Civil War

The Civil War Vision 

“The Veil” January 12, 1861

     The majority of Ellen White's visions were probably recorded fairly soon after the prophet received them. Sometimes, however, there might be a delay of days, weeks, or even months, in the writing out of details. This was the case of the 1890 Salamanca vision in New York, and the 1894 “plowed furrow” vision of an incident on land that later became Avondale College's campus in Australia.

     Occasionally the Lord's messenger never did get around to writing out a comprehensive account of a vision at all, in which case we today are dependent upon the records of an eyewitness. A good example of this category would be the first health reform vision, given in the autumn of 1848. It was reported by her husband, James White, some 22 years later, in an article in the November 8, 1870, edition of the Review and Herald. 1 

     So also with the background and contents of Mrs. White's first vision revealing important information concerning the yet-future U.S. Civil War. That vision was received at Parkville, St. Joseph County, Michigan, on Sabbath, January 12, 1861.

     Fortunately, SDA historian J. N. Loughborough was present on the latter occasion. He provides a detailed account in his first book, Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists. Although this work was not published until 1892, we may presume that Loughborough wrote down the incident immediately after it took place. In his preface the author states unequivocally, “Since November 1853 I have kept a diary of daily occurrences. The narrative [in this book] from that date is from the record of this diary.” 2 

Parkville is a small village some 30 miles south of Battle Creek, 3 a town so insignificant that today it does not even appear in the Rand McNally Road Atlas map of the state of Michigan. 4 

     J. N. Andrews and J. N. Loughborough conducted an evangelistic campaign in Parkville in 1859, 5 and as a result raised up a small company. That group is identified in the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia as “the first legally organized SDA church,” referring to a ceremony that took place on May 13, 1860. 6 

     Since the corporate name “Seventh-day Adventist” was not adopted until October 1, four and a half months later, 7 at “one of the most significant SDA gatherings up to that time,” 8 this congregation was obliged to choose its own name. Their “articles of association” reveal that they selected the rather cumbersome title of “Parkville Church of  Christ's second advent: taking the Bible as the rule of our faith and discipline!“ 9 

     Doubtless with tongue in cheek, Loughborough, in reporting the event, gently suggested that “perhaps a more appropriate name will be chosen by us as a people; but the church at Parkville concluded to take this name for the present.” 10 

     A church edifice was constructed subsequently, and an announcement of dedication services, set for January 11 and 12, 1861, duly appeared in the columns of the Review and Herald. It invited top church leaders to attend, “and as many more as can come.” 11      At the time appointed, an impressive array of church officials appeared to grace the occasion: James and Ellen White, J. H. Waggoner, Uriah Smith, and Loughborough himself. 12 A “large congregation” assembled to hear them and to enjoy the festivities. 13 

     Waggoner, who had written three books on SDA doctrine before 1860 (reportedly “with clarity and precision”), and who was also known to be an “eloquent” speaker, 14 was chosen to preach the sermon. James White offered the dedicatory prayer. Ellen followed with “a very powerful exhortation.” Moments after she had sat down she was taken off in vision, the duration of which was reported to be “some 20 minutes or more.” 15 

A Spiritualist Discomfited

     Present in the congregation at Parkville that Sabbath was a Dr. Brown, who was a local physician and a spiritualist. (Such practitioners, which flourished in Mrs. White's day, were generally known either as “electric physicians” or as “magnetic healers.”) 16 Dr. Brown had moved to this town in the interim between the close of Loughborough's 1859 evangelistic campaign and the dedication of the church's new edifice on January 12, 1861. 17 

     Interestingly, Brown had sent out his own personal invitations to fellow mediums to attend the dedication, when it became known that Mrs. White would attend and speak. His announcement included these words:

     “Mrs. White is to be there, and you will hear something good, for she consults with a higher grade of spirits than we do. . . . If Mrs. White comes, she will probably have a vision. If she does, I know just what it is, as a physician; and if she has a vision, I will bring her out of it in a minute.” 18 

     While Ellen was in vision her husband stepped forward, as he so often did under similar circumstances, and explained the background and nature of his wife's experience. He invited any present who wished to examine her to do so. This not only provided graphic demonstration of the fact that the supernatural was presently at work, but it also served to destroy the credibility of critics who continued to hurl charges of fraud at the Whites.

