top of page

Ellen White and the Civil War, part 2 - Episode Transcript

Dr. Jud Lake explains the Civil War through Ellen White's eyes

Listen to the Episode here:



Note: Transcript has been edited for clarity and readability, not for typos or grammar.

Dr. Jud Lake:

There is not a person in this house who has even dreamed of the trouble that is coming upon this land, declared Ellen White to her stunned audience on the cold winter morning of January 12th, 1861 in Parkville, Michigan. “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."

Most of the audience set motionless, while some shook their heads in disbelief. The idea that the nation entering into a long, drawn-out war with massive casualties was beyond their comprehension. This was Ellen White's first civil revision, and over time its prediction became a horrible reality.


Welcome to the Ellen White Podcast.

Here is your host, Dr. Jud Lake.

Dr. Jud Lake:

Hello friends and welcome to the Ellen White Podcast. I just narrated for you the beginning of the Parkville vision, Ellen White's first Civil War vision. I'm continuing my series on the Civil War. This is part two, and the title is The Prediction and the Reality.

So the story of the Parkville vision was first published by the Adventist pioneer and historical chronicler J. N. Loughborough in his 1892 book, the Rise And Progress of the Seventh-Day Adventists.

On the 12th of January 1861, he wrote, “The Seventh-Day Adventist meeting house in Parkville, Michigan was dedicated." The church had been started through the evangelistic work of John Nevins Andrews and John N. Loughborough in 1859, after the meeting house was built, an announcement of dedication services, which were set for January 11-12, 1861, appeared in the Review and Herald and invited church leaders to attend and as many more as could come, they said.

Thus on January 12th, the top Sabbatarian Adventist officials were present for the dedication, which included James White, Ellen White, J. H. Waggoner, Uriah Smith, and Loughborough himself. After J. H. Waggoner preached the sermon, James White offered the dedicatory prayer and made several remarks.

Then according to Loughborough, Ellen White stood to speak and he wrote down in his diary her words, he wrote, “Mrs. White gave a stirring exhortation, after which she took her seat in a chair. In this position, she was taken off in vision. The house was crowded with people and it was indeed a solemn place. After coming out of the vision, she arose and looking around the house 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. Then I saw the field after battle, all covered with the dead and dying. Then I was carried to prisons and saw the suffering of those in want who were wasting away. Then I was taken to the homes of those who had lost husbands, sons and brothers in the war. I saw their distress and anguish.

Then Loughborough wrote, looking slowly around the house she said, “There are those in this house who will lose sons in that war."

The dramatic nature and timing of this vision is that once apparent to the student of the Civil War, January 12th, 1861, was three months to the day before the war began with the shelling of Fort Sumter on April 12th, 1861.

There's no question here that she's just giving broad strokes of that war. Not a lot of detail but what is interesting is that these broad strokes were fulfilled with quite a bit of precision throughout the war. Those who had heard Mrs. White relate her vision on January 12th, 1861 must have watched the ebb and flow of political events with great interest, the secession of state after state during the early winter, the failed attempts at compromise and peace talks, the formation of the seven state Confederacy, the upper South's rejection of secession during the late winter, the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.

The rising tension at Fort Sumter, the shelling of Fort Sumter, the president's call for 75,000 troops. The further secession of the important upper South states, the enlarged size of the Confederacy, the war fever in the North, and the Confederacy's declaration of war on the United States. Such were the calamities that befell the Union in the four months following the Parkville vision. Yet, even with all this, only the first half of the vision, the secession of a large number of states, had come to pass. The other half of the vision, the most terrible war with the booming of the cannon, the dead and dying on every hand, the charging and hand-to-hand fighting, the battlefields covered with the dead and dying, and the prisons with the sufferings of those in want, and the homes of those who had lost husbands, or sons, or brothers in the war, and the distress and anguish, these events had not yet occurred.

