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Pretense of Glory

The Life of General Nathaniel P. Banks

James G. Hollandsworth Jr.

Publication Year: 1998

In this first modern biography of Nathaniel P. Banks, James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., reveals the complicated and contradictory nature of the man who called himself the "fighting politician." Despite a lack of formal education, family connections, and personal fortune, Banks (1816–1884) advanced from the Massachusetts legislature to the governorship to the U.S. Congress and Speaker of the House. He learned early in his political career that the pretext of conviction can be more important than the conviction itself, and he practiced a politics of expedience, espousing popular beliefs but never defining beliefs of his own. A leader in the new Republican party, he developed a reputation as a compelling orator and a politician with a bright future.

At the onset of the Civil War, Lincoln appointed Banks a major general, and, as Hollandsworth shows, the same pretext of conviction that served Banks so well in politics proved disastrous on the battlefield. He suffered resounding defeats in the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, the Battle of Cedar Mountain, and the Red River Campaign. Illuminating the personal characteristics that stalled the promise of Banks's early political career and contributed to his dismal record as a commanding officer, Hollandsworth demonstrates how Banks's obsessive pretense of glory prevented him from achieving its reality.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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pp. c-vi


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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 1-2

In 1858 Nathaniel P. Banks seemed to have had as good a chance as anyone to become the next president of the United States. A two-term congressman from Massachusetts and already Speaker of the House, the forty-two-year-old Banks was an up-and-coming star of the new Republican party. Two years earlier he had contributed to John Frémont's bid...

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1 Born a Talker

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pp. 3-17

Nathaniel P. Banks's life began where it would end, in Waltham, Mass chusetts, a factory town that grew up around a modern textile mill run by the Boston Manufacturing Company. Born in a company-owned house on River Street on January 30,1816, Banks was the first child of Nathaniel P. Banks, Sr., and his wife of one year, Rebecca Greenwood...

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2 A Genius for Being Looked At

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pp. 18-32

There was much to like about the new congressman from Massachusetts. A mechanic's son who had quit school to help support his family, Banks was an industrious, personable, and articulate spokesman for his district. Furthermore, he understood the plight of the worker and appreciated...

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3 Success Is a Duty

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pp. 33-44

Nathaniel P. Banks won reelection to the U.S. House of Representa tives in 1858 by carrying his congressional district two to one. But with the Democrats in control it was clear that his tenure as Speaker was over. Stopping to consider his political future, Banks decided that the best...

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4 Faultless-Looking Soldier

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pp. 45-61

The new major general was woefully lacking in military experience an knowledge. Banks had served on the Military Affairs Committee during his first term in Congress, but he had used that assignment primarily to attract labor votes by demanding civilian administration for the Springfield Armory. As governor, Banks had commanded the armed forces of...

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5 The Most Remarkable Movement of the War

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pp. 62-69

Knowing that his men were exhausted by the rapid marches and fighting, Stonewall Jackson halted his column Friday evening near Cedarville, several miles north of Front Royal. From that point he could move west to cut the Valley Turnpike or northwest to capture Winchester....

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6 We Have Backed Out Enough

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pp. 70-82

While Jackson parried with 70,000 Union troops in and around the Shenandoah Valley, George B. McClellan with an army of 110,000 well-supplied and well-trained men moved closer to the Confederate capital. On May 31, the Confederate commander of the army defending Richmond, Joseph E. Johnston, attempted to halt the Union advance at a...

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7 Even Thieves Take Off Their Hats

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pp. 83-98

After the Battle of Antietam the war in the East settled into a stalemate when McClellan decided not to advance further until better weather in the spring. In the western theater, however, the situation looked considerably brighter for the North. After taking New Orleans in April, David...

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8 To Stir a Man's Blood

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pp. 99-117

Coaxing the citizens of Louisiana back into the Union was only part of Nathaniel P. Banks s assignment. He was also expected to help wrest control of the Mississippi River from the Confederates. Both Lincoln and Halleck recognized the importance of opening the Mississippi, an...

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9 Pound Him at Your Will

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pp. 118-133

Farragut carried a letter from Nathaniel P. Banks to Ulysses S. Grant with him when he fought his way past the Confederate batteries at Port Hudson during the early morning hours of March 15. Banks suggested in the letter several ways by which the two armies might cooperate in the...

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10 The Sensation of Deliverance

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pp. 134-143

Once the Mississippi River was opened, Banks believed that Mobile, Alabama, was the next logical military objective in the Department of the Gulf. Although a naval blockade had been fairly effective in reducing the flow of traffic, Mobile was one of the few remaining deepwater ports...

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11 Unsuited for This Duty

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pp. 144-153

Port Hudson had the distinction of being one of the first battles of the Civil War in which black troops engaged Rebel soldiers in combat. Many of these soldiers were free men of color who had offered their services to Louisiana at the outbreak of the war. Confederate governor Thomas O....

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12 No Desire for Dishonest Gains

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pp. 154-171

Denied fame for his military ventures, Banks decided to pursue another stratagem to capture the nations attention. Although it is apparent today that Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg constituted the decisive turning point of the war, Banks had no way of knowing that at...

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13 The Enemy Retreats before Us

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pp. 172-189

The year 1864 promised to be a good one for Nathaniel P. Banks. On January 11 he issued a proclamation calling for the election of a governor for the Free State of Louisiana and delegates to a constitutional convention. Then he learned that a grateful Congress of the United States had...

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14 I Am Alone

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pp. 190-203

Encouraged by the repulse of the Confederates at Pleasant Grove at the end of the day on Friday, Banks decided to hold his ground and ordered A. J. Smith to move his divisions immediately to Pleasant Hill. Franklin did not share Banks s optimism. He did not think that A. J. Smith would...

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15 The Heart of the People

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pp. 204-222

Banks tried to put the best face possible on the Red River campaign. He blamed Lee and Franklin for the defeat at Mansfield and tried to convince Grant that his maneuvers had foiled Confederate plans to invade Missouri. He faulted Steele for failing to execute his part of the operation...

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16 The Destiny of Nations

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pp. 223-233

Stripped of his authority, Nathaniel P. Banks was delighted when his resignation from the army was finally approved on September 6, 1865. Michael Hahn and other friends urged him to stay in New Orleans, suggesting that he could practice law or be appointed district attorney....

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17 I Have Always Been a Republican

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pp. 234-246

Nathaniel P. Banks was almost always chronically short of cash. He and Mary had run up considerable debts, and his income as a congressman did not come close to meeting their expenses. Hence he enthusiastically promoted a bill that would increase congressional pay. The reason he...

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18 The General

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pp. 247-258

"The General," as everyone now called Nathaniel P. Banks, surrendered his congressional seat and returned to Waltham in March 1879. Happy to have time to be with his family, he also looked forward to doing some reading that he had put aside in the press of his legislative duties....


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pp. 259-284


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pp. 285-292

E-ISBN-13: 9780807140499
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807130742

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 1998