A career politician, a veteran member of Congress, and an antebellum governor of Massachusetts, Nathaniel Banks used his political contacts to obtain a major general's commission in May 1861, relieving General Robert Patterson of his command. In the event, Banks proved far more successful at winning election than at winning battles.
General Banks became Stonewall Jackson's foil in Jackson's brilliant Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1862. Later that year, he was transferred west to command the Department of the Gulf, replacing B.F. Butler. Though messy, his Red River Campaign of 1863 earned him the Thanks of Congress and yielded the fall of Port Hudson on the Mississippi, but only after capture of Vicksburg had made the downriver fortress untenable.
Banks's failed Red River Campaign of 1864 led to his resignation from field command. He returned to political life after the war, serving several more terms in Congress (1865-1878; 1888-1891).