Person

Jubal Early

An 1860s bust portrait photo shows a bearded man seated in double-breasted army uniform.
Jubal Early, c. 1860s

Library of Congress

Quick Facts

Jubal Anderson Early was a native Virginian and member of the Whig party who did not particularly support secession. However, when Virginia voters confirmed secession on May 23, 1861, Early chose to stand with his state. 

Early Life

The third of ten children, Early was 16 years old when his mother died in 1832. The following year he received an appointment as a cadet to the Military Academy at West Point. Early later admitted “there was nothing worthy of particular note” during his time at West Point and that he was not an exemplary soldier. In 1837, he graduated 18th out of a class of 50. 

Upon graduation, Early received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in Company E of the 3rd United States Artillery. His first assignment was at Fortress Monroe, on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, to train recruits. Early participated in the Second Seminole War, but was disappointed he never engaged in combat. Jubal Early resigned his commission in the summer of 1838. He returned to Virginia to study law, graduating in 1840.

Early was elected to the Virginia Legislature from Franklin County in 1841. He served in the legislature during the 1841–1842 sessions and was the youngest member of that governing body. Though he lost reelection the following year, he received an appointment as a prosecuting attorney, which he held until 1851.

On January 7, 1847, Early mustered back into the army as a major of the 1st Virginia Volunteers, for service in the Mexican-American War. During this service, Early performed garrison duties, including a two month stint as the military governor of Monterrey, Mexico. Though he saw no fighting during the war, Early was still crippled by it. In the fall of 1847, he contracted the chronic rheumatism that plagued him for the rest of his life. Relieved of duty, he was allowed to return to the United States to recuperate for several months. While attempting to return to duty in Mexico, in January 1848, Jubal Early was aboard the steamer Blue Ridge on the Ohio River. During the night of January 8, the Blue Ridge suffered a boiler explosion that killed 14 people and injured Early slightly. He made it back to his regiment by February and commanded it until mustering out of service at Fortress Monroe in April 1848. Once more out of the army, Jubal Early returned to his law practice. 

The Civil War

Early rose quickly through the ranks of the Confederate army, starting out as colonel of the 24th Virginia Infantry before being promoted to brigadier general, major general, and eventually lieutenant general.

Serving in Virginia for most of the war, he was involved in all the Army of Northern Virginia's major engagements from 1862 to 1864 including the Seven Days' Battles, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg, holding the position of division commander during several battles. In the 1864 Overland Campaign, fought at the Wilderness, assumed temporary command of the III Corps at Spotsylvania, and was named commander of the II Corps at the Battle of Cold Harbor.

As the armies settled into siege lines at Petersburg, Robert E. Lee sent Early and his corps marching north, hoping Ulysses S. Grant would dispatch troops to deal with the threat, thereby easing the pressure against his Petersburg lines. In the ensuing Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Early mounted the Confederacy's last invasion of the North, driving Union forces westward and ultimately threatening Washington, D.C., before being turned back at the Battle of Fort Stevens. In the war's final months, however, Early— known to his troops as "Old Jube"—suffered a string of defeats, including the Battle of Winchester, the Battle of Fisher's Hill, and the Battle of Cedar Creek. He was eventually relieved of command by Lee, in the wake of a disastrous defeat at Waynesboro in March 1865.

Post-war

With the collapse of the Confederacy Jubal Early, like many Confederate officers, fled the country for a time. Riding south, he crossed the Texas border into Mexico and made his way to Cuba. From there he traveled north to Canada, where, while in Toronto, he began his foray into writing, first in his own defense, but soon in defense of the Confederacy and the war as a whole.  

In 1866, he published A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence, in the Confederate States of America. This work was the first reminiscence of the war by a major figure from either side of the conflict. Though he had initially proclaimed he would never again return to Virginia unless it was under the Confederate flag, Jubal Early did return to Lynchburg in July 1869, following the Christmas Day Amnesty offered by President Andrew Johnson in 1868. This began the era of Early’s life he may be best known for, the establishment and propagation of the “Lost Cause” mythology of the American Civil War. In 1873, Early and like-minded allies, established the Southern Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia, removing the struggling organization from its first home in New Orleans, Louisiana. This organization became one of the driving forces behind the Lost Cause narrative of the war. This was done by probogating the idea that the Southern Confederacy was not beaten, but was instead ground down by Northern resources, industrial power, unchivalrous practices and hordes of foreigners in the Union armies. The Lost Cause and Early’s writings also downplayed or denied slavery as being a cause of the war. Instead focusing on the supposed justification and uplifting influence of the institution.  

Jubal Early’s staunch defense of Confederate memory continued into the 1890s. During this period he, along with other Confederate Heritage organizations, shaped the views and memory of the American Civil War and Reconstruction through writings, speeches and monuments. Early remained ‘unreconstructed’ for the remainder of his life and very active both in the literary world and on the speakers circuit. He had little time for Southerners who were reconciliatory to the North, especially those who became Republicans after the war, including such well known commanders as Lieutenant General James Longstreet and Colonel John Mosby

Having seemingly fought all his life, Jubal Anderson Early fought against his death as well. On February 15, 1894, Early took a bad fall while coming down the post office steps in Lynchburg. Seemingly unhurt, but badly shaken, Early made for a poor patient, ignoring the protests of his doctors and still going out against the wishes of friends and family. On March 2, 1894, Jubal Early died in his home, a few friends by his side. Though not well loved while alive, Early was embraced in death by Virginia and the South as a whole. His obituary was four columns long in the newspapers, and on March 5, following an impressive military funeral, with militia companies and the Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets present, Jubal Early was laid to rest in Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg. 

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Last updated: December 17, 2021