Everybody respected Jubal Early for his accomplishments in the two years of fighting before Gettysburg. Almost nobody liked him. In Pennsylvania, Irish stragglers under his command were quoted as saying that there were many Confederates who would shoot him "just as quick as they would a damned Yankee." Early was derisive of subordinates, overbearing with his peers, and abrasive with everybody. A non-stop talker, he spoke in a snarling rasp, and was opinionated and dogmatic on every subject. Though he was an accomplished scholar, his conversation was rough, ungrammatical, and profane. Neither was he physically attractive. Balding, with black hair and flashing black eyes, he seldom bothered to trim his graying beard. He chewed tobacco, and had a habit of shifting his quid from one cheek to the other during moments of excitement. Though slender and about six feet tall, he had rheumatism, which twisted him and forced him be badly stooped, both riding--"solemn as a country coroner going to his first inquest" was how one man described him on horseback--and walking. As a result, he appeared much older than his forty-six years. Early was a disciplinarian so strict it shaded over into vindictiveness. Once when a regiment failed to protect a wagon train to his satisfaction he rode up and roared that he would put the regiment on the front line "where he hoped every one of them would get killed and burn through all eternity." He did what he promised, and the unit was decimated, yet at least one survivor of this affair mixed a grudging admiration for the general in with his resentment, writing that Early was "a queer fish . . . but no humbug." Even the precious few who discerned a warm human being under the harsh exterior admitted the general almost never betrayed tender emotion. One such man, John Daniel, recalled such a moment during the Battle of the Wilderness when Early got news of the death of a young cousin who had recently served him as an aide. "Poor Robert," he heard Early remark, and saw a tear glisten on his cheek. One war, one tear.
While it is true that "Old Jubilee" was notorious among the men for his unsavory personality, his record in battle prior to Gettysburg was unsurpassed. Leading the brigade whose arrival was decisive at First Manassas in July 1861, he was promoted to brigadier general to rank from that day. In his next battle, at the height of an ill-considered charge at Williamsburg in May 1862, he was severely wounded by a bullet that went through his back from shoulder to shoulder. After recovering at home, Early returned to duty at the end of June after he heard that battle was imminent in front of Richmond. He arrived to command a new brigade at the battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, though he was still so feeble from his wound that he needed assistance to mount his horse.
His new brigade, one of the largest in the army with seven regiments, belonged to Maj. Gen. Richard Ewell's division. During the Second Manassas Campaign which followed immediately after the Peninsula, Early gave a brilliant performance across the breadth of Northern Virginia. He was the most conspicuous figure on the field at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. He was gritty and steadfast when his brigade was stranded by high water on enemy's side of the Rappahannock. He was praised by corps commander Maj. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson for his timely action at Broad Run at the end of the famous Rebel flank march. Finally, he came to Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill's rescue at a critical moment on Jackson's embattled left at the climactic Battle of Second Manassas. Ewell, who was put out of action with the loss of a leg at Brawner's Farm on the eve of the latter battle, joined Jackson in lauding Early's performance.
At Sharpsburg in September, Early was at one point facing the Federals on three sides, but he made his dispositions shrewdly and not only held his ground, but "attacked with great vigor and gallantry," according to Jackson himself. When acting division commander Brig. Gen. Alexander Lawton was wounded during the battle, Early took his place. After the battle, he was commended by Lee, who recognized that Early had shown himself capable of division command and rewarded him by keeping him at the head of the division.
At Fredericksburg in December, the only dangerous moment for the Confederate army came when Maj. Gen. George Meade's Pennsylvanians hit a hole in A.P. Hill's front and threatened to blow through the Rebel line. Just as he had at Second Bull Run, Early pulled Hill's fat out of the fire. Told that Hill's line had been pierced, Early's men came on the run, shouting "Here comes old Jubal! Let old Jubal straighten out that fence!" Meade's men tumbled back, and the line was restored.
