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Mary Chesnut
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    (March 31, 1823-November 22, 1886)
    Born in Sumter County, South Carolina
    Birth name was Mary Miller
    Married US Senator/Confederate General James Chesnut, Jr. (1840-85)
    Kept a diary during the US Civil War
    Published posthumously as 'A Diary from Dixie' (1905)
    She claimed she did not know the workers on her family's plantation were slaves until she was nine years old.
    She described black people as 'dirty, slatternly, idle, ill-smelling by nature.'
    She suffered bouts of depression.
    She tried her hand at fiction, writing three novels that were never published.
    During the 1880s, she edited her diary to remove personal information from it.
    The first published version of her diary was further edited and heavily abridged.
    She wrote about slavery, 'God forgive us, but ours is a monstrous system.'
    She broke southern laws by teaching the slaves on her parents' and in-laws' estates to read and write.
    After the Civil War, she and her husband frequently had to live off the money she earned selling eggs and butter.
    A new edition of her diary, which included more of her original work and was annotated by historian C. Vann Woodward, won the Pulitzer Prize for History (1982).
    Her diary was described by critic Edmund Wilson as 'a work of art -- informal department or not' and by novelist William Styron as 'a great epic drama of our greatest national tragedy.'
    Extensive readings from her diary were featured in Ken Burns' documentary 'The Civil War.'

Credit: C. Fishel

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