I am a painfully slow reader I read words like I chew meat with care This book is a slow, enigmatic and tedious read A real slog over forty miles of bad road That is not to say the book was a worthless read On the contrary, our man C Vann Woodward did yeoman s work in editing the thousands of pages of handwritten manuscripts, diaries, journals, and rewrites for possible publication, etc., etc Mary offers her first hand observations of the Civil War from within the milieu of the chosen few For our Mary was of the cr me de la cr me of Southern Society That those observations include rank rumor and the popular apocryphal stories of the day just adds a bit of flavoring The most accurate reporting involved the endless weddings and banal courtships of plantation white folk People who had for far too long lived as though they were all that mattered in creation Insular in their favored status, well read, well mannered to each other, aloof, pious, etc., etc Our Mary is addicted to the etc., etc., yada, yada of life, read the book and you shall see Read this book after reading, The Half Has Never Been Told Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E Baptist lest you be taken in by our Mary s endless kvetching about the lazy and dirty slaves I should give the book a 3 for it does have historical value in fleshing out a world that crashed and burned at the end of the Civil War It all came back, of course Jim Crow saw to that And here we are today with a brand new, throwback of a white supremacist president I chose this book as the only book I could possibly read given the catastrophic results of the 2016 pestilential election The poor southern ladies at home alone with their menfolk gone to war the ladies left to fear the Yankees in their front and the Negroes in their rear Stressful for them, I have no doubt of that My two star rating reflects my poor attitude, for to my utter amazement 63,000,000 of my fellow citizens thought that a carny barker, flim flam of a business man would make a perfectly fine president The decision the South made in attacking Fort Sumter was almost as intelligent Given 836 pages of text there were some serious moments such as the murder of Betsy Witherspoon But what of all those white on white murders Surely those murders were as heinous The South was a patriarchy and that chafed the sensibilities of MBC I should imagine many a good southern wife was beaten to death by her God ordained master, her husband 90% Of the footnotes were of no interest, though on page 232 In 1844, the governor of Mass sent Samuel Hoar, a former congressman, to Charleston to challenge the constitutionality of state laws requiring black sailors on ships in S.C ports to be imprisoned and, if they were unable to pay their jail fees, to be sold into slavery Nasty bit of history, that Mary s daily entries are often so cryptic that her writing becomes unintelligible But I paid it no mind and sailed on through her turgid seas On several occasions she related the common southern refrain, We will never give it up no never , and so they haven t A couple choice quotes from the book, no plummet can sound the depths and life seems a senseless repetition of the same blunders These are from the last chapters of the book and are exactly as they sound. I ve mentioned before having some conflicting issues with reading posthumously published diaries or journals, because I always get stuck on the point that the deceased may not have meant for their words to see the light of day or, for that matter, the lights of many days However, in this instance, Mary Chesnut knew exactly what she was doing.She started the diary in 1861 and used it for the following four years, keeping abreast of the news of the day, specifically the beginning, the middle, and the end of the American Civil War Twenty years later she revised it, and as she was childless, passed the diary on to a close friend, urging her to have it published after she died She wanted the world to read her thoughts Luckily her friend listened, or else we wouldn t have this perspective from a Confederate woman.Married to a politician, Mary was privy to details about the war that not everyone especially not every woman at the time knew She wrote about these encounters in extensive detail, as well as her opinions on the war, slavery, and society She was also an avid reader, and included thoughts on the books she was reading she was, for example, a huge fan of Thackeray s Vanity Fair, and wrote about her first impression upon reading it, the paper it was written on, why she read it and loved it.While I might not have agreed with all of her beliefs, occasionally there d be a witty passage that would surprise me for feeling so modern And then other times I d be equally surprised for just how dated her beliefs were.Reading Mrs Stowe or Redpath s John Brown, one feels utterly confounded at the atrocity of African slavery We look upon the miserable black race as crushed to earth, habitually knocked down, as John Brown says, by an iron shovel or anything that comes handy At home we see them, the idlest, laziest, fattest, most comfortably contented peasantry that ever cumbered the earth and we forget there is any wrong in slavery at all.I daresay the truth lies between the two extremes p428 Christian soldier, cc There cannot be a Christian soldier Kill or be killed, that is their trade, or they are a failure Stonewall was a fanatic The exact character we wanted was willing to raise the black flag He knew to achieve our liberty, to win our battles, men must die The religion of mercy, love your neighbor before yourself, prefer WORD OMITTED in every act why, that eliminates war and great captains p501 02 One woman so pretty, I had seen her before at her home in the South They say her husband beats her Here we said, let us look at a creature who stays with a man after a beating p600 That fearful hospital haunts me all day worse at night So much suffering, loathsome wounds, distortion, stumps of limbs exhibited to all and not half cured p641 Boozer, who is always on exhibition walking, riding, driving wherever a woman s face can go, there is Boozer She is a beauty that none can deny They say she is a good girl Then why does she not marry some decent man, among the shoals who follow her, and be off, out of this tangle while she has a shred of reputation left p695 Mrs Johnston said she would never own slaves I might say the same thing I never would Mr Chesnut does, but he hates all slavery, especially African slavery What do you mean by African To distinguish that form from the inevitable slavery of the world All married women, all