     Witness Loughborough picks up the story at this point: “Just then someone in the back part of the house, where the doctor stood, said, ‘Doctor, go ahead and do what you said you would.’ We knew not, as yet, what that meant. Brother White, on learning that there was a doctor in the house, invited him to come forward.

     “The doctor started in a confident, pompous manner; but when he was about halfway down the aisle, he suddenly stopped, turned deathly pale, and began to shake from head to foot. Brother White urged him to come forward, and he advanced about half of the remaining distance, but stopped in more terror than before.

     “Brother White then went to the doctor, put his hand on his shoulder, and urged him forward. The doctor made a careful but hasty examination of the pulse, heart, and breath, and said, ‘Elder, her heart and pulse are all right, but there is not any breath in her body.’ Of course, he found a different case than he expected.

     “When he had finished his examination, he made all haste for the door, trying to get out of the house. Those at the door would not let him out, but said, ‘Go back, and do as you said you would.’ Brother White, seeing the man trying to get out, said, ‘Doctor, please report to the audience the result of your examination.’ The doctor said, ‘Her heart and pulse are all right, but there is not a particle of breath in the woman's body.’

“The people near the door said, ‘Doctor, what is it?’ He replied, ‘God only knows. Let me out of this house.’ They stood back from the door, and he fled. We saw no more of him in our meetings.” 19 

     Judge Osborne, who was present, then said to Loughborough, “It was evident to all of us that the spirit that controlled the doctor as a medium, and the Spirit that controlled Mrs. White in vision, had no sympathy with each other. The doctor's actions made us think of the evil spirits that wanted to know if the Lord had come to torment them before their time [see Matt. 8:29].” 20 

What the Prophet Saw

     What did Mrs. White see in this vision (for she was totally oblivious to the excitement created by Dr. Brown and those who were baiting him during this 20-minute vision)?

     After coming out of vision, Mrs. White addressed the congregation, according to eyewitness Loughborough, and said: “There is not a person in this house who has even dreamed of the trouble that is coming upon this land. People are making sport of the secession ordinance of South Carolina, but I have just been shown that a large number of states are going to join that state, and there will be a most terrible war.

     “In this vision I have seen large armies of both sides gathered on the field of battle. I heard the booming of the cannon, and saw the dead and dying on every hand. Then I saw them rushing up engaged in hand-to-hand fighting [bayoneting one another].

     “Then I saw the field after battle, all covered with the dead and dying. Then I was carried to prisons, and saw the sufferings of those in want, who were wasting away. Then I was taken to the homes of those who had lost husbands, sons, or brothers in the war. I saw there distress and anguish.” 21 

     Then, surveying her audience, Ellen slowly added a foreboding note: “There are those in this house who will lose sons in that war.” 22 

     It is important at this point to place this vision and its content in a chronological context:

¨December 20, 1860—South Carolina secedes from the Union.

¨January 9, 1861—Mississippi secedes.

¨January 10, 1861—Florida secedes.

¨January 11, 1861—Alabama secedes.

¨January 12, 1861—Ellen White's vision at Parkville, Michigan.

¨January 19, 1861—Georgia secedes.

¨January 26, 1861—Louisiana secedes.

¨February 1, 1861—Texas secedes.

¨February 4, 1861—Constitution of Confederate States of America drafted.

¨February 18, 1861—Jefferson Davis inaugurated president of the C.S.A.

¨March 4, 1861—Abraham Lincoln inaugurated president of the U.S.A.

¨April 12, 1861—C.S.A. military fires on Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina.

¨April 15, 1861—Lincoln calls for Union troops to retake Fort Sumter. The C.S.A. regards this act as a declaration of war. Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and  Tennessee subsequently join the Confederates.

     When Ellen White received her first vision of the U.S. Civil War on January 12, 1861, she, as everyone else in the nation, was aware that South Carolina had seceded from the  Union 23 days earlier. However, she may or may not have known of the secession of Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama during the three days immediately preceding her Sabbath vision at Parkville.

     It matters little, however, for the firing on Fort Sumter by the Confederate forces—generally considered by American historians as the opening of the Civil War—was still exactly three months future from the day of this vision.

Contemporary Public Opinion

     The majority of American historians would probably agree that on the day of her vision the prevailing mood in the North—the “conventional wisdom"—was to the effect that there would most likely be no civil war and if there were, it would be an exceedingly short one, with Union forces winning a quick victory that would summarily end it all.

