Mary Chesnut's Illustrated Diary: A Book Review
June 04, 2012
If you are interested in a first-hand viewpoint of the Civil War, then these volumes will thrill you! Mary Chesnut’s Illustrated Diary, a boxed set edited and researched by Martha M. Daniels and Barbara E. McCarthy, is a compilation of personal diary entries by Mrs. Mary Chesnut collected throughout the Civil War. The collection has been called one of the most important works to come out of that time. It is said that Margaret Mitchell used Mary’s diaries for reference when she wrote Gone with the Wind. Not only did Mary write on the conflict, she collected photographs of leading figures of the Civil War from both the north and the south, along with images of their families. The breadth of her collection is astonishing, considering that photography was still in its infancy. The photographs serve as a fantastic visual companion to her diary.
Mrs. Chesnut was a prominent member of southern society and her husband was a personal aide to Jefferson Davis; thus she was able to offer an unparalleled view of the Confederacy during the war. Her diaries began in 1861 and ended in 1865. During these years, she wrote of social activities in the capital city and gave remarkable insight into the inner workings of the government and the Army of the Confederacy. I was rather fascinated and appalled at how the upper class social life continued in Richmond while the rest of the south was suffering desperately. Descriptions of Mary’s view of her so-called ordeals after the war show how out-of-touch she truly was with the real world.
These absorbing volumes are a spellbinding look at a pivotal time in America and a good read for anyone interested in Civil War history or social history in the 19th century.
Midwest Genealogy Center