Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams during the Civil War (Civil War America) Hardcover – March 20, 2017
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A wonderful window into the inner lives of Americans--soldier and civilian, white and black, men and women--during the Civil War Era.--Journal of the Civil War Era
The quoted letters create a sense of intimacy with wartime lives that is eerie and intense, at times rivaling the highest achievements of art.--Pacific Standard
Well illustrated throughout and deeply researched, Midnight in America brings that world much closer to our own.--North Carolina Historical Review
A wide-ranging and fascinating study. . . . Reminds us of the haunting effects war can (and does) have on its participants long after the fighting ends.--Lesley J. Gordon, Civil War Monitor
Midnight in America is a clear-sighted testament to the ways in which soldiers and loved ones at home alike willed themselves to "visit" in dreams, saw prophetic possibilities, and generally coped with psychological trauma.--The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
White's prodigious research, conveyed in clear, coherent prose, spotlights an underutilized resource for historians and enthusiasts to use in understanding the personal impact of the war and its effect on postwar lives.--America's Civil War
Midnight in America takes a unique look at a rather pedestrian part of human existence—sleep and dreams—and how the experience of war and separation from loved ones often revealed underlying anxieties, fears, and hopes through individual dreams. Mining an astonishing amount of primary source material, White brings us closer . . . to the common soldier, often right into the private exchanges between spouses sharing their most tender dreams of the other.--The History Shelf
A testament to the continuing value of American studies.--The Journal of American History
White is in the vanguard of young historians whose work brings a different, but vitally significant view of activities and events surrounding the Civil War.--Daily Press
In a winning combination of marvelous research and creative analysis, Jonathan White examines how Civil War Americans experienced, thought about, and shared their dreams. Thick with clever arguments about war and society, Midnight in America illustrates how we might learn from the murky world of sleep and dreams and wartime.--J. Matthew Gallman, author of Defining Duty in the Civil War
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The book is broken into topical sections rather than chronology. It starts with how people then regarded dreams--sometimes as meaningful, sometimes as just longing for home and peace. Chapter 2 considers soldiers' dreams, which were often of home, of family, of clean beds and family companionship). Confederate and Federal seem to have been similar in their dreams. White notes that extreme sleep deprivation was common and may have had a considerable impact on how people acted. Soldiers' dreams seem to have been largely positive, of home and comfort, Chapter 3 looks at civilians' dreams, often those of wives worried about husbands in the army, and often indicating loneliness and worry. During the War married couples seem often to have discussed dreams with each other and in letters. These two chapters together are intriguing.
Chapter 4 is on African Americans' dreams, and these are largely recalled long after the event. Dreams of freedom, of flight, dreams of family long since sold away, interesting and could be expanded into a book. Chapter 5 considers dreams of dying. and includes family dreaming of soldier's death and soldiers of their own. These were discussed in letters, and also the phenomenon of last words of the dying, to which White generally gives credit, arguing that at the time the deathbed had great cultural significance. Some soldiers had dreams they thought were presentiments of death, and of course there were many stories about these because enough came true (given the high casualty rate, that's logical).. Chapter 6 discusses dreams in popular culture, and includes a look at the exceedingly sentimental songs and poetry of the day, and a sort of illustration/picture genre of the "soldier's dream," depicting a sleeping soldier dreaming of home.
The last chapter examines the story of Lincoln dreaming of his own death; it's an intriguing tale, and White says it is probably a fabrication.
There is a brief epilogue and a short appendix note on his methodology. There are some nice illustration, especially a couple by the popular engraver Thomas Nast, showing Jeff Davis having a nightmare of being hanged for treason.
White uses first-hand accounts of dreams written in journals and newspapers and excerpts from documents talking about sleep. It makes for an interesting read and is illustrated with contemporary artwork and photos. Well worth taking time for, especially if you're a Civil War reader.