Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams during the Civil War

By Jonathan W. White | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Dreams of the Dying

In the wee hours of the morning of May 2, 1863, during the Battle of Chancellorsville, Confederate general Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson’s sword was leaning against a tree. Then, without any “apparent cause,” it fell to the ground “with a clank.” Col. A. L. Long of Robert E. Lee’s staff picked up the saber and handed it to Jackson. But the incident “impressed me at the time as an omen of evil,” Long later recalled, “an indefinable superstition such as sometimes affects persons on the falling of a picture or mirror.” Long was “haunted” by ill feelings all day and suspected that something bad would soon befall the general.1

Later that day, Stonewall Jackson led a devastating assault against superior Federal numbers. But the attack had begun too late in the day for him to complete his work, so that evening he rode out to survey the situation to see if a night attack was possible. On his way back toward the Confederate lines, nervous North Carolinians opened fire on Jackson and his men, mortally wounding nine or ten men and hitting Jackson three times. The general’s left arm was amputated at 3 A.M. on the morning of May 3 and was buried. Over the next few days, Jackson passed in and out of delirium, and faced restless nights with labored sleep. After he contracted pneumonia, his suffering only increased.

By May 10, it was clear that he would die soon. Jackson slipped in and out of consciousness; the loud ticking of the clock in the bedroom where he lay apparently sounded in his ears like cannon-fire and the crack of muskets. “Push up the columns!” he ordered in a dreamlike state. “Hasten the columns! Pendleton, you take charge of that! Where’s Pendleton? Tell him to push up the column!” His mind moved through the previous few battles of the war in reverse chronological order: Antietam, Second Bull Run, the 1862 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, and First Bull Run. He traveled further backwards in time. He was now an instructor at VMI, now with his friends and family, now in the Mexican-American War, now a cadet at West Point. Finally, his mind took him back to his childhood, to the place where he had been raised—Jackson’s Mill and the West Fork River. “Let us cross over the river,” he said, “and rest under the shade of the trees.” With that, he died. Jackson’s wife, Anna, later remembered, “All at once he spoke out

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Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams during the Civil War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • Chapter One - The Soldier’s Rest 1
  • Chapter Two - The Soldier’s Dream 27
  • Chapter Three - Civilians’ Dreams 52
  • Chapter Four - African American Dreams 81
  • Chapter Five - Dreams of the Dying 101
  • Chapter Six - Dreams in Popular Culture 121
  • Chapter Seven - Lincoln’s Dreams of Death 149
  • Epilogue - It Seems like a Dream 173
  • Note on Method 185
  • Acknowledgments 189
  • Notes 191
  • Bibliography 229
  • Index 261
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