Jubal Early

Jubal Anderson Early. (November 3, 1816 – March 2, 1894)

Jubal Anderson Early was born November 3, 1816 in Franklin County, Virginia.   He was the third oldest and second son of ten children to Joab and Ruth Early.  In keeping with family tradition he was named after a biblical character (Genesis 4:21).   His father raised tobacco in the Red Valley area of Franklin County, Virginia.  Jubal attended primary schools in Lynchburg and Danville, Virginia.   Entering West Point in 1833 at 16 and half years old, Early proved to be an able cadet.  Not one to always follow rules, Early graduated in 1837 placing 203 in conduct, in a corps of 242 cadets.  He graduated 18 in a class of 50.  In his own words he had “little taste for scrubbing brass”.  After graduation in 1837, Early served as a Second Lieutenant, he was assigned to the United States Second Artillery Battalion.  Strangely enough, artillery was Early’s weakest subject at West Point.

Traveling to Florida, Early took part in the Second Seminole War. Still not finding military life and service of much interest, he resigned his commission in 1838.  Returning to Virginia, Early pursued a law degree and became a successful attorney.  In a famous Mississippi case in 1852 local newspapers reported,” So clear were his deductions from the law; the adaptation, fitness and cogency with which he applied them,  his lofty and Virginia bearing to the court” that he won the case over Mississippi’s top lawyers.  This new found recognition as a capable attorney led to his election to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1841. At the onset of the Mexican War, early once again returned to the military service as a major in the Virginia Volunteers.  He served briefly as military governor of Monterrey, Mexico.

As the clouds of war began to form in 1861, Early by election of the people of Franklin County, was chosen as a delegate to vote against secession at the convention in March of 1861 at Richmond.  A man of strong conviction he was determined to keep Virginia in the Union.  Even after the firing of guns at Fort Sumter, Early remained a strong voice against secession.  With Lincoln calling for armed troops, the stage was set for a divided nation; Early once again entered military life. Colonel Jubal Early took command of the 24th Virginia Infantry, Confederate States of America.

At the age of 44 he appeared older, a salt and pepper shaggy beard, hair out of place, his six foot frame walking with a stoop due to rheumatism.  He was not a gallant and dashing officer by any stretch of the imagination.  With a voice described as the “sound of a Chinese fiddle” Early was the butt of jokes and humor by both men and other officers.  His use of profanity that was almost a form of art, known for his use of alcohol and always a wad of chewing tobacco tucked in his jaw, he appeared more as a farmer than Confederate officer.  A gentleman he was not!  A man of quick temper, Early was not a man to cross.

“Old Jube” the Warrior

The two armies, with fresh new uniforms and very inexperienced troops, met for battle on the plains of Manassas, Virginia, on Sunday July 21, 1861.  This would be the last time a Confederate Army would be this close to the city of Washington until Jubal Early threatened the City in 1864, which in his words “scared Abe Lincoln like hell.”  Early and his brigade played an important, but small role in the battle of Manassas, which ended in a union stampede back to Washington.  Fighting was limited to skirmishes in Virginia for the rest of 1861. Meanwhile, Jubal Early is promoted to Brigadier General in August with an effective date of July 21, 1861.

The Peninsula Campaign of 1862 reflected the character of Major General George B. McClellan, the man Lincoln had chosen to replace the discredited McDowell after his embarrassment at Manassas.  McClellan’s plan was to move up the Peninsula of Virginia and try to seize a point between Yorktown and Williamsburg where he might be able to prevent the arrival of reinforcements.  The subsequent fighting in front of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862 resulted in “Old Jube” while leading a charge of the 24th Virginia Infantry being wounded.  Shot once in the hand and again in the left shoulder, General Early fell grasping his arm with pain.  His horse also received a mortal wound.  After recovering sufficiently enough to ride horseback, Early rode to Franklin County to recover and stayed there until he was able to resume active duty.   “Old Jube” or “Jubilee” as his men affectionately called him,  returned to the field on June 29.

Jubal Early’s Colt 1860 and holster from the private collection of Elizabeth Massie.

General Early played a role in every major engagement of the army of northern Virginia.  His most daring and certainly his most famous came in the summer and fall of 1864.  General Lee called his “bad old man” as he referred to early, to his headquarters in June 1864. He ordered early to take command of the army of the valley.  His orders, to create a diversion in the Shenandoah Valley, threaten the City of Washington and free the Confederate prisoners at point lookout, Maryland , if possible.  Early’s small army of 15,000 faced the overwhelming forces of General Phillip Sheridan army of 45,000. Early’s small army threatened city of Washington with being captured, burned and had ransoms paid in several northern cities.  He “tied up” superior Union forces of men to give general Lee more time to defend Richmond.  His success in the Shenandoah Valley was just not to be attainable with poorly clothed, starving men that made up a proud but nearly defeated army.  The final major defeat would come at Cedar Creek, near Middletown, Va. October 19th.  The final stand of resistance would take place on March 2, 1865 at Waynesboro, Virginia. The surrender of the army of Northern Virginia would follow in April.  Early would be relieved of command after Waynesboro, he traveled to Mexico, then Canada.  He worked for the Louisiana State Lottery, before settling back in to his law practice in Lynchburg, Virginia.  He never wore any colored suit but grey.  Jubal Early remained unreconstructed to the last.  General Jubal Anderson Early died on March 2, 1894, exactly 29 years to the day after his defeat at Waynesboro.  His grave is in Lynchburg, Virginia.

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