Our First Southern President and the Paranormal

Part 1: Washington’s Prophecy

 "I had seen a vision wherein had been shown to me the birth, progress, and destiny of the United States." George Washington
“I had seen a vision wherein had been shown to me the birth, progress, and destiny of the United States.” George Washington

Let’s see: we have looked at Thomas Jefferson and UFO’s and Abraham Lincoln and just about all things paranormal; let’s look at another Southern president’s supernatural encounters: George Washington.  Since there is quite a bit out there about George and the uncanny, this promises to be a two part-er, at least.

Today we’ll look at the Washington Prophecy, which is as important as it has been underreported.  This obscure incident from the  American Revolution uncannily fore-shadows, not only the American Civil War, but possibly both world wars as well.  For now for more about Washington and the Civil War, see Chapter 16 of Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War.

Let us go back, then, to the winter of 1777, the “year of the three sevens” and the time when the American Revolution almost collapsed.  It was a starving time for Washington’s army at Valley Forge: the troops were ill fed, ill clothed and freezing in their hovels.  The Continental Congress, as Congress does today, did nothing to help.  The well fed politicians were little concerned with those who were fighting and dying at the front; they were very concerned about protecting they and their rich patron’s wealth and privilege and not the Republic.  The troops were starving, barefoot, were not being paid and on the verge of mutiny.  Washington begged and pleaded for blankets, clothing and food, all to no avail; he was in fact on the verge of resigning as commander of the army.  Against this background occurred an uncanny incident which has long been rumored about, but which we have a lone witness to its truth.

During the winter of 1777, General Washington had good cause to pray. It may be that the prophecy was in answer to these prayers
During the winter of 1777, General Washington had good cause to pray. It may be that the prophecy was in answer to these prayers

Our sole source for this incident was a soldier named Anthony Sherman. His account was first published in the 1840’s, in an obscure journal now unobtainable at any price.  Fortunately, his account was reprinted after the Civil War in the National Tribune, a newspaper published for the benefit of Union veterans, mainly to enable them to get pensions from the Federal Government.  As with the VA today, veterans and widows were often frustrated dealing with the government that they had defended, fought, and died or were disabled protecting.  His account, having been told well before the Civil War, gains additional credibility thereby.

Sherman (no relation to the general) was an ordinary soldier, posted to Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge at the time.  One day, General Washington emerged from his private quarters, where he had been alone for some time.  Emerging visibly shaken, he began to relate what he had experienced to a trusted aide (Sherman does not say whom, but it was likely Alexander Hamilton). Sherman was close enough to the two to hear what Washington said, and what the general had to say remained seared into Sherman’s memory.

Washington, alone at the time, was in his office praying.  Now in normal times Washington was not an overly religious.  Washington was a product of the enlightenment, when most educated gentlemen regarded God (if they regarded him at all) as a sort of divine “clock-maker” who wound up the universe and then stood back and watched it move on its own.  However, the winter of 1777-78 was “the time that tries men’s souls” and that winter Washington if fact prayed quite a bit for divine guidance.

Washington's Headquarters, Valley Forge, where he is believed to have had a prophetic vision.
Washington’s Headquarters, Valley Forge, where he is believed to have had a prophetic vision.

Washington was in his office, alone, when he became aware of a presence in the room.  He said it was “a singularly beautiful being,” with whom the general tried to communicate.  After he addressed the figure several times, she finally responded.  The room’s walls seemed to disappear and his surroundings became luminous.

‘Son of the Republic, look and learn,’ she said to Washington, and then spread out her hand in a sweeping gesture several times.  Each time an angelic being dipped water from the ocean and cast it over the continents of Europe, America, Asia and Africa.  On the third such cast “from Africa I saw an ill-omened specter approach our land,” Sherman heard Washington say.  The imagery as reported later was complex; visions of war and destruction, the blasting of trumpets and other scenes which seemed to presage war and ultimate victory.  Clearly, at least part of this version related to the Civil War.

Not surprisingly, ever since this account was first published, there have been professional debunkers ever eager to disprove its veracity. One industrious researcher located the records of a young officer of the Revolution and triumphantly announced the story a fake, because the Anthony Sherman in question had been at Saratoga and not at Valley Forge.  Of course, debunkers always go for pat answers and the fact that there very well may have been more than one soldier named Sherman in service during the American Revolution never entered his closed mind.  Any researcher or genealogist dealing with old records is aware how fragmentary such records often are: muster lists and service records get lost, court house archives burn up in fires and the like.  But the professional debunkers prefer to ignore such realities in their quest to prove their a priori assumptions.

