Last updated: February 27, 2019
Topic: FamilyChildren
Sample donated:

The readings by Mary Chestnut from her diary, later published as “Mary Chestnut’s Civil War” are fascinating in that they detail the life of a Confederate woman during the Civil War. It is important because it gives the reader such a vivid description of not only the events of the period, but the way of life of Confederates, particularly women, and the way she viewed things going on in the South during this time. Her ideas and beliefs are particularly shocking to the modern reader because she is coming from a place and time that is foreign to us, but this is why her writings are so important from the context of her era.

Mary Chestnut is a Southern Confederate woman and thus her views are coming from that perspective. In her diary she discusses a great many things, from the way that the women of her world gossip concerning the biracial children that are born on plantations. She is extremely upset with the way the system was, not because of slavery, but because Southern gentlemen were having sex with their slave women and having children, and everyone, including their wives, were aware of it. She proceeds to condemn the current system because of this, but instead of putting the full blame onto the men that are in power, the white slave owners themselves, she seems to place a lot of blame on the black slave women, who didn’t have a choice. She makes comments about how she was told not to allow her slave women to go on errands because they may become tempted for other things. She does, however, admit that the slave owners are keeping “black harems” on their plantations.

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Mary Chestnut’s diary is really a shock to the system in many ways because it is coming from such a different place than the world we live in. Her ideas, beliefs, and feelings come from the context of Southern slave society, a world where their very way of life depended on slave labor. Her prejudice comes through loud and clear, but she also seems to understand that the system itself, put in place by the white men, is really the true problem.