Jubal Anderson Early
Although Major General Jubal Early had a long and accomplished military career, his life and service to TWO militaries, is mostly overshadowed by the familiar names like Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
I hope to rectify that with this post.
Early was born in the Red Valley section of Franklin County, Virginia, third of ten children of Ruth (née Hairston) and Joab Early. The Early family was a well-connected old Virginia family. Early’s father operated an extensive tobacco plantation of more than 4,000 acres at the foot of the Blue Ridge. Early attended local schools as well as private academies in Lynchburg and Danville before entering West Point in 1833.
He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1837, ranked 18th of 50. During his tenure at the Academy he was engaged in a dispute with a fellow cadet named Lewis Addison Armistead. Armistead broke a mess plate over Early’s head, an incident that prompted Armistead’s resignation from the Academy, although he too would have a storied military career. After graduating from the Academy, Early fought against the Seminole in Florida as a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery regiment before resigning from the Army for the first time in 1838. He practiced law in the 1840s as a prosecutor for both Franklin and Floyd Counties in Virginia. He was noted for a case in Mississippi, where he beat the top lawyers in the state. His law practice was interrupted by the Mexican-American War, in which he served as a Major with the 1st Virginia Volunteers from 1847 to 1848. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1841 to 1843.
Early was a Whig and strongly opposed secession at the April 1861 Virginia convention. However, he was soon roused by the actions of the Federal government when President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion. He accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the Virginia Militia. He was sent to Lynchburg, Virginia, to raise three regiments and then commanded one of them, the 24th Virginia Infantry, as a colonel in the Confederate army.
Early was promoted to brigadier general after the First Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas) in July 1861. In that battle, he displayed valor at Blackburn’s Ford and impressed General P.G.T. Beauregard. He fought in most of the major battles in the Eastern Theater, including the Seven Days Battles, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and numerous battles in the Shenandoah Valley. During the Gettysburg Campaign, Early’s Division occupied York, Pennsylvania, the largest Northern town to fall to the Rebels during the war.
Early was trusted and supported by Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee affectionately called Early his “Bad Old Man”, because of his short temper. He appreciated Early’s aggressive fighting and ability to command units independently. Most of Early’s soldiers referred to him as “Old Jube” or “Old Jubilee” with enthusiasm and affection. His subordinate generals often felt little affection. Early was an inveterate fault-finder and offered biting criticism of his subordinates at the least opportunity. He was generally blind to his own mistakes and reacted fiercely to criticism or suggestions from below.
Early was wounded at Williamsburg in 1862, while leading a charge against staggering odds.
While in Maryland, Early demanded $300,000 from the residents of the city of Frederick, Maryland, who were unwelcoming towards the Confederates, threatening to raze their town if they did not. The city’s residents paid the ransom and the city is now home to a Confederate army monument.
He convalesced at his home in Rocky Mount, Virginia. In two months, he returned to the war, under the command of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, in time for the Battle of Malvern Hill. There, Early demonstrated his career-long lack of aptitude for battlefield navigation and his brigade was lost in the woods; it suffered 33 casualties without any significant action. In the Northern Virginia Campaign, Early was noted for his performance at the Battle of Cedar Mountain and arrived in the nick of time to reinforce Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill on Jackson’s left on Stony Ridge in the Second Battle of Bull Run.
At Antietam, Early ascended to division command when his commander, Alexander Lawton, was wounded. Lee was impressed with his performance and retained him at that level. At Fredericksburg, Early saved the day by counterattacking the division of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, which penetrated a gap in Jackson’s lines. He was promoted to major general on January 17, 1863.
At Chancellorsville, Lee gave him a force of 5,000 men to defend Fredericksburg at Marye’s Heights against superior forces (4 divisions) under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick. Early was able to delay the Union forces and pin down Sedgwick while Lee and Jackson attacked the remainder of the Union troops to the west. Sedgwick’s eventual attack on Early up Marye’s Heights is sometimes known as the Second Battle of Fredericksburg.
During the Gettysburg Campaign, Early commanded a division in the corps of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell. His troops were instrumental in defeating Union defenders at Winchester, capturing a number of prisoners, and opening up the Shenandoah Valley for Lee’s oncoming forces. Early’s division, augmented with cavalry, eventually marched eastward across the South Mountain range in Pennsylvania, seizing vital supplies and horses along the way. He captured Gettysburg on June 26 and demanded a ransom, which was never paid. Two days later, he entered York County and seized York. Here, his ransom demands were partially met, including a payment of $28,000 in cash. Elements of Early’s command on June 28 reached the Susquehanna River, the farthest east in Pennsylvania that any organized Confederate force would penetrate. On June 30, Early was recalled as Lee concentrated his army to meet the oncoming Federals.
Approaching Gettysburg from the northeast on July 1, 1863, Early’s division was on the leftmost flank of the Confederate line. He soundly defeated Brig. Gen. Francis Barlow’s division (part of the Union XI Corps), inflicting three times the casualties to the defenders as he suffered, and drove the Union troops back through the streets of the town, capturing many of them. In the second day at Gettysburg, he assaulted East Cemetery Hill as part of Ewell’s efforts on the Union right flank. Despite initial success, Union reinforcements arrived to repulse Early’s two brigades. On the third day, Early detached one brigade to assist Maj. Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division in an unsuccessful assault on Culp’s Hill. Elements of Early’s division covered the rear of Lee’s army during its retreat from Gettysburg on July 4 and July 5.
Early served in the Shenandoah Valley over the winter of 1863–64. During this period, he occasionally filled in as corps commander during Ewell’s absences for illness. On May 31, 1864, Lee expressed his confidence in Early’s initiative and abilities at higher command levels, promoting him to the temporary rank of lieutenant general.
