Kelly was six years old at the beginning of the Civil War, sparking a patriotic fascination with American military history that is reflected in his sculptural works. Kelly studied at the National Academy of Design and later helped to found the Art Students League of New York.
Sheridan’s Ride is one of his most famous pieces and was inspired by Thomas Buchanan’s poem of the same name. It depicts the general on his legendary twenty-mile ride into the 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek. Once there, he was able to rally Union troops to a stunning counter attack against the last Confederate attempt on Washington. This event entered the American mind as a myth of the heroic power of a single individual to win a losing battle. In the classic style of the equestrian portrait, Sheridan is seated atop a galloping steed, waving his hat to lead the army to victory. With its dynamic realism, Kelly’s statuette commemorates the cult status of Sheridan as a military hero and serves as a propagandistic symbol of the Union’s righteous power to defeat the South.