Nathaniel Prentice Banks

Nathaniel Prentice Banks

Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA
Death 1 Sep 1894 (aged 78)
Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA
Burial Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA
Memorial ID 18558 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Civil War Union Major General, US Congressman, 26th Massachusetts Governor. One of the earliest general officer appointments made by President Abraham Lincoln, he would be forever marked as a purely Political General who, despite repeated poor performances, remained in a position of authority long after other incompetent political generals had been weeded from the Army. Trained as a lawyer, he was elected four different times to the United States House of Representatives, representing 3 different districts for 3 different parties. He was elected to represent Massachusetts' 7th District, serving first as a Democrat, then as a member of the American Party, from 1853 to 1857. He served the Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1856 to 1857, and presided with moderation over some of the issues that caused the bitter dissension within the Nation. In 1858 he was elected as Governor of Massachusetts, serving until January 1861. In May 1861 he was appointed Major General, US Volunteers in a move that was part of President Abraham Lincoln's response to the outbreak of hostilities with the Southern States. His appointment stemmed purely from his political position and influence, and, while he would prove to be a thoroughly inept field commander, he would do great service in terms of soldier recruitment, money obtained, and political backing of the war effort. In this regard he would join Generals Benjamin Butler, John A. McClernand and Franz Sigel as Civil War Figures whose military contributions were sorely lacking, but their political contributions were immeasurable. He was first assigned to various districts and departments in Maryland and Virginia, seeing no action, but assisting in the training and recruiting of troops. His first test in the field was in June 1862, when, in command of Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, he was utterly routed by Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's brilliant Valley Campaign. When he was driven from the Valley with tremendous losses of materiel, the Rebel soldiers who captured his supplies dubbed him "Commissary Banks". In August he was given command of a corps in Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia, and again was badly beaten by Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. After remaining in reserve at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, he was assigned to command first the Military District of Washington, then the Department of the Gulf (succeeding General Butler). He led the forces that laid siege to, and eventually captured, Port Hudson, Mississippi in mid-July 1863. During the siege he was responsible for a number of bloody and fruitless assaults on the position, which surrendered only when the loss of Vicksburg made it untenable. He was voted the Thanks of Congress for the capture, and, according to many historians, was the least deserving of the 14 Union officers who received that accolade during the War. In 1864 he was in command Union forces of the Red River Campaign, which aimed to drive out Confederate forces in Southeastern Texas, and was driven back in dismal failure. This setback facilitated his being left without a command for an extended period of time, but in April 1865, when the fighting was all but over, he was again assigned to command the Department of the Gulf, which he commanded until his muster out of the Volunteer service in August 1865. In December he was elected to the United States House of Representatives to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Congressman Daniel W. Gooch. He represented Massachusetts' 6th Congressional District as a Republican from 1865 to 1873. In 1875 he was elected to represent the 5th Congressional District, serving first as an Independent, then as a Republican from 1875 to 1879. After serving 8 years as Massachusetts United States Marshal, he was elected to his final time in Congress, representing again the 5th District as a Republican from 1889 to 1891. Due to failing physical and mental health, he was denied the chance to run for re-election, but he was voted a pension of $1,200 by Congress. He passed away in 1894 in his hometown of Waltham, Massachusetts. His younger brother, Gardner Banks, served in the Civil War as an officer in the 16th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, eventually rising to his Colonel and commander before he was discharged due to severe illness.

Bio by: Russ Dodge

Family Members




How famous was Nathaniel Prentice Banks?

Current rating:

43 votes

to cast your vote.

  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 25 Nov 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 18558
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Nathaniel Prentice Banks (30 Jan 1816–1 Sep 1894), Find a Grave Memorial no. 18558, citing Grove Hill Cemetery, Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .