There are some people who lead the most interesting and varied lives. Lew Wallace was one of those people. In his 77 years of life, he had the opportunity to do a great many things—some for which he was praised, others for which he was panned, and at least one which we still enjoy today. So who was Lew Wallace, and what were his contributions to the world? Let me tell you.
Lew Wallace (1827-1905) was one of four sons born to lawyer and West Point
graduate David Wallace and his wife Esther. Lew was quickly labeled as a discipline problem in school, and as such, he was put in various schools around his home state of Indiana. However, he was talented in drawing, loved to read, and at the age of thirteen, one of his teachers noticed his ability with writing and encouraged him in it. Just three years later, Lew’s father refused to pay for any further schooling for the young man, so Lew took a job copying records, and by age nineteen, was studying law in his father’s law office.
|Wallace in his 20s, circa 1853
Military Man, Part One—Mexican-American War
It was at this time, the Mexican-American War broke out, and Lew left his studies to serve in the army of Zachary Taylor, though he never saw action. Instead, he served as regimental adjutant—an administrative position. This lasted just days shy of one year, and he mustered out to carry on with his life in other areas.
Lew returned to Indiana to practice law and start a newspaper, The Grand Democratic Free Soil Banner. The Free Soil Party was a short-lived political party based almost completely on the idea of preventing the expansion of slavery into the western territories, and the newspaper was meant to support the candidates of that party—namely Martin Van Buren and Charles F. Adams (the son of John Quincy Adams). The Free Soil party received absolutely no electoral votes in the election of 1848, and it eventually became a part of the Republican party at its inception a few years later.
|The Grand Democratic Free Soil Banner
First Foray Into Politics
Wallace did become a lawyer in 1849 and also served a two-year term in the Indiana Senate in 1856—at his age 29. I’ve found little information about his time in Indiana politics, though he came by it naturally. His father was politically minded, having served as the sixth governor of the state.
Military Man, Part Two—The Civil War Years
Wallace could not ignore the attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861. He joined the Union soon after that news broke and was given the position of Adjutant General of Indiana, but he took that position on the condition that he would be given a command of his own. So once he’d recruited the men to fill all six regimental units, a quota he met in one week’s time, he took command of the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment with the rank of Colonel. He distinguished himself in minor battles, and by September 1861, he was elevated to the rank of Brigadier General of U.S. Army Volunteers and given a brigade to lead.
At the battle of Fort Donelson in February 1862, Wallace broke orders and went to support his fellow soldiers when their lines appeared to be breaking. His actions shored up the weaknesses and prevented the advancement of the Confederates. Due to these quick-thinking movements, Wallace was elevated to the rank of Major General. Just 34 years old, he was the youngest man in the Union Army to achieve that rank.
|Wallace During the Civil War
However, his moment of praise was cut short. During the Battle of Shiloh on about two months later, he was plagued by controversy. General Grant asserted for many years that he told Wallace to take his troops up one road but that Wallace chose another road, delaying his arrival and nearly costing the Union the battle. Shiloh was a Union victory, but a costly one with many lives lost and much blood spilled. For many years, General Grant blamed Lew Wallace for that fact. He was even relegated to administrative and non-combat positions for two years. Wallace categorically denied the accusations, saying that his orders were followed. It wasn’t until the 1880s when Grant wrote his memoirs that information came to light through a letter penned and sent to one of the wives the day before the Battle of Shiloh that Wallace told the truth. Only then did Grant seem to backtrack on his assertions that Wallace messed up, and instead, stated that perhaps the soldier who transcribed his written orders wrote it wrong. But even with that backpedaling by Grant all those years later, Lew Wallace still went to the end of his life feeling he carried an unwarranted shame and stigma for the events at Shiloh.
~To Be Continued on October 25, 2020~
It’s Your Turn: Have you heard of Lew Wallace? As you can see by just the first 34 years of his life, he’d already had a bunch of fascinating experiences. Which piece of his life that I’ve presented in today’s post was most interesting to you?
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list several times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.
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