Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It Runs in the Family (aka, Today's History Lesson)

Last night I did get pictures of my place and had fully intended on giving a progress report, but I worked a bit too hard and was a little too tired. After work I did chores and then worked until dark, came in, took a shower, fed the dogs and went to bed.

Man, were my dogs a-barkin! And I don't mean my own daggum dogs neither!

Translation: My feet ached from the plethora of work I completed yesterday. My personal canine companions were not literally vocally boysterous--I was using a turn of phrase.


I did meander on the world wide web a bit and found some interesting articles on famous horses. Two of these horses ended up having a personal connection that I found both interesting and helpful in explaining my terrible addiction. Apparently a love of great horses runs in the family.

Let me back up a bit here. My 4th great-grandmother was Mary Ann Sheridan. Her family came from Ireland, she married a Neel and gave birth to my 3rd great-grandmother Mary Ann Neel who in turn married George McCandless. George and Mary Ann are buried just a mile from where I now live. And now you know the rest of the story....

Mary Ann Sheridan was a lady I would have loved to have known. She lived most of her life in Ohio and (in her own words) was a cousin of both General Robert E. Lee and General Phillip Sheridan. I've been able to solidify the line between her and General Sheridan, but the connection between her and General Lee still needs to be verified. However, in some way, Mary Ann knew both these individuals as family.

Since I don't want to presume that every one of my readers (including international ones) is well-versed in American Civil War history, here's a little background on these two famous generals:

Robert E Lee is probably the best known (and arguably the most well-respected) of the Confederate Generals. He was the General in Chief of the Confederate Army at the close of the war. Lee was actually asked by President Lincoln to command Union troops but since Lee's home state of Virginia was succeeding from the Union (which, by the way, was a decision Lee did not agree with), he chose to fight for the Confederacy. After the war Lee supported President Johnson's Reconstruction program.

General Phillip Sheridan is not as well known as General Lee but in his own time was considered a very powerful (and sometimes controversial) commander. He was actually instrumental in Lee's surrender at Appromattox. Later in life he helped develop Yellowstone National Park.

Perhaps Sheridan's biggest claim to fame was his famous ride:

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!"

The horse immortalized in Read's poem,"Rienzi" (whose name was changed to Winchester when the poem was written), now resides in the Smithsonian. Rienzi was presented to Sheridan in 1862 by officers of the Second Michigan Cavalry. He was ridden by Sheridan in nearly every engagement in which he participated during the remainder of the Civil War.

Rienzi/Winchester died in 1878. His body was mounted and presented to the museum of the Military Service Institution of the United States, Governors Island, New York. He is now on display at the Hall of Armed Forces History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

General Lee's horse was famous, too. His name was Traveller. Traveller was a 16H American Saddlebred and Lee's main mount after he purchased him in 1862. He was reportedly a steadfast horse and not easily spooked.

Traveller outlived Lee and during Lee's funeral procession in 1870 he was led behind Lee's casket, his saddle and bridle draped with black crepe. A year later Traveller stepped on a nail, developed tetanus and was euthanized.

Traveller was so popular that after his burial someone dug him up and bleached his bones. The skeleton was recovered and mounted for display, but students would break in and carve their initials on his skeleton for good luck. Finally Traveller was laid to rest in a cement coffin not far from Lee's grave.

So you see, this addiction...this "horse-thing" has to be genetic, right? I even have historical evidence to back up my theory.

That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

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