Slavery, The Civil War And Visions

In January of 1861, James and Ellen White were invited to attend the dedication of the first organized Sabbatarian Adventist Church in Parkville Michigan. Ellen White spoke during the service and moments after she sat down she received a vision which lasted about 20 minutes.

After the vision had ended she shared what she had seen with those present. “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”

On the 20th of December 1860, South Carolina had seceded from the Union and was followed by Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama on the 9th, 10th and 11th of January. Ellen White along with everyone else in the room was fully aware of the secession of South Carolina, however, she may not have been aware of the secession of the other three states in the three days immediately prior to her vision.

Regardless of that, the war didn’t begin until April of 1861 when the Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina. Most American Historians would generally agree that at the time that Ellen White received her vision the general consensus in the North was that the country would most likely avoid a Civil War or in the unlikely event that one should break upon them, that it would be short-lived.

However, neither of these sentiments proved to be true. Three months to the day prior to the outbreak of the war, Ellen White received her vision regarding it and was given a number of predictions regarding what was to take place. In addition to being told plainly that there would be a war, she was shown that it would be a long war with large armies on both sides and significant casualties. She was also shown that parents sitting in the audience on the day of her vision in Parkville would lose sons in the war. It was a somber message for all those present to take in and digest.

A year later, when John Loughborough visited Parkville all three of Ellen White’s predictions had been fulfilled. Not only was there a war but it had turned into a long and bloody affair with terrible casualties on both sides. Among the casualties was the only son of one of the men who had sat in the congregation listening to Ellen White share her vision. He was not the only one. Loughborough records that there were at least four other families who had been present that day that suffered a similar fate.

The Battle of Bull Run

Eight months after her first vision Ellen White was given a second glimpse into the events surrounding the American Civil War. On the 3rd of August 1861, she was attending a Seventh-Day Adventist Conference in Roosevelt, New York. The day had been set aside as a national day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer on behalf of the war. The vision she received that day specifically dealt with the issue of slavery and its part in the war. She was shown that Slavery was a sin and that the laws upholding it were directly opposed to the teachings of Christ. She was also shown that God was using the war to punish both sides; the south for practicing the sin of slavery and the North for allowing it to carry on unchecked for so long.

She was also shown that the North would not gain a short and easy victory, mainly because they had underestimated the Southerners. The Southerners for their part had underestimated the endurance of the North. Neither side had a clear conception of the other and this had led to the war turning into the prolonged bloody mess that it was working itself out to be.

The most significant part of the vision, however, was the detailed description she was given of the mysterious and disastrous battle at Manassas Junction, Virginia. The battle, (known in Union military circles as the first battle of Bull Run and among confederates as the First Battle of Manassas) was fought near Washington D.C. in Northern Virginia on July 21, 1861.

Both forces suffered terrible casualties but at one point when the North was pushing ahead, Ellen White saw an angel descend from heaven to the battlefield and wave his hand backward. Instantly there was confusion in the ranks. The Northern men were confused and thought that their troops were retreating when that was not actually the case. This led to the commencement of a retreat. Lt. Colonel W.W. Blackford later wrote that lines of Blue, which up to that point had been so clearly defined and unbroken suddenly became like a confused swarm of bees, running away as fast as they could.

Most American Civil War historians recognize the mysterious element in this battle though they all fail to see or acknowledge a supernatural element in it. Today if you visit the battlefield of Manassas, you can read on the plaques, scattered across the field an account of the battle and the confusion that spread amongst the Northern troops, leading to the unlikely victory of the South.

The angel explained to Ellen White that God had the nation in his hand and would not allow victories to be gained faster than he ordained. The North was to be held accountable for their failure to act with regards to the wretchedness of the slavery that had spread throughout the South.

The vision reveals two key points; firstly that God is keenly interested in the cause of the oppressed and is willing to intervene on behalf of those who cannot fend for themselves. Secondly, it points out the duty and responsibility that rests on all Christians to champion the same causes. Social justice does not lie beyond the realm of Bible religion, in fact, sometimes it lies at the very heart of it.

Further Reading

  • Coon R.W. (1992) – The Great Visions of Ellen White