Lew Wallace

Lew Wallace

Lew Wallace Lew Wallace[1†]

Lewis “Lew” Wallace (April 10, 1827 – February 15, 1905) was an American lawyer, Union general in the American Civil War, governor of New Mexico Territory, politician, diplomat, artist, and author from Indiana[1†][2†][3†]. He is best known for his historical adventure story, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880), a bestselling novel that has been called "the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century"[1†].

Early Years and Education

Lewis “Lew” Wallace was born on April 10, 1827, in Brookville, Indiana[1†][2†]. He was the second of four sons born to Esther French Wallace (née Test) and David Wallace[1†]. His father, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, left the military in 1822 and moved to Brookville, where he established a law practice and entered Indiana politics[1†]. David served in the Indiana General Assembly and later as the state’s lieutenant governor, and governor, and as a member of Congress[1†].

Tragically, Lew Wallace’s mother died when he was seven years old[1†][4†]. Despite this early loss, Wallace was largely self-educated, though he attended the common schools in Indiana[1†][4†]. The son of David Wallace, an Indiana governor and one-term U.S. congressman, Lew Wallace left school at 16 and became a copyist in the county clerk’s office, reading in his leisure time[1†][2†]. After working briefly as a reporter for the Indianapolis Daily Journal, he began to study law in his father’s office[1†][2†].

In 1846, Wallace recruited a company for the First Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, with whom he served in the Mexican–American War[1†][2†]. His war experience consisted mostly of garrison duty[1†][2†]. Wallace came home from Mexico in 1847, went back to studying the law in Indianapolis, briefly edited a small newspaper, was admitted to the bar in 1849, and began practicing law[1†][2†]. In 1850 he won a two-year term as the 1st congressional district’s prosecuting attorney in Covington, Indiana[1†][2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Lew Wallace’s career was marked by a variety of roles, including that of a lawyer, military officer, politician, and author[1†][4†].

Wallace served as an officer of the 1st Indiana Volunteers during the Mexican-American War[1†][4†]. After passing the Indiana bar exam in 1849, he established a law practice in Covington, Indiana[1†][4†]. In 1856, voters elected Wallace to the Indiana senate where he served for four years[1†][4†].

When the Civil War began, Governor Oliver P. Morton appointed Lew Wallace as Adjutant General of Indiana in April 1861[1†][4†]. Wallace served in that position long enough to raise Indiana’s quota of troops established by the federal government’s first call for volunteers[1†][4†]. On April 12, 1861, Lew Wallace received a field appointment as a colonel in the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, with a three-month enlistment period[1†][4†].

In August 1861, Lew Wallace reenlisted when his unit reorganized as a three-year regiment and was assigned to duty in the West[1†][4†]. Lew Wallace was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on September 3, 1861[1†][4†]. He participated in the Union victories at the Battle of Fort Henry (February 6, 1862) and the Battle of Fort Donelson (February 11 to February 16)[1†][4†]. On March 21, 1862, Wallace was promoted to major general of volunteers, commanding the 3rd Division of the Army of the Tennessee[1†][4†].

The meteoric rise in Wallace’s military career came to an abrupt halt following his performance at the Battle of Shiloh[1†][4†]. However, in 1862, Lew Wallace’s defensive preparations precluded an anticipated Confederate assault on Cincinnati, Ohio[1†][4†]. On March 22, 1864, Lew Wallace was assigned command of the Middle Department, which included Maryland west to the Monocacy River[1†][4†].

In May and June 1865, Lew Wallace served as a judge at the military trial of the conspirators involved in President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination[1†][4†]. Wallace resigned from the U.S. Army in November 1865 and briefly served as a major general in the Mexican Army, before returning to the United States[1†].

Wallace was appointed governor of the New Mexico Territory (1878–1881) and served as U.S. minister to the Ottoman Empire (1881–1885)[1†]. Wallace retired to his home in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he continued to write until his death in 1905[1†].

Among his novels and biographies, Wallace is best known for his historical adventure story, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880), a bestselling novel that has been called "the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century"[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Lew Wallace was the author of several major works, with his most famous being “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ”. This novel, published in 1880, became the best-selling novel of the 19th century[5†][1†]. The story is a historical adventure set in the Roman Empire during the coming of Christ[5†][2†][6†].

In addition to “Ben-Hur”, Wallace wrote two other novels:

Wallace’s writing was not limited to novels. He also wrote “The Life of Gen. Ben Harrison” and tried his hand at poetry and play-writing[5†]. Towards the end of his life, he wrote his lengthy Autobiography[5†].

