jefferson Davis
and a Brigadier-General in the Confederate Army.

Read the entire diary


Excerpts From Mary Chestnut's Diary:

Mary Boykin Miller was the daughter of Stephen Decatur Miller, she was born 31 Mar 1823.   They were from South Carolina.

Half way through the the War, Mary states, ' The South fought as long as she had any soldiers left capable of fighting and at last robbing the cradle and the grave.  The South was virtually exhausted..'

"Unlike the South, the North  was never reduced to extremities which led the wives of Cabinet Officers and commanding generals to Gather in Washington hotels and private drawing rooms, in order to knit heavy socks for soldiers feet that would otherwise would go bare,"

The Southern ladies would also meet in the same manner to make bandages and shirts for the Southern Soldiers.

"Nor were gentle nurtured women of the North forced to wear coarse ill-fitting shoes, such as cobblers made."

'Gold would rise in the North to $2.80 an ounce but there came a time when it took $1000.00 of Confederate dollars to buy a kitchen utensil.'

"In the North the counterpart to these facts were such items as butter at 50 cents a pound and flour at $12. a barrel.  People in the North actually thrived on high prices.  Villages and small towns, as well as
larger cities and their "bloated bondholders" in plenty, while farmers everywhere in the North were able to clear their lands of mortgages and put money in the bank besides."

Page 356 and 357, 16 Feb 1865 to 15 Mar 1865 Mrs. Chestnet speaks out on the burning Sherman and his soldiers are doing from Columbia to Lancaster, everything is gone to the burnings.

Feb 29th she states, "Trying to brave it out.  They have plenty, yet let our men freeze and starve in their prisons.  Would you be willing to be as wicked as they are?  A thousand times, no!  But we must feed our Army first - if we can do so much as that.  Our captives need not starve if Lincoln would consent to exchange prisoner; but men are nothing to the United States - things to throw away.  If they send our men back they strengthen our army, and so again their policy is to keep everybody and everything here in order to starve us out.  That, too, is what Sherman's destruction means - to starve us out."

Mary Chestnut's Diary was not printed until 1997.  This was 132 years after the War had ended. Mary died childless and very alone except her journals.  The fight of the Women during the War has been said, "If they weren't of Scottish blood, they would not have survived."

Women were the care givers, nurses, farmers, Daddies and the strength that kept the Southern States going.  The South used most of their homes for hospitals.  In the end, Mrs. Varina Howell-Davis had a nervous breakdown.  Her daughter Winnie took care of her and the family.  Clara Barton from the North had been honored by becoming known as the Founder of the American Red Cross.  The Ladies of the South became known as the Daughters of the Confederacy.

One Day when Winnie Davis came out of hiding and was walking, the Confederate Soldiers called her THE daughter of the Confederacy because her father was the President - Jefferson Davis.  That is the beginning of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.   The United States Government did not allow any funding for the care of the soldiers and their homes. The property taxes had been raised any where from 500% to 700% therefore causing many families to loose their homes.  The Wives and Daughters had to rebuild what the War had destroyed.

This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut was born 31 March 1823 in Stateboro, S.C., eldest child of Mary Boykin and Stephen Decatur Miller, who had served as U.S. congressman and senator and in 1826 was elected governor of South Carolina as a proponent of nullification. Educated first at home and in Camden schools, Mary Miller was sent at 13 to a French boarding school in Charleston, where she remained for two years broken by a six-month stay on her father's cotton plantation in frontier Mississippi. In 1838 Miller died and Mary returned to Camden. On 23 April 1840 she married James Chesnut, Jr. (1815-85), only surviving son of one of South Carolina's largest landowners.

Chesnut spent most of the next 20 years in Camden and at Mulberry, her husband's family plantation. When James was elected to the Senate in 1858, his wife accompanied him to Washington where friendships were begun with many politicians who would become the leading figures of the Confederacy, among them Varina and Jefferson Davis. Following Lincoln's election, James Chesnut returned to South Carolina to participate in the drafting of an ordinance of secession and subsequently served in the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America. He served as aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard and President Jefferson Davis, and he achieved the rank of general. During the war, Mary accompanied her husband to Charleston, Montgomery, Columbia, and Richmond, her drawing room always serving as a salon for the Confederate elite. From February 1861 to July 1865 she recorded her experiences in a series of diaries, which became the principal source materials for her famous portrait of the Confederacy.

Following the war, the Chesnuts returned to Camden and worked unsuccessfully to extricate themselves from heavy debts. After a first abortive attempt in the 1870s to smooth the diaries into publishable form, Mary Chesnut tried her hand at fiction. She completed but never published three novels, then in the early 1880s expanded and extensively revised her diaries into the book now known as Mary Chesnut's Civil War (first published in truncated and poorly edited versions in 1905 and 1949 as A Diary From Dixie.

Although unfinished at the time of her death on 22 November 1886, Mary Chesnut's Civil War is generally acknowledged today as the finest literary work of the Confederacy. Spiced by the author's sharp intelligence, irreverent wit, and keen sense of irony and metaphorical vision, it uses a diary format to evoke a full, accurate picture of the South in civil war. Chesnut's book, valued as a rich historical source, owes much of its fascination to its juxtaposition of the loves and griefs of individuals against vast social upheaval and much of its power to the contrasts and continuities drawn between the antebellum world and a war-torn country.

Elisabeth Muhlenfeld
Florida State University

Elisabeth Muhlenfeld, Mary Boykin Chesnut: A Biography (1981); C. Vann Woodward, ea., Mary Chesnut's Civil War (1981), with Elisabeth Muhlenfeld, eds., The Private Mary Chesnut: The Unpublished Civil War Diaries (1985).

 Copyright (c) 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.




sogirlbutton.jpg (4416 bytes)

This site last updated 01/16/2011                                      Col. Thomas Hardeman, Jr.  UDC Chapter 2170 Macon, Ga.


Site Created 8/06/2003   
Copyright 2003-2008 Col. Thomas Hardeman, Jr. Georgia UDC Chapter 2170 Macon.  Col. Thomas Hardeman, Jr. Home Page
Permission to use any data published here must be requested and obtained in writing. Send your request to Margie Daniels.  Click to open email editor and type in the address shown above.