Mary Boykin Miller was born March 31st 1823 on the family plantation near Stateburg, South Carolina, the daughter of Stephen Decatur and Mary [Boykin] Miller. At twelve she began school in Charleston at the French School for Young Ladies ran by Madame Talvande. Mary’s father moved the family to Mississippi where he bought three cotton plantations, but Mary stayed at school in Charleston. She met her future husband James Chesnut Jr when she was 13, and they married in 1840. In 1858 Mary’s husband was elected to the United State Senate from South Carolina, and was serving until the Civil War started.
Once the war started Mary’s husband became an aide to Confederate President Jefferson C Davis and a Brigadier General. Mary took an active part in building the political networks important to her husband’s career. She began writing her Civil War diary on February 18th 1861. In it she describes meeting many of the Confederacy’s high society such as Louis T Wigfall, Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina, and Confederate General John Bell Hood. It also included the many places she lived during the war such as Montgomery, Alabama and Richmond, Virginia. Mary was in Charleston, South Carolina to witnesses the firing on Fort Sumter. The diary ended June 26th 1865.
Following the war the Chesnuts lost pretty much everthing. Mary’s husband died in 1866. She began working to revise her diary in the 1880’s. Mary struggled through her last years with little income. She died at her home in Camden, South Carolina in 1886 and is buried next to her husband in Knights Hill Cemetery.
Mary’s diary was published for the first time in 1905.