Steel Engraving of Sheridan's Ride - Artist T. Buchanan Read, "By Kind Permission of Mrs. U.S. Grant" beneath engraving.
Sheridan was at Winchester on his return from Washington. Hearing the noise of battle, he dashed up the turnpike with an escort of twenty men, rallying the fugitives on his way, and after a ride of a dozen miles reached the army, where he was received with indescribable enthusiasm. This famous incident gave rise to Buchanan Read’s stirring poem of Sheridan’s ride, now one of the most popular pieces in the repertories of public readers, both in England and the United States. After a lapse of a few hours, spent in preparing his forces, Sheridan ordered an advance, and literally swept the enemy from the field in one of the most overwhelming and decisive engagements of the war. All the lost Union guns were retaken, and twenty-four Confederate guns and many wagons and stores were captured. Congress passed a vote of thanks to Sheridan and his troops for the “brilliant series of victories in the valley,” and especially the one at Cedar Creek. Sheridan was appointed by the President a major-general in the army “for the personal gallantry, military skill, and just confidence in the courage and patriotism of your troops,” as the order expressed it, “displayed by you on October 19th”1864.
Thomas Buchanan Read painted the picture, which was used to make the steel engravings and wrote the following poem.
Sheridan’s Ride by Thomas Buchanan Read:
Up from the South, at break of day,
Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay,
The affrighted air with a shudder bore,
Like a herald in haste to the chieftain’s door,
The terrible grumble, and rumble, and roar,
Telling the battle was on once more,
And Sheridan twenty miles away.
And wider still those billows of war
Thundered along the horizon’s bar;
And louder yet into Winchester rolled
The roar of that red sea uncontrolled,
Making the blood of the listener cold,
As he thought of the stake in that fiery fray,
With Sheridan twenty miles away.
But there is a road from Winchester town,
A good, broad highway leading down:
And there, through the flush of the morning light,
A steed as black as the steeds of night
Was seen to pass, as with eagle flight;
As if he knew the terrible need,
He stretched away with his utmost speed.
Hills rose and fell, but his heart was gay,
With Sheridan fifteen miles away.
Still sprang from those swift hoofs, thundering south,
The dust like smoke from the cannon’s mouth,
Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster,
Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster.
The heart of the steed and the heart of the master
Were beating like prisoners assaulting their walls,
Impatient to be where the battle-field calls;
Every nerve of the charger was strained to full play,
With Sheridan only ten miles away.
Under his spurning feet, the road
Like an arrowy Alpine river flowed,
And the landscape sped away behind
Like an ocean flying before the wind;
And the steed, like a barque fed with furnace ire,
Swept on, with his wild eye full of fire;
But, lo! he is nearing his heart’s desire;
He is snuffing the smoke of the roaring fray,
With Sheridan only five miles away.
The first that the general saw were the groups
Of stragglers, and then the retreating troops;
What was to be done? what to do?—a glance told him both.
Then striking his spurs with a terrible oath,
He dashed down the line, ’mid a storm of huzzas,
And the wave of retreat checked its course there, because
The sight of the master compelled it to pause.
With foam and with dust the black charger was gray;
By the flash of his eye, and his red nostril’s play,
He seemed to the whole great army to say:
“I have brought you Sheridan all the way
From Winchester down to save the day.”
Hurrah! hurrah for Sheridan!
Hurrah! hurrah for horse and man!
And when their statues are placed on high
Under the dome of the Union sky,
The American soldier’s Temple of Fame,
There, with the glorious general’s name,
Be it said, in letters both bold and bright:
“Here is the steed that saved the day
By carrying Sheridan into the fight,
From Winchester – twenty miles away!”
Thomas Buchanan Read 1822-1872 - was an American poet and portrait painter born in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Read wrote a prose romance, The Pilgrims of the Great St. Bernard, and several books of poetry, including The New Pastoral, The House by the Sea, Sylvia, and A Summer Story. Some of the shorter pieces included in these, e.g., "Sheridan's Ride," "Drifting,""The Angler", "The Oath," and "The Closing Scene," have great merit. Read was briefly associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His greatest artistic popularity took place in Florence. Among portraits he painted were Abraham Lincoln, Henry Longfellow, Alfred Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning and William Henry Harrison. Read died from injuries sustained in a carriage accident, which weakened him and led him to contract pneumonia while on shipboard returning to America.
Inventory Number: PRI 073