Gail Stephens is a retired U.S. Department of defense employee who serves as a volunteer at the Monocacy National Battlefield. She lectures on the Civil War, teaches courses at area colleges, and gives battlefield tours.
Books continue appearing on every aspect of the Civil War as we approach its sesquicentennial. Many, of course, focus on the better known generals on both sides. Occasionally one features a key military figure who is less known for his military prowess than for his other accomplishments. An exceptionally good one of that type has just appeared and it tells a fascinating story.
Lew Wallace was perhaps best known for having been the author of Ben-Hur, the epic novel written in 1880 and later produced as a movie three times before 1960. (Its most recent version won eleven Academy Awards.) Many people don't realize he was a Union general throughout the Civil War. Fewer yet realize that Wallace prevented Washington, DC, from having been overrun by Jubal Early's forces in the summer of 1864, this assessment coming from none other than General Grant. The importance of this is self-evident and doesn't need pursuing.
Wallace's military career was filled with trauma from beginning to end. He was a military amateur, one of those referred to as 'political generals.' This had the immediate effect of placing him at odds with some of his superiors. This was never more true than with General Henry Halleck - Union general-in-chief and therefore very powerful - who had little use for any general other than West Pointers. This animus was to reveal itself on a number of occasions throughout Wallace's career.
I'll cite three of his major endeavors in chronological order. The first involved the Battle of Shiloh, the second the successful defense of Cincinnati and the third the Battle of Monocacy, the battle that saved Washington from being invaded as mentioned above.Read more ›
This book is excellent! The author manages to give flesh and blood to Lew Wallace, and provide a compelling explanation of his importance to the Union victory in the Civil War. The book's maps are clear and helpful, allowing the reader to understand the various military maneuvers comprising each battle described. The book is well-written and scrupulously researched. Its two-column format and full-page illustrations make it easy to read. It is both interesting and informative, and worth your time!
Lew Wallace spent most of his life on the American stage. While never a major player, he is important as a politician, military figure, diplomat and author. His reach extends from Indiana to New Mexico to Constantinople. He is the type of person who excels through preparation and hard work. Determination coupled with a strong sense of right and personal honor could make him difficult to deal with. Ambition, good political connections and a willingness to use them caused him some serious problems. Lew Wallace is famous as an author but the Civil War is why we most remember him. This biography looks at Wallace during the war. There is enough information leading up to the war, to give us a sense of the man. The years after the war are more detail. This is when Wallace defends his actions at Shiloh and how that battle affects him personally and politically. In a sense, this is a military biography covering in detail the years from 1860 to about 1868. Lew Wallace fights at Fort Donelson, Shiloh and Monocracy. He serves on the Buell Commission, the trial of the Lincoln Conspirators and the Wirz trail. These events along with the vicissitudes of being a political general in a West Point dominated military make up the body of the book. The heart of the book is Wallace at Shiloh and his march on the first day. The author is very knowledgeable and communicates well. The explanation of what happened and why is excellent and needs to be read by every student of the battle. Another well-developed area is the relationship between Wallace and Grant. The author offers a number of plausible explanations for the problems they had. Halleck is the villain of the story. The author documents his animosity toward political generals and how his efforts to keep Wallace from command.Read more ›
I have three qualifications to write this review: I am from Indiana, a Civil War Buff and graduated from Lew Wallace High School in Gary, Indiana in the 70's. I enjoyed this book immensely. Per the title, the book is heavy on Shiloh, but does a good job explaining Wallace's actions at Monocacy and Fort Donaldson. I would only add that the book is woefully short on Wallace's role in the conspiracy trial of Lincoln's assassins. I doubt that the soon to be released movie on Surrat will deal with Wallace much. I really enjoyed the banter between Wallace and Grant with Wallace having to continually defend himself against Grant's sharp attacks. I fault the author for going back and forth on Sherman's role in first defending Wallace then attacking him on Grant's behalf. While reading this book, I kept having deja vue moments thinking Wallace reminded me alot of Abner Doubleday.ie. fine general but always having a beef with authority and crying "oh poor me" during the Civil War and beyond. Lastly, the author only glances Wallace's writing of Ben Hur and I would have enjoyed knowing more about his sources for his great religious knowledge. All in all, I would definitely buy this book, read it and enjoy.