Major General Lew Wallace, Author of Ben-Hur

WORLD HISTORY | May 11, 2019

General Lew Wallace. Source: (themodernfirst.com)

General Lew Wallace was the author who wrote Ben-Hur in 1880. The popular classic version of Ben-Hur was the 1959 production with Charlton Heston, who also played Moses in The Ten Commandments. That production was a blockbuster hit that cost $15 million and won 11 Academy Awards.

Early Days

Lew Wallace was born in 1827 in Indiana. His father was in the military and then a lawyer before being elected into the Indiana House of Representatives in 1828 and eventually becoming the governor. His father sent him to a private academy which enhanced his writing ability. After leaving school at age 16 to work in a records office, he eventually went into the military.  

Major/General Lew Wallace, Author of Ben-Hur. Source: (ben-hur.com)

Like his father, Lew Wallace also had an interest in law but he went back into the military during the Mexican-American War and became a lieutenant. When he got out of the military, he returned to the field of law and in 1849, was admitted to the bar. In 1852, he married Susan Arnold Elston and together, they had one son who was born in 1853. By 1858, he was elected to the Indiana Senate.

Wallace was on the commission during the time they were investigating the assassination of President Lincoln. For a while, he left to serve in the Mexican army as a major general but came back to the United States to practice law again.  

The Battle of Shiloh. Source: (sites.google.com)

Controversy Regarding The Battle of Shiloh

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Wallace had a militia unit organized who joined the Union Army. After winning a battle in Virginia in 1861, he got promoted to brigadier general, but he was later accused of failing to follow orders during the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. There was some confusion regarding the instructions from General Grant to Wallace. Grant and his army were near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. Wallace and his division were five miles north of there at Crump’s Landing.

When Wallace heard battle sounds going on after the Confederates surprised the Union Army at Shiloh, he made the decision to move his division even though the original order from General Grant was to hold his position. About 11:00 in the morning, Grant had sent a written order by one of his aides to give to Wallace that he was to join the rest of the Army. Wallace gave it to one of his staff members but it somehow got lost.  

Battle of Shiloh. Source: (autospost.com)

According to the order, he was supposed to move along the River Road, but Wallace believed that the order stated that he was to join the Army at the end of the Shunpike. After going more than half the way, Wallace was told by one of Grant’s aides, who caught up to him, that they were actually marching right into the back of the Confederate Army. By the time they turned around and headed the other direction and got to Grant’s Army, it was dark. It was assumed by General Grant that he had disobeyed his orders, but according to a footnote in General Grant’s memoirs, he had received information that cleared Wallace of any disobedience.  

2016 Version of Ben-Hur starring Morgan Freeman. Source: (slashfilm.com)

The 2016 version of the movie Ben-Hur was the third movie produced based on Lew Wallace’s book starring Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman. Besides the 1959 version, there was also the 1925 version which was a silent film starring Ramon Novarro. There were also animated versions of the movie. The movie is about romance, revenge, and forgiveness.

Wallace published his first novel in 1873 called The Fair God before he wrote Ben-Hur which was published in 1880.

1959 Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston. Source: (telegraph.co.uk)

Judah Ben-Hur played by Charlton Heston is a wealthy Jewish prince who lived with his mother and sister in Jerusalem. He falls in love with one of their slaves’ daughter, Esther. His friend Messala, who he grew up with, becomes a Roman commander in his adulthood and is very loyal to Rome and imperial power. Then one day, during a parade for the new governor, a piece of tile falls from where Ben-Hur is sitting up on his rooftop and it spooks the horses which almost cause the governor’s death. Messala takes this opportunity to use this against Ben-Hur and claims he did this on purpose and has his family thrown into prison and has him taken to the galleys. Years later, Ben-Hur comes back trying to locate his mother and sister hoping they are still alive. Seeing Messala again, Ben-Hur agrees to go up against him in a chariot race. This all takes place during the time of Christ.

Tags: 1800s | author | people

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Penny Chavers


Penny, besides writing, loves to spend her time with family and friends. In her spare time, she also enjoys playing the piano, board games, and taking online classes on topics that interest her.