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

By Jonathan W. White | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Dreams in Popular Culture

Soldiers’ sleep and dreams appeared in newspapers, prints, songs, and poetry. The most famous sleeping sentinel, Pvt. William Scott of the Third Vermont Infantry, became something of a celebrity in the Union. His story evolved into a powerful morality tale that not only taught soldiers to do their duty but also showed the nation that their commander-in-chief was a kind-hearted man. Newspapers throughout the country published stories on the subject of Lincoln’s pardon. Most editors praised his decision but called for stern punishment against future offenders. In an editorial entitled “A Lesson,” the Washington, D.C., Sunday Morning Chronicle implored soldiers to stay awake at their posts so that Lincoln would not be compelled to approve a sentence of execution in the future. A Vermont newspaper echoed this sentiment: “It is to be published for the benefit of all the troops that the pardon is granted because it is the first offense of the kind and an intimation will be given that the President will not interpose again.” This prediction, of course, proved patently false.

The residents of Scott’s hometown celebrated the news of his pardon, and Scott’s father travelled to Washington to personally thank the president. For his part, Private Scott became the beau ideal of a soldier. He is reported to have said, “I will show President Lincoln that I am not afraid to die for my country.” He did just that a few months later. On April 16, 1862, he fell at the Battle of Dam One, near Lee’s Mills, Virginia, reportedly saying as he died, “Tell President Lincoln that I thank him for his generous regard for me, when a poor soldier under the sentence of death.”1 He is buried in the Yorktown National Cemetery.

Upon dying, Scott’s star soared in the American firmament. In 1863, Francis De Haes Janvier published “The Sleeping Sentinel,” a poem that instantly gained a wide readership throughout the North. On January 19, 1863, “the celebrated elocutionist” James E. Murdoch read “The Sleeping Sentinel” before an audience at the White House, which included the president and first lady. Later that day, Murdoch read the poem in the Senate chamber at the U.S. Capitol, again with Abraham and Mary Lincoln in attendance. A few weeks later, on February 5, Murdoch read it at the American Acad emy of Music in Philadelphia before a throng of three thousand.

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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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