He Woke General Sheridan
For His Famous Ride

Originally published in The Daily Review (Decatur), 1 November 1903

    George Mixell

    Philip Sheridan

George Mixell of Warrensburg Was Sentinel on Duty Before Sheridan's Headquarters

THE man who started Sheridan on his famous ride from Fairfax Station to Winchester to win an already lost battle lives in Warrensburg. He is George Mixell, one of the oldest residents of the "Burg."


Though he is now over 75 years of age, Mr. Mixell is still in good health and has a distinct and vivid recollection of how he sent General Phil Sheridan from Fairfax Station to Winchester at 2 o'clock on the morning of Oct. 19, 1864. Sheridan's dash down the Shenandoah valley has become famous. A poem, full of vigor, noise and united spirit has been written about it, histories of the Civil war tell of the wonderful ride and the more wonderful rally of the army; and the thousands of Fourth of July orators refer to it every year in their course from Columbus to Roosevelt.


Mr. Mixell tells the story as follows:

"I was born in Cumberland county, Pa., and lived there till August, 1864, when I enlisted and was placed in the Two Hundred and Second regiment of Pennsylvania infantry of which Colonel Charles Albright was in command. I was a member of Company H.


"I enlisted too late to fight in any real battles, but I got into many 'scrimages.' Our regiment was assigned to Fairfax Station, a small village, not much larger than Bearsdale, on the Orange and Alexandria road, from October, 1864, to May, 1865. Fairfax Station is about twenty-five or thirty miles south and west of Winchester. Near Winchester runs Cedar creek, by which Sheridan's army was in camp. City Point, where Grant was at the time, is about twenty-five miles west and south of Winchester in West Virginia. Fairfax and Winchester are in old Virginia.

"You know Sheridan left his army in order to see General Grant at City Point and to have a conference with him. Of course he did not think that Early, the Confederate general, would surprise and rout his army; he did not think Early was strong enough. So he took plenty of time and was in no great hurry to return to his army. So he came by way of Fairfax Station.


"It happened that I was on guard duty at the headquarters of our colonel the evening Sheridan arrived at the station. Colonel Albright had his headquarters in a large house near the railroad, and I patrolled the porch.

"When Sheridan arrived he was alone. He was riding a magnificent black horse, not unusually large but splendidly proportioned and of great strength and speed, as it seemed to me. He dismounted in front of the house and wanted to pass me without giving the countersign. I did not know who he was, and would not let him pass. I had presented my bayonet to him when the colonel came out on the porch and welcomed him. As soon as I found that it was General Sheridan I saluted. But he turned around and said:


"Don't salute now. You don't need to till morning. I'm no better than you tonight. If you hear an unusual noise, especially anything like distant thunder, come to my room right away and wake me up."

"With that he went into the house. I suppose he went to bed immediately, for it was late in the evening before he arrived at the headquarters.

"I continued my watch without hearing anything unusual till 2 o'clock in the morning. Then a dull, continuous noise, as that of heavy thunder, reached my ears. I could not tell exactly where it came from, but I thought it was in the direction of Winchester.


"Remembering Sheridan's caution I immediately went to his room in the house and knocked on the door. He sprang out of bed and opened the door, at the same time asking me what was wrong. I told him of the noise, and he ran out on the porch in his night clothes. After listening a minute he called for his horse and hurried into the house to put on his clothes.


"He was gone but a short time, but when he returned the horse had already been brought up by a servant. The animal had had a good rest and seemed to be in fine shape. He was stamping impatiently when the general sprang on his back. The colonel was out by that time and Sheridan ordered him to get his men under way as soon as possible and march toward Winchester. Then he was off at a fast gallop.


"If he had a body guard I do not know if. No one attended him when he rode up to the headquarters. He may have left his men in the camp and picked up a couple when he rode to Winchester, but I don't know that he did, and I never heard anything more of his ride except that he arrived in time to rally his routed forces and turn absolute defeat into a decisive victory."

Mr. Mixell tell his story often, and he always has an interested audience. He remembers all the details except the date of the battle and the countersign used that night. He and his regiment never reached Winchester, being stopped on the way with the news that the battle was won. Sheridan's ride was the greatest of his war experiences, and to tell of it is one of his pleasures.

And, here is the poem that was written about General Phillip Sheridan's famous 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!"


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