Grave Thursday: General Lew Wallace

Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


General Lewis Wallace

Gen Lew Wallace NARA

Burial Location: Oak Hill Cemetery, Crawfordsville, Indiana

Lew Wallace Grave 1

Lew Wallace Grave 2

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On February 15, 1905, Major General Lew Wallace died at his home in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The late general had been many things during his lifetime: soldier, lawyer, governor, diplomat, inventor, and artist. Today, however, he is most likely known for his work as an author and especially for his acclaimed novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ. There have been several books written about Lew Wallace and his study in Crawfordsville is a wonderful museum about his life and legacy.

I previously visited the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in 2014 and posted about this fascinating place. As I noted then, Wallace’s name is most known to assassination researchers due to his being assigned as one of the nine military commissioners that presided over the trial of the conspirators. During the lengthy trial proceedings, Wallace took the time to sketch the accused conspirators and later used these drawings to compose a painting of Booth and his accomplices which is now on display in his Crawfordsville study:

The Conspirators in the Lew Wallace Study Labeled

During the conspiracy trial proceedings Wallace kept fairly quiet, but he did pipe up from time to time. He was one of the first to defend Senator Reverdy Johnson, a defense lawyer for Mrs. Surratt who was accused by another of the commission members as being ill suited to appear before the court because he represented a secretly treasonous state during the war, Maryland. Wallace asked that Johnson be allowed to explain himself and wanted him to be able to do so in open session. The complaint against Johnson was dropped and he would be approved by the court. After a few days of service however, Johnson would relieve himself from the proceedings, leaving Mrs. Surratt’s defense to Frederick Aiken and John Clampitt.

Lew Wallace was also responsible for the first instance of “dress up” for conspirator Lewis Powell. During the testimony of George Robinson, the army nurse who had grappled with Powell during the latter’s attack on Secretary of State William Seward, Wallace asked for the prisoner to rise. Wallace then had the guard who had been sitting next to Powell place the hat that had been found at the Secretary’s home on the head of the prisoner to see if it fit. According to the newspapers, “Payne here stood up in the dock and the hat was placed on his head for purpose of identification. As this was done Payne smiled with a sort of grimace at the sort of figure he was making.” Wallace then asked the guard, “Does it fit pretty loose, or pretty tight?” The orderly replied that the hat was, “Pretty tight”. Later on during that day’s testimony, Lewis Powell would exhibit more of the clothes he had worn when he attacked Seward.

In June of 1865, during the final days of the conspiracy trial, Wallace wrote to his wife about his growing impatience and predictions about the outcome:

“The trial is not yet over: but I say to myself, certainly it can’t endure beyond this week, and do all I can to be patient. Judge Bingham, on the side of the government, speaks tomorrow, and then the Com. votes ‘guilty or not guilty.’ I have passed a few words with my associate members, and think we can agree in a couple of hours at farthest. Three, if not four, of the eight will be acquitted that is, they would be, if we voted today. What effect Bingham will have remains to be see.”

Wallace’s assumption that “three, if not four, of the eight” conspirators would be acquitted is an interesting one. The case against Edman Spangler was the prosecution’s weakest which would account for at least one acquittal in Wallace’s mind. The other questionable cases to Wallace were likely those of Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, and Dr. Mudd. General Wallace was one of four commission members who did not sign the clemency plea on behalf of Mary Surratt, likely demonstrating his belief that Mrs. Surratt was guilty. In the end, however, Wallace’s belief of three or four acquittal’s did not prove to be accurate since all eight of the conspirators were found guilty.

Lew Wallace near the end of his life

Lew Wallace, in his study, near the end of his life

To learn more about General Lew Wallace, a man who led an illustrious life outside of his brief connections to the Lincoln assassination story, I highly suggest a visit to the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The museum has a great website and is also very active on social media like Twitter and Facebook. Wallace’s final resting place in Oak Hill Cemetery is only a short drive from the museum. His obelisk, seemingly the tallest in the cemetery, is capped with the carved shape of a draped American flag, a fitting tribute to a lifetime of service to his country.

Lew Wallace Grave 3

GPS coordinates for Lew Wallace’s grave: 40.056945, -86.914723

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Grave Thursday: General Lew Wallace

  1. Michael Plummer

    Terrific article! General Wallacebuilt a beautiful mansion in Fort Wright KY a few black cks from my own. The fields nearby ( Kruempelman Farm) , now a subdivision, served during the War Union cannon range. I have , to my knowledge, the only JWB clothing, a stage worn leather jerkin as well as a stage dagger. Please contact me and visit my Lincoln Library when you are near Northern Kentucky – Michael Plummer

    • Laurie Verge

      I’m curious – did you acquire the Booth clothing from the collection of Franklin Lenthall when it went up for auction several decades ago?

  2. Wade Kirby

    I just get great satisfaction, when reading your blog. Fascinating!

  3. Gary Goodenow

    Thank you for this great article. Let me please offer a minor observation in respect of the General’s grave memorial. Essentially, it is an obelisk on a platform with a flag draped over the top. The flag over the General’s obelisk is that of the USA. Interestingly, this design was often used for city or town Confederate memorials in the South that were erected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the Confederate version, the flag is the Stars and Bars. These memorials were often raised by the UCV or the UDC. There are examples of this CSA memorial version by the courthouses in Thomasville, Georgia and Monticello, Florida. Let me also note that I was struck that the painting showed Dr. Mudd as the closest to Booth. Thanks again.

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