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Shadow of Shiloh: Major General Lew Wallace in the Civil War

by Gail Stephens, Indiana Historical Society Press

For the remaining 43 years of his life, Lew Wallace could not escape the long shadow of the Battle of Shiloh. He would always be remembered as the general who took too long to reach the battlefield on the first day of fighting on April 6, 1862, nearly allowing Ulysses Grant’s army to suffer a humiliating defeat. Although Wallace helped the Union win the battle the following day, the immense carnage and near-defeat at Shiloh cost the Indiana native his reputation. As Gail Stephens points out in this enjoyable new book, Wallace never got over it. “He spent his life explaining what happened that day,” she writes.

Wallace joined the Army of the Tennessee in 1861 and fought with distinction at Forts Henry and Donelson. On March 21, 1862, he was promoted to major general. Then came Shiloh. Grant condemned his tardiness, as did Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, who relieved him of command. But by August 1862, he was leading Union troops in Ohio, and he later chased General John Hunt Morgan out of Indiana and Ohio. In March 1864, he became commander of the Union VIII Corps and the Middle Department in Baltimore.

Then came the Battle of Monocacy on July 9, 1864. Wallace, acting without orders and with fewer than 7,000 men, managed to hold back Jubal Early’s larger army for an entire day near Frederick, Md., as it headed for Washington. The determined stand gave Grant time to send reinforcements, saving the capital from Early’s threat. This is a welcome addition to scholarship on the much-maligned general.

Stephens has uncovered an impressive array of primary source material, allowing her to show Wallace warts and all. Stephens even joined several NPS historians on a recent re-creation of Wallace’s Shiloh march that actually took longer than the original. The fact that Wallace was faster, she writes, largely exonerates him. Her conclusion: The fiasco on April 6, 1862, was due primarily to “Grant’s verbal orders and a fatal lack of communication.”


Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here