Sheridan’s Ride

(31 October 1864) 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!”