There are hundreds of published primary sources of soldiers, civilians, and politicians, but the massive diary kept by South Carolinian Mary Chesnut (1823-1886), published as Mary Chesnut’s Civil War in 1981, remains a classic must-read of its genre. Mary, the wife of South Carolina politician and officer James Chesnut, knew and interacted with the Confederacy’s elite.
Mary Chesnut’s Civil War
by Mary Chesnut, Yale University Press, January 1, 1981
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Whether expressing disgust at the contradictions of slavery (“our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines, and the mulattoes one sees in every family exactly resemble the white children….”), describing a general’s appearance (Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson “had an odd habit of falling into a state of incessant winking as soon as he was the least startled…”), or bemoaning command decisions (“Jeff Davis did hate to put Joe Johnston at the head” of what was left of the Army of Tennessee, “For a day of Albert Sidney Johnston, out West! And Stonewall, could he come back to use here!!!”), her opinions provide a page-turning chronicle of the rebellion’s rise and fall.
You can own the Columbia, S.C., home the Chesnuts lived in for periods during the war, and where she wrote a part of her diary. The six-bedroom house was built in the 1850s, and survived the February 1865 fires that swept the South Carolina capital after William T. Sherman’s men occupied the town.
Offered at $950,000 and located on Hampton Street in the historic district, the house has operated as a bed & breakfast and is still zoned for such use. Or it can serve as a private residence. Buy it and walk to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, or swing by the old capitol building and see where the scars remain from Union shellfire. Upon returning, you might want to sit down and record your own thoughts of the war that so intrigues us.