Lewis Wallace

From Ohio History Central
Wallace, General Lew.jpg
General Lew Wallace, between 1855-1865

Lewis Wallace was a well-known American soldier, political figure and author in nineteenth century America.

Lewis (Lew) Wallace was born on April 10, 1827, in Brookville, Indiana. His father, David Wallace, later became governor of Indiana. Lew Wallace participated in the Mexican War and served as first lieutenant of the First Indiana Infantry. Wallace passed the Indiana bar examination in 1849, but he preferred a political career. He was elected to the Indiana senate in 1856 and held this office until the beginning of the American Civil War.

During the Civil War, Wallace held a number of commands. His first post was as adjutant general of Indiana. He requested transfer to a field command and became the colonel of the Eleventh Indiana Infantry. He soon rose to the rank of brigadier general. Wallace fought in the Battle of Fort Donelson, where he performed well and was promoted to major general for his actions. His military career experienced a major setback at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. Wallace's division became lost and failed to attack a Confederate position on the first day of the battle. Wallace's failure to attack contributed to the Union army's initial defeat. General Ulysses S. Grant, the Union commander at Shiloh, placed the blame for the first day's setback on Wallace. Wallace lost his field command shortly after the battle.

Wallace's next command was in the summer of 1862 in Kentucky, but he quickly lost that post for political reasons. In September 1862, Confederate forces under General Kirby Smith captured Lexington, Kentucky. Smith dispatched General Henry Heth to capture Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio. Major General Horatio Wright, commander of Union forces in Kentucky, ordered Wallace to prepare Covington's and Cincinnati's defenses.

Upon arriving in Cincinnati, Wallace immediately declared martial law. All business owners were to close their shops, and civilians were to report for military duty. Wallace stated, "Civilians for labor, soldiers for battle." Men in the regular army would fight on the battlefield, while the civilians would prepare trenches and other defensive features to prepare the two communities for attack. Cincinnati residents reportedly "cheerfully obeyed" the order.

Ohio Governor David Tod left Columbus, the state capital, and came to Cincinnati to assist Wallace. Tod immediately ordered Ohio's adjutant-general to send any available troops other than those guarding Ohio's southern border, to Cincinnati. Tod also ordered the state quartermaster to send five thousand guns to equip Cincinnati's militia. A number of Ohio counties offered to dispatch men to Cincinnati as well. Tod immediately accepted the offers on Lew Wallace's behalf. He stated that only armed men should report and that railroad companies should transport the men for free and later send a bill to the State of Ohio. Thousands of civilians reported for duty at Cincinnati. These men became known as "Squirrel Hunters."

Thanks to the actions of Wallace and Tod, Covington and Cincinnati had adequate defenses to repel Heth's advance within two days. Wallace quickly lifted martial law and allowed all businesses to reopen except for those that sold alcoholic beverages. By September 13, 1862, news reached Cincinnati that the Confederate forces were withdrawing from Kentucky and that Cincinnati was no longer in danger. Wallace earned the nickname "Savior of Cincinnati" for his actions in September 1862.

Following the defense of Cincinnati, Wallace lost his field command once again. He remained in the military but without men to lead until March 1864. At that point, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Wallace as commander of the Middle Department and the Eighth Army Corps in Baltimore, Maryland. On July 9, 1864, Wallace commanded Union forces at the Battle of Monocacy in Maryland. Wallace delayed Confederate General Jubal Early's advance against Washington, DC, and allowed soldiers under General Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia to return to Washington to strengthen the city's defenses.

At the end of the Civil War, Wallace served on the military commission that tried the Lincoln assassination conspirators and also headed the court-martial board that tried Henry Wirz, the warden of the Andersonville Confederate prison camp. The board found Wirz guilty and ordered him to be executed for his treatment of Northern prisoners of war. Wirz was the only Confederate official to be executed by the North at the war's conclusion.

Wallace continued to participate in politics after the Civil War. He served as the governor of the New Mexico Territory and the United States ambassador to Turkey. He also wrote seven books. His most famous work was Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, which was first published in 1880. Wallace died on February 15, 1905, in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

See Also


  1. Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.  
  2. McKee, Irving."Ben-Hur" Wallace: The Life of General Lew Wallace. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1947.
  3. Morsberger, Robert E., and Katharine M. Morsberger. Lew Wallace, Militant Romantic.  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1980.
  4. Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of Rebellion, 1861-1866. Akron, OH: The Werner Company, 1893.  
  5. Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
  6. Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.