by Bill Nye
Public Domain Books
I have always taken a great interest in war incidents, and more so, perhaps, because I wasn’t old enough to put down the rebellion myself. I have been very eager to get hold of and hoard up in my memory all its gallant deeds of both sides, and to know the history of those who figured prominently in that great conflict has been one of my ambitions.
I have also watched with interest the steady advancement of Phil Sheridan, the black-eyed warrior with the florid face and the Winchester record. I have also taken some pains to investigate the later history of the old Winchester war horse.
“Old Rienzi died in our stable a few years after the war,” said a Chicago livery man to me, a short time ago. “General Sheridan left him with us and instructed us to take good care of him, which we did, but he got old at last, and his teeth failed upon him, and that busted his digestion, and he kind of died of old age, I reckon.”
“How did General Sheridan take it?”
“Oh, well, Phil Sheridan is no school girl. He didn’t turn away when old Rienzi died and weep the manger full of scalding regret. If you know Sheridan, you know that he don’t rip the blue dome of heaven wide open with unavailing wails. He just told us to take care of its remains, patted the old cuss on the head a little and walked off. Phil Sheridan don’t go around weeping softly into a pink bordered wipe when a horse dies. He likes a good horse, but Rienzi was no Jay-Eye-See for swiftness, and he wasn’t the purtiest horse you ever see, by no means.”
“Did you read lately how General Sheridan don’t ride on horseback since his old war horse died, and seems to have lost all interest in horses?”
“No, I never did. He no doubt would rather ride in a cable car or a carriage than to jar himself up on a horse. That’s all likely enough, but, as I say, he’s a matter of fact little fighter from Fighttown. He never stopped to snoot and paw up the ground and sob himself into bronchitis over old Rienzi. He went right on about his business, and, like old King What’s-His-name he hollered for another hoss, and the War Department never slipped a cog.”
Later on I read that the old war horse was called Winchester and that he was still alive in a blue grass pasture in Kentucky. The report said that old Winchester wasn’t very coltish, and that he was evidently failing. I gathered the idea that he was wearing store teeth, and that his memory was a little deficient, but that he might live yet for years. After that I met a New York livery stable prince, at whose palace General Sheridan’s well-known Winchester war horse died of botts in ’71. He told me all about it and how General Sheridan came on from Chicago at the time, and held the horse’s head in his lap while the fleet limbs that flew from Winchester down and saved the day, stiffened in the great, mysterious repose of death. He said Sheridan wept like a child, and as he told the touching tale to me I wept also. I say I wept. I wept about a quart, I would say. He said also that the horse’s name wasn’t Winchester nor Rienzi; it was Jim.
I was sorry to know it. Jim is no name for a war horse who won a victory and a marble bust and a poem. You can’t respect a horse much if his name was Jim.
After that I found out that General Sheridan’s celebrated Winchester horse was raised in Kentucky, also in Pennsylvania and Michigan; that he went out as a volunteer private; that he was in the regular service prior to the war, and that he was drafted, and that he died on the field of battle, in a sorrel pasture, in ’73, in great pain on Governor’s Island; that he was buried with Masonic honors by the Good Templars and the Grand Army of the Republic; that he was resurrected by a medical college and dissected; that he was cremated in New Orleans and taxidermed for the Military Museum at New York. Every little while I run up against a new fact relative to this noted beast. He has died in nine different States, and been buried in thirteen different styles, while his soul goes marching on. Evidently we live in an age of information. You can get more information nowadays, such as it is, than you know what to do with.