poetry month

Poetry Month Day 5: Thomas Buchanan Read, "Sheridan’s Ride"

I almost named Tristan after Sheridan’s horse in this poem. His name was Rienzi, renamed Winchester after his arrival at the battle, and today he’s taxidermied and on display at the Smithsonian. (He doesn’t look as grim as you’d think.)

“Sheridan’s Ride”
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,          5
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   10
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,   15
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;   20
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;   25
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;   30
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   35
Like an ocean flying before the wind,  
And the steed, like a barque fed with furnace ire,  
Swept on, with his wild eyes full of fire.  
But lo! he is nearing his heart’s desire;  
He is snuffing the smoke of the roaring fray,   40
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,   45
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 nostril’s play,   50
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!   55
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,   60
  “Here is the steed that saved the day,  
By carrying Sheridan into the fight,  
  From Winchester, twenty miles away!”

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