During the early summer of 1861, several military engagements took place, some of which were considered to be great battles at the time, but it was clear that the biggest fight would take place in Virginia and many in the North hoped that this battle would end the war before winter. By mid-July, federal forces led by General Irvin McDowell moved Westward from the Potomac towards Centerville and Manassas, Virginia to face off with the Confederate forces around Manassas Junction, which were commanded by P. G. T. Beauregard.

The combined Union forces converging on Manassas had about 28,450 soldiers, and the Confederates had about 32,230. The Union would name this the First Battle of Bull Run. First because there was a second battle there in 1862, after the creek in the area, whereas the Confederates would name it the Battle of First Manassas after the city.

The battle began early on the morning of July 21, it lasted about - - or until about 4:30 in the afternoon. It was a hot day and the fighting was intense. In the end, it was the momentous fight of the amateurs, according to one historian, the battle where everything went wrong, and the great day of awakening for the whole nation.

The Union troops were seized with sudden confusion and retreated back toward Washington while the Confederates were unable to pursue them. It was a decisive, tactical victory for the Confederates in the sense that the battle postponed any further Union efforts to invade Virginia for the next eight months. For the Northerners, it was a shameful loss, “We are utterly and disgracefully routed, beaten, whipped,” wrote a New Yorker upon hearing the news.

Washington was seized with a fear of a Confederate attack, which never came. The New York Times believed the fight was, “the greatest battle ever fought on this continent." It had more casualties than any previous battle and seemed like a terrible bloodletting to the Northern people.

But in the context of the entire Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run was no more than a moderately sized battle. Nevertheless, it was as Walt Whitman described it a “terrible shock to the nation." Each side realized that the dream of a short, glorious, and bloodless war was over. For the first time, the nation was beginning to come to grips with what Ellen White had forecast more than six months earlier in Parkville, Michigan as a most terrible war.

Her words in that battle church or that little church rather on January 12th, 1861, must have come to the minds of those who had heard her. Perhaps they assumed that the vision was now fulfilled in this first great battle by Bull Run. On August 3rd, about two weeks after the battle, however, Mrs. White experienced her second Civil War vision at Roosevelt, New York and published it in the August 27th, 1861 edition of the Review and Herald.

She reminded her readers that the war was far from over: “I was shown that many realized not the extent of the evil which has come upon us. They have flattered themselves that the national difficulties would soon be settled and confusion and war end. But all will be convinced that there is more reality in the matter than was anticipated. Many have looked for the North to strike a blow and the controversy be ended."

Clearly she wanted her people to understand that this first great battle at Manassas was only the beginning of an inescapably long and terrible war. While the Southern home-front celebrated its victory, “the shock of defeat, jolted the nation into reality, and a mood of grim determination replaced the optimism of the spring."


According to one historian, the day after the battle, Lincoln signed a bill for the enlistment of 500,000 three-year-men, and three days later, he signed a second bill authorizing another 500,000. He also relieved General Irvin McDowell and put General George B. McClellan in command of The Army of the Potomac, and later made him General in Chief of the United States Army upon Winfield Scott’s retirement.

McClellan had been a bright cadet at West Point, fought with distinction in the Mexican-American war, experienced several minor victories early in the present war, and was charismatic in personality. When he took command of the incoming recruits around Washington, they were much disorganized and he was just what they needed.

A master organizer, McClellan took hold with a firm hand and reorganized the troops. By the end of September, “he built the Army of the Potomac into a formidable force of more than 100,000 well-equipped and well-trained men." As one historian put it, the press had held McClellan as the man to save the country and hope was renewed in the North: “The army was beginning to be an army and the slap-dash informality of the militia days was gone. The capital took heart,” as one other historian put it. As the country transitioned into the winter months, however, McClellan's, well-trained army made no major offensive. And Lincoln and the country grew impatient.

