Lew Wallace: After the Civil War

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

An earlier post briefly discussed former Confederate general James Longstreet’s post-Civil War career in the Federal government. Among the positions he held was that of minister to Turkey (1880-81). His successor in that position also was a Civil War veteran – former Union Major General Lew Wallace. Wallace served as minister to Turkey from 1881 to 1885.

During the Civil War, Wallace led troops in western Virginia, helping to secure what became West Virginia for the Union. Serving under the command of U.S. Grant, his division helped capture Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in February 1862. At the battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, in April 1862, Wallace and his troops lost their way to the battlefield on the first day of fighting, thus incurring the ongoing ire of U.S. Grant, commander of the Union forces at that battle. Leaving Grant’s command, Wallace subsequently held other posts. Perhaps most notably, in July 1864, he led Union forces against those under the command of Confederate general Jubal Early at the battle of the Monocacy River outside Frederick, Maryland. Despite losing the battle, Wallace’s troops successfully delayed Early’s advance toward Washington during the third invasion of the North by troops under the direction of Robert E. Lee, allowing reinforcements from the Union forces outside Richmond and Petersburg to man the fortifications around the capital city. Wallace also served on the military commission established to prosecute the Lincoln assassination conspirators and headed the military court that tried the commandant of the Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Henry Wirz.

After the war, Wallace resigned his commission and went to Mexico to assist the Mexican army. After returning to the United States in 1867, he made unsuccessful runs for Congress in 1868 and 1870.

While his quest for a diplomatic or consular posting did not culminate until 1881, the extant records indicate that Wallace began maneuvering for such an appointment in 1872. In June of that year he sent the following letter to President Ulysses Grant:

Letter 1: Lew Wallace to President Grant

Washington City, June 13, 1872


His Excellency,                                                                                                                                             President Grant                                                                                                                                                  Dear Sir:

I have submitted propositions to gentlemen in Philadelphia based upon the consulate at Santarem that I may have time to consider acceptance of the appointment.  I take the liberty of suggesting that the Sec. of State be notified (if he has not already been) of the tender of the place.  The precaution may prevent a troublesome slip.

Very truly, your friend,       /s/Lew. Wallace


Nothing came of this approach and in November, Wallace sent the President two letters.

Letter 2: Lew Wallace to President Grant



Crawfordsville, Ind., Nov. 16, 1872                                                                                                                    His Excellency                                                                                                                                             President U.S. Grant

Dear Sir:

   You will be kind enough, doubtless [to] recall the explanation I made to you of the passage by Congress of the Act establishing a consulate at the city of Santarem, on the south bank of the river Amazon; also, my explanation of the application for the appointment of Chas. M. Travis, Esq., as consul at Para.  I stated that certain gentlemen of St. Louis had it in mind to inaugurate an American commercial and navigation enterprise in that region; that the two consulates were considered important to the project; and that, if the enterprise could be begun on a scale to justify me in accepting it, I would, after the election, formally apply for the appointment to Santarem.

   We have diligently inquired for data to serve as a basis for an estimate of the capital required for the business; but without success.  As a consequence, the gentlemen interested decline to engage themselves to put boats upon the river; and, in the absence of sufficient knowledge of the condition of trade in that part of the world, they are certainly justified in doing so.  They offer to assist me if I will descend the river and collect information; but, as they will not obligate themselves to any action, and as the expedition would consume seven or eight months, I do not think I can afford to give that time upon such an uncertainty.

    I have, therefore, concluded to change the application to that of Minister to Bolivia.  A residence in that country, about to be opened to direct trade by a railroad around the falls of the Madeira river, will give me ample opportunity to post myself and the American public upon what is to day really a sealed book — I mean commercial affairs in the Amazon valley.

    Of course, I understand fully the difference between the duties and proprieties incident to a mission and a consular appointment.  It is only necessary to add in this connection that, if you should give me the appointment to Bolivia, I should have in mind my own credit and the interests of my country.

    As to Mr. Markbreit, the present incumbent, his predecessor, Mr. Caldwell, of Cincinnati, informed me that the republicans of Ohio four years ago, presented his name for the place to satisfy Mr. Hansaureck, whom you may know as editor and proprietor of a German newspaper published in Cincinnati — the same who, in the recent contest, modestly demanded of the National Rep., Com. $30,000 for his influence and paper, and failing to get it, turned over to the enemy, and deluged you with abuse.  As it is, I do not think Mr. Markbreit could complain if I make application for his place or you choose to grant it.

    This I write in private explanation.  Elsewhere I send you a formal application, and accompany it with letters recommendatory from Gov. Morton, Senator Pratt and Gen. Coburn.  I have also written to Governors Jewell and Hawley, of Connecticut, and Mr. Bartlett Brent, Chair. of the Rep. Cent. Com. of that state, requesting them to furnish me with letters, and forward them to Gen. Porter for submittal to you.  The letters, sent herewith, from Gen. Hawley will explain why I count on their recommendation.

