View Full Version : Morphine as a sleeping aid

Steve Acker
05-09-2008, 08:59 AM
I am reading the journal of Captain Charles E. Waddell of the 12th Virginia, thanks to the MOC offering it to members, and came across the following.

"I was nearly exhausted when we reached bivouac & threw myself on the ground to sleep but was so wearied were my limbs, sleep for a while was not obtained. When, however Morhine wrapped one in his embraces I slept profoundly & awoke just before sunrise."

First time I read about a soldier taking a sleeping aid so I wanted to share it.

Steve Acker

05-09-2008, 10:05 AM
This was actually more common a habit than you might think, particularly amongst Union officers, as the "luxury" of morphine was not easily obtained by the common foot soldier; North or South. Union officers, however, particularly those with gracious company surgeons at hand, had easy access to the substance and in many instances relied on it quite readily. I have both heard of and have read numerous accounts of morphine use, as well as the occasional admittance of opium consumption. Keep in mind, this was a time in history when men, particularly young men, were not necessarily proud of the vices which they may have taken part in. Therefore, the major theme was mostly consumption and indulgence over that of documentation.

Dale Beasley
05-09-2008, 10:12 AM

Good reading, like I have said many times before...the Army has not changed much.

05-09-2008, 01:43 PM
Look carefully at the original before making this conclusion, as handwritten documents often have room for interpretation of spelling which may lead to a different meaning.

In the literary culture of the Civil War era, classical tales were well known. Morpheus is the Greek god of dreams, the son of Hypnos, god of sleep. The name Morpheus is derived from the Greek word for “shape” or “form.”

References to one being "in the arms of Morpheus" can just as easily refer to someone sleeping deeply for normal reasons, as it can to the use of the narcotic morphine.

Michael Shea
05-09-2008, 10:51 PM
Well as I recall it was 25 cents for the morphine, 15 cents for a beer, 25 cents for the morphine, gonna' drink me away from here....at least that is how the song goes (Soldiers Joy).

Michael Shea
Beer only for me however...unless I get shot!

Hank Trent
05-13-2008, 05:33 PM
References to one being "in the arms of Morpheus" can just as easily refer to someone sleeping deeply for normal reasons, as it can to the use of the narcotic morphine.

Yes, the context of Morpheus wrapping him in an embrace makes this seem much more obviously a reference to just plain old sleeping, rather than taking the drug morphine as a sleep aid. Are those who are assuming this is about the drug morphine familiar with that period phrase? If so, why do you feel this is a reference to the drug instead?

I'd really like to see the original handwriting, because I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it could be transcribed as some mispelling of "Morpheus" rather than "morphine," and the morphine is a modern transcriber's assumption who wasn't familiary with "Morpheus."

Also, there's the issue that "laudanum" or "opium" would be more common words for a sleep aid than morphine. Morphine of course was used and common--I'm not disputing that. I'm just saying that with a choice between a very common metaphoric phrase about sleep, and a reference to a slightly less common sleep aid phrased in an unusual way, I'd put my money on the god Morpheus.

Hank Trent

05-13-2008, 08:25 PM
Hank knows all there is to know about morphine, all the other names and every type. He spent an entire event as a a junkie.:confused_


Roy Queen
05-14-2008, 10:19 PM
In the book, "Dan McCook's Regiment" (history of the 52nd OVI) mention is made of the regiment's doctor accidentally overdosing on morphine and being found dead in his tent during winter quarters in 1864.

Roy Queen