- Publisher: Essential Clasics of the Civil War Book-of-the-month Club (1994)
- Language: English
- ASIN: B000SSQZSA
- Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 17 x 5.6 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,118,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Mary Chesnut's Civil War (BOMC) Hardcover – 1994
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Although not unbiased, Mrs. Chesnut makes an attempt to be more objective than subjective and sees her writings as a possible important part of history in the future. One gets a great sense of a real person--someone who shows hope one day, despair the next.
History and Civil War enthusiasts will enjoy this poignant and truthful look on Southern morals, everyday life and behind-the-scenes political observations. Although it is hard to stay focused on at times because of less relevant information, there are many nuggets of valuable observations that make this book worth reading.
Another interesting look at the Southern point of view is Sarah Morgan: Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman.
Mary loved to gossip and name drop and had very strong opinions on any given subject. She had no children so she had plenty of time to be self indulgent and a bit vain. She really must have been a fascinating person as people seem to be drawn to her. Varina Davis was one of her closest friends and she visited the Davis home frequently. She believed slavery to be wrong & hated the fact that there were so many racially mixed children that looked very much like the master of the plantations. She complained about the costs involved in keeping slaves and thought the time had come to abolish slavery. On the other hand, she spoke of slaves like children that needed to be cared for. She also had never had to take care of herself or run a house. She relied totally on her servants for everything.
She wrote this diary with the intention of including rumors, facts,and anything she might be thinking at the time. John Bell Hood was a frequent visitor and is talked of in her diary quite frequently. She talked about Hood's love for a woman and of his wounds. She referred to him as their "wounded knight". She was a very opinionated, outspoken, and (I think) spoiled women. There are no great military strategies and battle description in her book. She describes the dinners they had or how people were dressed. She talks of all the gossip about all the differert generals and the politics of the day. Reading her diary is like sitting down for coffee with her and listening to the events,real or rumored, that she chats about. She loves all the gossip and thrives on attention She had a front row seat to all events about the war, civilian life, and the downfall of the Confederacy It's wonderful to have the chance to get to know Mary Chesnut with her candid way of writting. She also writes of the trials and tribulations when everything was crashing down aroound her. Her first experience of wearing old clothes, food shortages, no money, & wondering all the while what was going to happen to her and her husband. People were dying all around her and her. Her entire culture & lifestyle were disapearing, everything simply falling apart, yet she kept up her writting. What a fascinating woman Mrs. Mary Chesnut must have been.
It may be a little difficult to read for some. I think maybe most difficult for men for much of it is "idle chatter" that women do when they get together. There is much information in here that you can only get from someone in the middle of it all.
The diary (actually much of it was written or elaborated nearly twenty years later) begins on February 16, 1861 at the time of the secession of the Southern states from the Union and ends abruptly on July 26, 1865 after the surrender of the Southern armies. Mrs. Chesnut, the friend of Southern leaders such as Jefferson Davis, spent most of the war years in Richmond and her plantation home in South Carolina.
Mary Chesnut purveys gossip among the elite and offers sharply worded opinions about the South, its leaders, negroes, and slavery. On page 71, we see for example that Robert E. Lee is being called a traitor by some people after his early military failures. Of Gen. Joe Johnston she says, "Being such a good hater, it is a pity he had not elected to hate somebody else than the president of our country." An outspoken woman of about 40 with a goodly share of self esteem Mrs Chesnut does not spare her husband -- who she despises -- and acquaintances from her worldly opinions. With passages on virtually every aspect of day to day living as well as the rush of events leading the downfall of the South, the diary of Mary Chesnut may be the best single source about life in the South during the Civil War.
The most vivid passages in the diary are about the end of the war when the fashionable Mrs. Chesnut feels the pinch of poverty and despair as the Yankee armies conquer South Carolina and burn down her plantation home. She captures the fear of Southerners, "as of a Bengal tiger in the home" of the Yankees and of the newly-freed negroes. "The weight that hangs upon our eyelids -- is of lead"
I haven't read this book cover to cover. I pick it up occasionally and randomly read a few pages or look up the entry for a event of interest. There is sufficient material to spend weeks reading and puzzling out the meaning of elliptical statements or distant relationships or obscure references. The Editor has done a splendid job identifying in notes nearly all of the people Ms. Chesnut mentions and in clarifying the events to which she refers. This is a book you might choose to take to a desert island as it is nearly unconquerable as well as fascinating.