27: Major General N. P. Banks, Collection of 15 CDVs
Major General N. P. Banks, Collection of Fifteen CDVs
Comprising ten different uniformed cartes along with a civilian pose and two lithographic vignettes, most being common Anthony-Brady views. Another CDV show Banks’ three young children. The last view is a penciled caricature extolling the victory at Port Hudson captioned The Banks of the Mississippi. None are autographed by Banks. The collection includes nearly the full array of known Banks’ wartime cdvs.
A self-made politician of humble origin and modest education, Nathaniel Prentiss Banks (1816-1894) epitomized the worst of the American volunteer general promoted well beyond his ability. A political moderate, the inexorable Banks was elected Speaker of the House emerging after an incredible 133 ballots and was the sitting Governor of Massachusetts when Lincoln appointed him major general in May 1861.
Banks secured Baltimore following the riots and took credit for keeping Maryland in the Union while opening the lines of communication with the beleaguered Capitol. Banks’ subsequent Civil War record was mediocre at best reflecting his role as fundamentally a politico with rank. He was ejected from the Valley in 1862 and summarily defeated by "Stonewall" at Cedar Mountain. Transferred to command the Department of the Gulf in 1863, Banks oversaw the costly but ultimately successful assaults on Port Hudson and later operations along the Texas coast that curtailed the prospect of French recognition and prevented much needed war material from reaching the Confederacy. For this Lincoln personally commended Banks. In January 1864 he received the official Thanks of Congress—one of just thirty general officers so honored—for “his courage and endurance which compelled the surrender of Port Hudson.”
Later in 1864 Banks was part architect (with Henry Halleck) of the disastrous Red River Campaign, an unnecessary and overly complicated two-prong diversionary attack aimed at capturing Shreveport and drawing out the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Army. Beset by poor communication and logistics, the combined army-navy operation was a complete fiasco that siphoned off resources, ultimately costing nearly 6,000 Union casualties amidst allegations of rampant cotton speculation and profiteering by senior officers. Northern newspapers bleated the battlefield defeats and hasty retreat. Coupled with the stranding of part of Admiral Porter’s fleet, the inflammatory editorials made certain that Banks would never again hold field command. The general retained administrative control of the Army of the Gulf, no doubt as a face saving gesture, and took leave in the fall of 1864 to lobby Congress for Lincoln’s temperate reconstruction policies for Louisiana—home in a familiar political arena.
Major General Banks was not formally mustered out of service until August 1865 and received none of the customary brevet promotions accorded other senior officers. Still, after the war Banks triumphantly returned to politics and was immediately elected to the first of six terms in Congress serving opportunistically as both a Republican and Democrat. In the interim Banks was appointed United States Marshal for the state of Massachusetts by President Grant in 1879 serving through 1888. The general’s health had declined precipitously during his last term in the House and he died three years later in September 1894, age 78.
Provenance: The Ed Steers Lincolniana & Civil War Collection
CDVs uniformly G+. with varying degree of light wear and handling.