Mary Chesnut's Civil War

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Mary Chesnut; Edited by C. Vann Woodward

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Winner of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize in History

"A feast for Civil War buffs. . . . One of the best firsthand records of the Confederate experience. . . . Electrifying."—Walter Clemons, Newsweek

"By all odds the best of all Civil War memoirs, and one of the most remarkable eyewitness accounts to emerge from that or any other war."—Louis D. Rubin, Jr., New Republic


The incomparable Civil War diarist Mary Chestnut wrote that she had the luck "always to stumble in on the real show." Married to a high-ranking member of the Confederate government, she was ideally placed to watch and to record the South's headlong plunge to ruin, and she left in her journals an unsurpassed account of the old regime's death throes, its moment of high drama in world history. With intelligence and passion she described the turbulent events of politics and war, as well as the complex society around her. In her own circles, the aristocratic, patriarchal, slave-holding Mary Chesnut was a figure of heresy and of paradox: she had a horror of slavery and called herself an abolitionist from early youth.

Edited by the eminent historian C. Vann Woodward, Mary Chesnut's Civil War presents a full and reliable edition of Chesnut's journals, restoring her to her rightful place in American history and literature.


 

C. Vann Woodward is Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University.

"A feast for Civil War buffs. . . . One of the best firsthand records of the Confederate experience. . . . Mrs. Chestnut's diary is electrifying."—Walter Clemons, Newsweek

"An admirable blend of scholarship and style. . . . C. Vann Woodward's impressive edition guarantees that Mary Chestnut's Civil War will take its rightful place as an American classic."—Joan Reardon, Christian Science Monitor Book Review

"Vann Woodward's long awaited edition of Mary Chestnut's 'Diary' of the Civil War is the first uncorrupted and annotated text of a novelistic memoir, at one an illuminating historical document and a work of genuine literary distinction. Woodward's ingenious blending of the original journals and the subsequent 'Diary' makes this version immensely superior to the previous ones and enables us for the first time to appreciate the mind and art of this remarkable mind."—Daniel Aaron, Harvard University

"A major book of this year."—Edmund Fuller, The Wall Street Journal

"Mary Chestnut's spirit, wit, independence, and incisive pen come sparkling through, making this a literary as well as historical document of major importance."—Choice

"Thanks to [Vann Woodward], we have the first authoritative text of this great work, now revealed as the masterpiece it is; the finest work of literature to come out of the Civil War, perhaps one of the half dozen or so most important diaries in al literature; if you will, a Southern War and Peace."—Reid Beddow, The Washington Post Book World

"Here is the rich and full context, as the author herself recreated it. It is by all odds the best of all Civil War memoirs, and one of the most remarkable eye-witness accounts to energy from that or any other war."—Louis D. Rubin Jr., The New Republic

"This definitive edition of her massive, much-revised journal captures vividly the experience of war in the Old South, from the first hopeful days. . . to the ruinous end. . . . The book teems with interesting portraits (of generals and society ladies, of maids and slaves), with reports of battles and balls, and with highly evocative descriptions of everyday scenes (such as men sitting on coffins, talking and laughing) that bring the period to life."—Publisher's Weekly

"Here is a book to curl up with over a whole lifetime—to read and reread, to ponder and savor."—Selma R. Williams, The Boston Globe

"Now, thanks to the judicious editing of C. Vann Woodward, the great Yale historian of the South, we can read nearly the whole of Mary Chestnut's work and see precisely which passages came from the original journal of Civil War vintage and which were revised in later years. And this more authentic version is if anything more impressive as the account of an exceptional woman and the society she both represented and questioned. . . . [A] splendid volume."—Kirkus Reviews

"Part diary, part work of literary art, Mary Chestnut's Civil War retains its value as an account of a society caught in the vortex of far-reaching change.  It is good to have, at long last, a definitive version of this classic, and it is appropriate that Woodward, who has done more to shape the study of southern history than any other historian of his generation, has produced it."—Eric Foner, The History Book Club Review