When dealing with prophecy, of course, we are always dealing with a two edged sword.  Prophecies are generally committed to paper years after the events have come true, they often have cryptic symbolism and when based on only one reporter’s account it is easy enough to discount.  In this case, while another version of the prophecy seems to have been previously published well before the war, that original publication, like many early American periodicals, has not survived.  The earliest extant publication is by an erstwhile Philadelphia journalist and dates to the eve of the Civil War, when many such prophecies about the onset of war were in the air.

Even so,  the account as published on the eve of war related to far more than just the onset of the Civil War.  For one thing, “the singularly beautiful being” also says to Washington, ‘Son of the Republic, the end of the century cometh; look and learn.’ If this were just propaganda meant for the northern public on the eve of Civil War, why would it refer to future generations?

Moreover, the beatific being also interprets the visions he has seen thusly: ‘Son of the Republic, what you have seen is thus interpreted. Three great perils will come upon the Republic. The most fearful is the third, but in this greatest conflict the whole world united shall not prevail against her.’

While the first conflict she mentions is easily dismissed as the Civil War, the second and third are not. While one can put whatever spin on them one wants, it takes no Nostradamus to interpret the second and third “perils” as the two world wars, and the third conflict in particular as World War II, which was indeed the “greatest conflict” and where indeed for a time it seemed the Axis Powers would take over the “whole world.”  The professional debunkers of this prophecy conveniently leave out these parts of the prophecy, which clearly do not fit their smug theories and which, if they do not “prove” it, certainly give the prophecy much greater credibility to the modern reader.

As to who or what the “singularly beautiful being” may have been, several theories have been put forward.  Some say the apparition was an angel; others say it was the Virgin Mary, who has been known to appear and deliver prophecies in that manner; more recently, the show Ancient Aliens theorized that she was an Alien (of course). However, the 1859 version makes no such assertions, so the reader is left to add their own speculations to the others.

Of course, as with any prophecy, one is free to believe or disbelieve, or to interpret it as one wishes.  However, prophecies, it should be remembered, are not inevitable–they are warnings.  While one can always ignore a warning, it is generally not wise to do so.

For more uncanny tales of the Dixie and the Civil War, go to: Dixie Spirits and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War. The “Angel of Liberty” painting is by artist Jon McNaughton and was also inspired by the Washington Prophecy.  I claim no copyright for it and you can obtain prints of it directly from the artist: Jon McNaughton Fine Art .

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Abraham Lincoln and Ancient Aliens

President Lincoln was one of the many prominent men of his day who attended séances; he also believed in prophecy and other psychic phenomena
President Lincoln was one of the many prominent men of his day who attended séances; he also believed in prophecy and other psychic phenomena

I normally don’t write about UFO’s and Alien sightings, restricting my researches to paranormal phenomena, but I have delved into the subject on occasion as it relates to the South. In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, for example, I investigated the UFO sightings over the Tennessee Valley in the early 1900’s and a “dark day” in Memphis, while in Dixie Spirits I also chronicled a very credible close encounter in West Virginia.

Then there are those strange events which may not be supernatural but which certainly defy all attempts at rational explanation, such as rains of blood and gore, aerial showers of snakes and other land going animals, as well as the Mothman enigma, which itself seems to transcend traditional categories. So while I have an abiding interest in UFO’s and the possibility of Aliens visiting our planet, I generally have left those investigations to those with the resources to properly probe them.

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Artist’s conception of a mothership. Did one such ship hover over Memphis, Tennessee in 1904? See Chapter 37 of Strange Tales of the Dark & Bloody Ground.

That is why, when I was contacted by the folks at the Ancient Aliens series on The History Channel to come on their show and discuss my researches on Abraham Lincoln and the paranormal as published in The Paranormal Presidency, I was a bit bewildered how I might fit into their show’s format. Nevertheless, last summer I did an interview with the folks at Ancient Aliens and discussed quite a bit about Lincoln’s beliefs in the paranormal and allied subjects, as well as also discussing Ambrose Bierce, whose Civil War career I have researched extensively, the results of which should be published later this year or early next. Bierce, although known as a cynic, in fact was fascinated by the bizarre, the unexplained and the unusual—in other words, a man after my own heart. As honored as I was to be on their show, however, I wondered how my own expertise would fit into their show’s concept. Well, the wait is over; earlier this month the History Channel aired an episode entitled “Aliens and the Civil War.”

