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A Diary from Dixie

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A Diary from Dixie
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Author(s): Mary Boykin Chesnut
Date Published: 2010/02
Page Count: 412
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-945-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-946-6

A singular view from a remarkable woman

This is a famous book. Any source work is worthy and accounts of the American Civil War from the female perspective are not so numerous, so all of them should be valued. Nevertheless, there is an inevitable order to everything and Mary Chesnut's diary is of the highest rank. Undoubtedly Mary Chesnut viewed the events of her time from a position of privilege. She was, in many respects, the archetypal southern lady. She was born on a South Carolina plantation, the daughter of a U. S Senator. She was highly educated, spoke several languages and married a U. S. Senator who became a Brigadier-General in the Confederate Army. Her family connections meant she knew the principal characters of her time well. They included Jefferson Davis, John Bell Hood, Wade Hampton and many other important figures and their families in Confederate society, government and the military. She was in a position to travel to the field of engagement. Yet despite all these advantages, Mary Chesnut still exceptional and that was entirely due to her character and intellect. She was a strong minded, passionate woman in advance of her time and was disinclined to accept anything at face value—including the basic tenants upon which her new country was founded. She was an able authoress and has left posterity a vibrant, intimate, thoughtful, detailed, personable and entertaining chronicle of her life and times. This is essential Civil War reading and highly recommended.

Why did that green goose Anderson go into Fort Sumter? Then everything began to go wrong. Now they have intercepted a letter from him urging them to let him surrender. He paints the horrors likely to ensue if they will not. He ought to have thought of all that before he put his head in the hole.<br>
April 12th.—Anderson will not capitulate. Yesterday’s was the merriest, maddest dinner we have had yet. Men were audaciously wise and witty. We had an unspoken foreboding that it was to be our last pleasant meeting. Mr. Miles dined with us today. Mrs. Henry King rushed in saying, “The news, I come for the latest news. All the men of the King family are on the island,” of which fact she seemed proud.<br>
While she was here our peace negotiator, or envoy, came in that is, Mr. Chesnut returned. His interview with Colonel Anderson had been deeply interesting, but Mr. Chesnut was not inclined to be communicative. He wanted his dinner. He felt for Anderson and had telegraphed to President Davis for instructions—what answer to give Anderson, etc. He has now gone back to Fort Sumter with additional instructions. When they were about to leave the wharf A. H. Boykin sprang into the boat in great excitement. He thought himself ill-used, with a likelihood of fighting and he to be left behind!<br>
I do not pretend to go to sleep. How can I? If Anderson does not accept terms at four, the orders are, he shall be fired upon. I count four, St. Michael’s bells chime out and I begin to hope. At half-past four the heavy booming of a cannon. I sprang out of bed, and on my knees prostrate I prayed as I never prayed before.<br>
There was a sound of stir all over the house, pattering of feet in the corridors. All seemed hurrying one way. I put on my double-gown and a shawl and went, too. It was to the housetop. The shells were bursting. In the dark I heard a man say, “Waste of ammunition.” I knew my husband was rowing about in a boat somewhere in that dark bay, and that the shells were roofing it over, bursting toward the fort. If Anderson was obstinate, Colonel Chesnut was to order the fort on one side to open fire. Certainly fire had begun. The regular roar of the cannon, there it was. And who could tell what each volley accomplished of death and destruction?<br>
The women were wild there on the housetop. Prayers came from the women and imprecations from the men. And then a shell would light up the scene. Tonight they say the forces are to attempt to land. We watched up there, and everybody wondered that Fort Sumter did not fire a shot.<br>
Today Miles and Manning, colonels now, aides to Beauregard, dined with us. The latter hoped I would keep the peace. I gave him only good words, for he was to be under fire all day and night, down in the bay carrying orders, etc.<br>
Last night, or this morning truly, up on the housetop I was so weak and weary I sat down on something that looked like a black stool. “Get up, you foolish woman. Your dress is on fire,” cried a man. And he put me out. I was on a chimney and the sparks had caught my clothes. Susan Preston and Mr. Venable then came up. But my fire had been extinguished before it burst out into a regular blaze.<br>
Do you know, after all that noise and our tears and prayers, nobody has been hurt; sound and fury signifying nothing—a delusion and a snare.<br>