General Nathaniel Prentiss Banks - Inventory Number: AUT 039
Clip signature and CDV of General Nathaniel Prentiss Banks. E. Anthony / Brady backmark.
General Nathaniel Prentiss Banks:
(January 30, 1816 – September 1, 1894)
American politician from Massachusetts and a Union general during the Civil War.
A millworker by background, Banks was prominent in local debating societies, and his oratorical skills were noted by the Democratic Party. However, his abolitionist views fitted him better for the nascent Republican Party, through which he became Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Governor of Massachusetts in the 1850s. Always a political chameleon (for which he was criticized by contemporaries), Banks was the first professional politician (with no outside business or other interests) to serve as Massachusetts Governor.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, President Lincoln appointed Banks as one of the first 'political' major generals, over the heads of West Point regulars, who initially resented him, but came to acknowledge his influence on the administration of the war. After suffering a series of inglorious setbacks in the Shenandoah River Valley at the hands of Stonewall Jackson, Banks replaced Benjamin Butler at New Orleans as commander of the Department of the Gulf, charged with administration of Louisiana and gaining control of the Mississippi River. But he failed to reinforce Grant at Vicksburg, and badly handled the Siege of Port Hudson, taking its surrender only after Vicksburg had fallen. He then launched the Red River Campaign, a failed attempt to occupy eastern Texas that prompted his recall. Banks was regularly criticized for the failures of his campaigns, notably in tactically important tasks including reconnaissance. Banks was also instrumental in early reconstruction efforts in Louisiana, intended by Lincoln as a model for later such activities.
After the war, Banks returned to the Massachusetts political scene, serving in Congress, where he supported Manifest Destiny, influenced the Alaska Purchase legislation, and supported women's suffrage. In his later years he adopted more liberal progressive causes and served as a United States marshal for Massachusetts before suffering a decline in his mental faculties.
Inventory Number: AUT 039