Dreams of War and Peace: How Americans Experienced the Civil War in their Sleep

Time Period
1861 to 1876
Media Type
Civil War
Jonathan W. White

On April 27, 2017, Jonathan W. White delivered a Banner Lecture entitled “Dreams of War and Peace: How Americans Experienced the Civil War in their Sleep.” The Civil War placed new and unique strains on nineteenth-century Americans, and their nightly visions reflected those hardships. Sometimes the war intruded on people’s slumber, vividly bringing to life the horrors of the conflict. For others, nighttime was an escape from the hard realities of life and death in wartime. In this talk, Jonathan W. White will explore what dreams meant to Civil War-era Americans, and how their dreams reveal that generation’s deepest longings—their hopes and fears, desires and struggles, and guilt and shame. When Americans recorded their dreams in their diaries, letters and memoirs, they sought to make sense of the changing world around them, and to cope with the confusion, despair, and loneliness of life amid the turmoil of a war the likes of which they had never imagined.

Dr. Jonathan W. White is associate professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University. He is the author of several books, including Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams during the Civil War (2017).

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Want to listen to an audio-only version of this lecture? Listen now on Soundcloud.