Military Wiki
Lew Wallace
11th Governor of New Mexico Territory

In office
Preceded by Samuel Beach Axtell
Succeeded by Lionel Allen Sheldon
United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire

In office
Preceded by James Longstreet
Succeeded by Samuel S. Cox
Personal details
Born Lewis Wallace
April 10, 1827 (1827-04-10)
Brookville, Indiana
Died February 15, 1905 (1905-02-16) (aged 77)
Crawfordsville, Indiana
Resting place Oak Hill Cemetery, Crawfordsville, Indiana
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Susan Arnold Elston Wallace (married 1852)
Children Henry Lane Wallace
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1846–47, 1861–65
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Major General
Commands 11th Indiana Infantry

3rd Division, Army of the Tennessee
VIII Corps

Battles/wars American Civil War

Lewis "Lew" Wallace (April 10, 1827 – February 15, 1905) was an American lawyer, Union general in the American Civil War, territorial governor and statesman, politician, and author. Wallace served as governor of the New Mexico Territory at the time of the Lincoln County War and worked to bring an end to the fighting.

Of his novels and biographies, he is best known for his historical novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880), a bestselling book since its publication, and called "the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century."[1] It has been adapted four times for films.

Early life and career

Wallace was born in Brookville, Indiana, to David Wallace and Esther French (Test) Wallace. His father was a graduate of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York,[2] and served as lieutenant governor and governor of Indiana. When Wallace's father was elected as lieutenant governor of Indiana, he moved his family to Covington, Indiana. Wallace's autobiography contains many stories from his boyhood in Covington, including the account of the death of his mother in 1834. In 1836, at the age of nine, he joined his brother in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he briefly attended Wabash Preparatory School. His father remarried, to Zerelda Gray Sanders Wallace, a prominent suffragist and temperance advocate, who was stepmother to the boys. Lew Wallace rejoined his father in Indianapolis.[3]

In 1846, at the start of the Mexican-American War, Wallace was studying law. He left that pursuit to raise a company of militia and was elected a second lieutenant in the 1st Indiana Infantry regiment. He rose to the position of regimental adjutant and the rank of first lieutenant, serving in the army of Zachary Taylor, although he personally did not participate in combat.[4] After hostilities, he was mustered out of the volunteer service on June 15, 1847.[5]


Wallace was admitted to the bar in 1849. In 1851, he was elected prosecuting attorney of Indiana's 1st congressional district.[3] In 1856, he was elected to the Indiana State Senate after moving his residence to Crawfordsville.

Marriage and family

On May 6, 1852 in Crawfordsville, Wallace married Susan Arnold Elston. They had one son, Henry Lane Wallace (1853–1926).

Civil War

Wallace first met Abraham Lincoln after the Mexican War, and his admiration for the fellow lawyer contributed to Wallace's decision to join the Republican Party. Although not a strong abolitionist at the start of the American Civil War, Indiana's Republican governor Oliver P. Morton asked him to help raise troops; Wallace, who sought a second chance for military glory, agreed on the condition that he be given command of a regiment.[6] He was appointed state adjutant general and, on April 25, 1861, was appointed colonel of the 11th Indiana Infantry.[5] After reading about elite units of the French Army he decided to train and outfit his men as Zouaves. In June 1861, while stationed at Cumberland, Maryland, Wallace's regiment won a minor battle at Romney, West Virginia.[6] He was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on September 3 and given the command of a brigade.[5]

Forts Henry & Donelson

In February 1862, while preparing for an advance against Fort Henry, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sent two wooden gunboats (timberclads) down the Tennessee River for one last reconnaissance of the fort with Wallace aboard. In his report, Wallace noted an officer in the fort who was watching the Union ships as inquisitively as they were watching him. Little did Wallace know at that time the officer was Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, whom Wallace would replace as commander of Fort Henry in a few days. During the campaign Wallace's brigade was attached to Brig. Gen. Charles F. Smith's division and occupied Fort Heiman across the river from Fort Henry. Grant's superior, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, was concerned about Confederate reinforcements retaking the forts, so Grant left Wallace with his brigade in command at Fort Henry while the rest of the army moved overland toward Fort Donelson.

