Pretense of Glory: The Life of General Nathaniel P. Banks

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9780807130742: Pretense of Glory: The Life of General Nathaniel P. Banks

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.

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About the Author:

James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., is also the author of The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience during the Civil War and An Absolute Massacre: The New Orleans Race Riot of July 30, 1866. He lives in Jackson, Mississippi.

From Booklist:

Nathaniel P. Banks is generally known as the quintessential political general of the Civil War, his only rival for that dubious distinction being Benjamin Butler (see Chester G. Hearn's When the Devil Came Down to Dixie ). Of working-class origins and largely self-educated, Banks rose politically to become Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and that state's governor before the war. He was then immediately appointed a major general of volunteers, without having any military education whatever, and unfortunately made no effort to remedy the deficiency. The result was responsibility for three bloody Union defeats--in the Shenandoah Valley, along the Mississippi, and on the Red River--which were not redeemed by his pro-Negro efforts in governing New Orleans or his abortive postwar political career. Not, however, completely unattractive, Banks was ultimately an opportunist whose ambitions exceeded his abilities, disastrously for those called to serve under him. Hollandsworth's inspection of him should prove useful to most Civil War collections. Roland Green

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