Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Original Steel Magnolia

 mary chesnut

Mary Boykin Chesnut’s diary is a touching human and intimate history of a civilization locked in a struggle for life or death. Out of respect to her, and to preserve the authenticity of her experience, I have striven to let her speak in her own words as much as possible.

From the spring of 1861 to the summer of 1865, Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote what would become the greatest diary of the War of Southern Independence. Born in 1823, Mary was a member of some of the most powerful and prestigious families in South Carolina. “My father was a South Carolina nullifier, governor of the state at the time of the nullification row, and then a U.S. Senator,” explained Mary. “So I was of necessity a rebel born.” Mary described her father-in-law, James Chesnut, Sr., owner of one of the largest plantations in South Carolina, as “the last of the lordly planters who ruled this Southern world.” Mary’s husband, James Chesnut, Jr., was a U.S. Senator up until the secession of South Carolina, after which he served as a high- ranking Confederate official. Before the war, Mary lived in Washington, D.C., with her husband. During the war, she traveled across the South, including Montgomery, Charleston, Columbia, and Richmond. From her vantage point at the top of Southern society, Mary was privileged with special insight into the innermost workings of the newborn Confederacy.

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