children, and girls who live on in their father s houses are all slaves p729 It doesn t really matter which side of the war you believe in, this is a fantastic account of an important period in American history, and is highly recommended There are moments that drag when it seems Mary is busy name dropping or carrying on about things I personally find less than interesting, but still a rare record from an even rarer perspective It s easy to forget that women had much of a role in the late 19th century since most of the history books involve men, or were written by men But the women were there, and some of them even wrote about it Some of them gasp even had thoughts of their own Mary Chesnut is a great example of that. Popular Books, Mary Chesnut S Civil War By C Vann Woodward This Is Very Good And Becomes The Main Topic To Read, The Readers Are Very Takjup And Always Take Inspiration From The Contents Of The Book Mary Chesnut S Civil War, Essay By C Vann Woodward Is Now On Our Website And You Can Download It By Register What Are You Waiting For Please Read And Make A Refission For You Although I haven t finished this book, 8 years ago I read over 390 pages worth and it s not light or easy reading Mary Chestnut s Civil War is one woman s experience of the war between the states from the Southern perspective I do agree with the adage that History is written one biography at a time In any event, I think it can often best be understood that way While watching the Ken Burn s series, The Civil War , I noticed hearing Mary Chestnut quoted so frequently I wanted to read of her I wasn t disappointed with her journal She s intelligent, well educated, erudite and has a very broad grasp of the overall situation for having lived in one region of the country at a time in our nation s history when travel and communtion were extremely slow and limited On the down side, there are many footnotes, asides, digressions, etc., which are interesting and lend authenticity from a scholarly point but after a period of time make tough reading. I finally gave up on this, not because it isn t interesting, but because the choppiness drove me crazy it would be a wonderful book for historical research but I just couldn t flow with the constant footnotes and interjections That s a problem with me and reason for reading it, not with the researchers who did a masterful job in putting pieces of diaries together. If you have an aunt who gossips about people you don t know and you find it fascinating, this book is for you Otherwise, steer clear which is sad Mary Chestnut s husband was a high ranking official in the Confederate government and she regularly ran into Jefferson Davis, Robert Lee and other well known names of the Civil War Although it was interesting seeing these names come up, this Diary s description of the events and personalities was banal and dry. This book is rather difficult to get into in the first few hundred pages While one is immediately taken with the breadth of Mary Chesnut s intelligence and wit, the war has not started in ernest so we are treated to a constant diet on the social life of the Southern aristocracy It is interesting from a social history perspective but I bought the book for what I expected to be a commentary on the issues and the ongoing battles That is not the focus of this book That said, there is much to learn here What is also clear from the beginning is the enormous dedication C Vann Woodward had to his project.My introduction to Woodward s work came way back in the late 70 s when as an undergraduate in history I was assigned The Burden of Southern History Since that time, my respect for his work has only grown He was, in my mind, a giant in the study of the history of the South and richly deserved the Pulitzer he was awarded for editing this book Mary Chesnut has a perspective on her world that most women of the time would not have had She was well educated and exceedingly well read She had social position and a husband whose position in the Davis government gave her access to people and information unavailable to most mortals Her husband, J.C., had resigned his seat in the U.S Congress before secession He was never a fire eater but supported Southern independence It is difficult not to like and admire Mary If she had been a man it seems likely that she would have achieved than her husband who she seemed to find a bit timid when it came to self promotion At one point, when pondering her husband s refusal to put himself forward to be an envoy to France, she exclaimed I would love to go to France I believe in a perfect world she would have been the envoy to France The book makes clear the toll the war took on the society of this class of Southerners It is also clear how prevalent death was even outside of war Life seemed to happen faster, people engaged and married quickly, children came quickly and women often died as a result Life for Mary Chesnut, until she began moving around seemed like a constant party The extravagant feasts enjoyed by those in her social class reveal a group of people enjoying themselves so much that they seem blind to the fact that they are doing it on the backs of a people who have been given no choice but to provide it for them Mrs Chesnut made a great many revisions to her work and while that is common when writing any book, my common sense kept asking me why She claimed to have always hated slavery the slaves were her husbands and yet it is she who seems to profit by their labor most They dressed and undressed her, styled her hair, prepared her meals, cleaned her house, etc., etc She claims to have taught her negroes to read but no where in the book does she make mention of ever having done it on a particular day Maybe she did teach them but are we to assume that they are all literate so she no longer does it It is a bit suspicious to me The reader is regularly reminded of how good she and her husband are to their negroes She relates a story of how, when traveling home in his carriage one day, her husband comes upon a black woman crying on the side of the road, beaten to a pulp on the verge of giving birth He stopped and asked if he could do anything for her to which she replies No my mistress has beat me again Go ahead on your way paraphrased And so he did It struck me as strange that he would even need to ask the question Would most people not have, if not carried her to safety or at least gotten someone else to do it Overall, I would highly recommend this book to any historian, teacher, or anyone with an interest in the CW or American history generally I could not help but admire and like Mary Given her