The bottom line was McClellan was charismatic and a good organizer, but throughout the course of the war and his role in it, he was a very poor fighter. So the country was still looking for a decisive battle to crush the Southern rebels and McClellan's magnificent army was not moving. Even McClellan's own soldiers were growing impatient. Elisha Hunt Rhodes among them, wrote in his diary, on January 31st, 1862, “I want to see service and I have, and have the war over so that I can go home." During the month of February 1862, the Atlantic Monthly printed a poem by Julia Ward Howe, the inspiring words were not forgotten and soon transported into song, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

This moving hymn inspired Northern hearts and rekindled hope that the swift sword would become truly swift and strike home. It was in this setting that Ellen White published what was apparently a reaffirmation of the Parkville vision, along with a warning that the war would continue and that death, carnage, and suffering would increase.

In Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, published in February 1862, she wrote: “I saw greater distress in the land than we have yet witnessed. I heard groans and cries of distress. I saw large companies in active battle. I heard the booming of the cannon, the clash of arms, the hand-to-hand fight and the groans and prayers of the dying. The ground was covered with the wounded and the dead. I saw desolate, despairing families and pinching want in many dwellings. Even now, many families were suffering want, but this will increase the faces of many looked haggard, pale, and pitched with hunger."

The language of this forecast is similar to that in the Parkville vision as related by Loughborough. Lee Yucie concluded from his research that Ellen White recast the 1861 Parkville vision in the context of the 1862 winter when both sides were waiting for the armies to move. He thus observed, “A year had elapsed since her Parkville statements and up to early 1862, it would seem that the reality had not reached her initial concept of the war's immensity."

White wanted her readers to understand that the full force and fury of the war was about to commence. Since White never gave any explanation as to the origin of this great distress in the land vision, it is also possible to view it as a part of her third war vision, the Battle Creek vision of 1862 that reaffirm what she had seen in the Parkville vision.

In the context of Testimony for the Church, vol. 7, for instance, it follows the January 1862 Battle Creek vision, the opening sentence: “I saw greater distress in the land than we have yet witnessed,” could have indicated a new revelation that contextualized the context of the Parkville vision to the winter of 1862.

What they had yet witnessed was the 1861 summer and fall battles of First Bull Run, Wilson's Creek, and Ball’s Bluff. Each battle had its own death and carnage with the First Battle of Bull Run being the greatest. But the prediction noted that there was to be greater distress than was associated with the 1861 battles.

Readers of Testimony for the Church, vol. 7, probably noted that she was stating information that everyone already knew from the carnage of the previous battles, the booming of the cannon and the clashing of arms and so on. But White's point was that greater trouble was ahead, and the groans and cries of distress in the nation would occur in an epic proportion previously unknown.

The language of the 1862 prediction thus described an intensification of that which had already taken place in the early phase of the war. The reality of a most terrible war with unprecedented casualties was about to strike the nation. This forecast of greater war ahead was part of the larger vision that dealt with the other war issues and especially spiritual preparation. “God alone can be our shield and strengthen this time of national calamity. Greater perils are before us, and yet we are not awake." Above all, her great concern was to prepare her people for the return of Christ: “There is no help for us, but in God. In the state of Earth's confusion, we can be composed, strong, or safe. Only in the strength of living faith, nor can we be at peace only as we rest in God and wait for his salvation."

Now I will discuss phrases in White's forecast in relationship to what happened in the war and after the winter of 1862, such as large companies wounded and the dead, groans and prayers of the dying, suffering families, and prisons, those are the phrases that I'm going to focus on. First of all, she described large companies.

Now, early in the war, the battles were of small numbers, but as the war increased, the number of soldiers increased significantly. Let me just give to you several figures of soldiers fighting in some major battles of the Civil War, for example. This, of course, is all after First Bull Run, Antietam, the Battle of Antietam, which we'll visit in a little bit in greater detail, but Antietam on September 16th through 18th, 1862, you have 131,000 forces engaged. Fredericksburg, on December 11-15, 1861, you have 172,504 forces engaged.

Chancellorsville on April 30 through May 6th, 1863, 154,734 forces engaged. These figures, by the way, you can look them up on the internet, google these battles and you'll get these figures. Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863, 165,620, forces engaged, the Wilderness on May 5-7, 1864, 169,920 forces engaged.

