Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut (March 31, 1823 – November 22, 1886), was a South Carolina author noted for a book published as her Civil War diary, a "vivid picture of a society in the throes of its life-and-death struggle." She described the war from within her upper-class circles of Southern planter society, but encompassed all classes in her book. She was married to a lawyer who served as a United States senator and Confederate officer. Unlike her husband, Mary secretly held anti-slavery views. Chesnut worked toward a final form of her book in 1881–1884, based on her extensive diary written during the war years. It was published in 1905, 19 years after her death. New versions were published after her papers were discovered, in 1949 and 1981. It has been called the most important work by a Confederate author.
Mary Chesnut was a neighbor of the Lee women in Richmond during the Second American Revolution. She once remarked that the Lees, constantly involved in projects such as knitting clothing for soldiers, were so busy that they reminded her of an industrial school. Young Mary Lee related this statement to her father when he was in the capital on official business. Her mother dismissed Mrs. Chesnut's remarks, refusing to lead idle social entertainments when the men of the Army were starving and in rags. Robert E. Lee told his wife that PresidentDavis had a much more favorable opinion of her activities than did Mrs. Chesnut.