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Mary Boykin Miller came from a prominent South Carolina plantation family. Her father, Stephen Decatur Miller, had served in the U.S. House of Representatives and would later be elected Governor and then Senator. Mary attended a French boarding school in Charleston. As a young teenager, she had began a courtship with James Chesnut, Jr., a lawyer eight years her senior. The couple married in 1840 and went to live at Mulberry, the Chesnut family plantation. In 1858, Mary's husband was elected to the U.S. Senate and she became a society hostess in Washington, D.C. James Chestnut resigned his Senate seat in the months before the Civil War broke out and became an aide to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. Mary began keeping a diary in 1861. She was well aware that she was living through momentous events, and faithfully recorded political and military news as well as conversations with people she met and her personal impressions of them. She also carefully edited and re-wrote parts of the diary before her death in 1886. The first published edition appeared in 1905 as A Diary from Dixie, with a fuller version released in 1949. A new, fully annotated edition, edited by C. Vann Woodward, won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for history. Mary Chestnut's diary is now one of the most frequently cited memoirs of the Civil War.
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