Lewis “Lew” Wallace was born on April 10, 1827, in Brookville, Indiana. He was the second of four sons born to Esther French Wallace (née Test) and David Wallace. Lew’s 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. In 1837, after David’s election as governor of Indiana, the family moved to Indianapolis.
In 1842 sixteen-year-old Lew went out to earn his own wages, after his father refused to pay for more schooling. Wallace was hired to copy records at the Marion County clerk’s office and lived in an Indianapolis boardinghouse. He also joined the Marion Rifles, a local militia unit, and began writing his first novel, The Fair God, which was not published until 1873. In his autobiography, Wallace said that he had never been a member of any organized religion, but he did believe “in the Christian conception of God”.
Lew Wallace served in the Union Army during the American Civil War, participating in the Battle of Fort Donelson, Battle of Shiloh, and Battle of Monocacy as well as managing operations for the Union Army in Indiana in July 1863 when Confederate general John Hunt Morgan invaded the state during Morgan’s Raid. After the war, he served on the military commission that tried John Wilkes Booth‘s assistants in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, as well as presiding over the court that resulted in the execution of Henry Wirz for the Union deaths at Andersonville prison. In addition, Wallace worked as a lawyer, governor of the New Mexico Territory, and ambassador to Turkey.
In the postwar years, he began seriously writing. Wallace built a study specifically for his writing because he wanted “a pleasure-house for his soul,” that would be “a detached room away from the world and its worries.” In 1880 he published Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, a novel set during the time of Jesus Christ in the Roman Empire; it sold poorly at first, but soon became the bestselling novel of the nineteenth century, and continued as first until its publication of Gone with the Wind. Considered “the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century,” it has never gone out of print and has been adapted for four films. His creative pursuits included a total of seven books: novels and biographies; art, inventing, and music.
Wallace’s study, known as The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum, formerly known as the Ben-Hur Museum, is located in Crawfordsville, Indiana. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and in 2008 was awarded a National Medal from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. It is located in the Elston Grove Historic District. The museum is associated with the life of Lew Wallace and his 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.
Despite Wallace’s career in law and politics, combined with years of military and diplomatic service, he achieved his greatest fame as a novelist, most notably for his best-selling biblical tale, Ben-Hur. Wallace died in his home of Atrophic gastritis on February 15, 1905.
- Amy Lifson (2009). “Ben-Hur: The Book That Shook the World”. Humanities. Washington D.C.: National Endowment for the Humanities. 30 (6). Retrieved April 11, 2017.
- McKee, The Early Life of Lew Wallace, p. 206.
- Woodworth, p. 63.
- Gugin and St. Clair, pp. 82, 85.
- Boomhower, pp. 13–14.
- Gugin and St. Clair, pp. 82, 85; Boomhower, p. 19; Stephens, p. 2.
- Morrow, p. 3.
- Boomhower, p. 22.
- McKee, The Early Life of Lew Wallace, p. 214.
- Stephens, pp. 2–3, 13; Boomhower, pp. 3, 9, 23–26.
- Boomhower, p. 11.
*Information retrieved from Wikipedia 2022 February 14.
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