109 years ago tomorrow, in 1905, Indiana author, soldier, and statesman Lew Wallace died.
Wallace was born on April 10, 1827 in Brookville, Indiana. His father, David, was a future governor of Indiana, and his mother, Esther, was the daughter of a three-term Congressman. Wallace spent his youth in Covington, Crawfordsville, Indianapolis, and Centerville. He enlisted in an Indiana regiment at 19 years old and served in the Mexican-American War. After the war, he began a law practice, won election as prosecuting attorney for Indiana’s first district, married (Susan Elston), had a son (Henry Lane Wallace), and served in the Indiana Senate. He moved to Crawfordsville after the birth of his son, and maintained a permanent residence there the rest of his life.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Governor Morton commissioned Wallace as adjutant general to recruit and organize Indiana’s quota of troops. Wallace subsequently became colonel of the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. He rose through the ranks, and became a major-general by 1862. He participated in the battles of Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Monocacy. He also administered the Middle Department and 8th Army Corps in Maryland and Delaware. He subsequently sat on the court-martials of Abraham Lincoln’s assassins and Henry Wirtz.
After the war, he served as Governor of the New Mexico Territory from 1878-1881, and U.S. Minister to Turkey from 1881-1885. He also began a literary career with his first novel, The Fair God, published in 1873. He followed his debut novel with Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ in 1880, which became one of the best-selling novels of the 19th century.
He returned home to Indiana in 1885, continued to write, and administer his intellectual property, including the adaptation of Ben-Hur for the stage. Wallace died on February 15, 1905 at his home in Crawfordsville. You can find a sample of the many obituaries about him from across the country (from Hawaii to Vermont, from Minnesota to Florida) at the links below:
“A High Tribute to General Lew Wallace,” Pensacola [FL] Journal.
“The Author of Ben Hui [sic] Is Dead,” Hawaiian [Honolulu] Star
“Career Over for Gen. Lew Wallace,” Washington [DC] Times.
“Death Summons General Wallace,” Minneapolis Journal.
“General Lew Wallace,” Bourbon [Paris, KY] News.
“General Lew Wallace Dead at Crawfordsville, Ind., Home,” Rice Belt Journal [Welsh, LA].
“General Wallace Dead,” Alexandria [VA] Gazette.
“Gen. Lew Wallace, Author of “Ben Hur” Is Dead,” Deseret Evening News [Salt Lake City, UT]
“Gen. Lew Wallace Dead,” Brownsville [TX] Daily Herald.
“Gen. Wallace Dead,” Washington [DC] Evening Star.
“Great Man Passes Away,” Tazewell [VA] Republican.
“Lew Wallace,” Salt Lake Tribune.
“Lew Wallace Dead,” Bennington [VT] Evening Banner.
“Lew Wallace Dead Stanch [sic] Friend of West End Came Quietly,” Bisbee [AZ] Daily Review.
“Noted Author of “Ben Hur” Dead,” Los Angeles Herald.