Spotsylvania Court House on May 8-21, 1864, 152,000 forces engaged. Cold Harbor on May 31 through June 12th, 1864, 170,000 forces engaged. Now, not all forces were engaged in every day of a battle, but daily battles can clearly be described as large companies in active battle.

As such, Ellen White's forecast of large armies clashing into one another accurately reflected the major Civil War battles during the last three years of the war. Now the phrase “The wounded and the dead covering the ground,” will receive attention, and this will get somewhat graphic friends, just to let you know, these are eyewitness testimonies of the carnage on the battlefields, and it's not pleasant.

“Whether fired from artillery or small arms, millions of lethal projectiles filled the air on every Civil War battlefield." As historian Earl J. Hess explained, often lines of soldiers would go down in heaps from an intense barrage of missiles. “You have seen in a bowling alley or the beach, a ball rolled into the pins and all but two or three fall, a Union soldier recalled. So I have seen human beings fall around me and I left standing." The impact of these projectiles seriously traumatized any part of their bodies that chance allowed. Many soldiers recalled the sound of bullets and other projectiles striking human flesh and bone, “The noise could be poignant, a thud, a sickening, dull, cracking sound."

Worst of all was the sight of a comrade's body ripped apart under the impact of artillery. One soldier, “Watched an infrantryman's leg ripped off by a solid shot at Gettysburg. The limb whirled like a stone through the air until it came against a caisson with a loud whack. Such devastation caused the Civil War battlefields to be littered with the wounded and the dead.” Sometimes soldiers I read would see a cannonball flying through the air. It created an illusion. The cannonball looked like it was moving slowly through the air, and it was low flying where they could reach up and almost grab it. And some of them thought, well, they could stop this cannonball and save their comrades behind them. But little did they realize that that cannonball was spinning at an incredible velocity.

And so there are testimonies of soldiers jumping up to catch a cannonball, it would take off hands, take off heads, cut a body in two. Soldiers described this happening repeatedly. The writings of those who participated in the Civil War are replete with vivid descriptions of the dead and dying in the battlefields.

Listen to eyewitness accounts of the shock and awe generated by the sight of massive loss of life after the battles of Shiloh, and Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. This is where it will get graphic, friends, so I warn you ahead of time, the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862, the estimated casualties were 23,746.

After the first day of the Battle of Shiloh, one soldier remembered at midnight, “A heavy rain set in accompanied by peel after peel of thunder. Together with the roaring of the cannon and the bursting of shell, the flashes of lightning revealed the ghastly features of the dead. Oh, what a night of horrors that was."

William T. Sherman, later to become a famous general in the Civil War, described the scene in a letter to his wife: “The scenes on this field would've cured anybody of war, mangled bodies, dead, dying in every conceivable shape without heads, legs, and horses."

General Grant, who obviously would become famous later in the war, recalled the aftermath of the battlefield: "Shiloh was the severest battle fought at the West during the war. But few in the East equaled it for hard determined fighting. I saw an open field in our possession on the second day over which the Confederates had made repeated charges the day before, so covered with dead that it would've been possible to walk across the clearing in any direction, stepping on dead bodies without a foot touching the ground.”

Now when I have been to Shiloh, one visit I was looking for this field, had a bit of trouble finding it, got one of the rangers to help me and took me right to this field - - I was able to spend some time there. It was a beautiful, quiet, serene summer afternoon. And the field looked so pristine and clean, but in my mind, I imagine it filled with those dead bodies so thick that you could walk without touching the ground. It was a haunting experience. One Confederate soldier described the Union dead and dying: “They were mangled in every conceivable form. Somewhere in the last agonies of death, I could not pass a wounded man without saying God have mercy on him.”

Now we move to the Battle of Antietam, September 17th, 1862, estimated casualties, 22,717; September 17th, 1862 at Antietam was the bloodiest day of battle in American history.

On that day, 6,500 to 7,000 men were killed in action. According to one estimate, “Approximately one man died every five or six seconds of the battle,” as one historian put it. The intensity of the combat is incomparable in the annals of American military history.

