Monday, September 10, 2007

A DIARY FROM DIXIE by Mary Boykin Chesnut

The Book: Mary Boykin Chesnut, A Diary from Dixie. Edited by Ben Ames Williams. Houghton Mifflin reprint (seventh printing), undated; original copyright 1949. Very good book in good dust jacket; DJ shows chipping and rubbing at corners, and small tears at spine and tops of front and back covers.
First read: 1976
Owned since: 1976

This book was an 11th birthday present from Papa, my grandfather McLaughlin. He asked what I wanted and I said I wanted a history book, but nothing about the American Revolution; it was 1976, and I was sick of it. This was a very sophisticated book to give an eleven-year-old, and I didn't get through the whole thing for quite some time. Even then, I didn't understand some parts of it until I was much older.

Mary Boykin Chesnut (1823-1886) was the daughter of a governor of South Carolina, Stephen Decatur Miller. She married James Chesnut Jr., who later became a U.S. Senator and a Brigadier General in the Army of the Confederacy. She kept a diary that, at the time of her death, filled more than 50 notebooks.

A Diary from Dixie covers the period from March 1861 to July 1865, and is frank about the hopes and hardships of the genteel South during the war. Mrs. Chesnut writes about rape and murder, the fear of slave uprisings, the terrible injustices done to slave families and slave women, and a society destroyed by its own foolish pride and courage.

A more extensive version of her journals has since been published, but I have pulled this book off my shelf for research as recently as four months ago. It's essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the social engines behind the Civil War, as well as the political ones.

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