Monday, September 10, 2007

Mary Boykin Miller Chestnut

Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut (March 31, 1823November 22, 1886) was a South Carolina woman famous for keeping an extremely detailed diary describing the American Civil War.

She was born in Statesburg, South Carolina, to Mary Boykin and Stephen Decatur Miller, who had been a U.S. Senator and governor of South Carolina. On April 23, 1840, she married James Chesnut, Jr., who was elected to the Senate in 1850.

Once the Civil War broke out, James became an aide to Jefferson Davis and a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. They lived in Charleston, South Carolina.

Mary's diary began on February 15, 1861, and ended on August 2, 1865. It was a diary on her impression of events as they unfolded during the Civil War. Because she had no children, the diary passed to one of her friends upon her death. It was first published in 1905 as A Diary from Dixie, and an expanded edition was published in 1949. Yet another edition, edited by C. Vann Woodward and entitled Mary Chesnut's Civil War, was published in 1981 and won a Pulitzer Prize the next year.

Readings from her diary play an important role in the documentary television series, The Civil War by Ken Burns. Chesnut's diary entries were recited by Academy Award-winning actress Julie Harris.

On March 1, 2000, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that the James and Mary Boykin Chesnut House in Camden, South Carolina, had been designated as a National Historic Landmark due to its importance to America's national heritage and literature.
The plantation house was the location in which Mary Boykin Chesnut resided when she recorded in her diary events of the Civil War and her observations on their effect on the home front and southern society. Her diary is acknowledged by literary scholars as the most important piece of literature produced by a Confederate author. It also reflects the growing difficulties of the Confederacy.

There is evidence to suggest that she owned part of my family that originated from Darlington County South Carolina but was brought to DeSoto parish, Louisiana. At least 2 of my relatives, Chestnut Morris and Chestnut Jefferson wore that name. They were brought to Louisiana by her 2nd cousin, Boykin Witherspoon.


Anonymous said...

this shit suks ima trying to do a report on mary boykin miller chestnut and i kant find shit i kant find any official documents of her aor by her i need sum

Fenix said...

Boykin Witherspoon also owned part of my family. I recently came across a quote from Mary Boykin Chestnut in some of my readings from my African-American History class. I thought I'd share it with you as she is of importance to you also.

This is part of her feelings about the slave system, which she says permitted Southern gentlemen to live "like the patriarchs of old,...all in one house with their wives and concubines; and the mulattoes one sees in every family partly resemble the white children."

Anonymous said...

I just got done with a historical fiction report on her and if you go to google and type i her Name you should get a ton of stuff. There was one website that had like diary entairs by her.

Susie said...


I happen to be from the Chestnut Family tree,...My mother remembers her great grandmother, Mary Boykin Williams, (daughter to Katherine Boykin Millier,) kissing the back of her neck saying she smelt like sweet southern honey.
How amazing is this that today we can communicate our families history through this medium, connecting us all somehow. Our history is rich and truly American. While none of the history can be's difficult knowing I have these slave owning names in my family tree... but I'm as enlightening to know I also have those who fought against such believes and much much more.
So 137 years ago...if we could visualize all these peoples from all sides of our family tree at once...we would be amazed, and what a story it would be.

Susie Fairbrother,
Montreal Canada

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!