Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Diary of Mary Chesnut

Posted By on May 21, 2012

Chesnut, Mary. A Diary from Dixie. Written 1860-1865.

Today we can only imagine living through a war taking place inside our own country. Mary Chesnut of South Carolina, married to Confederate General James Chesnut, was forced to live through the Civil War and had the forethought to keep a diary, which she began on November 8, 1860 saying, “From today forward I will tell the story in my own way. I now wish I had a chronicle of the two delightful and eventful years that have just passed. Those delights have fled and one’s breath is taken away to think what events have since crowded in. Like the woman’s record in her journal, we have had “earthquakes as usual”– daily shocks.” (p.1).

Little did Mrs. Chestnut know what was ahead for her in the next five years. Because of her position in society and her husband’s position in the military, Mrs. Chesnut was given access to aspects of the war and the opinions of people of all walks of life. The war forced her to move many times, and she chronicles not only the big political movements but also her own personal struggles and losses, both materially and spiritually. These day to day observations are the most important part of this record:

getting news: “Isabella went with me to the bulletin board.  Mrs. D. (with the white linen as usual pasted on her chin) asked me to read aloud what was there written. As I slowly read on, I heard a suppressed giggle from Isabella. I know her way of laughing at everything, and tried to enunciate more distinctly– to read more slowly, louder, with more precision. As I finished and turned round, I found myself closely packed in by a crowd of Confederate soldiers eager to hear the news. They took off their caps, thanked me for reading all that was on the boards, and made way for me, cap in hand, as I hastily returned to the carriage…” (July 26, 1864 p.315).

security: “I though it injudicious when gold is at such a premium to leve it lying loose in the tray of a trunk. So I have sewed it up in a belt, which I can wear in an emergency. The cloth is wadded and my diamonds are there, too. It has strong strings, and can be tied under my hoops about my waist if the worst comes to worst…” (1861, p.101).

economics: “We, poor fools, who are patriotically ruining ourselves will see our children in the gutter while teacherous dogs of millionaires go rolling by in thier coaches– coaches that were aquired by taking advantage of our necessities.” (1862, p.139).

“My husband bought yesterday at the Commissary’s one barrel of flour, one bushel of potatoes, one peck of rice, five pounds of salt beef, and one peck of salt– all for sixty dollars. In the street a barrel of flour sells for $115.” (1863, p.261).


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