Saturday, October 8, 2011

31 dayers: Day 8

Civil War Quilt Chronicles, Month 8, Susan Elston Wallace

Susan Elston was born into a prominent, wealthy Indiana family on Dec. 25, 1830. Well-educated with a love for reading, Susan was much sought after by young men in the area. In 1848, she met Lew Wallace, an Army officer who was immediately smitten by "her blue eyes, wavy hair, fair face, girlish manner, delicate person, and witty flashes."

Although Wallace's father was a former governor of Indiana, Susan's family did not welcome him as a suitor. Her father felt the young man had been too mischievous as a youth and had not applied himself adequately to his studies. Determined to win Susan's hand, Lew took up the study of law and asked Susan to wait for him until he was established as a lawyer. The couple married on May 6, 1852.

A cousin of Susan's described the early years of her mariage: "Hers was a match for love, to a poor man, and for years she lived in a most humble way, doing her own work. And afterwards, when fame and wealth were hers, she used to look back on those early years as the happiest of her life...She cared little for society, much preferring her beloved books. She told me once to make my friends among my books, for if they bored me I could cast them aside without hurt feelings and take them up again at will, and that they were the truest friends to own...She was a woman of quiet dignity and reserve and display meant nothing to her; she knew the worthwhile things that really count."

Susan began writing poetry during her marriage and several of her pieces were published. The most famous, "The Patter of Little Feet," was a tribute to small children.

When Lew was commissioned as a Major General in the Union Army, Susan began visiting her sister, Joanna, in Washington, DC, rather than wait at home alone. Her sister was married to US Senator Henry Lane and their home was a center of social activities in Washington. Susan, however, preferred to avoid the activity and instead spent hours reading at the Library of Congress.

Lew's initial service in the Union forces was exemplary resulting in him being named the youngest Major General ever. However, during the Battle of Shiloh, a series of miscommunications from General Grant resulted in the first day of battle going badly for the North. Wallace was blamed for the problem even though it was not his fault and as a result he was never allowed a position of responsibility in battle again.

In 1878, Walace was appointed governor of the New Mexico territory and Susan travelled with him to make a home in the rough country. While there, she frequently sketched the land and its inhabitants, selling her word to the Atlantic magazine and publishing a book. Lew also took up writing and published many works with his most famous being the novel "Ben Hur."

In his later years, Lew Wallace fully credited his wife, Susan, with his success. He wrote this moving tribute to her:
"Her gentle soul has controlled me and bent me to her wishes, but unselfishly, and always for my good, and always so deftly that I was as one blind to the domination. My temper has never been so hot she could not lay it. She has decided me in doubt, defended me against interruptions, saved me my time at the sacrifice of her own, cheered me when down at heart, lured me back to my tasks when the tempter would have whisked me away, held my hand in defeat and rejoiced with me in my triumphs...Her faith in me began with the beginning, when I was unknown and uncertain of myself, and the world all too ready to laugh at my attempts. Hers is a high nature, a composite of genius, common-sense, and all the best womanly qualities. The marvel, her memory, has always been at my service. Most fortunately for me the books she loves are the best and she knows them by heart. With her in call, I have no use for dictionaries of quotation...What of success has come to me, all that I am, in fact, is owning to her."

From Homestead Hearth, Mexico, MO.

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