According to historian James McPherson, “The number of casualties in one day at the Battle of Antietam was nearly four times the number of American casualties on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. Twice as many people were killed and mortally wounded than were killed by the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Indeed, the number of battle deaths in one day at Antietam exceeded the total battle deaths in all the other wars the United States fought in the 19th century, the war of 1812, the Mexican-American war, the Spanish-American War, and the Indian Wars."

Lieutenant Elisha Hunt Rhodes of the second Rhode Island volunteers was startled by the carnage of the Antietam battlefield the day after: “I have never seen in my soldier life such a sight. The dead and wounded cover the ground." The Colonel of the 6th Wisconsin described the Hagerstown Turnpike as “indescribably horrible." And recall that as he rode through the scattered corpses of men and animals, his horse, “trembled in every limb with fright and was wet with perspiration."

Union Lieutenant George F. Noyes spoke for many who witnessed the aftermath of the slaughter at Antietam: “No matter in what direction we turn, it was all the same shocking picture, awakening awe rather than pity. Benumbing the senses rather than touching the heart. Glazing the eye with horror rather than filling it with tears.”

I should add, and some of my own reading about this battle, I was really struck that entire towns would form a column. All the men, all the men in a town would form a column in the battle at Antietam, and they were all mowed down. When that entire column of men mowed down, or I should say line, that line of men mowed down, that means that in that small town, every single man was gone. And when the women, of course, heard of the loss of their husbands, their sons, and that they were all alone with no man, you can only imagine their sense of grief and terror. Soldier and former Harper's correspondent David H. Strother, remembered that the dead bodies were gruesomely, bloated, and blackened: “Many were so covered with dust, torn, crushed, and trampled that they resembled clods of earth, and you were obliged to look twice before recognizing them as human beings."

Now I move to the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13th, 1862, estimated casualties, 17,929. And this is one of those battles that - - where an army made the mistake of charging uphill, in the Civil War those who had the high ground were mostly the winners in a battle. The only exception was the Battle of Chattanooga, which I will discuss in another episode. So the Battle of Fredericksburg, London Times correspondent Francis Charles Lawley, who viewed the battle from the Confederate lines, reported victor's view of the terrible toll exacted, on Union troops, not for 50 years to come will that scene ever fade from the memory of those who saw it. They're in every attitude of death, lying so close to each other that you might step from body to body lay acres of the federal dead."

During this battle, they would just charge in lines one after the other and they would literally get mowed down by Lee's army and then another group would charge and get mowed down on top of that group, and so it went.

E. R. Hutchins walked around the parameter of the Fredericksburg battlefield the night after the battle and observed “mangled forms rent and tossed as if maddened beast of the arena had run riot among them. Limbs flung from their bodies and half trampled in the mire. Gray faces stark and stiff and deadly pale looking like phantom lights. They looked like something neither dead nor living with the fixedness that was more than stillness. There were open eyes that saw not and hands still grasping muskets with a clutch that no living strength could loose. Horses, cannoneers, dismounted guns, crashed wheels, overturned gun carriages, and the tongues upright in the air and the yoke swinging like gibbets on high.”

That description is interesting because it does describe a phenomenon that you read about in testimonies from those who fought in the battle. They would go on a battlefield with the carnage, and they would see one of their comrades almost in a battle charge, gun clutched, eyes open. When they went up to that individual and began to talk, they realized, He was dead, he was frozen, he'd been hit in the brain and it, the instant of the bullet's contact froze him in that battle charge. So that was an eerie experience that many observed and witnessed as they walked through the many battlefields of the Civil War, the aftermath of the battlefields, I should say. Or aftermath of the battles.

Now the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-2,1863 estimated casualties, 51,112. And notice these are estimated, it's hard to get a precise count. The estimated casualties in battles during 1863 would peak at Gettysburg. The description of Robert Carter, of the 22nd Massachusetts, who saw the battlefields of Gettysburg. Immediately following the engagements is most vivid: “In every direction among the bodies was the debris of battle, haversacks, canteens, hats, caps, sombreros, blankets of every shade and hue. Bayonets, cartridge boxes, every conceivable part of the equipment of a soldier, corpses, strewed the ground in every step. Arms, legs, heads, and parts of dismembered bodies were scattered all about. Sticking among the rocks and against the trunks of trees, hair, brains, entrails and shreds of human flesh still hung a disgusting, sickening, heart-rending spectacle to our young minds."

