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Nathaniel Banks

By John T. Marck

Nathaniel Banks was born in Waltham, Massachusetts on January 30, 1816. Raised in a family that was poverty stricken, he soon, through his own tenacity, rose to great political power and became the leader of the Democratic Party. Personally opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he left the Democrats, and joined the Republican Party. In this capacity Banks was elected governor of Massachusetts from 1858 to 1861. When the Civil War began, Banks was appointed by President Lincoln to the rank of major general. Like many others in the Union army, Banks was appointed to this high rank not because he possessed sound military experience, but merely as a result of his political power and connections.

Now in command in the summer of 1861, Banks first military encounter with the Rebels was less than successful. While in the Shenandoah Valley to suppress Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and his army, who were harassing the Union forces, Banks tried to trap his army. Outsmarted by Jackson, Banks was defeated, creating an uproar between his peers and the Union citizens. However, being a friend of Lincoln's he was cleared of any malfeasance. In his defense, he originally did receive conflicting orders concerning Jackson from Lincoln and General George B. McClellan.

Several months later he was again in command of the head of Major General John Pope's army, and again met with Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain. Although Banks and his men were winning, Confederate General Ambrose Hill and his troops arrived, and drove Banks and his army from the battlefield, resulting in another defeat. Criticized again, Pope then perplexed them by being selected to command the Department of the Gulf. In his command's that followed at Port Hudson and the Red River, Banks proved to be no better than his first commands. His performance was so bad that this time even Lincoln could not save him. Consequently, he was removed from further functional military command, although it was late in the war, and Banks left the army, returning to Massachusetts in August 1865. After the war he served six terms in the United States House of representatives. Nathaniel banks died in Waltham on September 1, 1894.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.