James Chesnut was a graduate of Princeton University. He served as a Senator from South Carolina prior to the Civil War. He was the first southern Senator to resign his seat after the election Abraham Lincoln to President. He served as a general in the Confederate Army and served on President Jefferson Davis' staff.
From an article written by Lawrence L. Hewitt:
"James Chesnut, Jr.
James Chesnut, Jr., was born on January 18, 1815, in Camden, Kershaw County, South Carolina, where his family had been prominent since the French and Indian War. The youngest of thirteen children and the first cousin of future Confederate Bridagier General Zacharia C. Deas, James graduated with honors from Princeton in 1835. He read law in Charleston under the renowned James Louis Petigru, joined the bar in 1837, and began his practice in Camden. He Mary Boykin Miller, the daughter of a former governor of the state, on April 23, 1840.
A state's rights Democrat, Chesnut represented the Kershaw District in the lower house of the South Carolina General Assembly from 1840-1846 and 1850-1852; he served in the upper houses from 1854 to 1858, the latter two years as president. He represented his state at the Nashville Convention in 1850, where he advocated secession. Following the death of Senator Josiah J. Evans in 1858, Chesnut became a U.S. Senator. His abilities as an orator quickly made him a conspicuous member of that chamber, as did his defense of slavery: "commerce, civilization, and Christianity go hand in hand, and their conjoint efforts receive their chief earthly impulse from this reviled institution."
With the secession of his native state imminent, Chesnut resigned from the Senate on November 10, 1860. Representing the Kershaw District at the South Carolina convention, he served on the committe that drafted the Ordinant of Secession. As a member the Provisional Congress at the Confederate States in 1861, he served on the committee that drafted that nation's permanent constitution and he tried to have the slave trade reopened. He served on the Committees of Naval Affairs and the Territories and supported the Davis Administration.
His initial military service began in Charleston where he served as an aid on Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard's staff with the rank of colonel in April 1861. Along with Captain Stephen Lee, Chesnut delivered messages from Beauregard to Major Robert Anderson demanding the surrender of Fort Sumter. The two zealous Confederates have been charged with the responsibility of bringing about the firing on the fort; however, this accusation is unfounded.
Chesnut continued to serve on Beauregard's staff following the general's transfer to Virginia. Beauregard gave Chesnut the honor of presenting his plan of cooperating with General Joseph E. Johnston in July of 1861 to President Jefferson Davis and, consequently, Chesnut became the key witness in the dispute between Davis and Beauregard following the First Battle of Manassas.
Chesnut left Confederate service early in 1862 to accept an appointment by South Carolina's governor to serve as chief of militia on the state's executive council, a position he resigned from in November to become an aide to Davis with the rank of colonel of cavalry. As a ranking member of Davis' staff, Chesnut faced extensive, demanding, and varied duties, a natural outgrowth of Davis' confidence in the judgement of this "cool, quiet, self-poised colonel." In September 1863, Chesnut met with Governors Joseph E. Brown of Georgia and John G. Shorter of Alabama on behalf of Davis to urge them to send reinforcements to northwestern Georgia. Following General Braxton Bragg's victory Chickamauga, Chesnut inspected Bragg's forces encircling Chattanooga. He notified Davis on October 5: "Your immediate pressence in this army is urgently demanded." Davis hastened west, but left it to Chesnut to solve the personal animosities between Bragg and his subordinates. Although Chesnut repeatedly notified Davis that no reconciliation seemed possible between the aggrieved parties and urged the President to reassign Bragg to Richmond, Davis adamantly refused. Chesnut departed Bragg's command in October but Davis, at Bragg's request, ordered him to return on November 1 to ascertain the facts regarding the intensification of the resentment between Bragg and his officers.
Chesnut, apparently dissatisfied with his staff assignments in late 1863, requested a field command. Davis appointed him a brigadier general on April 23, 1864, to rank immediatly, and seven days later assigned him to command all the reserve forces in South Carolina, a position he held until the end of the war.
During the summer of 1864, Major General Samuel Jones, commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, repeatedly criticized Chesnut for failing to support Jones' Confederate regulars with his reserves. As Union Major General William T. Sherman's forces swept across Georgia and threatened to enter South Carolina, Chesnut received authorization to take on unspecified number of his South Carolina reservists into Georgia; he had reached Augusta by November 23. Six days later he departed Augusta and returned to South Carolina with 1,000 men.
When Chesnut arrived at Grahamville, South Carolina, early on the morning of September 1, one day too late to participate in the Confederate victory there, his command numbered no more than 350 effective soldiers. By December 26, that number had increased to 1,600 men, who were deployed between Honey Hill, Bee's Creek and Dawson' Bluff. Ordered to assist in the defense of Coosawhatchie, Chesnut directed his troops from Grahamville until the end of December. Still Chesnut's superior despite his demotion from head of the department to command of the District of South Carolina, Jones continued his criticism of Chesnut, reporting the latter's failure to promptly forward troops to Coosawhatchie. On January 2, 1865, Chesnut received orders to move his command, now numbering 1,200 effective reservists, to Adam's Run, in the Fourth Sub-District of the District of South Carolina.
On March 7, 1865, Chesnut was transferred to General Joseph E. Johnston's command in Charlotte, North Carolina. The following day Chesnut received orders to leave there and return to South Carolina without his reserves; they would remain with Johnston. On April 21, he was in Chester, South Carolina.
When the fighting ended, Chesnut returned to his law practice in Camden. Although disfranchised because of his positions he had held in the Confederacy, Chesnut laborer to end Reconstruction in South Carolina as quickly as possible. He presided over a convention in 1867 that protested the continued military occupation of his state. In 1868 he served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and two years later as a delegate to the state democratic convention. In 1871 and 1874 he chaired the executive committee of the taxpayers' conventions and during the presidential campaign of 1876 he chaired the Kershaw County Democratic convention.
Chesnut died at Saarsfield, the family plantation near Camden, on Febuary 1, 1885. His wife wrote the illustrious Diary from Dixie, which has appeared in several editions, the most reliable of which is htat edited by C. Vann Woodward in 1981." James
was born at Camden, Kershaw Co., South Carolina
, on 18 January 1815. He was the son of James Chesnut
and Mary Bowes Cox
. He married Mary Boykin Miller
on 26 April 1840. James died on 4 February 1885 at Knights Hill, Kershaw Co., South Carolina
, at age 70. He made a will on 8 February 1885.