Lewis "Lew" Wallace (1827-1905) was born in Brookville, Indiana, on April 10, 1827, to David and Esther French Test Wallace. David Wallace was an attorney who was elected governor of Indiana early in Lew's childhood.
At the outbreak of the Mexican War, Wallace helped raise a company of volunteers for the service and was elected 1st lieutanant of the 1st Indiana Infantry. After the war, he was admitted to the bar in 1849, but never cared much for the life of a lawyer. In 1852, he married Susan Arnold Elston a Crawfordsville native and successful author in her own right. Following in his father's footsteps, Lew was elected to the Indiana senate in 1856, and moved from Covington to Crawfordsville, where he made his home for the rest of his life.
Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, Wallace served as adjutant general of Indiana. He requested a field command and received a commission as colonel of the 11th Indiana Infantry (a Zouave regiment) from Governor Oliver P. Morton. Wallace quickly rose to the rank of brigadier general and took part in the capture of Fort Donelson. At Shiloh, Wallace and his division became "lost" due to unclear orders from Ulysses Grant and their anticipated attack on the Confederate line did not come on the first day. Shiloh was the bloodiest battle yet of the Civil War and Grant, under pressure from Henry Halleck and the public, needed someone to blame. Wallace took the brunt of Grant's anger and soon found himself without a command.
In the summer of 1862, Wallace was asked by Governor Morton to return to Kentucky to take command of hastily orgainzed troops there to repel a Confederate invasion. He was relieved of command again (for political reasons) shortly before the disastrous battle of Richmond, Kentucky. Things were in great disarray in Kentucky, and Wallace found himself in command of all Federal forces in the defenses of Cincinnati. There he organized thousands of new recruits against a small Rebel force under Henry Heth. The attack never came and Wallace was hailed as the "Savior of Cincinnati." However, he was again without a command.
In the summer of 1864, Rebels under Jubal Early were trying to attack Washington. Wallace was called upon again, and by fighting a delaying action at Monocacy, Grant was able to send reinforcements to save Washington. Wallace served as a member of the military commission which tried the Lincoln assassination conspirators and he was president of the court-martial board which condemned Henry Wirz (the Commandant of Andersonville Prison).
After the Civil War, Wallace served as governor of the New Mexico Territory (he helped bring in Billy the Kid) and as U.S. minister to Turkey. His greatest achievements may have been his literary pursuits. His novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880) has never been out of print and has been filmed three times.
Lew Wallace died in Crawfordsville, Indiana, on February 15, 1905, and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. The state of Indiana honored Wallace in 1910 with a statue in the U.S. Capitol.