Monday, April 7, 2008


With the passing of Charlton Heston, attention has been drawn once again to his Oscar-winning role of Judah Ben-Hur in the movie "Ben-Hur". Cecil B. DeMille's film was based on the 1880 novel by Lew Wallace, "Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ".

Wallace (April 10, 1827 – February 15, 1905) was a lawyer who organized troops for the Union Army during the Civil War and was finally rewarded with his own regiment. Unfortunately, at the Battle of Shiloh he screwed up because of his interpretation of General Grant's hand-written marching orders which Wallace deemed too vague. As a result, he arrived too late to provide support for Sherman during the first forays and so Sherman had to pull back. Wallace and his division were finally in place to hold the extreme right of the Union line and were the first to attack on the second day of the battle - 146 years ago today.

From Wikipedia:
At first, there was little fallout from this. Wallace was the youngest general of his rank in the army and was something of a "golden boy." Soon, however, civilians in the North began to hear the news of the horrible casualties at Shiloh, and the Army needed explanations. Both Grant and his superior, Halleck, placed the blame squarely on Wallace, saying that his incompetence in moving up the reserves had nearly cost them the battle. (Sherman, for his part, remained mute on the issue.) Wallace was removed from his command in June and reassigned to the much less glamorous duty commanding the defense of Cincinnati in the Department of the Ohio.

Personally, Wallace was devastated by the loss of his reputation as a result of Shiloh. He worked desperately all his life to change public opinion about his role in the battle, going so far as to literally beg Grant to "set things right" in Grant's memoirs. Grant, however, like many of the others Wallace importuned, refused to change his opinion.

Wallace participated in the military commission trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators as well as the court-martial of Henry Wirz, commandant of the Andersonville prison camp. He resigned from the army in 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 U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire from 1881 to 1885. As governor, he offered amnesty to many men involved in the Lincoln County War; in the process he met with Billy the Kid (Henry McCarty).

On 17 March 1879, the pair arranged that Kid would act as an informant and testify against others involved in the Lincoln County War, and, in return, Kid would be "scot free with a pardon in [his] pocket for all [his] misdeeds." But the Kid returned to his outlaw ways and Governor Wallace withdrew his offer.

While serving as governor, Wallace completed the novel that made him famous: "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ". It grew to be the best-selling American novel of the 19th century. The book has never been out of print and has been filmed four times (1907, 1925, 1959, and 2003.) It was the first work of fiction to be blessed by a pope.

Recently, historian Victor Davis Hanson has argued that the novel was based heavily on Wallace's own life, particularly his experiences at Shiloh and the damage it did to his reputation. There are some striking similarities: the book's main character, Judah Ben-Hur accidentally causes injury to a high-ranking commander, for which he and his family suffer no end of tribulations and calumny.

I knew Lew Wallace appeared in Toobworld at least twice - played by Cameron Mitchell in "The Andersonville Trial", and in an episode of 'Law Of The Plainsman'. Not knowing who played him in that show, I checked out the character at the, and was surprised to find that Wallace had so many televersions:

Rene Auberjonois (Gov. Lew Wallace) . . . Longarm (1988) (TV)

Wilford Brimley (Gov.Lew Wallace) . . . Billy the Kid (1989) (TV)

Matt Crowley (I) (General Lew Wallace) . . . "Philco Television Playhouse, The" (1948)
{The Death of Billy the Kid (#7.23)} TV Series

Frank Ferguson (I) (Lew Wallace) . . . "Tall Man, The" (1960)
{The Great Western (#1.37)} TV Series

Len Hendry (General Lew Wallace) . . . "Branded" (1965)
{A Destiny Which Made Us Brothers (#2.19)} TV Series

Forrest Lewis (Gen. Lew Wallace) . . . "Bronco" (1958)
{Death of an Outlaw (#2.13)} TV Series

Dayton Lummis (Lew Wallace) . . . "Death Valley Days" (1952)
{Shadows on the Window (#8.19)} TV Series

Cameron Mitchell (I) (Gen. Lew Wallace) . . . Andersonville Trial, The (1970) (TV)

Robert Warwick (I) (Governor Lew Wallace) . . . "Law of the Plainsman" (1959)
{Amnesty (#1.27)} TV Series

The fact that I would do the research into the life of Lew Wallace on the anniversary of his involvement at Shiloh was a bit of "serendipiteevee". And here's another:

In 1957 Charlton Heston - the reason I'm writing about Wallace - played Chipman in a 'Climax!" episode entitled "The Trial Of Captain Wirz", which was also about the Andersonville Trial.

Toby OB

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