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Jubal Anderson Early

By John T. Marck

Born in Franklin City, Virginia on November 3, 1816, Jubal Early rose to be one of the great figures of the Civil War, in spite of his image. He was untidy and hard-drinking; the opposite of the clean-cut image one might find or suspect in a military commander.

He came from a very well known line of Franklin County Virginians, and attended school there before accepting an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1833. Before he entered the academy, his mother died in 1832, which devastated him. In 1837 he graduated eighteenth from West Point, and attained a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the 3rd Regiment Artillery. He first saw military service during the Seminole War in Florida at a battle near Jupiter Inlet in the Everglades. After the war, he resigned his commission to pursue a career in law in Rocky Mount, Virginia.

In 1861, Early was one who was against succession, yet when Virginia was about to secede, he was one of the first to do what he could to defend Virginia. He accepted a commission as a colonel of the state forces that was responsible for training volunteers at Lynchburg, Virginia. Interesting that he would begin his Civil War career in an area near where the war eventually ended. At Lynchburg he was placed in command of the 24th Virginia Infantry. Upon his native state officially seceding, he then resigned his command at Lynchburg and joined his regiment at Manassas Junction, where he commanded the 6th Brigade. His first service during the war was at Blackford's Ford and the Battle of First Bull Run where he commanded well. So impressed was his commanding officer, General P.G.T. Beauregard, that he appointed him brigadier general.

As his 6th Brigade was a part of the Army of Northern Virginia, he fought under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston in the defense of the Peninsula against the Union's General George B. McClellan. At the Battle of Williamsburg, Early was shot in the shoulder, but remained on the field of battle until later when he was taken to a hospital in Williamsburg.

He recovered from his injury quickly, going to Richmond in search of another command. Brigadier General Arnold Elzey had been wounded, so Early stepped in to replace him as commander of his brigade. This command was under General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and Early came in time to see action at the Battle of Malvern Hill. However, here, Early and his brigade got lost in the thick woods and suffered thirty-three casualties, and never fired a shot. From this point, Early when on to command honorably at Cedar Mountain, and in various actions along the Rappahannock River. Furthermore, on August 22, 1862, outside of Warrenton Springs his efficient navigation completely deceived Union troops under General John Pope, resulting in not a single injury to his men. Less than a month later, in September 1862, his cool head and effective command saved his brigade again at the Battle of Antietam.

On January 17, 1863, Jubal was promoted to major general following his outstanding action at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and now commanded a division.

Jubal Early did have a weak side however. This was apparent at the Battle of Chancellorsville at Mine Run, when he failed to properly perform reconnaissance, although the Confederacy won the battle. This same event happened again at the Wilderness in 1864. But in spite of this, Early commanded well during the Gettysburg Campaign and consequently, General Robert E. Lee believed in him, and promoted him to lieutenant general on May 31, 1864.

This same year Early would attain his greatest victory of the war, when he and his division crossed the Potomac River. His ultimate plan was to attack the capital at Washington. He did win a decisive victory at the Battle of Monocacy, but in doing so, the Union troops were forewarned, and his plan to move on Washington had to be canceled. In retreating, Early took part in another event that brought him fame, which was the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, an action in retaliation for the Union's destruction of the Shenandoah Valley.

Early's last services of the war were at Fisher's Hill, Winchester, Cedar Creek and Waynesborough against Union General Philip H. Sheridan. When Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Early, under a disguise, fled to Texas, then to Havana, Cuba, finally settling in Toronto, Canada.

While in Canada he spent his time writing his memoirs titled: A Memoir of the Last Year of the War, published in 1867. This book was a flamboyant account of his activities during the last battles of the war. In 1869, Jubal Early returned to Lynchburg, Virginia where he established a law practice.

In later years, Early supervised the Louisiana State Lottery, and served as the first president of the Southern Historical Society. During these years he rewrote his original memoir book, and it was published in 1912 under the title: Autobiographical Sketch. In his book, he never accepted the fact that the Confederacy lost the war, nor was he a supporter of Reconstruction.

Jubal Early died in Lynchburg, Virginia on March 2, 1894.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.