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Mary Chesnut's Civil War

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  450 ratings  ·  22 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
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
Elizabeth Jennings
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 4 of 5 stars
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 4 of 5 stars
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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

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
"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.
a long interesting read and a heavy book , this would have been a good one for my nook instead!
Derek marked it as to-read
May 05, 2015
Lucia Kelly
Lucia Kelly marked it as to-read
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Lucy Spencer marked it as to-read
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Mary Chesnut: A Diary From Dixie The Private Mary Chestnut A Diary from Dixie Two Novels: The Captain and the Colonel / Two Years, or, The Way We Lived Then (The Publications of the Southern Texts Society)

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