Though Lew Wallace is now best known for his book Ben Hur, he was also famous for his political and military career. The son of a West Point graduate, Wallace was born in Brookville, Indiana. With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, he raised an Indiana militia regiment to fight in the conflict, though he saw little or no action. After that war he became a lawyer and politician.
Soon after the Civil War began, Wallace was named Indiana’s adjutant general and aided Governor Morton in raising troops for the army. Soon after that he was appointed a colonel in the 11th Indiana Infantry. Wallace served in campaigns in Virginia and Tennessee. He became something of a “golden boy” who was once the youngest Major General in the army. However, after the bloody battle of Shiloh the golden boy general began to lose his luster. Controversy still surrounds the battle, but at the time some, including General Ulysses S. Grant, claimed that Wallace did not properly follow Grant’s order and his actions nearly led to defeat.
Wallace lost his command and was reassigned to take over the defense of Cincinnati. He also was selected by Governor Morton to coordinate the defense of Indiana from Morgan’s Raiders. He led 1300 men south from Indianapolis to join the state’s defense. Failing to catch up to Morgan, Wallace eventually returned to Cincinnati to help defend the city.
After the war, Wallace continued in government service, serving as governor of New Mexico Territory and ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. In 1880 he published Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It became one of the best sellers of all time and was required reading for generations of school children.