"The 'big' book of 1981—the book that's going to be acclaimed and read and remembered over others. . . . No title has been more anticipated."—William W. Starr, The State (Columbia, South Carolina)

"The work is really an epic in which the accumulation of quotidian detail—the weather, parties, receptions, rumors, duels, love affairs, murders, promotions and demotions, intrigues, illnesses, celebrations—provides a sense of the rhythms of ordinary life during those chaotic four years in a way that no other book has done."—William Styron, The New York Review of Books

"Underlying even the darkest passages is a cheerfulness of spirit, almost a buoyancy, that in effect aerates the narrative and provides much of its charm and readability. A great epic drama of our greatest national tragedy."—William Styron, The New York Review of Books

"Perhaps one of the half dozen or so most important diaries in all literature; if you will, a Southern 'War and Peace.'"—Reid Beddow, The Washington Post Book World

"A delightful book to read—there can be no other way to state it. And it is interesting enough to be read straight through, while formidable enough to be read slowly and digested. C. Vann Woodward has done a superb job of pulling into a whole the surviving portions of Mary Chestnut's original diary, her later additions and alterations, snatches from her other writings and some letters."—Bennett H. Wall, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

"Woodward's edition of this most famous of contemporary Southern sources on the war is definitive. . . . Woodward's work, scrupulously  and exhaustively annotated, presents the most reliable portrait yet of this most remarkably vital, intelligent, witty woman. An outspoken feminist who abhorred the slavery system, Chesnut was also a keen observer of her times and of the men and women who crossed her path. An elaborate introduction and a magnificent index enhance a book sure to be hailed by historians, lovers of literature, and indeed anyone with a taste for the human story."—Library Journal

"[Woodward] provides an accessible and indeed worthy edition of Chesnut's work. . . . Chesnut's prose and insights dazzle. Lively sketches, biting characterizations, entertaining anecdotes, and vivid reflections fill the page."—Catherine Clinton, Journal of American History

"Woodward has brought his vast knowledge of Southern history to bear upon the best edition of her diary, an achievement of value not only to historians but one that will have great appeal to the general public interested in our country's past. . . . One reading Chesnut's diary will find a human, intelligent view of antebellum Southern society during its climactic years. . . . Truly one of the remarkable memoirs of the American Civil War."—The Manuscript Society

"Woodward's edition of Mary Boykin Chesnut's memoirs supersedes all others. In relying on the 1880s version Woodward understandably emphasizes the literary along with the informational content of the text. He thus provides modern readers with new reasons for appreciating this articulate woman's memoirs of her experiences during the rise and fall of the Confederacy."—Harriet E. Amos, The Alabama Review

"One is caught up and swept along in Mary Chesnut's work. She read widely and her cosmopolitan outlook both broadened and sharpened her perceptions; she had a knack of being in the midst of action . . . her sense of drama heightened the impact of her observations; and her capacity to laugh at herself even while playing Cassandra reveals her broad human outlook and the warm radiant nature of her soul. Thanks to Woodward we have an accurate annotated edition of Mary Chesnut's memoir. . . . A valuable and a moving source."—Ari Hoogenboom, Pennsylvania History

"Those fascinated by the romance of the Civil War have long had recourse to Gone With the Wind. Now those interested in the reality can turn to this rich memoir."—Wilson Quarterly

"The book supersedes all previous editions and fully merits the high praise Edmund Wilson bestowed in Patriotic Gore: an extraordinary document—in its informal department, a masterpiece."—Michael R. Johnson, Journal of Southern History

"The best of all Civil War memoirs, and on of the most remarkable eye-witness accounts to emerge from that or any other war."—Louis D. Rubin, Jr., New Republic

Winner of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize in History
ISBN: 9780300029796
Publication Date: September 10, 1993
892 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
The Letters of C. Vann Woodward

Edited by Michael O'Brien

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