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Mary Chesnut's Civil War

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  566 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
An authorized account of the Civil War, for which editor C. Vann Woodward won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for History, drawn from the diaries of a Southern aristocrat, records the disintegration and final destruction of the Confederacy.
Paperback, 892 pages
Published September 10th 1993 by Yale University Press (first published January 1st 1981)
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Phil Mullen
Jul 11, 2011 Phil Mullen rated it really liked it
A friend read this in the 80's, when it won a Pulitzer, but I began to want to read it when the 150th anniversary of the National Slaughtering caught my attention.

I found I liked Mary Chesnut quite a lot, even when she was saying something with which, as a matter of principle, I disagree. She was honest, apparently to a greater extent than most privileged slaveowners were able to be honest.

This struck me as a slaveowner's plausible state of mind:
<< November 28, 1863

Those old gray-haired
Apr 12, 2014 P rated it really liked it
Mary Chestnut was the well-educated wife of a South Carolina gentleman-an attorney and former US senator who joined the confederacy and eventually rose to the rank of General in the CSA. Her perspective includes not just the vantage point of a member of the CSA hierarchy and their families, but also a working knowledge of many of the opponents with whom she had been well-acquainted while a dame in Washington circles in the years preceding the war.

For an American Civil War enthusiast who can app
Elizabeth Jennings
Feb 07, 2013 Elizabeth Jennings rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
As a native of South Carolina, I have had this on my "to read" list for several years. It was both painful to read and fascinating because it offers such an intimate look into the complex heritage of my home state.

For much of it, I was reminded of "The Masque of the Red Death" as this elite group of Confederate leadership focused on dinner parties with champagne, ice cream and roses, while horrific battles were taking place. Chesnut's snobbish tendencies were also hard to take at times--worst a
I've mentioned before having some conflicting issues with reading posthumously published diaries or journals, because I always get stuck on the point that the deceased may not have meant for their words to see the light of day... or, for that matter, the lights of many days. However, in this instance, Mary Chesnut knew exactly what she was doing.

She started the diary in 1861 and used it for the following four years, keeping abreast of the news of the day, specifically the beginning, the middle,
Apr 23, 2008 booklady rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: any serious historical scholar
Although I haven't finished this book, 8 years ago I read over 390 pages worth and it's not light or easy reading. Mary Chestnut's Civil War is one woman's experience of the war between the states from the Southern perspective. I do agree with the adage that History is written one biography at a time. In any event, I think it can often best be understood that way. While watching the Ken Burn's series, "The Civil War", I noticed hearing Mary Chestnut quoted so frequently I wanted to read more of ...more
Jane Thompson
May 18, 2013 Jane Thompson rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs
Recommended to Jane by: college profs
Very interesting reading. Mary Chesnut knew everyone who was anyone and knew all the inside stories. It could get somewhat repetitious as she visited friends and exchanged gossip. Her views on slavery were interesting, as she proclaimed herself to be antislavery, but her feelings were hurt if her slaves didn't stay completely loyal to her during the war, and she admitted she didn't like to do the work around the house and was glad she didn't have to.

Very good for the flavor of the war years.
Kara Thorpe
Mar 13, 2011 Kara Thorpe rated it really liked it
I won't say how long it took me to finish this, but in the end it was worth it. Taking it with a healthy grain of salt (as I do all autobiographies), it portrays a view of life during the Civil War and the hardships faced by those left at home. It is an excellent, if long, historical text that will give you more than just dry facts and boring recitations. You get to see how war affected day-to-day living.
Jun 29, 2012 Catherine rated it liked it
C. Vann Woodward really deserved his Pulitzer
for this masterful weaving together of Chesnut's many different versions of this diary.
It was a hard read, but rewarding, offering in it's sheer volume of daily detail a better feel for life behind the lines than many a more polished
and abbreviated narrative.
Apr 22, 2011 Bev added it
Much more interesting to read what someone thought at the time than what historians think today.
Colleen Browne
Aug 15, 2015 Colleen Browne rated it it was amazing
This book is rather difficult to get into in the first few hundred pages. While one is immediately taken with the breadth of Mary Chesnut's intelligence and wit, the war has not started in ernest so we are treated to a constant diet on the social life of the Southern aristocracy. It is interesting from a social history perspective but I bought the book for what I expected to be a commentary on the issues and the ongoing battles. That is not the focus of this book. That said, there is much to lea ...more
Jan 01, 2009 Jennifer rated it really liked it
This is a monster of an autobiography, but if you stick it out you will be rewarded in the end. Mary Chestnut was clever, witty, and ideally placed socially (S.C. planter upper class, wife of a Confederate general and an advisor to Davis) and geographically (Columbia, Richmond, and later a refugee in Tennessee) to write an insider's view of the leadership of the Confederacy and the war's transformation of Southern antebellum society. The romance between Buck Preston and Sam Hood, and the "fiddli ...more
May 10, 2013 Jeff rated it really liked it
Okay... this was a little slow going, but that shouldn't be held against the book.

