The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

therefore, is appropriate. He deserves praise for a well-written synthe-
sis of an unusual topic. The book stands alone, somewhat like Nel-
son M. Blake's Water for the Cities. There are no others on the sub-
ject, and few urban biographies even mention dumps. Even though
Melosi must endure the teasing of his Texas A8M colleagues who refer
to him as the "garbage historian," he can draw comfort from the suc-
cessful exposure of an important topic in environmental and urban
history.
Colorado State University DAVID MCCOMB
Mary Chesnut's Civil War. Edited by C. Vann Woodward. (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1981. Pp. lviii+886. Introduction,
illustrations, index. $29.95.)
Mary Boykin Chesnut: A Biography. By Elisabeth Muhlenfeld. Fore-
word by C. Vann Woodward. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Uni-
versity Press, 1981. Pp. xv+271. Foreword, illustrations, bibliog-
raphy, index. $20.)
Mary Boykin Chesnut's account of the Civil War, published in 19o5
and 1949 editions as A Diary from Dixie, has long been recognized as
a classic. Among the qualifications of the good diarist that Mary en-
joyed was a generous endowment of luck. "It was a way I had," as she
herself put it, "always to stumble in on the real show" (MCCW, p.
535). As the wife of James Chesnut, Jr., a South Carolina planter-
politician, she spent the year 1859-186o in Washington. She was in
Montgomery for the founding and early months of the Confederacy,
in Charleston for the attack on Fort Sumter, in the Confederate capi-
tal of Richmond at various critical periods, and in Columbia on the
eve of its fall to Sherman. Her "world" comprised a large part of the
Confederacy's political, military, social, and economic elite. The Ches-
nuts were confidantes of the beleaguered Confederate president, Jeffer-
son Davis, and his wife Varina.
In Patriotic Gore, his magisterial study of Civil War literature, Ed-
mund Wilson called Mrs. Chesnut's diary "an extraordinary document
-in its informal department, a masterpiece" (p. 279). But it was also,
he shrewdly noted, "a work of art" (p. 279). The diarist's instinct was
uncanny. Starting out with situations or relationships of which she
could not know the outcome, she had taken advantage of the actual
turn of events to develop and round them out "as if she were molding
a novel" (pp. 279-280). Wilson was particularly captivated by the

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101209/. Accessed October 23, 2014.