Upon his return from the Valley, Early fought in the Battle of the Wilderness and assumed command of the ailing A.P. Hill’s Third Corps during the march to intercept Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Spotsylvania Court House. At Spotsylvania, Early occupied the relatively quiet right flank of the Mule Shoe. At the Battle of Cold Harbor, Lee replaced the ineffectual Ewell with Early as commander of the Second Corps.
Early’s most important service was that summer and fall, in the Valley Campaigns of 1864, when he commanded the Confederacy’s last invasion of the North. As Confederate territory was rapidly being captured by the Union armies of Grant and Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, Lee sent Early’s corps to sweep Union forces from the Shenandoah Valley and to menace Washington, D.C., hoping to compel Grant to dilute his forces against Lee around Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia.
Early delayed his march for several days in a futile attempt to capture a small force under Franz Sigel at Maryland Heights near Harpers Ferry. He rested his men from July 4 through July 6. Although elements of his army would eventually reach the outskirts of Washington at a time when it was largely undefended, his delay at Maryland Heights prevented him from being able to attack the capital.
During the time of Early’s Maryland Heights campaign, Grant sent two VI Corps divisions from the Army of the Potomac to reinforce Union Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace. With 5,800 men, he delayed Early for an entire day at the Battle of Monocacy, allowing more Union troops to arrive in Washington and strengthen its defenses. Early’s invasion caused considerable panic in Washington and Baltimore, and he was able to get to the outskirts of Washington. He sent some cavalry under Brig. Gen. John McCausland to the west side of Washington.
Knowing that he did not have sufficient strength to capture the city, Early led skirmishes at Fort Stevens and Fort DeRussy. The opposing forces also had artillery duels on July 11 and July 12. Abraham Lincoln watched the fighting on both days from the parapet at Fort Stevens, his lanky frame a clear target for hostile military fire. After Early withdrew, he said to one of his officers, “Major, we haven’t taken Washington, but we scared Abe Lincoln like hell.”
Early crossed the Potomac into Leesburg, Virginia, on July 13 and then withdrew to the Valley. He defeated the Union army under Brig. Gen. George Crook at Kernstown on July 24, 1864. Six days later, he ordered his cavalry to burn the city of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in retaliation for Maj. Gen. David Hunter’s burning of the homes of several prominent Southern sympathizers in Jefferson County, West Virginia earlier that month. Through early August, Early’s cavalry and guerrilla forces attacked the B&O Railroad in various places.
Realizing Early could easily attack Washington, Grant sent out an army under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan to subdue his forces. At times outnumbering the Confederates three to one, Sheridan defeated Early in three battles, starting in early August, and laid waste to much of the agricultural properties in the Valley. He ensured they could not supply Lee’s army. In a brilliant surprise attack, Early initially routed two thirds of the Union army at the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. In his post-battle dispatch to Lee, Early claimed that his troops were hungry and exhausted and fell out of their ranks to pillage the Union camp. This allowed Sheridan critical time to rally his demoralized troops and turn their morning defeat into victory over the Confederate Army that afternoon. One of Early’s key subordinates, Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon, in his 1904 memoirs, attested that it was Early’s decision to halt the attack for six hours in the early afternoon, and not disorganization in the ranks, that led to the rout that took place in the afternoon.
Most of the men of Early’s corps rejoined Lee at Petersburg in December, while Early remained in the Valley to command a skeleton force. When his force was nearly destroyed at Waynesboro in March 1865, Early barely escaped capture with a few members of his staff. Lee relieved Early of his command soon after the encounter, because he doubted Early’s ability to inspire confidence in the men he would have to recruit to continue operations. He wrote to Early of the difficulty of this decision:
While my own confidence in your ability, zeal, and devotion to the cause is unimpaired, I have nevertheless felt that I could not oppose what seems to be the current of opinion, without injustice to your reputation and injury to the service. I therefore felt constrained to endeavor to find a commander who would be more likely to develop the strength and resources of the country, and inspire the soldiers with confidence. … [Thank you] for the fidelity and energy with which you have always supported my efforts, and for the courage and devotion you have ever manifested in the service …
— Robert E. Lee, letter to Early
When the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered on April 9, 1865, Early escaped to Texas by horseback, where he hoped to find a Confederate force still holding out. He proceeded to Mexico, and from there, sailed to Cuba and Canada. Living in Toronto, he wrote his memoir, A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence, in the Confederate States of America, which focused on his Valley Campaign. The book was published in 1867.
Early was pardoned in 1868 by President Andrew Johnson, but still remained an “unreconstructed rebel”. In 1869, he returned to Virginia and resumed the practice of law. He was among the most vocal of those who promoted the Lost Cause movement. He criticized the actions of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet at the Battle of Gettysburg. Together with former General P.G.T. Beauregard, Early was involved with the Louisiana Lottery.
Jubal Early died in Lynchburg, Virginia, at the age of 77, after falling down a flight of stairs. He was buried in the local Spring Hill Cemetery.
Early’s contributions to the Confederacy’s final days were considered very significant. Some historians contend that he extended the war six to nine months because of his efforts at Washington, D.C., and in the Valley. The following quote summarizes an opinion held by his admirers:
“Honest and outspoken, honorable and uncompromising, Jubal A. Early epitomized much that was the Southern Confederacy. His self-reliance, courage, sagacity, and devotion to the cause brought confidence then just as it inspires reverence now.”
— James I. Robertson, Jr., Alumni Distinguished Professor of History, Virginia Tech; Member of the Board, Jubal A. Early Preservation Trust