circumstances, she handled herself admirably, as far as the reader could tell and tells a story that as far as I am aware, is unavailable elsewhere This is a book I would have loved to have read in a group and discussed There is so much in it that is rich and interesting there are so many layers of complexity to this fascinating woman I am sorry that I didn t read it a long time ago. In the first paragraph of the Second Epilogue of War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy writes History is the life of nations and humanity To seize and put into words, to describe directly the life of humanity or even of a single nation, appears impossible.When his novel was published in Russia in 1869, Tolstoy did not know that Mary Chestnut of South Carolina had come exquisitely close to achieving just such an impossible direct description in the personal journal she had kept between 1861 and 1865 Her compelling creation of story was accomplished by recording dialogue, by which I mean quoting from conversations she had with her friends, family, and servants, all enhanced by her personal commentary, often with analogies from the books she voraciously read By such means, she filled her pages with a powerful story of daily life in the Southern states during the American Civil War.Because her husband was a political aid to Jefferson Davis, later an appointed military officer, Mrs Chestnut observed the experience as an ultimate insider She moved with him between hotel rooms and boarding houses in Montgomery, Alabama Charleston, Camden, and Columbia, South Carolina Richmond, Virginia several smaller western North Carolina towns and, when the formal military operations were over, back over roads through burned destruction to Camden and the partially destroyed Chestnut plantation of Mulberry.Mrs Chestnut was a listener She simply wrote down what other people said And what she herself said or thought, without saying aloud She was witness to the political disunion and the making of war That appears to be the reason for her journal She was studying the story as it unfolded, unable to see the end until it occurred Was she searching for reasoning in the chatter among her friends The gossip concerned flirtations and romances of the young There were weddings to attend as well as funerals A social whirl filled the civilian world, even after brides dresses had to be fashioned from homespun because finer fabrics could not be found at any price, and at any rate Confederate money ceased to be accepted as currency.Her seeming attempt at honesty lends the quality to her writing She does not neglect reporting a few murders of plantation owners by their slaves, and she fears what the future will bring for all of the people of the South From the earliest pages Mrs Chestnut acknowledges her recognition that the custom of slavery is wrong and is inevitably ending, despite her resentment of those Yankees bullying the South A reader may be surprised to note how much animosity was apparently felt by many South Carolina aristocrats against Jefferson Davis and the other political civilians who run the war from a safe haven as a whole generation of young men are sent to the physical battles to die of either horrific wounds or terrible infectious diseases Civilians criticize the generals, and generals criticize each other Emotions stay raw throughout as they evolve from dismay, anger, indignation, misgivings, skepticism and uneasiness to confusion, fear, sorrow, despair, regret, agony, heartache and sadness In the end, the poignancy and power of this long diary is that Mary Chestnut wrote, probably unwittingly, a version of universal truth about human fallibility. Mary Chestnut was the well educated wife of a South Carolina gentleman an attorney and former US senator who joined the confederacy and eventually rose to the rank of General in the CSA Her perspective includes not just the vantage point of a member of the CSA hierarchy and their families, but also a working knowledge of many of the opponents with whom she had been well acquainted while a dame in Washington circles in the years preceding the war For an American Civil War enthusiast who can appreciate the diary form i.e., this book is not for everyone this is a fascinating, though albeit sometimes slow read The stilted prose of the era and Mrs Chestnut s penchant for frequent literary allusions and sprinkling of French phrases required rereading of passages throughout the length of the book C Vann Woodward did an admirable job of researching the people, events and publications mentioned, but the prodigious number of footnotes required also slowed the reading down And I am that person who wants to glean every bit of information to better understand what I am reading, so I had to read every one However, the insight into the war as viewed from a progressive mind of a woman well placed in Southern society was too fascinating to make me abandon my mission and put it down.Woodward includes a lengthy preface detailing Mary s life and times which proves extremely helpful in putting the diary into context Not a book for the faint of heartbut definitely an enlightening and fascinating read for a die hard Civil War history buff. As a native of South Carolina, I have had this on my to read list for several years It was both painful to read and fascinating because it offers such an intimate look into the complex heritage of my home state For much of it, I was reminded of The Masque of the Red Death as this elite group of Confederate leadership focused on dinner parties with champagne, ice cream and roses, while horrific battles were taking place Chesnut s snobbish tendencies were also hard to take at times worst among these, to me, was making fun of misspellings in letters taken from dead Union soldiers At the same time, she is insightful and self aware and by the end I did have empathy for her and admiration for her tenacity The most interesting aspect of the memoir was reading about books and authors of the time and how they were received, as well as getting an intimate view of the complexity of the era There was a lot intermingling among Union and Confederate civilians than I imagined There was also a lot trust in the servants at several points, Chesnut gives her valuables to her servants for safekeeping And while there is a lot of brutality, I have to say that there is humanity and reasonableness depicted from both sides than I expected, so in the end, reading it was almost an uplifting experience.
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- 892 pages
- Mary Chesnut's Civil War
- C. Vann Woodward
- 08 May 2017 C. Vann Woodward