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Famous Like Me > Writer > W > Lew Wallace

Profile of Lew Wallace on Famous Like Me

Name: Lew Wallace  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 10th April 1827
Place of Birth: Brookville, Indiana, USA
Profession: Writer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Lew Wallace

Lewis "Lew" Wallace (April 10, 1827 – February 15, 1905) was a lawyer, governor, Union general in the American Civil War, U.S. statesman, and author, best remembered for his historical novel Ben-Hur.

Early life

Wallace was born in Brookville, Indiana, to a prominent local family. His father, David Wallace, later served as Indiana Governor. He attended Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He then served in Mexican War and was admitted to the bar in 1849.

The Civil War

At the start of the Civil War, Wallace helped raise troops in Indiana. He eventually rose to major general in the Union Army, fighting (with some controversy) at Fort Donelson and Monocacy Junction.

His most controversial command, however, came at the Battle of Shiloh, where he was put in charge of a 7,000-man division in the army of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Wallace's division had been left as reserves at a place called Stoney Lonesome to the rear of the Union line. At about 6 a.m., when Grant's army was surprised and virtually routed by the sudden appearance of the Confederate States Army under Albert Sidney Johnston, Grant sent orders for Wallace to move his unit up to support the division of William Tecumseh Sherman.

Here, the controversy begins. Wallace claimed that Grant's orders were unsigned, hastily written, and overly vague. There were two paths by which Wallace could move his unit to the front, and Grant (according to Wallace) did not specify which one he should take. Wallace chose to take the upper path, which was much less used and in considerably better condition, and which would lead him to the right side of Sherman's last known position. Grant later claimed that he had specified that Wallace take the lower path, though circumstantial evidence seems to suggest that Grant had forgotten that more than one path even existed.

Whatever the case, Wallace arrived at the end of his march only to find that Sherman had been forced back, and was no longer where Wallace thought he was. Moreover, he had been pushed back so far that Wallace now found himself in the rear of the advancing Southern troops. Nevertheless, a messenger from Grant arrived with word that Grant was wondering where Wallace was, and why he had not arrived at Pittsburg Landing, where the Union was making its stand. Wallace was confused. He felt sure he could viably launch an attack from where he was and hit the Rebels in the rear. Nevertheless, he decided to turn his troops around and march back to Stoney Lonesome. For some reason, rather than realign his troops so that the rear guard would be in the front, Wallace chose to march the troops in a circle until the front was facing the other way. This undoubtedly cost a great deal of time and is rather inexplicable, even by Wallace's own accounts.

Wallace marched back to Stoney Lonesome, and arrived at 11 a.m. It had now taken him five hours of marching to return to where he started, with somewhat less rested troops. He then proceeded to march over the lower road to Pittsburg Landing, but the road had been left in terrible conditions by recent rainstorms and previous Union marches, so the going was extremely slow. Wallace finally arrived at Grant's position at about 7 p.m., at a time when the fighting was practically over. Grant was not pleased. Nevertheless, the Union came back to win the battle the following day.

At first, there was little fallout from this. Wallace was the youngest general of his rank in the army, and was something of a "golden boy." He was also rather a braggart. Soon, though, civilians in the North began to hear the news of the horrible casualties at Shiloh, and Army command needed a scapegoat to explain them. Both Grant and his command replacement, Maj. Gen. Henry Wager Halleck, placed the blame squarely on Wallace, saying that his incompetence in moving up the reserves had nearly cost them the battle. Sherman, for his part, remained mute on the issue. Wallace was removed from his command, and reassigned to much less glamorous duty on the east coast. In July of 1864, he produced mixed results in the Battle of Monocacy Junction, part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864: his army (the Middle Department) was defeated by Confederate General Jubal A. Early, but was able to delay Early's advance toward Washington, D.C., sufficiently that the city defenses had time to organize and repel Early.

General Grant assessed Wallace's delaying tactics at Monocacy:

If Early had been but one day earlier, he might have entered the capital before the arrival of the reinforcements I had sent. ... General Wallace contributed on this occasion by the defeat of the troops under him, a greater benefit to the cause than often falls to the lot of a commander of an equal force to render by means of a victory.

Personally, Wallace was devastated by the loss of his reputation as a result of Shiloh. He worked desperately all his life to change public opinion about his role in the battle, going so far as to literally beg Grant to "set things right" in Grant's memoirs. Grant, however, like many of the others Wallace importuned, refused to change his opinion.

Postwar career

Wallace, as a lawyer, participated in the trials of Lincoln assassination conspirators and of Henry Wirz, commandant of the Andersonville prison camp.

Wallace held a number of important political posts during the 1870s and 1880s. He served as Governor of New Mexico Territory from 1878 to 1881, and as U.S. Minister to Turkey from 1881 to 1885. As Governor he offered amnesty to many men involved in the Lincoln County War; in the process he met with Billy the Kid.

While serving as Governor, Wallace penned the novel that made him famous: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880). It grew to be the best selling American novel of the 19th century. The book has never been out of print and has been filmed four times.

Recently, historian Victor Davis Hanson has argued that the novel was based heavily on Wallace's own life, particularly his experiences at Shiloh and the damage it did to his reputation. There are some striking similarities: the book's main character, Judah Ben-Hur accidentally causes injury to a high-ranking commander, for which he (and his family) suffers no end of tribulations and calumny.

Wallace died in Crawfordsville, Indiana, in 1905 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Other books by Wallace

  • The Fair God
  • The Prince of India
  • Boyhood of Christ

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Lew Wallace