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Mary Boykin Chesnut Symposium

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, Program Room
Mar 15, 2012 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM

Mary Boykin Chesnut, the Civil War diarist who had an insider’s look at one of history’s most cataclysmic periods and mingled with many of that era’s prominent leaders, will be the subject of a symposium March 15 at the University of South Carolina.

The hour-long event, which is sponsored by the University Libraries, is set for 2 p.m. in the program room of the Hollings Library, which is accessed through Thomas Cooper Library. The event is free and open to the public. For driving and parking instructions, visit

Martha M. Daniels, a member of the present generation of Mary Chesnut’s family and author of a recently published book on Chesnut, will be the featured speaker. Last year Daniels and her family gave USC nearly 200 Civil War-era photos and three albums that had belonged to Chesnut. The gift reunited the photos, portraits called cartes de visite, with Chesnut’s diary, widely heralded as one of that era’s greatest works of literature. Among the photos are ones of Lincoln, Stonewall Jackson and Lee, along with those of everyday people, including Chesnut’s slave and business partner, Molly.

Some of the photos will be on display at the symposium. 

Other speakers include Dr. Walter Edgar, the popular host of S.C. Educational Radio’s “Walter Edgar’s Journal” and director of USC’s Institute for Southern Studies; Dr. James Kibler, retired University of Georgia English professor who wrote the foreword to Daniels’ book on the photograph albums, and Henry Fulmer, curator of manuscripts at the South Caroliniana Library, which houses the Chesnut Collection.

Fulmer will give opening remarks. Edgar will talk about events of that era, particularly the turmoil in the Palmetto State; Kibler will discuss Mary Chesnut as novelist and her incorporation of autobiographical details in her writings, and Daniels will discuss Chesnut’s life, her writing and the collection.  

Fulmer said the timing of the event, during Women’s History Month, is a fitting tribute to Chesnut and a meaningful way to recognize the importance of the collection to South Carolinians and history and literary scholars around the world.

 “Mary Boykin Chesnut was a remarkable woman who, figuratively speaking, had a front-row seat that allowed her to witness a dramatic time in our nation’s history,” Fulmer said. “She was well educated, gracious and quite resourceful, and survives, through her writing, as an inspirational example of perseverance and courage.”     

Chesnut (1823-1886) was the daughter of a South Carolina governor and wife of U.S. Sen. James Chesnut Jr. of South Carolina, who was an aide to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Well-educated and well-spoken, she was perfectly positioned to observe Civil War events as they unfolded. She wrote about them in her extensive diary, which she began in February 1861. That April, after receiving a photo album as a gift from former South Carolina Gov. John Hugh Means, she began to collect photographs.

“Mary Chesnut was in a remarkable place in time, and she could see the unstoppable coming – the Civil War,” Daniels said.

The gift announcement coincided with the publication of Daniels’ book on Chesnut, a two-volume set published by Pelican Publishing Company in October 2011 that includes “Mary Chesnut's Illustrated Diary from Dixie,” and “Mary Chesnut's Civil War Photograph Album.” Daniels and Mulberry Plantation archivist Barbara McCarthy collaborated on the work. Mulberry, located near Camden, is the Chesnut family ancestral home where Mary and James Chesnut lived for a time before and after the Civil War.

Edgar interviewed Daniels and Fulmer about the collection last fall on his radio show. Listen to it at