Illustrative of this attitude (as well as helping to shape it) was Hinton Rowan Helper's 1860 book The Impending Crisis of the

     South. In a calculated manner it sought to reinforce Northern prejudices that their    Southern adversaries were a cloddish, doltish race, with little mechanical aptitude, and virtually incapable of illustrious deeds.

He described a Southern funeral in which the hearse was from the North, the harness on the horses was from the North, the coffin was from the North, as was also the horsewhip in the hands of the driver of the hearse! 23 

     Also influential were the published views of Horace Greeley, who editorialized in his New York Tribune in late 1860 that it was preposterous for South Carolina to think of separation from the Union.

     He told the story of a Scot lad who had made a hole in his neighbor's backyard hedge, the better to slip through and steal fruit from the neighbor's orchard. As the lad began to emerge on the other side, the owner—till now hidden from view—cried out, “Where are you going, sonte?” Whereupon the boy began a retreat as he called out, “Going back again.”

     The point was clear; but in case the reader missed it, Greeley made the application: All that was necessary was for someone “with the sternness of Jackson” to say, “South Carolina, where are you going?” And they allegedly would quickly reply, “Back again into the Union!” 24 

     For good measure, the next week Greeley continued his harangue: “Talk of South Carolina going out of the Union! A few old women with broomsticks could go down there and beat out all of their rebellion!” 25 

      Indeed, after war with the North seemed inevitable, Lincoln clearly envisaged a brief campaign. In his appeal mobilizing militia regiments from loyal states to snuff out this “insurrection,” he sought only 75,000 troops, and those were called up for only a mere 90 days. 26 

     In the face of all this “no war” or “quick war” popular sentiment, Ellen White, three months to the day before war actually broke out, made three predictions: 1. There would be war. 2. It would be a long war (large armies on both sides, extremely heavy casualties, prisioners of war languishing in enemy camps, etc.). 3. Parents in her immediate audience that day would lose sons in that war.

Predictions Fulfilled

     The history of the Civil War is today so well known by Americans that documentation of the fulfillment of her first two points seems superfluous. Concerning the third,    Loughborough reports two incidents in which he was personally involved, which are both interesting and germane.

1. Almost exactly one year after the Parkville church dedication, Loughborough returned there for another speaking engagement. Present with him were two men who had heard Ellen White's prediction of a certain, long war, with local SDA families suffering casualties. Their immediate reaction to her words had been total disbelief. Now, a year later, they simply sat there with their heads in their hands sobbing aloud, as Loughborough reminded the congregation of the earlier prediction.

Only six weeks previously one of these men had buried his only son, a victim of the war. The man sitting beside him had lost a son in the war and had a second one facing an extremely doubtful future in a rebel prisoner of war camp. 27 

2. In the autumn of 1883, more than 20 years following Ellen White's prediction of war and tragedy, Loughborough again returned to Parkville, this time to seek out the layman who had served as local elder in 1861 and who was present at the dedication.

     “Do you remember her prediction?” he inquired.


     “Will you tell me how many you know who were in the house that day who lost sons in the war?”

     Whereupon the elder briefly reflected, and then named five families who had so suffered, adding that if he had recourse to his records, which were at home, he thought there might be an additional five families in this category. 28 

     In 1891, in preparation for publication of his first history of the SDA Church,  Loughborough sought out Martha V. Ensign, then living in Wild Flower, Fresno County,  California. From her Loughborough obtained a signed affidavit attesting to the veracity of his account of the prediction and its tragic subsequent fulfillment. Signed on January 30, 1891, the affidavit was published in chapter 21 (“The Civil War in the United States”) of the Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists. 29 

     As the Civil War progressed, Ellen White was given more visions dealing with that conflict.

Second Civil War Vision

     On August 3, 1861, less than eight months after the first Civil War vision, Mrs. White was given an updated view of the conflict while attending a conference of SDA leaders and members at Roosevelt, New York. That date was a day nationally set aside for  “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” on behalf of the war effort. In “Slavery and the War,” subsequently published in the first volume of Testimonies for the Church, she made these particular points:

1. Slavery was a “sin,” and laws upholding it were “in direct opposition to the teaching of Christ.” 30 

2. God was using the Civil War to punish both sides—the South “for [practicing] the sin of slavery”: and the North “for so long suffering its overreaching and overbearing influence.” 31 

