Mary Boykin Chesnut, born in 1823, was married to one of the richest and most powerful of all South Carolina plantation owners, James C. Chesnut. Her husband served as a U.S. senator prior to the war, and he became an important adviser to Jefferson Davis thereafter. Through his wife’s diary, we have an unequaled look at the life of the major slaveholder, complicated, as one might expect, by the beginning of the Civil War. Mary B. Chesnut’s diary was not discovered till the twentieth century; upon its publication, readers from around the nation had a new appreciation of what it was like for a true Southern lady—one who had the carriage, the plantation, and the slaves.
The diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut provides readers with a good understanding of what it was like to be a rich landowner in the South during the war.