A Civil War Biography

William Harvey Lamb Wallace

Wallace was born 8 July 1821 in Urbana, Ohio. He moved, with his family, to La Salle County, Illinois in 1834 (Some sources say 1832.) and settled near Ottawa. He attended Rock Springs Seminary in Mount Morris, Illinois then decided to study the law. Originally headed to Springfield to study with Abraham Lincoln, Wallace was persuaded to remain in Ottawa and study with T. Lyle Dickey, a prominent local attorney and a friend of Lincoln. Wallace was admitted to the bar in 1846 but volunteered as a private in the 1st Illinois regiment and headed off to fight in the war with Mexico. He would eventually be named adjutant of his regiment. Returning from Mexico he took up the practice of law in the office of Dickey, his mentor and in 1851 married Dickey's daughter, Martha Anne. In 1853 Wallace was named district attorney for La Salle County. He remained in this position until the war erupted.

When the war broke out Wallace immediately volunteered for service, joining the 11th Illinois, a three month regiment which was forming in Springfield. He was elected colonel of the 11th on 30 April 1861. Due in a large part to Wallace's influence the 11th reenlisted for the duration on 30 July. On 21 March 1862, for his service at the February 1862 battle of Fort Donelson, during which he commanded a brigade in John A McClernand's division, Wallace was promoted to brigadier general. Following Fort Donelson, where the 11th Illinois was credited with preventing the Confederate breakout, Wallace moved what was left of the regiment which had lost nearly two-thirds of its men, to Pittsburg Landing. Wallace was placed in temporary command of the Army of the Tennessee's 2nd division. On 6 April 1862 when the Confederates surprised the Union forces near Shiloh Church, Wallace held part of the Federal right just to the right of Benjamin M. Prentiss's 6th division. It was these two divisions that held on at what became known as the Hornet's Nest long enough for the rest of the Union army to fall back and regroup. Eventually Prentiss was overrun and forced to surrender. Wallace was struck in the head by a shell fragment and lay mortally wounded on the field within Confederate lines until the following morning when, around 10am he was found still alive and taken to the Union rear where his wife who had arrived the previous day tended to him. Wallace was moved to Savannah, Tennessee where he died on 10 April 1862. It can never be known what impact Wallace might have had on the Union war effort had he not been killed so early in the war but Ulysses S Grant in 1868 would call Wallace "the equal of the best, if not the very best" volunteer general at the time of his death.

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