A Civil War Biography

James Chesnut, Jr.

Chesnut was born 18 January 1815 in Kershaw County near Camden, South Carolina. He was graduated from the law department of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, in 1837. He was admitted to the bar that same year and established a law practice in Camden. He was a member of the South Carolina state legislature from 1842 until 1858, serving in the house of representatives for 12 years until moving to the state senate in 1854. He was a delegate to the Southern States Convention at Nashville, Tennessee in 1850. He served 4 years in the state senate until elected as a Democrat to the US Senate to fill the vacancy created by the death of Josiah J Evans. Chesnut served in the US Senate from 3 December 1858 until 10 November 1860 when, without resigning, he left Washington DC to return to South Carolina. He was one of ten Southerners expelled from the Senate in absentia on 11 July 1861 for support of the rebellion. He was a delegate to the South Carolina secession convention. He was a delegate from South Carolina to the Confederate Provisional Congress, serving from1861 until 1862 and was known as one of the framers of the Confederate Constitution.

As a colonel, Chesnut was on PGT Beauregard's staff during the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Prior to the bombardment Chesnut and then Captain, later Lieutenant General, Stephen Dill Lee delivered the formal demand for surrender to Robert Anderson, the Union commander in the fort. Prior to First Manassas Chesnut was dispatched to Richmond to present Confederate President Jefferson Davis with Beauregard's plans. On 19 April 1962, after Chesnut's term in Congress expired and Beauregard was transferred, Chesnut was appointed aide de camp to Davis with the rank of colonel of cavalry. Chesnut was promoted to brigadier general 0n 23 April 1864 and took command of the reserve forces of South Carolina. He remained in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida for the remainder of the war. He was surrendered on 26 April 1865 along with Joseph E Johnston's forces at Bennett Place, North Carolina.

After the war, Chesnut returned to his law practice in Camden. He worked to end carpetbagger rule in South Carolina. In 1868 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He died on 1 February 1885 at "Mulberry", his estate near Camden.

On 23 April 1840 Chesnut had married Mary Boykin Miller. She was the daughter of former South Carolina Governor Stephen Decatur Miller. Mary Boykin Chesnut is remembered for her wartime personal journal which was originally published under the title, "Diary from Dixie" in 1905.

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