Ambrose Bierce as he looked during the Civil War.  Was his war wound a source of his interests in the bizarre and unexplained?  The Ancient Aliens show thinks so.
Ambrose Bierce as he looked during the Civil War. Was his war wound a source of his interests in the bizarre and unexplained? The Ancient Aliens show thinks so.

First off, I must say they did an excellent job of dovetailing what I had to say about Lincoln with other material relating to Alien contact and the Civil War. As is usual for this show, much of what they have to say is highly speculative; nevertheless, I thought much of what they argued was interesting, making connections between events and phenomena which I had not previously thought related to one another.

Besides the Lincoln segment that I was on, they also discussed some other unusual phenomena which I have previously written about in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, although my take on the incidents was different. There was, for example, the vision of Washington at Valley Forge and his later appearance at the Battle of Gettysburg, which I discussed in the Chapter “Behold a Pale Rider”—although their account of Washington’s visitation at Gettysburg differs from my research.

While attending one seance Lincoln was given a "ride" on a piano by, a "physical" medium.
While attending one seance Lincoln was given a “ride” on a piano by, a “physical” medium.

The part of The Paranormal Presidency which they chose to excerpt from my longer interview revolved about Lincoln’s involvement with Spiritualism, in particular with a young psychic named Nettie Colburn—better known under her married name, Nettie Colburn Maynard.

Although mainstream historians frequently label Nettie as a “charlatan,” my extensive research in the archives and other primary sources proves otherwise.  Similarly, some of the claims of other spiritualists about Lincoln’s involvement with his having visited them have been verified, at least in part. How deeply Lincoln was involved in the movement, however, remains subject to debate, but there is no question that he did attend séances and visit psychics, not with, but also without, his wife.

That the “spirits” that contacted Lincoln’s psychics and advised the President could possibly be Alien life forms is something I had never thought of, but Ancient Aliens makes a case for these and other psychic encounters being due to the remote telepathic actions of extraterrestrials. Likewise, their tying Ambrose Bierce’s traumatic head wound into a possible cause of his being psychically informed by Aliens may seem a stretch, but not totally dissimilar to Lincoln’s own near death experience being the possible cause of his belief in premonitions and similar paranormal experiences.

Were Aliens in contact with Lincoln through the medium Nettie Colburn? (artist' s conception of an alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy).
Were Aliens in contact with Lincoln through the medium Nettie Colburn? (artist’ s conception of an alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy).

Bear in mind, the Ancient Aliens theories remain highly speculative, but some of the ideas they put forth in the episode “Aliens and the Civil War” are highly original and in some cases I think worthy of further investigation. Traditionally, UFO’s and the belief in Ghosts and the paranormal have been regarded as mutually exclusive. For one thing, most scientists accept the premise that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe; most of them have yet to accept the premise that earth has been visited by them.

Scientists as a group reject the supernatural or anything that resembles it and most reject any aspect of the paranormal as “delusions of the masses.”

However, as theoretical physicists delve deeper into such things as Quantum Mechanics, and posit parallel worlds, alternate realities and similar “fringe science,” some scientists are no longer smugly scoffing at many types of paranormal phenomena, such as remote sensing, precognition, telekinesis and other things hitherto rejected as impossible. The possibility is growing that psychic communication at a distance, or foretelling the future may eventually be found to have a basis in reality, no matter how fantastic they may seem today.

All this reminds me of something that William Herndon, Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, once said about Lincoln’s unorthodox beliefs. He said that Lincoln did not so much believe in the supernatural as in the supra-natural; that what we may regard as defying the laws of nature may just be a part of the natural world which we cannot yet comprehend. Have aliens been in contact with us, by psychic or other means? Who is to say; what today may seem fantastic, may yet prove true.

“Aliens and the Civil War” aired on April 10, 2015 but you can see it on the Ancient Aliens Website: http://www.history.com/shows/ancient-aliens/videos/aliens-and-the-civil-war

My latest book, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife is now in print with The University of Tennessee Press.  Look for it at better bookstores everywhere.

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover
Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife covers the military career of famous American author and curmudgeon.
Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln documents the beliefs and experiences of Abraham Lincoln with the paranormal, including his prophetic dreams, presentiments, encounters with Spiritualism and other uncanny and unusual events.