Many other testimonies of battlefields could be cited, and you can read it throughout the many diaries and histories of the Civil War.

You've got the horrors of the battles that I didn't even mention here, such as the Wilderness battles, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor in 1864. You read the descriptions of those battles and eyewitness testimonies, it gets even more graphic, but perhaps the best summary of the fearful sights and a wide-angled view of a Civil War battlefield came from a Union calvary officer, who after the seven days battle, observed the slopes of Malvern Hill on July 2nd, 1862. “Our ears had been filled with agonizing cries from thousands before the fog was lifted, but now our eyes saw an appalling spectacle upon the slopes to the woodlands half a mile away. Over 5,000 dead and wounded men were on the ground in every attitude of distress. A third of them were dead or dying, but enough were alive and moving to give the field a singular crawling effect."

I'll never forget the day I visited the Malvern Battlefield. It was a bright summer sunny afternoon, and this battlefield, different from many Civil War battlefields, is perfectly preserved: the fields, the woods, it looks almost exactly like it did when this battle took place long ago. I went to the position where this testimony - or the officer that gave this testimony was positioned.

I stood there for quite a while observing that field, imagining what it was like that day, to see all that carnage and the suffering on that field, the moving to give the field a singular crawling effect and it was, again, a very haunting experience and it just came home to me with a great force, the significance of the battle and the horrors of war, and the horrors of evil in this world, and The Great Controversy, the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan, and how it's often played out in the actual battles in the history of this world.

That was quite a powerful experience. Thus Ellen White's brief depiction of the dead and dying in the Civil War battlefields vividly captured four years of horrific carnage. Shelby Foote observed that casualties and Civil War battles were so far beyond anything we can imagine now, if we had 10% casualties in a battle today, it would be looked on as a bloodbath, they had 30% in Civil War battlefields, as he noted. James McPherson estimated in 2015 that if the same percentage of Americans were to be killed in a war fought today as those killed in the Civil War, 2.4%, the number of American dead would be about 7.5 million.

Now I move to her phrase, the groans and prayers of the dying. A most vivid account of the sound of those dying on the Civil War battlefield came from Joshua L. Chamberlain, who would become famous later in the war. At the time, a lieutenant colonel with the 20th Maine Volunteers who was stuck on the Fredericksburg battlefield lying among the bodies the night after the battle.

His retelling of that unforgettable night is haunting: “But out of the silence from the battles, crash and roar rose, new sounds more appalling still, rose or fell, you know not which or whether from the earth or air. A strange ventriloquism of which you could not locate the source. A smothered moan that seemed to come from distances beyond reach of the natural sense, a well so far and deep and wide, as if a thousand discords were flowing together into a keynote. Weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear yet startling with its nearness. Thriving concord broken by cries for help, pierced by shrieks of paroxysm, some begging for a drop of water, some calling on God for pity, and some unfriendly hands to finish what the enemy had so horribly begun. Some with delirious dreamy voices murmuring love names as if the dearest were bending over them. Some gathering their last strength to fire a musket to call attention to them where they lay helpless and deserted and underneath all the time. That deep base note from closed lips too hopeless or too heroic to articulate their agony."

There are many testimonies of the suffering families in the homefront, especially on the Confederate side, as they experienced, of course, the major brunt of the war. Often their homes were just destroyed by the invading Union soldiers. So suffering on both sides clearly took place throughout the war, but I want to ocus now on Civil War prisons.

According to the Loughborough account of the Parkville vision, White stated that she saw prisons: “That I was carried away to prisons, and I saw the sufferings of those in want who were wasting away."

