Lewis “Lew” Wallace (1827-1905) was born on April 10, 1827 in Brookville, Indiana to a prominent family. His father, David Wallace, was a West Point graduate, U.S. Congressman, and 6th governor of Indiana. Wallace was well-educated for the time, and showed a proficiency for writing. He went on to publish the influential novel Ben Hur (1880).
Wallace was a lawyer by trade and friend of Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton on the eve of the American Civil War. Morton made Wallace adjutant general of Indiana, tasked with overseeing recruiting and organization of the state’s militia. That mission rapidly accomplished, he was given command of the 11th Indiana Volunteer Regiment. His regiment, styled in French-inspired “zouave” jackets, was originally stationed in Cairo, Illinois, but Wallace used his political connections to get his men transferred closer to the action.
The 11th Indiana was sent to guard the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Maryland, across the Potomac River from Virginia. It technically fell under Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson and the Department of Pennsylvania but operated independently. It arrived in Cumberland, Maryland on June 10, 1861. Patterson gave Wallace leeway to “capture or rout” armed insurgents in the area, and he was happy to oblige. He stayed there until mid-July, when his regiment and he returned home to reenlist for 3-years.