This is a compilation of Mary Boykin Chestnut's diary from 1861-1865 and the edited version that she was preparing for publication in the 1880s. For those of you who don't know, Mary Chestnut was the wife of a minor, but significant player in the Confederacy. She sometimes dined with the (Jefferson) Davises, she knew Robert E. Lee, she spent a significant amount of time with John Bell Hood. And her husband was a cl
Aug 27, 2010 Eric marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
This monster diary might end up like Isherwood's, as something I nibble at before bed when I don't feel like reading anything else, or it might be an absorbing joy I plow through in a few weeks. All signs point to the latter. Skimming Chesnut, I feel the era opening up, as when Catton, in another prospective browse (of Mr. Lincoln's Army), discusses the variety of coughs and throat-clearings with which marching Union troops would signal the wayside apparition of pretty farm girls to the rest of ...more
Mike Bauldree
Jul 07, 2010 Mike Bauldree rated it liked it
This book is really cool. Mary Chesnut seems to have been the Forest Gump of the Civil War. She was in all of the important places in the South while critical things were happening: in Charleston during the Sumter bombardment; in Montgomery as the Conferates chose Davis as president; in Richmond (just across the street from the Confederate White House) throughout much of the war; in S. Carolina during Atlanta & Sherman's raid through the South.

Reading her diary is the closest thing to having
Donna Davis
I bought this tome HARD COVER, thinking it was a real find! A primary source! A journal from someone who lived through it all! My book club reviewed it in glowing terms.

And it came. And I zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Oh I AM sorry. It's just that the way she wrote was soooooooozzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

No more. I promise. I WILL stay awake. But in order to do so, I have to abandon Ms. Chesnut. I still have her on my Civil War shelves, in the hope that some day, I'll go downstairs and open that book and the
Cynthia Garza
Big window into privileged white southern womanhood. But the I'll e rate weren't writing were they? I will take what I can get.
Oct 06, 2013 Kate rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-reviews
A much celebrated book, winner of the 1982 Pulitzer in history, Mary Chestnut's Civil War is a diary of one woman's experience during the war years. The Washington Post called it "the finest work of literature to come out of the Civil War." Mrs. Chestnut was an excellent diarist. Her civilian perceptions are priceless to readers of American history. It's a big paperback (836 pages with a 50-page index), but it's an easy book to begin, abandon and resume reading at leisure. It's a wonderful book.
Sep 15, 2009 Kristen rated it it was ok
Mary Chestnut's war-time diaries have been published in various edited versions. In the 1980s, C. Vann Woodward was the first editor to attempt to publish her diaries unabridged and annotated. He carefully indicates which portions had been published before and which portions he "saved" from obscurity. In my opinion, the diaries only benefited from editing. At just under 900 pages, the unedited version contains so much disconnected material that the reading is very slow and hard going.
Feb 25, 2012 Lynne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm rereading this now that I'm taking a Civil War course. I'm not yet into the rough days for women of Chestnut's class---right now, they're still partying, although prices are getting awfully high and the confederate money is becoming of little worth. Chestnut has a wonderful gossipy style and, luckily, had much contact with Davis, Lee, and just about every other important confederate figure.
J. Keck
Jul 05, 2013 J. Keck rated it really liked it
Fascinating. A difficult and long read, but one that is of great value. To understand this great conflict between the Union and the Confederacy, it's different when the historian is a woman of her time. Not only are the battles and names of generals noted, but daily life in a society that is so foreign to us, today. Edifying.
Worth the effort of a voyage back in time.
Aug 11, 2008 Becky rated it really liked it
I had heard about this book in several discussions on the Civil War, and Mary Chestnut appeared in some other works I had read. This was a very good glimpse into the life and times of the women of the South during the War. This is also an "insider's" look......she had many contacts with Jefferson Davis and family. I found it very informative.
Jan 20, 2011 Linda added it
This is just one of a number of books mentioned in my recent blog post about Civil War Books. Find it here:

May or may not finish this as it is much drier than I anticipated and so much daily blather about relatives and local folks that it is hard to follow.
Ken Wahe
Sep 24, 2013 Ken Wahe rated it really liked it

See why it is an original source for civil war southern culture. Women detested slavery but what to do with the freedman. Indirectly see gulf between aristocracy and
Poor whites. At least negro existed. If not constitutionally. A. Better diary is Kate stone s Brokenburn
Apr 10, 2013 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Who was Mary Chestnut?" That was the question that I asked a dozen times while viewing Ken Burns' excellent documentary on the American Civil War.
Oct 18, 2015 Christine rated it really liked it
a long interesting read and a heavy book , this would have been a good one for my nook instead!
Mar 04, 2014 Cheryl rated it did not like it
unable to finish - too many other books I want to read.
Feb 18, 2010 Marcia rated it it was ok
Nan marked it as to-read
Feb 06, 2016
Mohd Amaan
Mohd Amaan rated it it was amazing
Feb 06, 2016
Colleen Sherburne
Colleen Sherburne marked it as to-read
Feb 05, 2016
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