The Vietnam Returning Vet Experience

From Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep and Dreams During the Civil War by Jonathan W. White

Sex, love and marriage were not the only motifs in dreams that re­vealed anxieties about potential abandonment. Soldiers' deep-seated fears of being forsaken or forgotten appeared in dreams in a number of differ­ent ways. One soldier dreamed "that every friend I ever had had left me," except his little daughter, Kate. "She alone remained to comfort me. I could see her little, sweet face saying 'don't cry papa.' I waked with my face wet with tears." Some soldiers dreamed about the loss of their spouse or a child. Upon receiving word from his wife that his infant son was sick, one help­less Confederate soldier "dreamed about him several times and ... was uneasy." Alexander Campbell of the Seventy-Ninth New York Infantry similarly "had a verry strange Dream" about his children dying. After de­scribing the vision to his wife, he concluded that "it would not doe of one was to beleive dreams to be true. I hope that one of mines is not true." In other cases, soldiers dreamt that their children grew up while they were away at war, turning the child into an adult they did not know. Such home­sick dreams could be very impactful for lonely soldiers, with one man writing that they gave him the "blues."

Some soldiers feared that their friends and family would desert them in their cause. Lieutenant Hadley wrote his sweetheart about a dream he had during the long, hot summer of 1863. "Mary I am not a believer in dreams this I believe I have before told you nor do I attach any importance to their Revelations," he wrote, "but I had one the other night so singular so unlike any I ever before had in the service that I make no excuse for unfolding it to you." He proceeded to recount his dream in great detail. He was on picket duty, camped out in an abandoned Southern theater. "The war was over. Peace was smiling in the door of evry household. Our bloody hands had been washed in the waters of the Potomac. Our sabres had been returned to their scabbards. Our arms stacked on completely and honorably finishing our task we boarded the cars for home."

The nation was rejoicing, he continued. "There was singing and danc­ing and 'much merry making.' Evry heart danced light upon the expecta­tions of soon seeing the 'loved ones at home.'" Soon Hadley and his comrades had made it back to Indiana, but the soldiers were "disappointed" by what they encountered. They expected to be greeted by "bright eyes" but instead they were shunned:

The hearts that we expected to see swell with gratitude for what we had done in restoring their Government were turned aside in cold and haughty indifference. The tongues, which we expected would be busy in welcoming us among them again were mute only in blasphem­ing the name of Soldier. Mothers were there, but they prefered the hand of the son who had stayed by her side. Sisters were there but they prefered the sosiety of brothers who remained dreaming behind & had not the tawny & worn look of the soldier.

Maidens were there whoes hearts had once been given, but were now reclaimed & posessed by those who hated the profession of war. Shuned and disowned by all we turned, enraged, heart-broken and distressed, from the mothers who bore us, from the board that had nourished us, from the friends that had once owned us; and when I awoke we were tossing on a bark which was bearing us to Sanfransisco.

When he awoke the next morning, Hadley assured his sweetheart, "Of course I don't believe anything it tells—glad I don't." He was confident that those at home would not succumb to the treasonable appeals of the Copperheads—nor lose heart in the war—and he told her that he would "sweat & march, & fight evryday with increased enthusiasm."27 Still, Had­ley's dream revealed some of the tensions soldiers felt with those they per­ceived as traitors at home. When things seemed to be going badly at the front—and peace sentiment gained traction among civilians—soldiers in the field, of both armies, worried that friends and neighbors at home might abandon the cause and neglect the soldiers. While Hadley professed not to have possessed such fears, his dream life revealed the grave concerns he har­bored deep within.