The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Wallace, Lew

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The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Wallace, Lew

WALLACE, Lew, author and soldier, b. in Brookville, Ind., 10 April, 1827; d. in Crawfordsville, Ind., 15 Feb., 1905, son of David and Esther French (Gest) Wallace. As his name indicates, he was of Scotch lineage. His grandfather, Andrew Wallace, emigrated from Pennsylvania to Cincinnati while it was only Fort Washington, and came on to the Whitewater Valley after Wayne's victory over the Indians had opened it to settlement. He was accompanied by his wife, who was of a Virginia family — a niece of the celebrated sea captain, John Paul Jones — and his seven sons. Through the friendship of Gov. Wm. Henry Harrison, the oldest son, David, was appointed a cadet at West Point. He graduated there in 1821, and after serving for a time as tutor in the academy, and as lieutenant of artillery, he resigned, and took up the study of the law at Brookville, in the office of Judge Miles C. Eggleston, one of the foremost of the early Indiana lawyers. He was admitted to the bar in 1823, and his talent soon brought him a good practice. He was elected representative to the legislatures of 1828, 1829, and 1830; lieutenant-governor in 1831 and 1834, and governor in 1837. The failure of the internal improvement system, which he had championed, caused his defeat for re-election in 1840, but in 1841 he was elected to Congress from the Indianapolis district. In 1843 he was defeated for re-election, chiefly because he had voted for an appropriation of $30,000 to test Morse's electric telegraph, then just invented. He retired from active political life thereafter, though he was chairman of the Whig State Committee in 1846, and a delegate to the constitutional convention of 1850. He devoted himself to the practice of law until 1856, when he was elected judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Marion County, which office he retained until his death, in 1859. Naturally prone to mischief and indulgence in self-will, young Lew made little progress in education till his thirteenth year, when he came under the instruction of Prof. Samuel Hoshour, one of the wisest and best educated of the early Indiana teachers. He first inspired the boy to write, and pointed out to him the fundamental principles of writing well. Another important educational influence came in his home. His father was a fine reader, and was accustomed to read aloud of evenings to his family, thus bringing many standard writers and speakers to the notice of his children. But the call of romance was in him, even in this adolescent period, and he worked for months on a wild narrative, “The Man at Arms; a Tale of the Tenth Century,” which he wisely dropped later on. In this period, also, he caught an inspiration for art, while dallying about the studio of Jacob Cox, and dabbled at it rather surreptitiously for some time. In fact he never gave it up, and he eventually became quite expert in drawing, and also produced some very creditable canvases, several of which have unusual historic value, and will in time, no doubt, receive the recognition they deserve. Notwithstanding his accomplishments, young Wallace made little progress in the school essentials, and when he was sixteen his father decided on heroic remedies. He frankly rehearsed the whole situation to Lew, and told him his decision that henceforth, although his home was open, he must earn his own living. The youth was not averse. He found congenial and fairly remunerative employment copying records in the office of the county clerk, Robert Duncan, the husband of another of the daughters of Dr. Sanders. Here again he was fortunate, for Robert Duncan was intelligent and wise, and his influence aided much in turning the boy to a more practical view of life. In fact this was his turning-point. He determined on self-education, took up more serious reading, went back to his discarded schoolbooks and mastered them. His work in the clerk's office made him familiar with legal forms; and he undertook the study of law, with his brother, under the instruction of his father. He joined a militia company, and his natural fondness for things military led him to master the authorities on tactics of that time. In brief, he formed the habit of thorough study which marked his later life. But romance was not dead; and under the spell of Prescott's “Conquest of Mexico” he began the composition of “The Fair God” in the vaults of the old clerk's office at Indianapolis. The Texan troubles, and the impending war with Mexico, were of intense interest to this young man, to whom “the halls of the Montezumas” were as familiar as reading and imagination could make them. At the first sound of a call for troops he enlisted a company, and went out as its second lieutenant. His dreams were not realized. The First Indiana Regiment, to which his company was assigned, was stationed on the Rio Grande to protect the lines of communication — in a stifling, sickly place that presented no feature of war but disease — and came home at the end of the war without seeing a battle, notwithstanding violent efforts to attain a more active place in the conflict. Wallace felt this so keenly that when General Taylor was nominated for President, he abandoned his Whig affiliations, edited a campaign paper against Taylor, and became a straight-out Democrat until the beginning of the Civil War. After the Mexican War, Wallace resumed the practice of law, with intermittent work on “The Fair God.” In 1852 he married Susan Arnold Elston, daughter of Maj. Isaac C. Elston, and located at Crawfordsville. He retained his interest in military matters, and organized a zouave militia company, the Montgomery Guards, which he brought to such perfection in drill that several others were organized in imitation of it, especially at Indianapolis. When Fort Sumter was fired on, Governor Morton telegraphed for Wallace, and made him