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:
I do not pretend to go to sleep. How can I? If Anderson does not accept terms at four, the orders are, he shall be fired upon. I count four, St. Michael's bells chime out and I begin to hope. At half-past four the heavy booming of a cannon. I sprang out of bed, and on my knees prostrate I prayed as I never prayed before.
IN Mrs. Chesnut's Diary are vivid pictures of the social life that went on uninterruptedly in the midst of war; of the economic conditions that resulted from blockaded ports; of the manner in which the spirits of the people rose and fell with each victory or defeat, and of the momentous events that took place in Charleston, Montgomery, and Richmond. But the Diary has an importance quite apart from the interest that lies in these pictures.
Mrs. Chesnut was close to forty years of age when the war began, and thus had lived through the most stirring scenes in the controversies that led to it. In this Diary, as perhaps nowhere else in the literature of the war, will be found the Southern spirit of that time expressed in words which are not alone charming as literature, but genuinely human in their spontaneousness, their delightfully unconscious frankness. Her words are the farthest possible removed from anything deliberate, academic, or purely intellectual They ring so true that they start echoes. The most uncompromising Northern heart can scarcely fail to be moved by their abounding sincerity, surcharged though it be with that old Southern fire which overwhelmed the army of McDowell at Bull Run.
In making more clear the unyielding tenacity of the South and the stern conditions in which the war was prosecuted, the Diary has further importance. At the beginning there was no Southern leader, in so far as we can gather
b. March 31, 1823, Pleasant Hill, S.C., U.S. d. Nov. 22, 1886, Camden, S.C.
Mary Chesnut is the author of A Diary from Dixie, an insightful view of Southern life and leadership during the American Civil War.
Mary Miller was the daughter of a prominent South Carolina politician and grew up in an atmosphere of public service. She attended private schools in Camden and Charleston. In 1840 she married James Chesnut, Jr., who later served as a U.S. senator from South Carolina until he resigned to take an important role in the secession movement and the Confederacy.
Her husband was a staff officer, an aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard, and commanding general of the South Carolina reserves. Chesnut accompanied him on his military missions during the Civil War and began recording her views and observations on February 15, 1861, and closed her diary on August 2, 1865. After the war she reworked her manuscript many times in anticipation of publication. But A Diary from Dixie was not published until 1905, long after her death. Although not a day-by-day account, A Diary is regarded highly by historians for its perceptive views of Confederate military and political leaders and for its insight into Southern society during the Civil War. An annotated edition with a biographical essay, Mary Chesnut's Civil War, ed. by C. Vann Woodward (1981), was awarded the 1982 Pulitzer Prize in U.S. history.