*Post written by James Wethington, library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.
Just like summer vacation, our “Hoosier Authors” series is winding down this week; but we have two more authors to discuss! Today, we are examining the life of Lew Wallace: a former soldier turned lawyer, author, diplomat. Though his other professions were important, one of his novels has become synonymous in American literature.
Wallace was born in Brookville, Indiana on April 10, 1827 (Leepson, 2017). His father, David, served as the sixth governor of Indiana for one term from 1837 to 1840 (National Governors Association, 2015). Wallace dropped out of school when he was 16 and worked various types of jobs such as a copyist, news reporter, and eventually joined the military twice. He served in the Mexican-American War for the First Regiment of Indiana Volunteers; after the war ended, Wallace continued studying law and practiced law starting in 1849 (Leepson, 2017).
He had dabbled in local and states politics serving as the prosecuting attorney in Covington, Indiana and as a state senator (Leepson, 2017; National Governors Association, 2015). Shortly after, Wallace rejoined the military; moreover, he was promoted to state adjutant general of Indiana regiments in 1861 until his promotion a month later to colonel of the 11th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers (Leepson, 2017). Wallace resigned from his position and soon joined the Union Army of the Tennessee, under the leadership of General Ulysses S. Grant. Surprisingly, Grant promoted Wallace to serve as major general. Wallace fought in numerous battles such as the Battle of Shiloh and Battle of Fort Donelson. By 1864, he served as the commander of the VIII Army Corps in Baltimore. His defining moment occurred in 1864 during the Battle of Monocacy: he stopped Confederate forces from invading Washington, D.C. Wallace served on two war courts and soon resigned from the military in 1865, returning to practicing law (Leepson, 2017).
Soon after leaving the military, Wallace started the second half of his life as an author and diplomat for the United States. He wrote his first book, The Fair God, in 1873; however, his second novel proved to be his magnum opus: he wrote Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ in 1880 (Lew Wallace Study and Museum, 2017). Today, it is known because of its’ film adaptation in 1959, starring Charlton Heston, and in 2016, starring Jack Huston, as the main character, Ben-Hur. As a diplomat, he worked two positions: his first was serving as the territorial governor of the New Mexico Territory from 1878 to 1881. His second was as an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, modern-day Turkey, in 1881 to 1885 under the Cleveland administration. Wallace passed away on February 15, 1905 in Crawfordsville, Indiana (Leepson, 2017).
Today, people can take a tour of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana and learn more about Wallace’s life. In our rare and special book collection, we have a copy of an 1880 edition of Ben-Hur, available for viewing.
Leepson, M. (14 July 2017). Lewis Wallace. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lewis-Wallace
National Governors Association (2015). Governor David Wallace. Retrieved from https://www.nga.org/cms/home/governors/past-governors-bios/page_indiana/col2-content/main-content-list/title_wallace_david.default.html
Lew Wallace Study and Museum (2017). Lew Wallace timeline. Retrieved from http://www.ben-hur.com/meet-lew-wallace/timeline/