Map showing Wallace's counterattack at Fort Donelson (1862)

Displeased to have been left behind,[6] Wallace prepared his troops to move out at a moment's notice. The order came on February 14, and when Wallace arrived along the Cumberland River, he was placed in charge of organizing a division of reinforcements arriving on transports. He organized two full brigades and a third incomplete, and took up position in the center of Grant's lines besieging Fort Donelson. During the fierce Confederate assault on February 15, Wallace coolly acted on his own initiative to send a brigade to reinforce the beleaguered division of Brig. Gen. John A. McClernand, despite orders from Grant to avoid a general engagement. This action was key in stabilizing the Union defensive line. After the Confederate assault had been checked, Wallace led a counterattack which retook the ground that was lost. He was promoted to major general of volunteers to rank from March 21.[7]


Wallace's most controversial command came at the Battle of Shiloh, where he continued as the 3rd Division commander under Maj. Gen. Grant. Wallace's division had been left in reserve. The 3rd Brigade commanded by Col. Charles Whittlesey was at Stoney Lonesome near Adamsville, Tennessee. Col. Morgan L. Smith's 1st Brigade and Col. John M. Thayer's Second Brigade were both located at Crump's Landing, five miles north of Pittsburg Landing, to the rear of the Union line. At about 6 a.m. on April 6, 1862, when Grant's army was surprised and nearly routed by the sudden appearance of the Confederate States Army under Albert Sidney Johnston, Grant sent orders for Wallace to move his division up to support the division of Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman located at Shiloh Church.

Grant's orders to Wallace were given verbally to an aide, who transcribed and delivered them; the orders were later lost during the battle. There were two main routes 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" shunpike, which he believed was more usable and led to Shiloh Church; he had the day before written a letter to another officer stating his intention to do so. Grant later claimed that he had specified that Wallace take the "lower" route along the river to Pittsburg Landing. Historians are divided, with some stating that Wallace's explanation is the most logical.[6]

Wallace arrived almost at the end of his march only to find that Sherman had been forced back and was no longer where he expected to find him. Sherman had been pushed back so far that Wallace was to the rear of the advancing Southern troops.[6] A messenger from Grant arrived at 11:30 a.m. with word that Grant was wondering where Wallace was, and why he had not arrived near Pittsburg Landing, where the Union Army was making its stand. Wallace believed he could launch a viable attack from where he was, thus attacking the Confederates in their rear, but followed the new orders to proceed to the army's assistance via the river road. Wallace countermarched his troops along the same route and via a crossroads directly to the bridge crossing Snake and Owl creeks. Rather than realigning his troops so that the rear guard would be in the front, Wallace chose to countermarch his column (a move that is still controversial today); he argued that his artillery would have been greatly out of position to support the infantry when it would arrive on the field. Wallace marched back to the midpoint on the "upper" road. He proceeded to march over a new third path that would intersect with the lower road to join the army on the field, but the road had been left in terrible conditions by recent rainstorms and previous Union marches. Progress was slow due to the roads' conditions, and countermarching the division was a command mistake. His division, when it finally arrived at Grant's position at about 7 p.m., had marched a total of 15 miles in six and a half hours. The sun was down and fighting nearly over for the day, but it was not yet dark and Wallace's division was ordered to take a place on the right of the Union Army line. The Union Army won the battle the following day, with Wallace's division holding the extreme right of the Union line and being the first to attack on April 7.[8]

Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace

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". Soon, however, civilians in the North began to hear the news of the horrible casualties at Shiloh, and the Army needed explanations. Both Grant and his superior, 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 silent on the issue. Wallace was removed from his command in June and reassigned to command the defense of Cincinnati in the Department of the Ohio during Braxton Bragg's incursion into Kentucky.

Later service

Wallace's most notable service came in July 1864 at the Battle of Monocacy in Maryland, part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Although the some 5,800-man force[9] under his command (mostly hundred-days' men amalgamated from the VIII Corps) and the division of James B. Ricketts from VI Corps was defeated by Confederate General Jubal A. Early, who had some 15,000 troops, Wallace was able to delay Early's advance toward Washington, D.C. for an entire day. This gave the city defenses time to organize and repel Early, who arrived at Fort Stevens in Washington at around noon on July 11, two days after defeating Wallace at Monocacy, the northernmost Confederate victory of the war.[10]

General Grant relieved Wallace of his command after learning of the defeat of Monocacy, but re-instated him two weeks later. Grant's memoirs of the war praised 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.[11]

