One hundred and fifty years ago in April of 1862, the Battle of Shiloh was fought in Tennessee. Considered one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, it saw its share of men who would go down in history. Some of these men would be remembered for their valor that day and some for accomplishments later in life. Lew Wallace was one of these men. He is remembered for a number of reasons, but perhaps most famously for his writing of Ben-Hur. Wallace was not the only survivor of Shiloh who would make his mark with writing. At least two other famous authors survived Shiloh, Ambrose Bierce and Henry Morton Stanley.
|Lew Wallace at work, ca. 1899|
Ambrose was 19 when the Civil War broke out and he quickly enlisted in the 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment. Bierce fought in a number of engagements, including Shiloh. In June of 1864, he received a head wound at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and spent months recovering. He returned to the field but left the military in January of 1865. In 1866, he rejoined the army for a brief stint with a former commander who was inspecting military operations out west. With this tour he ended up in San Francisco and left the army as a brevet major.
|Ambrose Bierce 1866|
Beyond his editorials and columns, his short stories are regarded as among the best of the 19th century. He wrote realistically of the terrible things he had seen in the war in stories such as "What I Saw of Shiloh," "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "The Boarded Window," "Killed at Resaca," and "Chickamauga." Beyond his Owl Creek story, Bierce is also remembered for The Devil's Dictionary. This work satirized many of the celebrities of his day including Robert Ingersoll, the agnostic who spurred Lew Wallace to rework a story on the Three Wise Men that ultimately became Ben-Hur. In The Devil’s Dictionary Bierce included his version of the Ten Commandments in which the second commandment is, "No images nor idols make/for Robert Ingersoll to break."
Bierce married and had three children, but his two sons died before him and he divorced his wife after many years of marriage. In 1913, Bierce left his home in Washington, D.C. for a tour of Civil War battlefields where he fought. He travelled on to Louisiana and Texas and some historians think he crossed the border into Mexico to join Pancho Villa’s army as an observer. It is purported that he wrote a letter on December 26, 1913 to a friend indicating that he was with Villa’s army and he would be leaving the next day for a destination unknown. He vanished and was never heard from again.
Another man who survived Shiloh went on to have success as a writer but became most famous for finding someone the world thought had vanished! Henry Morton Stanley became one of the most quoted men of the 19th century when he asked: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Henry Morton Stanley was born in Wales. His parents were likely unmarried and his father, believed to be a man named Rowlands, died within days of his birth. He lived with his grandfather for several years until the grandfather died. After passing through the homes of a few relatives, young Stanley ended up in a workhouse for the poor. He stayed in the workhouse until he was 15. For a time his mother and two brothers were also in the workhouse, but because of the family separation, he didn’t recognize them. Stanley was able to complete an elementary education and for a short time was a teacher. In 1859, at the age of 18 he sailed to America and jumped ship in New Orleans. At that point fate stepped in to change the young man’s life.
He happened upon a man named Henry Hope Stanley who was sitting in front of his store in New Orleans. The young Welshman, hoping for a job, asked Stanley if he needed any help. Stanley did need help and a close relationship developed. The store keeper was childless and he ultimately adopted young Rowlands who changed his name to Henry Morton Stanley and did his best to drop his accent and deny his ancestry.
Stanley reluctantly fought in the Civil War as a Confederate and saw action at Shiloh where he was captured. When he was released from the prison camp in June of 1862, he joined the Union Army, but was discharged 18 days later due to illness. In 1864 he joined the Union Navy where he served as a record keeper; a job that led to a free lance writing career. In February of 1865, young Stanley, who had served in the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and the Union Navy, decided to jump ship in an effort to find adventure! Stanley began a career as a journalist and quickly undertook an expedition to the Ottoman Empire. He was captured and spent time in a prison before talking his way out of jail and, not being satisfied with getting out of prison he also succeeded in getting restitution for damage to his expedition equipment!
Immediately after returning from the Middle East in 1867, Stanley was hired by Colonel Samuel Forster Tappan of the Indian Peace Commission, to serve as a correspondent to cover the work of the Commission for several newspapers. Stanley was soon retained exclusively by James Gordon Bennett, founder of the New York Herald, who was impressed by Stanley's exploits and by his direct style of writing. He became one of the Herald's overseas correspondents and, in 1869, was instructed by Bennett's son to find the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who was known to be in Africa but had vanished. According to Stanley's account, he asked James Gordon Bennett, Jr., how much he could spend. The reply (according to Stanley) was "Draw £1,000 now, and when you have gone through that, draw another £1,000, and when that is spent, draw another £1,000, and when you have finished that, draw another £1,000, and so on — BUT FIND LIVINGSTONE!" In actuality, Stanley had lobbied his employer for several years to mount this expedition which he hoped would lead to fame and fortune.
|Henry Morton Stanley 1872|
This was not Stanley’s last trip to Africa. In another financed expedition, he sought to find the source of the River Congo and follow it to the sea. This effort lasted 999 days and of the 356 people who started the trip only 114 survived with Stanley being the only European still alive at the end. This trip too was chronicled in a successful book. Stanley led other expeditions in Africa, some of them tainted by controversy. He returned to England, served in Parliament and was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1899, in recognition of his service to the British Empire in Africa. Stanley died in 1904.
While it’s not recorded whether or not Lew Wallace, Ambrose Bierce, or Henry Stanley ever met on the battlefield at Shiloh, it is certain that the two days they spent there in April of 1862 changed their lives. Each of these men experienced war differently, but because of their service, opportunities opened up and each in his own way seized the moments and adventures they were offered. As Wallace wrote at the beginning of the Civil War: “May a man tell what he can do until he tries?”
The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum celebrates and renews belief in the power of the individual spirit to affect American history and culture.