3. Those who still expected a short war, with the North “to strike a [decisive] blow and end the controversy,” would be both surprised and disappointed. 32 

4. Both North and South were deceived concerning each other. Southerners, in reality, “are better prepared for war than has been represented,” with “most of their men” being “well skilled in the use of arms, some . . . from experiencing in battle”: in this “they have the advantage of the North.” On the other hand, Southerners “have not, as a general thing, the valor and the power of endurance that Northern men have.” 33 

5. If the North had taken “active measures” when hostilities first broke out, “this rebellion would have been speedily crushed out.” As it had not, however, the South utilized the time to strengthen its position militarily, until “it has become most powerful.” 34 

6. Proslavery men and “traitors” in the North, professedly in favor of the union, were extremely influential in government decision-making circles; and some of the actions taken “even favor the South.” 35 

7. By far the most amazing revelation in this vision concerned the mysterious and “disastrous battle” at Manassas Junction, Virginia. This battle is known in Union military circles as the “first Battle of Bull Run”: among Confederates it is known as the “First Battle of Manassas.” 36 (Many Civil War battles have two names; the Confederates

tended to name them after the nearest civilian settlement, while Northerners generally preferred to name them after the nearest body or stream of water!) 37 

An Incredible Revelation

     First Bull Run/Manassas was the first major land battle of the Civil War. It was fought near Washington, D.C., in northern Virginia, on July 21, 1861, by armies of nearly equal strength. In vision Ellen White witnessed this “disastrous” battle, characterizing it as “a most exciting, distressing scene.” 38 

     While both North and South suffered horrendously large casualties, at one point the   North was pushing ahead when “an angel descended” from heaven to the battlefield “and waved his hand backward. Instantly there was confusion in the ranks. It appeared to the  Northern men that their troops were retreating, when it was not so in reality, and a precipitate retreat commenced. This seemed wonderful [amazing] to me.” 39 

     Then her angel explained that “God had this nation in His own hand, and would not suffer victories to be gained faster than He ordained.” The North was not to be allowed to win a quick, decisive battle, thus ending the war abruptly, because it was to be punished for condoning slavery before the war and also for not making abolition the principal ethical issue in the war. 40 

(At first Lincoln was entirely willing to permit the continuation of slavery, if the Union might thereby be preserved. It was not until January 1, 1863—two years later—that he finally came to the point of making abolition the main stated purpose of the war and issued the Emancipation Proclamation.)

     As God “would not permit” an early Northern victory, He “sent an angel to interfere. The sudden falling back of the Northern troops is a mystery to all. They know not that God's hand was in the matter.” 41 

     Many American Civil War historians recognize a mysterious element in this battle, though understandably, virtually all fail to see a supernatural element in its genesis.

Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager, in their highly respected Growth of the American Republic, 1000-1865, characterize this battle as “a scene of extraordinary confusion. For hours it was anyone's battle, although the famous stand of the Stonewall Virginia brigade probably averted a Union victory. Union retreat turned to rout.” 42 

Extraordinary confusion! This was the very word Ellen White employed in 1861 to describe the scene, after the arrival and interference of the angel!

C.S.A. Lt. Col. W. W. Blackford's personal account of the day's developments supports the account of Ellen White—minus, of course, the descending angel. He had been with   “Stonewall” Jackson's forces when, at about 4:00 p.m., “the battle raged with unabated fury. The lines of blue were unbroken and their fire was as vigorous as ever while they surged against the solid walls of gray, standing immovable in their front.”

Blackford's attention was momentarily distracted in another direction, when he heard someone shouting, “Look! Look!” He looked back, and “what a change had taken place in an instant. Where those well-dressed, well-defined lines, with clear spaces between, had been steadily pressing forward, the whole field was a confused swarm of men, like bees, running away as fast as their legs could carry them, with all order and organization abandoned. In a moment more the whole valley was filled with them as far as the eye could reach.” 43 

     Yale University's Ralph H. Gabriel reports tersely, “The Federal assault at first succeeded. The Confederates gave ground and even showed signs of incipient demoralization.” But then suddenly, inexplicably, a Southern victory. Gabriel attributes the Confederate success to the brigade of Gen. Thomas Jonathan (“Stonewall”) Jackson (who earned his sobriquet that day) as he “stood fast.” 44 

Gettysburg College's Gabor S. Boritt 45 and Rice University's Frank E. Van Divier also posit a nonsupernaturalistic explanation, the latter adding a generally accepted assessment that the battle had twofold significance: (1) the North, for the first time, was convinced of the war's seriousness, ending all talk of a “short, quick” war, realizing it faced a long fight ahead; and (2) the Confederate's overconfidence in final victory soared and remained unrealistically high for the next two years, 46 in its own way doubtlessly perpetuating hostilities a bit longer than perhaps otherwise might have been the case.