adjutant-general. As soon as the work of raising troops for President Lincoln's first call was over, and the work of organization well under way, Wallace asked to go to the front, and was made colonel of the Eleventh Regiment — a zouave regiment composed at the time of his Montgomery Guards, three companies from Indianapolis and two from Terre Haute. After service through their first enlistment in West Virginia, the Eleventh re-enlisted for three years, and was sent West. Wallace was promoted to brigadier-general on 3 Sept., 1861. He served at Forts Henry and Donelson, and commanded a division at Shiloh. On the advance of Kirby Smith in Kentucky he was intrusted with the defense of Cincinnati, and made such effective preparations that when General Heth, who had been detached with 9,000 men to take the city, saw the reception prepared for him, he withdrew. On 12 March, 1864, Wallace was put in command of the Eighth Army Corps, with headquarters at Baltimore. While putting things in order there, he became suspicious of a rebel raid on Washington, which at that time had numerous entrenchments, but no men to hold them. General Grant had concentrated all his available forces at City Point. General Hunter, commanding in West Virginia, had gone on an expedition down the Kanawha Valley, leaving General Sigel at Harper's Ferry with not over 6,000 available men. The Shenandoah Valley was open for an advance on Washington. Small items of information confirmed Wallace's fear that General Lee would not overlook the opportunity, but yet he had nothing definite to present. He had reason to believe that his superiors, General Grant and General Halleck, were not friendly to him. He could not risk an unfounded alarm that might disturb their plans. On his own responsibility he concentrated about 2,500 men, mostly raw troops, on Monocacy River, and fortified the approaches to the roads leading to Baltimore and Washington. He had six three-inch guns and one twenty-four-pounder howitzer. Rapidly approaching against him was Gen. Jubal Early, with 20,000 men and a full complement of field-guns. Early's skirmish line met Wallace's outpost at Frederick on July 7, and was temporarily repulsed. On 8 July were minor contests, while Early's main force was coming in reach. On that night Wallace was reinforced by 5,000 veterans under General Ricketts. On 9 July this inferior force withstood Early's assaults from seven o'clock in the morning till four in the afternoon, and then withdrew in good order before an attack in full force was made. Wallace's object was accomplished. He had demonstrated Early's strength, and established the fact that his objective point was Washington — two days' march beyond. Grant had been duly notified; and when Early reached the national capital, a reconnoissance showed that its defenses were fully manned, and he turned in retreat. Wallace had saved his second Northern city from capture. Two generals possessed of imagination had come in conflict. Wallace had divined Lee's plan and thwarted it. As the war neared its end, General Wallace was intrusted with a delicate secret mission to the Confederate leaders of Texas. It failed of its immediate purpose, but was instrumental in promoting aid of the United States to the Mexican Liberals, and the expulsion of Maximilian. He served on the commission that tried and convicted the assassins of Lincoln, and during the trial made pencil sketches of all the leading characters, which were subsequently used in an historical painting that he left unfinished. He served on the commission that tried and convicted Wirz, the commander at Andersonville prison, and, from his experience there grew his historical painting, “The Dead Line.” In 1873 “The Fair God” was published, and General Wallace at once sprang to fame as a writer. Over 145,000 copies were sold by 1905. It was followed in 1880 by “Ben-Hur,” which attained the greatest circulation of any American book since “Uncle Tom's Cabin.” It has been translated into German, French, Swedish, Bohemian, Turkish, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic; and has been printed in raised letters for the use of the blind. In 1888 he published his “Life of Gen. Benjamin Harrison,” and in 1889 “The Boyhood of Christ.” In 1893 appeared “The Prince of India,” and in 1898 “The Wooing of Malkatoon,” with “Commodus,” a tragedy. While an earnest Republican in politics, General Wallace was not a seeker for political preferment. He declined the mission to Bolivia, offered by President Hayes, and that to Brazil, offered by President Harrison; but he served as governor of New Mexico, 1878-81, and as Minister to Turkey, 1881-85. In the latter position he brought to the United States more prominent and influential relations with the Porte than it had ever before held. He later declined two offers of service under the Sultan. When the Carnegie Institution was founded, in 1902, there were appointed twenty-seven trustees, designed to represent the culture and intelligence of the forty-five States of the Union. It is a notable fact that four of these trustees — Secretary John Hay, Senator John C. Spooner, of Wisconsin, Judge William W. Morrow, of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of the United States, and Dr. John S. Billings, of the surgeon-general's office, who is distinguished as a librarian, an author, and a medical man — were natives of Indiana, a State less than a century in age. His later years were passed chiefly in writing his autobiography at his home in Crawfordsville, in the congenial company of his talented wife, who was also a writer of ability, as witnessed by her books and poems. He died there on 15 Feb., 1905. His wife followed him on 1 Oct., 1907. They had one child, Henry L. Wallace, of Indianapolis. In 1907 the legislature of Indiana provided for placing a statue of General Wallace in the National Hall of Fame, as one of the two representatives of his State. It was a worthy selection; but no Indiana man had less need of a statue to preserve his memory.