The American Lew Wallace (1827-1905) was a man of many talents.

He excelled as a lawyer, rose to two-star general in the Civil War, was an energetic governor of New Mexico (on whose territory outlaws like Billy the Kid hunted), represented the USA in the Ottoman Empire and wrote numerous books on the side.

The best known is set in the time of Jesus and became one of the most printed novels in world literature through a sea battle and chariot race.

The title: "Ben Hur".

A good portion of luck was part of it.

In April 1862, Wallace, as a freshly minted division general, was ordered to immediately join General Ulysses S. Grant with his unit, who was fighting against superior southerners near Shiloh, Tennessee.

But Wallace took the wrong path, got lost, and was a day late.

However, he was able to wipe out the gap by two years later in command of the troops defending Washington against a surprise attack by the southerners.

As an experienced lawyer and war hero, he was appointed to the jury in 1865 that passed the expected death sentence for the murderers of US President Abraham Lincoln.

Finding a verdict turned out to be more difficult in a case in which Wallace took over the presidency in the same year.

The accused was the Swiss doctor and captain of the Confederate, Henry Wirz.


Wirz had been in command of the infamous Andersonville prison camp in Georgia since 1864, which had become the epitome of hell for Union forces.

Of the 43,000 Northerners who were penned in the open air in the almost 500 by 235 meter area, almost a third did not survive the hardships.

The jury had appalling reports: “I watch men lying around fighting their final fight.

Others lie there like dead horses, their bodies bloated from the heat ... The smell that emanates from them is indescribable. "Or:" We are starving, we are still fingering the undigested corn from the latrines. "

Henry Wirz was hanged in Washington on November 10, 1865

Source: picture-alliance / newscom / Pic

Wirz was the only southern officer to be tried after the war.

The US government wanted to counter the suspicion of being too lenient with its former opponents.

Wirz, who was probably really a choleric and people flayer, made it easy for his judges.

Their judgment was then also on death by hanging.


The Christian message of mercy didn't get in the way of Wallace then.

It was not until 1876, he later reported, that an intensive conversation with an agnostic inspired him to engage intensively with Jesus' life and teaching.

One result was the novel "Ben Hur", which appeared in 1880.

His most famous film adaptation by William Wyler is one of the greatest films of all time and won eleven Oscars in 1960.

The most famous horse race in the world: Charlton Heston in "Ben Hur" (1959) by William Wyler

Source: picture alliance / United Archive

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