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James Chesnut was born in Camden, South Carolina on January 18, 1815 at the family residence. In 1837 he graduated from the College of New Jersey ( now known as Princeton University ), admitted to the bar in the same year, and went on to establish his law practice back in Camden.
In 1840* he was elected to the Legislature of South Carolina where he aquired a reputation for eloquence and ability. He served in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
In 1858 he was elected to the United States Senate from South Carolina after Senator Josiah James Evans died. He resigned from the Senate after South Carolina adopted the Ordinance of Seccession.

At Fort Sumter and First Manassas he was aide-de-camp to General Beauregard: Prior to the bombardment of Fort Sumter he presented the commander ( Major Robert Anderson )of the garrison there the formal demand of surrender and was dispatched to president Jefferson Davis at the first Battle Of Manassas with Beauregard's plan of battle.

For the greater part of the Civil War, Chesnut served on the staff of Jefferson Davis with the rank of Colonel of the Cavalry. This position provided his wife, Mary Boykin Miller, with an insider's view of the Confederate Social circles of the times, and provided her with the material for her famous book "Diary From Dixie".

In 1864, seeking a field command, Chesnut was appointed to Command of the Reserves in South Carolina, and given the rank of Brigadier General.
Chesnut resumed his law practice following the war, and worked hard to reverse the ill fortunes that befell the state following the Civil War.
He passed away on February 1st, 1885.

* Some information lists 1842 as his first start in politics.