6 Questions With Board Member Gail Stephens

Gail Stephens has a Bachelor’s Degree in International Politics from George Washington University in Washington DC, and did graduate work at Johns Hopkins and Harvard Universities.  She worked for the Department of Defense for 26 years, retiring in 1994 as a member of the Department’s Senior Executive Service.  Upon retirement, she began to study the American Civil War.  She lectures regularly on various Civil War topics, including Monocacy, Major General Lew Wallace and the 1864 Maryland campaign, and gives battlefield tours.  In 2002, she won the National Park Service’s E.W. Peterkin award for her contributions to public understanding of Civil War history.  She has written articles on Lew Wallace and Early’s 1864 invasion of the North for several Civil War publications, including North and South magazine. Her book on Wallace’s Civil War career, Shadow of Shiloh, published by the Indiana Historical Society Press in October 2010, won the Civil War Forum of New York City’s William Henry Seward Award for best Civil War biography of 2011.

How long have you been on the LWSPS board?
I was just elected to the board in December 2012 and I’m happy to be a member.

Tell us something funny or interesting about you.
I loved Ben-Hur when I was a kid.  I read the book twice and saw the movie with Charlton Heston no less than four times, but I thought it was totally weird that it was written by a General.

How did your involvement with the Lew Wallace Study begin?
I’ve been a volunteer at Monocacy National Battlefield, the site of Lew Wallace’s greatest military feat, since 1997.  One of the rangers and I began to study Lew Wallace about ten years ago, so we came out to Indiana, did some research at the Indiana Historical Study, and then stopped by the Study where we spent a couple of days with Joann Spragg, learning about Wallace and looking at the collections.  I loved the Study and the sense it gave me of Wallace as an incredibly creative person — which gave me real insight into the man because I realized that creativity and military success go hand-in-hand.

Why do you think the preservation of the Lew Wallace Study is important?
Because Lew Wallace is a great model for us all.  He rose to fame and distinction because of his own hard work and creative abilities.  His fame spread throughout the U.S., particularly after the publication of Ben-Hur, but he was justly famous during the Civil War as the man who helped U.S. Grant win his first big victory at Fort Donelson, the man who occupied the great Confederate city of Memphis, and the man who saved the cities of Cincinnati and Washington from Confederate armies.  He was also one of the first Union generals to advocate recruiting and arming Negroes for the Union army.  If you read U.S. newspapers published during the Civil War, his fame is obvious.  Wallace went on to a rich life as an inventor, territorial governor, diplomat and writer.  His contributions to this country are numerous, and Indiana saw fit to make him one of their two “immortals” in Statuary Hall at the US Capitol, so his memory should be preserved.

What is your favorite thing about Lew Wallace?
His creativity — especially when he applied it to dealing with the Confederate sympathizers in Maryland during his time as department commander.  Those folks, including the women who attempted to smuggle drugs and other supplies south, weren’t going to get away with anything if Lew Wallace could help it!

What is the one thing you would like our bloggers and Facebook followers to know?
Lew Wallace DID NOT GET LOST AT SHILOH and U.S. GRANT DID NOT REMOVE HIM FROM COMMAND!  At Shiloh, Wallace was obeying the orders he received from Grant.  After Shiloh, Wallace could have remained a division commander in Grant’s army but there was little fighting after the seizure of Corinth, Mississippi, so he left — voluntarily — hoping to find a command elsewhere.  I truly hate the old saw that Wallace was lost at Shiloh.  It’s one of the reasons I wrote my book, Shadow of Shiloh, and in it, I explain the true situation before and during that great battle.

Check out this video of Gail explaining the battle of Shiloh while she was here in 2009.

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