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    MARY CHESTNUT'S CIVIL WAR PHOTOGRAPH ALBUM - AN HISTORICAL TREASURE. Mary Boykin Chestnut, already well-known for generations because of the diaries she kept during the Civil War, was made a household name after Ken Burns' television series The Civil War. Burns relied heavily on her detailed accounts of life in the Confederacy as he created his award-winning picture of the war that aired on public television across the nation in 1990.

    Mary was an intelligent chronicler of the struggle, and she wrote of her associations with President Jefferson Davis, famous Confederate generals and civilians, and even of Abraham Lincoln. Her positions as a prominent socialite in her native South Carolina and wife of a Confederate general gave her rich insights. Her husband served as President Davis' personal aide, later rising to the rank of brigadier general.

    As she created her magnificent diary, she also collected a remarkable photograph album containing an amazing 211 carte de visite photographs of Confederate generals, politicians, and Chestnut family members. Many of the images are autographed by the sitters with the identifications of the sitters and entries added to the album in Mary's own hand. She started the collection after she was given one of the albums by South Carolina governor John Means. In her diary, later published as A Diary From Dixie and Mary Chestnut's Civil War, she noted the gift as occurring on March 28, 1861. "(Governor Manning) presented me with a book," she wrote in her elegant prose, "... for which I am to pillory all celebrities", she joked.

    She would accumulate the photographs over the course of the war and often made reference to the albums in her diary. She once showed the album to small boy who upon seeing the photograph of Abraham Lincoln, took the album from her hand and "placed the book on the floor and struck old Abe in the face with his fist." Many more references are of historical significance such as the presentation of the carte de visite of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Mary by Lee's own wife. "That day Mrs. Lee gave me a likeness of the General, a photograph taken soon after the Mexican War. She likes it so much better than the later ones. He was certainly a handsome man then - handsomer than even now. I shall prize it for Mrs. Lee's sake, too."

    Mary was the child of a prominent South Carolina politician, Senator Stephen Decatur Miller. She married James Chestnut, one of South Carolina's largest slaveholders and owner of Mulberry Plantation where they went to live upon their marriage. James was elected to the United States Senate in 1858, and he took Mary to Washington, DC where she made fast friends with the social and political elite. Many of these friends would become immortalized in this photograph album as she collected their images which survive today. After the election of Abraham Lincoln, James Chestnut resigned his Senate seat and ultimately traveled to Montgomery, Alabama where he served as a delegate to the Confederate Provisional Congress. All the while, Mary was at his side, serving as a host for the burgeoning Confederacy's elite, laying the groundwork for the collecting of historic photographs.

    Some of the noteworthy individuals include the following luminaries photographed by the most famous photographers of the war: General Robert E. Lee; Governor Francis Pickens of South Carolina; Isaac Hayne, Attorney General of South Carolina; General William W. Harlee, Postmaster General of South Carolina; Governor James Adams of South Carolina; General James Jones, leader of the 'Minutemen' of South Carolina; Beaufort T. Watts, Secretary to Governor Francis Pickens of South Carolina; Governor John L. Manning of South Carolina; General Louis T. Wigfall; General John S. Preston; Captain Francis J. Hartstene of the Confederate States Navy; General P.G.T. Beauregard; Lieutenant John Randolph Hamilton of the Confederate States Navy; Captain Langdon Cheves, designer of Battery Wagner; Colonel L. M. Keitt of the 23rd South Carolina Infantry and member of the Confederate Congress who was killed during the war; Mrs. Greenbow and her daughter who were imprisoned in the old Capitol, Washington, D.C.; Colonel Daniel Hamilton; Colonel F. S. Bartow; General Barnard E. Bee; Colonel William Preston Johnson; William Montague Browne, the Confederate Secretary of State; General John S. Preston; Colonel P. A. Stockton; Sidney. S. Lee of the Confederate States Navy; Colonel Edward Mortimer Boykin of the 7th South Carolina Infantry; Robert E. Lee's daughters, Agnes Lee and Mary Custis Lee; Lee's son, Major General George Washington Custis Lee; Mrs. Jefferson Davis and Edmund Ruffin, the man who fired the first shot at Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War.

    Among the many autographed cartes de visite are images of General Robert E. Lee; Confederate President Jefferson Davis; Colonel Robert Wilson Gibbs, Surgeon General of the Confederate army of South Carolina; General John Bell Hood; General Simon Bolivar Buckner (double signed); General James J. Archer; General Edward Johnson; Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens, and Confederate Navy Lieutenant George Bryan of Florida.

    The images are of superb quality and are by the most famous photographers of the war - Matthew Brady and the noted Quinby and Company of Charleston, South Carolina which include the rare and highly sought-after South Carolina palmetto Quinby stamps on the reverse. Among the images are politicians such as Abraham Lincoln, shown beardless; James Buchanan; Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney; Henry Clay; Horace Greeley; Charles Sumner and, perhaps oddly, the images of abolitionists Henry Ward Beecher and Cassius M. Clay, among many others. The album includes images of Mary herself along with poignant photographs of her husband and family as well.

    Mary Chestnut's photo album has been noted in such well-known Civil War books as William A. Turner's Even More Confederate Faces where the Civil War historian notes that the album was passed from Mary's hands to those of her niece Mary Williams and ultimately collected by Erick Davis who made various pencil notations on the reverse of the cartes de visite. Mary's handwriting on the photographs is left untouched, a remarkable catalog of faces collected by the famous diarist of the Civil War.

    The Moroccan leather albums have separated at the bindings. The photographs are in excellent condition with the handwriting strong and distinct.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2007
    1st Saturday
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