Friday, December 14, 2018

Confederate Civil War Christmas Memories of Mary Chestnut 1863-64 in South Carolina

Mary Chestnut's A Diary From Dixie:

Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut, 1823-1886, was born in Stateburg, South Carolina, in the High Hills of Santee, to Mary Boykin and her husband, Stephen Decatur Miller. Her father had served as a U.S. Representative (1817-19). He later became the governor of South Carolina (1829-30) and a U.S. Senator (1831-31). She was educated in Charleston at Mme. Talvande's French School for Young Ladies, where she became fluent in French and German and received a strong education. On April 23, 1840, Mary Boykin Miller married James Chesnut, Jr., a lawyer and politician eight years her senior. Like her father, he became a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and served from 1858 until South Carolina's secession from the Union in 1860. Once the Civil War broke out, James Chesnut, Jr. became an aide to President Jefferson Davis and a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. Mary Boykin Chestnut began her diary on February 15, 1861, and ended it on August 2, 1865. During much of that time she lived at Mulberry Plantation in Camden, South Carolina, in the midst of thousands of acres of plantation and woodland but with many visitors. The diary was of her impression of events as they unfolded during the Civil War. She analyzed the changing political fortunes of the South and its various classes. She also portrayed southern society and the mixed roles of men and women, and complex situations related to slavery. See Documenting the American South (, a digital publishing initiative of the University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Christmas Day, 1863.
Yesterday dined with the Prestons. Wore one of my handsomest Paris dresses (from Paris before the war). Three magnificent Kentucky generals were present, with Senator Orr from South Carolina, and Mr. Miles...Others dropped in after dinner; some without arms, some without legs; von Borcke, who can not speak because of a wound in his throat...Poor fellows, they laugh at wounds. "And they yet can show many a scar." We had for dinner oyster soup, besides roast mutton, ham, boned turkey, wild duck, partridge, plum pudding, sauterne, burgundy, sherry, and Madeira. There is life in the old land yet!

1864 December 27th.
Oh, why did we go to Camden? The very dismalest Christmas overtook us there. Miss Rhett went with us - a brilliant woman and very agreeable. "The world, you know, is composed," said she, "of men, women, and Rhetts" (see Lady Montagu). Now, we feel that if we are to lose our negroes, we would as soon see Sherman free them as the Confederate Government; freeing negroes is the last Confederate Government craze. We are a little too slow about it; that is all.