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In Their Own Words

March 18, 1861

Diary Entry from Augusta, Georgia

After having attended the Provisional Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Ala. with her husband, Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote in her diary from Augusta while returning to South Carolina:

“Yesterday on the [train] cars we had a mad woman raving at being separated from her daughter. It excited me so, I quickly took opium, that I kept up. It enables me to retain every particle of mind or sense or brains I ever have, so quiets my nerves that I can calmly reason take rational views of things otherwise maddening. Then a drunken preacher began to console a “bereaved widow.” He quoted more fluently the scripture than I ever have heard it - the beast! … Here I am [in Augusta, Georgia] for Sunday have refused to accept overtures for peace forgiveness. After my stormy youth, I did so hope for peace tranquil domestic happiness. There is none for me in this world… .

“This long dreary Sunday in Augusta. If I can, I will try to forget it forever… .

“I am afraid Mr. C[hesnut] will not please the democracy. He said aloud in the [train] cars he wished we could have separate coaches like the English get away from those whiskey drinking, tobacca chewing rascals rabble. I was scared somebody might have taken it up, now every body is armed. The night before we left Montgomery, a man was shot in the street for a trifle, Mr. [William Montague] Browne expressed his English horror, but was answered - it was only a cropping out of the right temper! The Lord have mercy on our devoted land… . I wonder if it be a sin to think slavery a curse to any land. [Senator Charles] Sumner [of Massachusetts] said not one word of this hated institution which is not true. Men women are punished when their masters mistresses are brutes not when they do wrong - then we live surrounded by prostitutes. An abandoned woman is sent out of any decent house elsewhere. Who thinks any worse of a Negro or Mulatto woman for being a thing we can’t name. God forgive us, but our is a monstrous system wrong iniquity. Perhaps the rest of the world is as bad. This only I see: like the patriarchs of old our men live all in one house with their wives their concubines, the Mulattoes one sees in every family exactly resemble the white children - every lady tells you who is the father of all the Mulatto children in every body’s household, but those in her own, she seems to think drop from the clouds or pretends so to think - Good women we have, but they talk of all nastiness - tho they never do wrong, they talk day night of [six unrecoverable words, apparently a quote]. My disgust sometimes is boiling over - but they are, I believe, in conduct the purest women God ever made. Thank God for my country women - alas for the men! No worse than men every where, but the lower their mistresses, the more degraded they must be.

“My mother in law told me when I was first married not to send my female servants in the street on errands. They were there tempted, led astray - then she said placidly, “So they told me when I came here - I was very particular, but you see with what result.” Mr. Harris said it was so patriarchal. So it is - flocks herds slaves - wife Leah does not suffice. Rachel must be added, if not married [a reference to Genesis, chapters 29 and 30]. all the time they seem to think themselves patterns - models of husbands fathers… . Again I say, my countrywomen are as pure as angels - tho surrounded by another race who are - the social evil!”

Source: C. Vann Woodward and Elisabeth Muhlenfeld, eds., The Private Mary Chesnut: The Unpublished Civil War Diaries [New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984], pp. 30-33.