In Testimony for the Church, Vol. 7, several pages before the forecast of the worsening condition of the war, she wrote that the Civil War prisons at the time in 1862 were a fate: “A fate more to be dreaded than death."

When the war began, neither the United States nor the Confederacy possessed the facilities or the ability to house and care for the huge number of prisoners over four years, confident that the war would be short-lived they failed to anticipate such circumstances as the warring sides went off the battle, neither could foresee the grand scale of suffering attended to Civil War prisons. Consequently, the prison systems in both the North and the South initially function on a provisional basis until the numbers of prisoners got out of control. According to one historian, “this shortsighted approach to the treatment of prisoners led to one of the war's great horrors. Tens of thousands of men corralled into unsanitary pens, often exposed to the elements without the food, exercise, shelter, or clean water needed to sustain them."

Civil War prisons have been appropriately described by one historian as portals to hell. Of the 150 prisons during the war, Elmira in the North, New York state, and Andersonville in the South, Georgia stands out as especially terrible.

Andersonville was more like a concentration camp and came to symbolize the horrors of Civil War prisoners. This stockade camp of 16 acres located in Southwest Georgia was originally designed for 10,000 prisoners. By August, 1864, it had been enlarged to 26 acres and packed with 33,000 men. An average of 34 square feet per man without shade in the deep South summer, and with no shelter except what they could rig from sticks, tent flies, blankets, and odd bits of cloth as one historian described.

Within months of Andersonvilles establishment, prisoners reported that upon entering the front gates, the sights and smell of the compound caused them to double over and vomit. According to one historian, “The whole stockade wreaked with an overpowering stench, in the absence of prison discipline, prisoners were very careless of sanitary practices and men suffering from chronic diarrhea and others too sick to get to the latrines, deposited human waste all over the stockade."

Additionally, the main stream that ran through the prison and supplied water for washing and drinking was contaminated with human excrement, when the stream was swollen from rains, according to one medical professional, “The lower part of the stockade was overflowed by a solution of excrement, which subsided, and the surface exposed to the sun produced a horrible stench."

Worst of all sick prisoners often laid on the ground in their own excrement and died. Another aspect found in Andersonville was insufficiency of rations and inadequacy of wood for cooking. One prisoner described the starving conditions: “None will ever realize the suffering here, but those that live to endure and live through it, men actually starved to death here for want of food. We are now getting scat rations of beef. Some of the wormiest types I ever did see, and one quarter ration of cornbread. One spoon full of salt a day, and not one-fifth wood enough to cook with."

Resourceful prisoners killed low flying birds and ate them raw as soon as they were dead, as one historian described. One South Carolinian summed up Andersonville, “It was a singular sight to look down into this enclosure. The suffering within both mind and body is fearful, and one can only compare it to Hades on earth. The dirt, filth, stench in and around the blockade is awful. I frequently see the Yankees picking from their bodies lice and fleas." It is no small wonder that at its worst, approximately 100 men died per day at Andersonville.

Of the more than 40,000 men who found themselves there throughout its existence, 13,000 died. Thus, Ellen White's view of men wasting away accurately described the fate of many prisoners in Andersonville and in the many other prisons of the Civil War, both North and South. I visited Andersonville. It's a park that you can visit and they commemorate all prisoners of war there. And it's quite an experience to go see that for yourself and where the stream of water used to be, it's now a rattlesnake field. They warn you with a sign, don't walk on this, there are rattlesnakes out there. So what a testimony to what this place was and what it is today. Probably the most horrible prisoner of war experience in history is now one big rattlesnake field.

If the statements in the above January, 1861 and January, 1862, visions are considered to be genuine, prophetic utterances and dated before the Civil War really got underway, then they can be explained as being uniformly vindicated in the events of the war itself.

The broad strokes that Ellen White provided gave an ominous yet realistic portrayal of events that transpired in the course of the war. And one of her most interesting insights into the war came after the First Battle of Bull Run in which she saw in vision an angel descend and intervene in the battle.

And that battle with this angelic visitation will be the focus of my next episode on Ellen White and the Civil War.



bottom of page