Daniel Webster Whittle was born at Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts on November 22 in Massachusetts, in 1840, named after the American politician Daniel Webster.
During the Civil War he marched with General Sherman as he blazed his way through the Southern States. At the battle of Vicksburg Whittle lost his right arm and was taken prisoner by the Confederate Army.
But like thousands of others – in both the Northern and Southern troops – Whittle came to a saving knowledge of Christ. It has been estimated that over 100,000 were converted in the Union Army … and approximately 150,000 among the Confederates (Christian History Magazine, Volume 33).
While in the Confederate hospital, recovering from his injury, Whittle looked for something to read and found a New Testament. Its message touched him but he resisted faith in Christ.
One night a hospital orderly woke him with the news that a dying prisoner wanted someone to pray with him. When Whittle declined the orderly said, “But I thought you were a Christian. I have seen you reading the Bible.” Whittle then decided to go to the dying man.
“I dropped on my knees and held the boy’s hand in mine. In a few broken words I confessed my sins and asked Christ to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me. I then prayed earnestly for the boy. He became quiet and pressed my hand as I prayed and pleaded God’s promises. When I arose from my knees, he was dead. A look of peace had come over his troubled face, and I cannot but believe that God who used him to bring me to the Savior, used me to lead him to trust Christ’s precious blood and find pardon. I hope to meet him in heaven.”
Near the close of that awful war, Whittle was promoted to the rank of major, and so he was known as “Major” Whittle from then on. He became well- known in Christian circles as an evangelist. He also wrote about 200 gospel songs, under his own name and also under the pseudonym of “El Nathan” – many still popular today:
“There shall be showers of blessing,” “Have you any room for Jesus?”, “I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me hath been made known”, “There’s a royal banner given for display”.
After the war, Whittle worked as the treasurer for the Elgin Watch Company in Chicago, Illinois. Less than ten years later, however, he dedicated himself to serve in evangelism.
Whittle describes this decision, saying that one day while at work, he “went into the vault and in the dead silence of the quietest of places I gave my life to my Heavenly Father to use as He would.”
In his evangelism ministry Whittle worked with musicians Phillip Bliss and James McGranahan. His daughter, May Moody (married to a son of evangelist D.L. Moody) also wrote music for some of his lyrics.
At the Chicago World Fair in 1893, his friend Henry Varley commented to Major Whittle how he did not like the hymn, “I need Thee every hour..” Varley declared, “I need Him every moment!”
So Major Whittle wrote:
Moment by moment I’m kept in His love,
Moment by moment I’ve life from above…
The melody was composed by his daughter, May.
The works of Major Whittle, El Nathan, Elias Nathan and D.W.W. ended on March 4, 1901, at Northfield, Massachusetts.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.