Wallace suffered greatly by the loss of his reputation as a result of Shiloh. He worked all his life to change public opinion about his role in the battle, even begging Grant in letters and in person to vindicate him. Grant refused to do so, and in 1884 wrote an article on Shiloh for The Century Magazine again stating his belief that Wallace had taken the wrong road on the first day of battle. The letter Wallace had written stating his plans to take the shunpike was found after the article's publication, causing Grant to change his mind; he wrote that the letter "modifies very materially what I have said, and what has been said by others, about the conduct of General Lew. Wallace at the battle of Shiloh". While reaffirming that he had ordered Wallace to take the river road, Grant stated that he could not be sure how accurately Wallace had received his verbal orders. The Century article, however, became the chapter on Shiloh in Grant's memoirs of the war, and has influenced many later accounts of Wallace's actions on the first day of battle. Despite his great fame and fortune from Ben-Hur Wallace lamented, "Shiloh and its slanders! Will the world ever acquit me of them? If I were guilty I would not feel them as keenly."[6]

Later in the war, Wallace directed the U.S. government's secret efforts to aid Mexico in expelling the French occupation forces which had seized control of their country in 1864. He participated in the military commission trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, as well as the court-martial of Henry Wirz, the commandant in charge of the South's Andersonville prison camp.[5]

Post-war career

Wallace resigned from the army on November 30, 1865.[7] After the end of the war, Wallace continued to try to help the Mexican army to expel the French and was offered a major general's commission in the Mexican army. Multiple promises by the Mexicans were never fulfilled, and Wallace incurred deep financial debt.

Wallace held a number of important political posts during the 1870s and 1880s. He was appointed as governor of New Mexico Territory from 1878 to 1881, during a time of violence and political corruption. He was appointed as U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire from 1881 to 1885. As governor, Wallace offered amnesty to many men involved in the Lincoln County War. In the process he met with the outlawed William Henry McCarty, also known as Billy the Kid. On March 17, 1879, the pair arranged that the Kid would act as an informant and testify against others involved in the Lincoln County War, and, it has been claimed, that in return the Kid would be "scot free with a pardon in [his] pocket for all [his] misdeeds."[citation needed] According to this account, Wallace, facing the political forces then ruling New Mexico, was unable to come through on his end of the bargain. The Kid returned to his outlaw ways and killed additional men.

In the 21st century, supporters of Billy the Kid made a request for a posthumous pardon, based on the claim of a pardon promised and not delivered by Wallace, to then-Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. On December 31, 2010, on the eve of leaving office, Richardson turned down the pardon request, citing a "lack of conclusiveness and the historical ambiguity" over Wallace's actions. Descendants of Wallace and Billy the Kid's killer, Sheriff Pat Garrett, were among those who opposed the pardon.[12]

Taking up writing again after the war, Wallace published his first novel in 1873. While serving as governor, Wallace completed his second novel, which made him famous: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880). It became the best-selling American novel of the 19th century, surpassing Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin[13] and is considered the most influential Christian book of the 19th century.[1] The book has never been out of print and has been adapted for film four times. The historian Victor Davis Hanson has argued that the novel drew from Wallace's life, particularly his experiences at Shiloh, and the damage it did to his reputation. The book's main character, Judah Ben-Hur, accidentally causes injury to a high-ranking commander, for which he and his family suffer tribulations and calumny.[14] He first seeks revenge, and then redemption.

Wallace went on to publish several novels and biographies, plus his autobiography; but Ben-Hur was his most important book. He designed a writing study, built 1895–1898, adjacent to his residence in Crawfordsville. Now called the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum, it was designated a National Historic Landmark and is operated as a house museum, open to the public.[1][15]

Despite using many friends in Washington to influence the government, Wallace's offer in 1898 to raise and lead a division of soldiers for the Spanish-American War was refused; when he attempted to enlist as a private, he was rejected given his age of 71. Wallace died on 15 February 1905[6] of atrophic gastritis in Crawfordsville and is buried there in Oak Hill Cemetery.[16]

Legacy and honors

  • The state of Indiana commissioned a marble statue of Wallace dressed in a military uniform, which was made by the sculptor Andrew O'Connor. It was placed in the National Statuary Hall Collection in 1910. He is the only novelist honored in the hall.[1]


  • The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company), 1873.
  • Commodus: An Historical Play ([Crawfordsville, IN?]: privately published by the author), 1876. (revised and reissued in the same year)
  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (New York: Harper & Brothers), 1880.
  • The Boyhood of Christ (New York: Harper & Brothers), 1888.
  • Life of Gen. Ben Harrison (bound with Life of Hon. Levi P. Morton, by George Alfred Townsend), (Cleveland: N. G. Hamilton & Co., Publishers), 1888.
  • Life of Gen. Ben Harrison (Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers, Publishers), 1888.
  • Life and Public Services of Hon. Benjamin Harrison, President of the U.S. With a Concise Biographical Sketch of Hon. Whitelaw Reid, Ex-Minister to France [by Murat Halstad] (Philadelphia: Edgewood Publishing Co.), 1892.
  • The Prince of India; or, Why Constantinople Fell (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers), 1893. 2 volumes
  • The Wooing of Malkatoon [and] Commodus (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers), 1898.
  • Lew Wallace: An Autobiography (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers), 1906. 2 volumes

