Colonel Phil Sheridan first saw the black gelding in Rienzi, Mississippi and named him after the town. He rode him for the next three years through 45 engagements including 19 pitched battles and two cavalry raids.
On October 19, 1864 Sheridan and Rienzi had galloped south from Winchester toward the sound of battle. Sheridan’s troops were worn out and terrified under a fierce assault from the Confederates. Rienzi may have been exhausted but he carried Sheridan forward and into the battle, roused the troops and led them to victory!
This story is immortalized in the poem “Sheridan’s Ride” by Thomas Buchanan Read who also painted the horse and his rider. The horse became a national hero a much loved by all especially school children. It is not recorded if he found the fame irksome but he was credited with assisting Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party in winning the election of 1864.