Third Civil War Vision

     On January 4, 1862, some 51 weeks after her first vision on the subject, Ellen White was given her third revelation on the conflict. At this time she was residing in Battle Creek. “I was shown some things in regard to our nation,” she soberly reported. They included the following points:

1. Buchanan's administration, which preceded Lincoln's, actually planned and enabled the South to steal Northern weapons of war, so that when hostilities broke out the South would be better prepared than the North! 47 

2. The North did not understand the deep feelings of contempt and hatred the South bore toward them because of its interference in abolition, nor the depth of Southern determination to maintain their “peculiar institution” at all costs. 48 

3. Despite pious mouthings in the North concerning the integrity of the Union, slavery “alone . . . lies at the foundation of the war,” 49 in the estimate of Heaven.

4. After one year of war the North was no nearer to victory than when it began (the clear implication being that God would not allow a Northern victory until slavery—not merely the preservation of the Union—was the number one issue). And all accumulated loss of life and property in the war thus far was therefore a tragic waste. 50 

5. Incredibly, proslavery Northern military commanders deliberately exposed antislavery soldiers and officers to hostile fire, and then drew back, so that death would silence their voices and activities! 51 

6. Since the North had not yet made abolition the issue, all its official governmental appeals for national fasting by the populace and days of prayer in support of the war effort were—in the eyes of God—"an insult to Jehovah. He accepts no such fasts.” 52 

7. Had abolition been the main goal of the North, Great Britain (whose parliament had prohibited the slave trade in 1807, and abolished slavery in the British colonies between 1834 and 1840) 53 would have sided with the Union. Now, however, the British sought their own national interests and were considering siding with the South. 54 

8. Finally, ominously, Ellen White declared, “This nation will yet be humbled into the dust.” 55 

Role of Spiritualism

God's angels were not the only ones directly involved in the

     American Civil War. Satan and his angels played a major role too. In “The Rebellion,” 56 published in early 1863 57 and based upon an undated vision, Mrs. White reiterated many points made in earlier statements, but this time added an entirely new element: the military were riddled with spiritualism.

     “Very many men in authority, generals and officers, act in conformity with instruction communicated by spirits. The spirits of devils, professing to be dead warriors and skillful generals, communicate with men in authority and control many of their movements. One general has directions from these spirits to make special moves and is flattered with the hope of success. Another receives directions which differ widely. . . . Sometimes those who follow the directions given obtain a victory, but more frequently they meet with defeat.

     “The spirits sometimes give these leading men an account of events to transpire in battles in which they are about to engage, and of individuals who will fall in the battle. Sometimes it is found to be as these spirits foretold, and this strengthens the faith of the believers in spiritual manifestations. And again it is found that correct information has not been given, but the deceiving spirits make some explanation, which is received. The deception upon minds is so great that many fail to perceive the lying spirits which are leading them on to certain destruction.

     “The great leading rebel general, Satan, is acquainted with the transactions of this war, and he directs his angels to assume the form of dead generals, to imitate their manners, and exhibit their peculiar traits of character. And leaders in the army really believe that the spirits of their dead friends and of dead warriors, the fathers of the Revolutionary War, are guiding them.” 58 

     Again, “Satan has, through his angels, communicated with officers . . . [who have] given up their own judgment and have been led by these lying spirits into very difficult places, where they have been repulsed with dreadful slaughter. It suits his satanic majesty well to see slaughter and carnage upon the earth. He loves to see the poor soldiers mowed down like grass.

     “I saw that the rebels have often been in positions where they could have been subdued without much effort; but the communications from the spirits have led the Northern generals and blinded their eyes until the rebels were beyond their reach. And some general would rather allow the rebels to escape than to subdue them.

     They think more of the darling institution of slavery than of the prosperity of the nation. These are among the reasons why the war is so protracted.” 59 


     Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the Old Testament prophet Amos had declared that “surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secrets unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). God certainly did reveal many “secrets” concerning the American Civil War to His servant Ellen G. White!