The following essay was written by Wesley Bradshaw and published by in the National Tribune, Vol. 4, No. 12, December 1880. This version is probably an imperfect copy of one of several prior versions, all of which are now lost. We know now that this essay is almost certainly fiction, but, in my opinion, there is enough truth to it that it is worth reading and pondering.
The last time I ever saw Anthony Sherman was on the 4th of July, 1859, in Independence Square. He was then ninety-nine years old, and becoming very feeble; but, though so old, his dimming eyes rekindled as he gazed upon Independence Hall, which he came to gaze upon once more before he was gathered home.
“Let us go into the Hall,” he said. “I want to tell you an incident of Washington’s life—one which no one alive knows of except myself, and, if you live you will before long see it verified. * * * From the opening of the Revolution we experienced all phases of fortune—now good and now ill, one time victorious and another conquered. The darkest period we had, I think, was when Washington, after several reverses, retreated to Valley Forge, where he resolved to spend the winter of ’77. Ah! I have often seen the tears coursing down our dear old commander’s care-worn cheeks as he would be conversing with a confidential officer about the condition of his poor soldiers. You have doubtless heard the story of Washington going to the thicket to pray. Well, it was not only true, but he used often to pray in secret for aid and comfort from God, the interposition of whose Divine Providence brought us safely through the dark days of tribulation.
“One day, I remember it well, the chilly winds whistled through the leafless trees, though the sky was cloudless and the sun shone brightly; he remained in his quarters nearly all the afternoon alone. When he came out I noticed his face was a shade paler than usual, and there seemed to be something on his mind of more than ordinary importance. Returning just after dusk, he dispatched an orderly to the quarters of the officer I mention, who was presently in attendance. After a preliminary conversation, which lasted about half an hour, Washington, gazing upon his companion with that strange look of dignity which he alone could command, said to the latter: ‘I do not know whether it is owing to the anxiety of my mind, or what, but this afternoon as I was sitting at this very table engaged in preparing a dispatch, something in the apartment seemed to disturb me. Looking up, I beheld standing opposite to me a singularly beautiful female. So astonished was I, for I had given strict orders not to be disturbed, that it was some moments before I found language to inquire the cause of her presence. A second, a third, and even a fourth time did I repeat my question, but received no answer from my mysterious visitor except a slight raising of the eyes. By this time I felt strange sensations spreading through me. I would have risen, but the riveted gaze of the being before me rendered volition impossible. I essayed once more to address her, but my tongue had become powerless. Even thought itself suddenly became paralyzed. A new influence, mysterious, potent, irresistable, took possession of me. All I could do was to gaze steadily, vacantly, at my unknown visitant. Gradually the surrounding atmosphere seemed as though becoming filled with sensations and grew luminous. Everything about me seemed to rarify, the mysterious visitor herself becoming more airy, and yet even more distinct to my sight than before. I now began to feel as one dying—or rather to experience the sensations which I have sometimes imagined accompany dissolution. I did not think, I did not reason, I did not move; all were alike impossible. I was only conscious of gazing fixedly, vacantly, at my companion.
“‘Presently I heard a voice saying, “Son of the Republic, look and learn,” while at the same time my visitor extended her arm eastwardly. I now beheld a heavy white vapor at some distance rising fold upon fold. This gradually dissipated, and I looked upon a strange scene. Before me lay spread out in one vast plain all the countries of the world—Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. I saw rolling and tossing between Europe and America the billows of the Atlantic, and between Asia and America lay the Pacific. “Son of the Republic,” said the same mysterious voice as before, “look and learn.” At that moment I beheld a dark, shadowy being like an angel standing, or, rather, floating, in mid-air between Europe and America. Dipping water out of the ocean in the hollow of each hand, he sprinkled some upon America with his right hand, while with his left hand he cast some upon Europe. Immediately a dark cloud raised from each of these countries and joined in mid-ocean. For a while it remained stationary, and then moved slowly westward, until it enveloped America in its murky folds. Sharp flashes of lightning gleamed through it at intervals, and I heard the smothered groans and cries of the American people. A second time the angel dipped water from the ocean and sprinkled it out as before. The dark cloud was then drawn back to the ocean, in whose heaving waves it sank from view. A third [time], I heard the mysterious voice saying: “Son of the Republic, look and learn.” I cast my eyes upon America and beheld villages and towns and cities springing up one after another, until the whole land from the Atlantic to the Pacific was dotted with them. Again I head the mysterious voice say: “Son of the Republic, the end of the century cometh; look and learn.” At this the dark shadowy angel turned his face southward, and from Africa I saw an ill-omened spectre approach our land. It flitted slowly over [every] town and city of the latter; the inhabitants presently set themselves in battle array against each other. As I continued looking I saw a bright angel, on whose brow rested a crown of light, on which was traced “Union,” bearing the American flag, which was placed between the divided nation, and said: “Remember, ye are brethren.” Instantly the inhabitants, casting from them their weapons. became friends once more and united around the national standard. And again I heard the mysterious voice saying, “Son of the Republic the end of the century cometh; look and learn.” At this the dark shadowy angel placed a trumpet to his mouth and blew three distinct blasts, and taking water from the ocean he sprinkled it upon Europe, Asia, and Africa. Then my eyes beheld a fearful scene. From each of these countries arose thick black clouds that were soon joined into one. And throughout this mass there gleamed a dark red light, by which I saw the hordes of armed men, who, moving with the cloud, marched by land and sailed by sea to America, which country was enveloped in the volume of the cloud. And I dimly saw these vast armies devastate the whole country and burn the villages, towns, and cities that I beheld springing up. As my ears listened to the thundering of cannon, clashing of swords, and shouts and cries of millions in mortal combat, I again heard the mysterious voice saying: “Son of the Republic, look and learn.”
“‘When the voice had ceased the dark shadowy angel placed his trumpet once more to his mouth, and blew a long, powerful blast.
“‘Instantly a light, as if of a thousand suns, shone down from above me, and pierced and broke into fragments the dark cloud which enveloped America. At the same moment I saw the angel upon whose head still shone the word “Union,” and who bore our national flag in one hand and a sword in the other, descend from Heaven attended by legions of bright spirits.
“‘These immediately joined the inhabitants of America, who, I perceived, were well nigh overcome, but who, immediately taking courage again, closed up their broken ranks and renewed the battle. Again, amid the fearful noise of the conflict, I heard the mysterious voice saying: “Son of the Republic, look and learn.”
“‘As the voice ceased, the shadowy angel for the last time dipped 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.
“‘Then, once more, I beheld villages, towns, and cities, springing up where they had been before, while the bright angel, plating the azure standard he had brought in the midst of them, cried in a loud voice: “While the stars remain and the heavens send down dew upon the earth, so long shall the Republic last.” And taking from his brow the crown, on which was blazoned the word “Union,” he placed it upon the standard, while the people, kneeling down, said “Amen.”
“‘The scene instantly began to fade and dissolve, and I at last saw nothing but the rising, curling vapor I had at first beheld. This also disappearing, I found myself once more gazing upon my mysterious visitor, who, in the same voice I had heard before, said: “Son of the Republic, what ye have seen is thus interpreted: Three perils will come upon the Republic. The most fearful is [the] second [other versions say third], passing which the whole world united shall never be able to prevail against her. Let every child of the Republic learn to live for his God, his land, and the Union.”
“‘With these words 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 the United States. In union she will have her strength, in disunion her destruction.’
“Such, my friends,” concluded the venerable narrator, “were the words I heard from Washington’s own lips, and America will do well to profit by them.”