One is never more on trial than in the moment of excessive good fortune.
The writing career of Lew Wallace (1827-1905) was very much a supplement to an eventful life. His military career started with the Mexican American war of 1846, and in the American Civil War he reached the rank of Major-General. Subsequently he became governor of New Mexico, and then U.S. minister to the Ottoman Empire. In the midst of all this activity, he found time to write 'Ben-Hur', a novel of the later days of the Roman Empire, and the early days of Christianity, which became one of the best-selling American novels of the nineteenth century.
Lewis Wallace was born on 10 April 1827 in Brookville, Indiana, to David Wallace and Esther French Test Wallace. In 1836, at the age of nine, he joined his brother in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he briefly attended Wabash Preparatory School. Afterward he joined his father in Indianapolis.
Wallace was studying law at the start of the Mexican-American War in 1846. He raised a company of militia, and was elected a second lieutenant in the 1st Indiana Infantry regiment. On 06 May 1852, Wallace married Susan Arnold Elston by whom he had one son, Henry Lane Wallace, born 17 February 1853. In 1856, he was elected to the State Senate after moving his residence to Crawfordsville. At the start of the American Civil War, Wallace was appointed state adjutant general and helped raise troops in Indiana. On 25 April 1861, he was appointed Colonel of the 11th Indiana Infantry. After brief service in western Virginia, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on 03 September 1861, and given the command of a brigade.
Wallace’s most notable service came in July 1864, at the Battle of Monocacy, part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864. He had some 5,800 men under his command when the division of James B. Ricketts from VI Corps was defeated by Confederate General, Jubal A. Early, who had some 15,000 troops. Wallace was able to delay Early’s advance for an entire day toward Washington, D.C., to the point that the city defences had time to organize and repel Early, who arrived in Washington around noon on 11 July, two days after defeating Wallace at Monocacy, the northernmost Confederate victory of the war. He participated in the military commission trial of Lincoln’s assassination conspirators as well as the court-martial of Henry Wirz, commandant of the Andersonville prison camp. He resigned from the army on 30 November 1865.
Wallace held a number of important political posts during the 1870s and 1880s. He served as governor of New Mexico Territory from 1878 to 1881 and as United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire from 1881 to 1885. As governor, he offered amnesty to many men involved in the Lincoln County War, and in the process, incidentally met with Billy the Kid.
While serving as governor, Wallace completed the novel that made him famous: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880). It grew to be the best-selling American novel of the nineteenth century. The book has never been out of print and has been filmed four times. He died, probably from cancer, in Crawfordsville and is buried there in Oak Hill Cemetery.