William T. Trego: Catalogue Raisonne

The Charge of the Fifth Regulars at Gaines’s Mill, 27th of June, 1862. 1893

Courtesy of the United States Cavalry Museum, Department of the Army, Ft. Riley, Kansas

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Alternate title: Fifth US Cavalry Charge at Gaines Mill; The Federal Charge at the Battle of Gaines Mills; Charge of the Fifth Cavalry at Gaines Mill; Fifth Cavalry Charging at Gaines Mill, Virginia, 1864
Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 30 1/16 inches
Signed and dated ll: “W. T. Trego 1893”
Collection of the United States Cavalry Museum, Department of the Army, Ft. Riley, Kansas


The painting is one of seven commissioned by publisher George Barrie of Philadelphia as illustrations for his monumental work The Army and Navy of the United States, published in Philadelphia, 1889–1895. The painting was reproduced in section 3 as a photogravure, 9½ by 13¾ inches, hand colored in deluxe editions. The image was also issued separately as a black-and-white mounted print. A photograph taken in Trego’s studio in 1893 shows the artist sitting in front of his easel working on the painting.

At the Battle of Gaines’s Mill, Virginia, during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, a small unit of Union cavalry charged the rapidly advancing Confederate forces in a brave attempt to prevent their artillery pieces from being captured. An account of that desperate charge had been published in 1891, only two years before Trego painted this version of the events, and may have served as one of his reference points:In all, the loss in killed, wounded and missing, was fifty-eight, and twenty-four horses were known to have been killed. . . . The guns which were in condition to retire were saved….no cavalry charge was ever ridden better or against more hopeless odds of numbers.” (Eben Swift, The Fifth Regiment of Cavalry [Military Service Institution, 1891])

Trego shows the threatened artillery pieces, partially obscured by smoke, just behind the line of cavalrymen as they start on their wild charge. The withering fire the riders face is indicated by the fact that two of them have already been shot. In an image typical of Trego’s battle scenes, the soldier leading the charge turns to see one of his comrades about to fall from his saddle. One of the horses is rearing back as though wounded, while close to the center of the painting, the eye of a terrified horse seems to look directly at the viewer, signaling to us the extreme danger of the moment. Not far behind him, the eyes of a soldier, just visible over another horse’s head, reinforce that impression.


Owned by collector and antiques appraiser, Tom Lopiano, from whom the work was purchased in 1983 by the U.S. Cavalry Museum


As “The Federal Charge at the Battle of Gaines Mills,” in Guy Carleton Lee, ed., The History of North America (Philadelphia: George Barrie and Sons, 1905). As “Charge of the Fifth Cavalry at Gaines Mill,” in John K. Herr, The Story of the U.S. Cavalry, 1775–1942 (Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1953). As “5th Cavalry Charging at Gaines Mill, Virginia, 1864,” in Mary Lee Stubbs, Armor-Cavalry (U.S. Department of the Army, Office of Military History, 1969). This image has proven to be one of Trego’s most popular. In addition to the prints that sold well in the late nineteenth century, prints and even hand-painted oil copies of the work continue to be produced and made available today.


The painting has recently been cleaned and conserved and is in excellent condition.

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James A. Michener Art Museum William T. Trego Catalogue Raisonne