Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut (March 31, 1823 – November 22, 1886) was a South Carolina woman famous for keeping an extremely detailed diary describing the American Civil War.
She was born in Stateburg, South Carolina, to Mary Boykin and Stephen Decatur Miller, who had been a U.S. Senator and governor of South Carolina. On April 23, 1840, she married James Chesnut, Jr., who was elected to the Senate in 1850. Once the Civil War broke out, James became an aide to Jefferson Davis and a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. They lived in Charleston, South Carolina.
Mary's diary began on February 15, 1861, and ended on August 2, 1865. Because she had no children, the diary passed to one of her friends upon her death. It was first published in 1905 as A Diary from Dixie, and an expanded edition was published in 1949. Yet another edition, edited by C. Vann Woodward and entitled Mary Chesnut's Civil War, was published in 1981 and won a Pulitzer Prize the following year.
Readings from her diary play an important role in the documentary television series, The Civil War by Ken Burns.
On March 1, 2000, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that the James and Mary Boykin Chesnut House in Camden, South Carolina, had been designated as a National Historic Landmark due to its importance to America's national heritage.
The plantation house was the location in which Mary Boykin Chesnut resided when she recorded in her diary events of the Civil War and her observations on their effect on the home front and southern society. Her diary is acknowledged by literary scholars as the most important piece of literature produced by a Confederate author.