Very respectfully, yr. friend & svt,

/s/Lew. Wallace

Letter 3: Lew Wallace to President Grant

Crawfordsville, Ind., Nov. 16, 1872                                                                                                                    His Excellency                                                                                                                                              President U.S. Grant                                                                                                                                           Dear Sir:


   I respectfully apply to be appointed minister from the United States to the Republic of Bolivia, South America.  Herewith please find letters recommendatory from Senators Morton and Pratt, and Gen. Jno. Coburn, of my State.  Others of like purport could be readily obtained; these, however, allude to services rendered in the late canvass, and, I think, sufficiently indicate that the appointment would be agreeable to the republicans of Indiana.

Very respectfully,                                                                                                                                                  Your friend & servant,                                                                                                                                  /s/Lew. Wallace


Wallace did not receive an appointment from President Grant, despite the recommendation of the Republican leaders of Indiana. Perhaps the disagreements during the Civil War continued to color Grant’s opinion of Wallace.

Wallace worked actively on behalf of Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate for President in 1876. Shortly after Hayes’s inauguration, Wallace met with the new President to discuss an appointment and followed up with the following letter.

Letter 4: Lew Wallace to President Hayes

Washington, March 9, 1877                                                                                                                                 His Excellency, President Hayes                                                                                                                    Dear Sir:


   I avail myself of the request you made me this morning.

   It is hardly necessary to give reasons for a preference of the Italian mission over all others of the second class.

   The Brazilian embassy would be my next preference.  Our manufactured products ought to command the markets of that country; and it is my opinion that a generous transmission of comparative details, reaching everybody through the State Department, would go far to achieve the object by inducing enterprise.

   The Spanish mission is very attractive — only I am afraid of the possible complication to which we are momentarily liable in that quarter.

   Mexico would be my last choice; at the sametime [sic] my knowledge of the country and people might make me more serviceable there than elsewhere.

   It is for you to say.

Very truly, your friend, /s/Lew. Wallace 


In June, Wallace wrote the following letter to President Hayes.

Letter 5: Lew Wallace to President Hayes

Crawfordsville, Ind., June 1877                                                                                                                           His Excellency, President Hayes                                                                                                                      Dear Sir:


    A few days after your inauguration, you were kind enough to request me to leave with you a written statement of my preferences among the foreign missions, saying you might not have it in power to give me my first choice.  Thinking to escape imputation of abuse of your favor, I gave the following as preferences in their order– Italy, Brazil, Spain, and Mexico– all of the second class.

    After delivering you the paper, I refrained scrupulously from troubling you with calls, or letters, or recommendations.  In particular, I have declined the offers of influential friends to wait on you in my behalf.  I did not even have communications with Mr. Evarts upon the subject.  The reason you will readily see.

    In the next place, I came home, and disengaged myself from business.

    The newspapers have had you dispose of all the missions stated.  While I do not, of course, believe all the newspapers say, still I begin to think that possibly any expression of preferences may have been overlooked or forgotten by you, or that you may have come to think me indifferent about the matter.  In either of these events, there can be no impropriety, I am sure, in setting myself right; and for that purpose I presume to send you this note.

Very respectfully,                                                                                                                                                  Your friend,                                                                                                                                                     /s/Lew. Wallace

Wallace did not receive a posting to any of the places mentioned in his letter, despite the support of Republicans of Indiana. Rather, President Hayes appointed him to the post of governor of the New Mexico Territory. Wallace served in that position from 1878 to 1881.

While serving as territorial governor, in continuance of his search for an overseas post, Wallace sent the following letter to Secretary of State William Evarts.

Letter 6: Lew Wallace to Secretary of State William Evarts

Executive Office, Santa Fe, N.M.                                                                                                           November 18, 1878                                                                                                                                  Honorable W. M. Evarts                                                                                                                                     Sect. of State                                                                                                                                         Washington, D.C.                                                                                                                                               Dear Sir:


   I take the liberty of sending you a copy of the Democratic organ of New Mexico, containing some markings, which will show the progress made in suppressing the insurrectionary troubles in Lincoln County.

   That task would seem to have been my special mission here; and as it is accomplished, do you not think me entitled to promotion?  As the field in which your hand has to appear is a very wide one, with much to be done in it, I would be particularly happy if you would entrust me with some fitting part of the work.

   The speech you were going to make in New York, and did make, has not yet come to hand.

Very respectfully, your friend,                                                                                                                    /s/Lew. Wallace


Only in 1881, did President Hayes appoint Wallace as U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire. He served in that position until 1885, and by all accounts did a reputable job as a diplomat.

Wallace also was a writer. His most famous book is Ben Hur: A Story of the Christ, published in 1880. It was the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century and has never been out of print.  Wallace died in 1905.

Source: The first three letters come from the Lew Wallace file in the Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of Grant, 1869-1877 and the second three letters come from the Lew Wallace file in the Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administrations of Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, and Chester Arthur, 1877-1885, both part of Entry A1-760, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

2 thoughts on “Lew Wallace: After the Civil War

  1. My biography Donn Piatt: Gadlfy of the Gilded Age (Kent State University Press, 2012) describes Piatt’s service with Wallace on a commission during the Civil War–and his encouragement of Wallace as a writer after the war, in 1873, when Wallace had lost an election to Congress and had been accused of plagiarism for a novel he wrote before Ben Hur.

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