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Nathaniel Prentiss Banks. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-4780).

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Banks, Nathaniel Prentiss (30 January 1816–01 September 1894), congressman and Civil War general, was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel P. Banks, a textile mill foreman, and Rebecca Greenwood. He attended a school for factory children until he began work in the mills as a bobbin boy at age eleven. At seventeen he left factory work to assist his father in carpentry and to learn the machinist’s trade....

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Bedinger, George Michael (10 December 1756–08 December 1843), soldier, legislator, and businessman, was born in York County, Pennsylvania, the son of Henry Bedinger and Magdalene von Schlegel, innkeepers. In 1737 his grandfather had moved to Pennsylvania from the vicinity of Strasbourg in Alsace-Lorraine. At the time of George Michael’s birth, the family name was spelled Biedinger and German was the language spoken at home. Late in life Bedinger was described by a contemporary as a “full blooded Virginia Dutchman.”...

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Bonham, Milledge Luke (25 December 1813–27 August 1890), governor, congressman, and soldier, was born in South Carolina’s Edgefield District, the son of James Bonham and Sophie Smith, planters. His father died when he was two, and his mother saw to his education. Bonham attended private academies before graduating from South Carolina College in 1834. He entered the legal profession, engaged in local politics, and became prominent in state military affairs, rising to the rank of major general of militia. He led a brigade of Palmetto State volunteers in the Seminole War of 1836, a position that helped win him a stint in the state house of representatives (1840–1844). In 1845 he married Ann Griffin; they had fourteen children....

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Kershaw, Joseph Brevard (05 January 1822–13 April 1894), lawyer, soldier, and politician, was born in Camden, South Carolina, the son of John Kershaw, a judge, and Harriette Du Bose. The Kershaws were a distinguished South Carolina family. Joseph was named for his paternal grandfather, who had immigrated to America from England in 1748 and was prominent in the American Revolution. Joseph’s father was mayor of Camden for several years and served one term in the U.S. Congress. Joseph studied for a career in law in the offices of the distinguished South Carolina lawyer John M. De Saussure and passed the South Carolina bar at age twenty-one. In 1844 he married Lucretia Douglas; the couple had one son and four daughters. After practicing for several years, beginning in June 1844, he participated in the Mexican War as a volunteer, serving as a lieutenant in South Carolina’s Palmetto Regiment. In Mexico, he saw action in several battles but became ill and was evacuated back to the United States in June 1847. Kershaw was elected to the South Carolina state legislature in 1852 and 1854, and he was a member of the state’s 1860 secession convention that met in Charleston, South Carolina....

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Mitchell, George Edward (03 March 1781–28 June 1832), soldier and politician, was born in Elkton, Maryland, the son of Abraham Mitchell, a physician, and Mary Thompson. He studied medicine under his father, took classes at the University of Pennsylvania, and on 5 June 1805 received a permit to practice. Soon afterward Mitchell developed an interest in politics, and in 1808 he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates as a Democratic Republican. The following year he gained appointment as a member of the state executive council, and from 1809 to 1812 he served as president of this body. Mitchell had previously been tendered a captain’s commission in the light dragoons, but he declined military service until war with Great Britain proved imminent. Accordingly, on 1 May 1812 he resigned from office to accept the rank of major in the newly formed Third U.S. Artillery Regiment....

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Sevier, John (23 September 1745–24 September 1815), soldier, governor, and congressman, was born near the present town of New Market, Virginia, the son of Valentine Sevier, a farmer, trader, and merchant, and Joanna Goade. He attended school briefly when the family lived in Fredericksburg and in Staunton and at the age of sixteen was married to fifteen-year-old Sarah Hawkins; the couple had ten children. Very shortly after her death in 1780, he married Catherine Sherrill, with whom he had eight children. For a decade after his first marriage, Sevier moved about in the Shenandoah Valley, operating a tavern and store, and farming, trading, and speculating in land. In 1773, joined by his parents and several brothers, he moved to the southwest and settled on the Holston River. Why Sevier and family members would leave the rich lands of the valley is unknown, except perhaps that the valley lands rapidly were filling and the Holston area offered cheap land certain soon to become more valuable....

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Thomas, David (11 June 1762–27 November 1831), soldier, congressman, and New York politician, was born in Pelham, Massachusetts, the son of David Thomas and Elizabeth Harper. David’s early schooling consisted of the traditional preparatory studies, but he did not go to college. In 1777 he joined an expedition of Massachusetts troops engaged in the relief of Rhode Island. Following this action, he worked as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1781 Thomas joined the Fifth Massachusetts Regiment as a corporal. He later served as a sergeant in the Third Massachusetts Regiment, in which he continued for the remainder of the revolutionary war....

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Henry Alexander Wise. Engraving by Adam B. Walter. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-89802).

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Wise, Henry Alexander (03 December 1806–12 September 1876), congressman, governor, and Confederate general, was born on Virginia’s Eastern Shore in Drummondtown (now Accomac), the son of John Wise, a Federalist lawyer and legislator, and Sarah Corbin Cropper. Orphaned in 1812–1813, he was raised by relatives and had few resources other than a small inheritance. He received only a meager education until his admission in 1822 to Washington College (now Washington and Jefferson College) in Pennsylvania, where he graduated with first honors in 1825. He attended Chancellor ...