Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

Sheridan's Ride

A T the end of the summer of 1864 the Confederate cavalry were pushing north into Pennsylvania, making for the Susquehanna River. They sacked the town of Chambersburg, and threw the neighboring country into panic. General Grant at once sent a large force to head off this invasion, and placed General Philip Henry Sheridan in command of it. On September 19, 1864, the Confederate General Early attacked Sheridan's troops at Winchester. Sheridan defeated Early after repeated charges by the Union cavalry, and sent him retreating down the Shenandoah Valley.

This repulse was thought to have checked General Early, and a little later Sheridan went to Washington to consult with the Secretary of War. During his absence, on October 18th, the Confederates secretly moved a large force against the Union army at Cedar Creek, and the following morning attacked the sleeping camp in front, flank, and rear. The Federal troops, taken absolutely by surprise, broke and fled. Early drove them before him, and appeared to be winning a great victory. But Sheridan was returning from Washington, and had reached the town of Winchester when he heard the sound of cannon. He instantly put spurs to his horse and dashed towards Cedar Creek, a distance of twenty miles.

As the general came up to his retreating men he shouted, "Face the other way, boys; we're going back!" The soldiers turned and followed him, and by the time he reached the battle-field at noon the retreating army was turned into an attacking one. Cheering for Sheridan the soldiers charged and completely routed Early's army, driving them back again and out of the Valley. Sheridan's ride won a great Union victory, and in recognition of it President Lincoln made the commander a major-general.

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,

And 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 sprung 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 bark 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 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 the red nostrils' 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 soldiers' 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!"

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