Lew Wallace is probably best known as the author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, but his long and storied life goes far beyond his literary work. Wallace also served as a first lieutenant in the Mexican War in 1846 prior to being admitted to the Indiana Bar in 1849. In 1851, Wallace was elected as the prosecuting attorney for the First Congressional District and was eventually elected to serve as a senator in the Indiana General Assembly in 1856.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Wallace was appointed to serve as the state Adjutant General, but quickly rose to become Colonel of the Indiana 11th Infantry Regiment in April 1861. In April 1862, at the Battle of Shiloh, the Union Army suffered significant casualties because of an apparent miscommunication between General Ulysses S. Grant, one of Grant’s aids, and Wallace. At the conclusion of the battle, Wallace, who was commanding the reserve troops, became the scapegoat for the costly victory. However, Wallace would find redemption a few years later after saving Washington D.C. from Confederate forces during the Battle of Monocacy. Wallace would rise to the rank of Major General before the end of his time in the military. Following the Civil War, Wallace served as governor of the New Mexico Territory (1878-1881) and United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire (1881-1885).
Amidst his public service, Wallace began to write. In total, he wrote seven books, the best known being Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880). Although sales were slow at first, they eventually picked up to the point that the book is now the third most popular novel in American literary history. With the wealth he accumulated from his writing success, he expanded his Crawfordsville residence, building a study fifty yards north of the main house in 1890. The study, lavish for the time, included electric and gas lights, a gas fireplace, a coal furnace, an on-demand water system, and a restroom, with a mix of Romanesque, Greek and Byzantine elements. The building was listed on the National Register in 1974 and as a National Historic Landmark in 2011, and it also currently houses a museum.