By Simon Mennick
America's darkest hour of the Revolutionary War began on Dec. 19, 1777. On that day General George Washington and his ragged army of 11,000 weary and despairing Army soldiers took up winter quarters at Valley Forge, PA. For Washington and his men this was the beginning of a living nightmare -- an agonizing, brutal, four-month-long struggle for survival.
At Valley Forge the patriots would undergo their most demanding ordeal of the war. Waiting for them in this frigid hell of privation and suffering was a wretched combination of frostbite, disease, hunger, disillusionment, and for 3,000 of them, death.
"I feel super abundantly for them," Washington would be moved to write about his suffering men, "and from my soul I pity those miseries which it is neither in my power to relieve or prevent."
For Washington, Valley Forge would also be the site of an incredible experience. There, amid the snow, the agony, and the sacrifice, the future president of the United States would keep an unscheduled date with destiny; there he would come face to face with the Unknown.
The story of George Washington's extraordinary encounter with the supernatural is attributed to a certain Anthony Sherman who, on July 4, 1859, at the ripe old age of 99, recounted it to Charles Wesley Alexander. Sherman had been with Washington at Valley Forge, and his account of the incident was subsequently published by Alexander under the pseudonym of Wesley Bradshaw.
One unspecified day during that fateful winter of 1777-78, Sherman noticed that Washington had strangely "remained in his quarters nearly all the afternoon alone." When he at last came out, his face was, according to Sherman, "a shade paler than usual, and there seemed to be something on his mind of more than ordinary importance."
Washington was apparently deeply troubled by something, for later that same day he summoned a certain trusted officer. After a preliminary conversation of about half an hour, Washington reportedly revealed to this unidentified colleague the details of his remarkable experience. Though Sherman does not specifically admit it, he must have eavesdropped on the conversation.
"I do not know whether it is owing to the anxiety of my mind, or what," confessed Washington as he began his strange account, "but this afternoon, as I was sitting at this table engaged in preparing a dispatch, something seemed to disturb me."
Glancing up to find the cause of his distraction, Washington was stunned to find a "singularly beautiful female" standing opposite him.
Four times he queried this mysterious woman as to the nature of her presence, but the only reply she offered was "a slight raising of her eyes."
Presently, however, Washington heard a voice call to him; "Son of the Republic, look and learn."
Simultaneously his strange female visitor extended her arm toward the east. A heavy white vapor rapidly started to rise from that direction. As this vapor gradually dissipated, an incredible scene unfolded before Washington's eyes -- spread out in one vast plain lay all the countries of the world.
The first of three "great" perils, the Revolutionary War then in progress, was now close at hand.
A "dark shadowy being like an angel," appeared in mid-air between Europe and America. With each hand this being scooped up some water from the ocean and sprinkled it upon both continents. Immediately a cloud arose from each continent. These clouds moved toward each other until, in mid-ocean, they fused into one giant mass.
This menacing mass hung motionless for a short span of time and then started to slowly gravitate toward the US. Sharp bolts of lightning flashed repeatedly through the cloud as it "enveloped America in its murky folds." Amid the confusion and turmoil that followed, Washington heard "the smothered groans and cries of the American people."
The shadowy being now scooped up some more water from the ocean and once again sprinkled it on the two continents. The dark cloud raced rapidly back out over the ocean and then sank into it.
A period of peace, prosperity, and growth followed this conflict. Villages, towns, and cities sprang up one after another, till the entire country from sea to sea was dotted with them.
Unfortunately, though, the time for the second "great" peril, the Civil War, had arrived.
An "ill-omened spectre" appeared from Africa and made its way threateningly toward the US. This spectre (an obvious reference to the heated issue of slavery) "flitted slowly over every town and city" in America. And soon the inhabitants "set themselves in battle array against each other."
But just as the two mighty armies were set to clash, a "bright angel, on whose brow rested a crown of light, on which was traced the word 'Union' planted the American flag between the divided nation and proclaimed; "Remember ye are brethren." Instantly the divided people threw their weapons aside and united around the national standard.
Quick on the heels of this second peril came the third and most terrifying -- an apocalyptic confrontation between the US and the invading armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The "dark, shadowy being" blew three distinct blasts from a trumpet and then sprinkled some water on Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Thick black clouds quickly arose from each continent and fused into one ominous mass. Throughout this thick, threatening cloud there "gleamed a dark red light" by which Washington saw "hordes of armed men" launch an invasion against the US. As this sinister mass enveloped the entire country, huge invasion armies began to devastate the land, burning villages, towns and cities. Amid this hellish conflagration and destruction, Washington heard "the shouts and cries of millions in mortal combat."
Just as the Americans were about to be overwhelmed, "a light as of a thousand suns shone down from above" Washington. This light "pierced and broke into fragments the dark cloud which enveloped America."
At the same moment the "bright angel" from the earlier conflict "descended from the heavens attended by legions of white spirits." These heavenly spirits joined the struggle on the side of the Americans who immediately took courage, "closed up their broken ranks and renewed the battle."
"Son of the Republic, look and learn," urged the mysterious voice once more.
The shadowy being now scooped up some more water from the ocean and sprinkled it upon America. "Instantly, the dark cloud rolled back, together with the armies it had brought, leaving the inhabitants of the land victorious."
As the country began the enormous task of rebuilding, the "bright angel" proclaimed with a loud voice: "While the stars remain, and the heavens send down dew upon the earth, so long shall the Union last."
With this promise the whole scene started to fade and dissolve. Washington soon saw nothing but the rising white vapor which he had first beheld. When this too disappeared he found himself gazing once more upon this mysterious female visitor. She interpreted the meaning of the vision to him, explaining that the nation would be confronted by three great perils. The third would be the gravest and help against it, she declared, would be in the form of divine assistance.
"With these words," Washington is quote by Sherman as saying to his unidentified colleague, "the vision vanished, and I started from my seat and felt that I had seen a vision wherein had been shown me the birth, progress, and destiny of this nation."