Here is a summary of his main works:

Each of these works made significant contributions to literature and left a lasting impact.

Analysis and Evaluation

Lew Wallace’s works, particularly “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ”, have had a significant impact on literature and society. His novel “Ben-Hur” was not only a best-seller but also a book that shook the world[7†]. It has been described as the most influential Christian book of the 19th century[7†][8†].

Wallace’s “Ben-Hur” intertwined the life of Jesus with that of a fictional protagonist, Judah Ben-Hur, a young Jewish prince who suffers betrayal, injustice, and brutality, and longs for a Jewish king to vanquish Rome[7†]. The novel combined a rollicking historical adventure with a sincere Christian message of redemption[7†]. It was eagerly picked up by Victorians who swore off novels because of their immoral influence and even encouraged by their pastors[7†].

Wallace’s writing style and the themes he explored in his works have been subject to critical analysis. His works have been recognized for their historical romance, adventure, and exploration of religious themes[7†][8†][7†]. His novel “Ben-Hur” has been analyzed for its portrayal of the conflict between the Roman Empire and the Jewish people, its depiction of the life of Jesus, and its exploration of themes of betrayal, justice, and redemption[7†][9†].

Wallace’s works have left a lasting impact on literature and society. His novel “Ben-Hur” has never been out of print since its first publication and has been translated into multiple languages[7†]. It has been adapted into plays and films, further extending its influence[7†].

In conclusion, Lew Wallace’s works, particularly “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ”, have had a significant impact on literature and society. His exploration of historical and religious themes in his works has contributed to their enduring popularity and influence[7†][8†][7†].

Personal Life

Lew Wallace was married to Susan Arnold Elston, a talented writer and musician, on May 6, 1852[4†]. The couple had one child during their marriage, which lasted over fifty years[4†]. Wallace was not only a prominent figure in his professional life but also had a keen interest in the arts. He fancied himself a painter[4†][10†], showcasing his multifaceted personality.

After resigning from the U.S. Army in 1865, Wallace practiced law for the rest of his life[4†][11†]. He served as the governor of the New Mexico Territory from 1878 to 1881 and as the U.S. minister to Turkey from 1881 to 1885[4†][11†]. Even after his retirement, Wallace continued to write until his death in 1905[4†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Lew Wallace’s accomplishments stretch much further than his 77 years[12†]. A Major General in the Union Army, he led his troops in the decisive Civil War battles of Donelson, Shiloh, and Monocacy[12†]. He served as a military judge in the trials of the Lincoln Conspirators and Commander Wirz of Andersonville Prison[12†]. As an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, he was a brilliant author, orator, artist, inventor, and musician[12†].

However, it was his masterwork, the epic religious novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880), that gained General Wallace his highest accolades and cemented his reputation in literary history[12†]Ben-Hur became the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century[12†]. The novel formed the basis of several dramatizations, including the 1959 Academy Award®-winning motion picture starring Charlton Heston[12†].

Today, the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum has faithfully preserved General Wallace’s personal memorabilia in the Study that he designed and built in 1895–on the same site where Ben-Hur was penned[12†]. Each year, the Museum presents educational and entertaining programs for all ages that demonstrate the qualities of leadership, ingenuity, exploration, and character that General Wallace embodied throughout his life[12†].

The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum is deeply committed to the protection and preservation of Lew Wallace’s legacy now and for generations to come[12†]. His place in the annals of American history is indelibly etched, not just as a writer of romances, but as a romantic himself, with a chivalric sense of honor[12†][8†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Lew Wallace [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Lewis Wallace: American author, soldier, and diplomat [website] - link
  3. Simple Wikipedia (English) - Lew Wallace [website] - link
  4. American History Central - Lew Wallace Facts, Accomplishments [website] - link
  5. General Lew Wallace Study & Museum - Meet Lew Wallace - General Lew Wallace Study & Museum [website] - link
  6. Britannica - Lew Wallace summary [website] - link
  7. The National Endowment for the Humanities - Ben-Hur: The Book that Shook the World [website] - link
  8. Slate - Ben-Hur and Lew Wallace: How the scapegoat of Shiloh became one of the best-selling novelists in American history. [website] - link
  9. SuperSummary - Ben-Hur Summary and Study Guide [website] - link
  10. Slate - A Billy the Kid letter, a James A. Garfield note, a Winslow Homer sketch, and other artifacts from the life of Lew Wallace. [website] - link
  11. Encyclopedia.com - Lewis Wallace [website] - link
  12. General Lew Wallace Study & Museum - Home - General Lew Wallace Study & Museum [website] - link
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