A fresh biography of a neglected figure in Southern history who played a pivotal role in the Civil War.
In the predawn hours of April 12, 1861, James Chesnut Jr. piloted a small skiff across the Charleston Harbor and delivered the fateful order to open fire on Fort Sumter—the first shots of the Civil War. In The Man Who Started the Civil War, Anna Koivusalo offers the first comprehensive biography of Chesnut and through him a history of honor and emotion in elite white southern culture. Koivusalo reveals the dynamic, and at times fragile, nature of these concepts as they were tested and transformed from the era of slavery through Reconstruction. Best remembered as the husband of Mary Boykin Chesnut, author of A Diary from Dixie, James Chesnut served in the South Carolina legislature and as a US senator before becoming a leading figure in the South's secession from the Union. Koivusalo recounts how honor and emotion shaped Chesnut's life events and the decisions that culminated in the cataclysm of civil war. Challenging the traditional view of honor as a code, Koivusalo illuminates honor's vital but fickle role as a source for summoning, channeling, and expressing emotion in the nineteenth-century South.