TERRE HAUTE —
Lew Wallace is one of Indiana’s favorite sons. He was the son of a governor, a lawyer, a state senator, a lieutenant in the Mexican War, and the youngest general in the Union army during the Civil War. He was a bit of a braggart, but then, so was his close friend and fellow general, Ulysses Grant.
During the Battle of Shiloh, Wallace made some tactical mistakes that resulted in a great loss of life and greatly delayed the Union victory. When Northern citizens heard of the horrific casualties, they demanded an explanation. Wallace said he messed up because the written instructions for Gen. Grant were unclear. Even though Wallace redeemed himself later on during the war, he was devastated by the loss of his reputation.
Wallace spent the rest of his life trying to rebuild his reputation. He pleaded with the army to defend his actions at Shiloh. He begged Grant to “set things right” in Grant’s memories. But no one came to his defense, turning Wallace into a bitter man who did every thing he could to cover his guilt and shame at what happened at Shiloh.
Years later, on a train ride to Indianapolis, Lew Wallace had a conversation with a man who violently disregarded God, Jesus, and all things religious. Wallace was shocked out of his self-pity and bitterness and decided to write a novel about the importance of religion. That novel was Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, published in 1880.
President Garfield was so impressed with Ben Hur, we wrote Wallace: “With this beautiful and reverent book you have lightened the burden of my daily life and renewed our acquaintance which began at Shiloh.”
Shiloh. Did any of Wallace’s accomplishment help him “set things right?” Did serving as a judge at the Lincoln assassination trial take away some of the pain of Grant’s public stance against Wallace? Did serving as governor of the New Mexico Territory or his stint as Minister to Turkey restore his tarnished military reputation? For all his life, the Battle of Shiloh served as Wallace’s greatest frustration and shame. Some say he never really got over it.
Sadly, we might have a lot in common with Lew Wallace. Is there something in our past that makes us work very hard in order to try to cover our guilt and shame.
Do you have something in your past that makes you work very hard to cover your guilt and shame? We are busy serving, doing, giving and going — all in hopes that we can “set things right.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” In other words, we are saved by grace, not by works. If our works saved us, we would be able to “set things right.”
Yet it is only God’s grace that saves us. And if God can forgive us, isn’t it time to put our Shilohs behind us?
Verna Davis, speaker and writer, maybe reached at VrdSpeaks@yahoo.com.