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General Nathaniel Banks

Facts, information and articles about Nathaniel Banks, a Union Civil War General during the American Civil War

Nathaniel Banks Facts


January 30, 1816


September 1, 1894

Beginning Rank

Major general, U.S. Volunteers

Highest Rank Achieved

Major general, U.S. Volunteers

Battles Engaged

Cedar Mountain Port Hudson

Nathaniel Banks Articles

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Nathaniel Banks summary: Nathaniel P. Banks was made a major general in the Civil War because of his political connections; he had no prior military training or experience. From Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the Red River of Louisiana, Banks suffered one defeat after another. Because he had been a U.S. Congressman before the war, Congress awarded him one of the 14 Thanks of Congress.
However dismal his Civil War record, Nathaniel P. Banks was a self-made man. As a child in his native Massachusetts, he worked in a cotton mill, which later gave rise to his nickname, "Bobbin Boy." Entering politics, he served five different parties, at various time, becoming speaker of the Massachusetts legislature’s lower house, a U.S. Congressman, and governor. After the war, he would return to serve in the U.S. Congress and the state senate and added a new title to his resume—U.S. marshal.
His political connections and influence with Massachusetts voters got him the rank of major general of volunteers, beginning May 16, 1861, and command of a division. Placed in charge of the Department of the Shenandoah (July 25–August 17, 1861), he was driven from Winchester, Virginia, by Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson’s "foot cavalry" on May 25. The Southerners captured so many supplies at Winchester that they came up with their own nickname for "Bobbin Boy;" to them, he was "Commissary Banks."
He and Jackson met again at Cedar Mountain, Virginia, prior to the Second Battle of Bull Run. Banks came close to victory there, even routing Jackson’s renowned "Stonewall Brigade," but the arrival of Confederate major general A. P. Hill with the Light Division saved the day for the Rebels. Banks’ command sat out the Battle of Second Bull Run, guarding Bristoe Station. As Maj. Gen. John Pope’s army retreated from its thrashing outside Manassas, Pope ordered Banks to destroy the trains and supplies, resulting in the loss of 148 railroad cars and five locomotives.
Asked to raise volunteers from the New York–New England region, Banks displayed his true value to the Union cause: he secured 30,000 new fighting men.
Sent to New Orleans in December 1862 to replace Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler in command of that city, Banks besieged the Mississippi River town of Port Hudson, Louisiana. The defense of Port Hudson were well prepared, and some 6,500 Confederates held off his 30,000 troops for 48 days. The town surrendered after learning Vicksburg, up river, had fallen. Banks did make history with the siege; he had raised the Corps d’Afrique, a regiment of black troops, in Louisiana, and their attacks on Port Hudson marked the first use of black soldiers in a major battle during the war.
Between March and May of 1864, Banks embarked on the ill-fated Red River Campaign to capture Shreveport, Louisiana, where the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederacy had its headquarters, and to confiscate bales of cotton along the way. The campaign had been suggested and planned by the Union’s general-in-chief Henry Halleck, against the advice of both Banks and Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
Leading 20,000 mostly inexperienced troops from New Orleans, supplemented through the end of April by 15,000 on loan from Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and supported by riverine gunboats, Banks was thwarted time and again by significantly smaller Confederate forces. Blame for the failed campaign fell primarily on Banks, but he remained in the army until he mustered out on August 24, 1865. He then returned to the political career he loved, and where he was more successful.


Nathaniel Banks Articles From History Net Magazines

William T. Sherman’s First Campaign of DestructionBefore Gen. Willliam T. Sherman made Georgia howl, he burned a path through Mississippi, waging a war of destruction that left Southern civilians just enough for survival but not enough to support Confederate military activity.
America’s Civil War: Colonel Benjamin Grierson’s Cavalry Raid in 1863Colonel Grierson, who led the raid, lacked the flair of Confederate counterparts like J.E.B. Stuart, but his intelligence and creativity made him an excellent leader. After his raid succeeded, illustrators for Northern newspapers like Harper's Weekly gave him a dashing image to match his accomplishments.

By Bruce J. Dinges

Hoodwinked During America’s Civil War: Confederate Military Deception‘In the conditions of real war, the feeling of uncertainty is magnified, and this makes the opponent much more sensitive to crafty deception — so that even the most threadbare ruse has succeeded time after time.’ — Sir Basil Liddell Hart Desperate times require desperate measures, and in warfare few are more cunning — or …
America’s Civil War: Major General John Pope’s Narrow Escape at Clark’s MountainWhile Robert E. Lee's entire army massed behind Clark's Mountain to attack the Union Army of Virginia, a daring Yankee spy swam the Rapidan River to warn Maj. Gen. John Pope of the imminent danger. It was, said one military historian, 'the timeliest single product of espionage' in the entire war.
America’s Civil War: Front Royal Was the Key to the Shenandoah ValleyThe pretty little town of Front Royal, in the Shenandoah Valley, had a strategic value that belied its size. As Stonewall Jackson knew, it was the key to the valley, the state of Virginia and the war itself.

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