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Ben-Hur: The Book That Shook the World", Humanities, November/December 2009 Volume 30, Number 6, Accessed 2010-04-20 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Humanities" defined multiple times with different content
  2. Woordworth, p. 63.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Gronert, p. 71.
  4. Warner, pp. 536–37; Woodworth, p. 64.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Eicher, p. 551.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Swansburg, John (2013-03-26). "The Passion of Lew Wallace". Slate. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Eicher, p. 773.
  8. "The March of Lew Wallace's Division to Shiloh." In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. 1, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence C. Buel. New York: Century Co., 1884–1888. 608–610. OCLC 2048818. (Johnson and Buel list no author for this article, but indicate it was based on material from Wallace.)
  9. Kennedy, p. 305.
  10. Kennedy, p. 308.
  11. Grant, Chapter LVII, p. 13.
  12. Marc Lacey, "No Pardon for Billy the Kid", New York Times, December 31, 2010. Accessed on December 31, 2010 at:
  13. Wallace, Ben-Hur Introduction, Page vii.
  14. Hanson, Victor Davis, (2003) Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the Past Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-50400-4
  15. Adams, George R.; Ralph Christian (1975). Wallace, Gen. Lew, Study NRHP Nomination Form. American Assoc. for State and Local History. 
  16. The physician's cause of death on his death certificate is "atrophy of stomach", which is consistent with documented reports of his health beginning in Fall 1904. See, "General Lew Wallace dies at Indiana home". February 16, 1905. p. 9.  See also, Welsh, p. 357.


  • Eicher, John H. & Eicher, David J. (2001). Civil War High Commands. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3. 
  • Grant, Ulysses S. (1885–86). Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. Charles L. Webster & Company. ISBN 0-914427-67-9. 
  • Gronert, Theodore G. (1958). Sugar Creek Saga: A History and Development of Montgomery County. Wabash College. 
  • Hanson, Victor Davis (2003). Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the Past Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-50400-4. 
  • Kennedy, Frances H., ed (1998). The Civil War Battlefield Guide (2nd ed.). Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-74012-6. 
  • Wallace, Lew (1998). Ben-Hur. Oxford World's Classics. 
  • Warner, Ezra J. (1964). Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0-8071-0822-7. 
  • Welsh, Jack D. (1996). Medical Histories of Union Generals. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-552-7. 
  • Woodworth, Steven E., ed (2001). Grant's Lieutenants: From Cairo to Vicksburg. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-1127-4. 


  • McKee, Irving (1947). "Ben-Hur" Wallace: the Life of General Lew Wallace. Berkley: University of California Press. 
  • Morsberger, Robert E. and Katharine M. Morsberger (1980). Lew Wallace: Militant Romantic. New York: McGraw-Hill. 
  • Stephens, Gail (2010). Shadow of Shiloh: Major General Lew Wallace in the Civil War. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press. ISBN 978-0-87195-287-5. 
  • Wallace, Lew (1906). Lew Wallace: An Autobiography. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers. 
Other works
  • Compilation of Works of Art and Other Objects in the United States Capitol. Prepared by the Architect of the Capitol under the Joint Committee on the Library. Washington: United States Government Printing House. 1965. 
  • Hanson, Victor Davis (2002). "Lew Wallace and the Ghosts of the Shunpike". In Cowley, Robert. What If? 2: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been. Berkley Books. ISBN 978-0-425-18613-8. 
  • Leepson, Marc (2007). Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, D.C., and Changed American History. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-36364-8. 
  • Swansburg, John. "The Incredible Life of Lew Wallace, Civil War Hero and Author of Ben-Hur", March 26, 2013, Slate (on-line magazine).
  • Swansburg, John. "Lew Wallace a Life in Artifacts", March 26, 2013, Slate (on-line magazine).

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Henry H. Lockwood
Commander of the VIII Corps (Union Army)
March 22, 1864 – February 1, 1865
Succeeded by
William W. Morris
Preceded by
Henry H. Lockwood
Commander of the VIII Corps (Union Army)
April 19, 1865 – August 1, 1865
Succeeded by
None, end of war
Political offices
Preceded by
Samuel Beach Axtell
Governor of New Mexico
Succeeded by
Lionel Allen Sheldon

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