Early received an overdue promotion to major general in April 1863, and the division, which at Fredericksburg was still being called "Ewell's Division," was permanently handed over to "Old Jube" with Ewell's blessing. His new prestige made him no less bad-tempered. That spring, Early, a life-long bachelor, rekindled the resentments of his men when he petitioned Jackson to order all the visiting wives, mothers and sisters to stay away, citing them as an interruption in the army's work. Jackson read Early's letter and roared to those standing anxiously nearby, "I will do no such thing. I wish my wife could come to see me!"
Soon after, at Chancellorsville in May, Early was put in the precarious position of holding, with his lone division (augmented by Barksdale's brigade), the Fredericksburg line that Lee's entire army had occupied the previous December. The assignment was an indication that Lee considered Early the division commander he most trusted with an independent command. Hampered by a confusion in orders, Early was overrun by the 23,000-man Union Sixth Corps, but kept his head while he withdrew. In the last stage of the battle, he reoccupied the lost ground and organized a counterattack which ended the Union threat, drove the offending Sixth Corps back across the river, and ended the battle.
The man who had thus achieved so much in so short a time was from the Blue Ridge hills of southwest Virginia. Early graduated from West Point in the top third of the Class of 1837, but left the army within a month and hurried back to Virginia to study law. He interrupted his practice in 1841-2 to serve in the state legislature as a Whig, then in 1848 to participate in the Mexican War as a major of volunteers, where he saw no fighting. Being a Whig, Early strongly opposed secession and voted against it at the 1861 secession convention, but once it was an accomplished fact, he offered his services to the Confederacy. He was sent to Lynchburg to raise three regiments, one of which, the 24th Virginia, was assigned to him. Though still a colonel, he was given a brigade in June 1861, with which he started his Civil War career at First Manassas a month later.
Early had weaknesses as a commander. He had a poor sense of direction, which he exhibited early on when he had trouble finding the battlefield at First Manassas. At Malvern Hill he had floundered through forest and swamp, and frequently thereafter his command arrived late at its destination due to Early's inability to grasp the guiding features of the ground over which he operated. His unpopularity with those he had scorched with his arrogance and irascibility--which included just about everybody--also hampered his ability to handle men effectively. One notable exception, though, was Lee himself. Perhaps Lee recognized how Early worshipped him. In any case, even though Early was the only officer ever heard to swear in Lee's presence, the army leader had a certain affection for him, calling him "my bad old man."
As the army approached Gettysburg, Jubal Early was once again serving under the familiar Richard Ewell, now his corps commander. In the combination of the two men's' personalities was potential for trouble. Ewell, the superior, was by nature generous. Early, the subordinate, was by nature arrogant, overbearing and independent-minded. It was foreseeable that their roles might become confused at a critical time. Capt. Robert Stiles, the observant artilleryman, vividly remembered Early's determination going into battle at Gettysburg on the first day, "his glossy black ostrich feather, in beautiful condition, seeming to glisten and tremble upon the wide brim of his gray-brown felt hat, like a thing of life."
| In mid-morning of July 1, Early, moving his division west from York to
rejoin the army, received a message from Ewell to march south to Gettysburg
when he reached Heidlersburg. As he approached Gettysburg ahead of his
division's column, he heard the thud of distant artillery fire. About a mile
north of Gettysburg, he came over a rise and surveyed the Union Eleventh Corps,
deployed to stop Rode's division, which was attacking from Oak Hill to the
west. Seeing his chance, Early soon skillfully threw his men forward, hitting
the Eleventh Corps right flank north of town and routing that unlucky corps,
which lost thousands of casualties and prisoners in a pell-mell dash through
the town to the safety of the hills beyond. It was a masterful performance by
Early--his attackers inflicted three times as many casualties on the defenders
as they themselves suffered.|
Before a pursuit beyond the town could be organized, Early received word from Brig. Gen. "Extra Billy" Smith that the enemy was approaching from the east along the York Pike. Early took the precaution of sending Gordon's brigade to join Smith's, two miles east of town, to guard against the threat. Early rode forward into Gettysburg in the late afternoon, and again received word of enemy presence to the east from Smith. Although Early didn't believe the threat was real, he couldn't disregard it, and as a result he was unable to organize an attack on the rapidly strengthening Union line on Cemetery Hill south of town. Early, along with Ewell and Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes, finally rode east of town to look down the York Pike for themselves, and they could see nothing of the enemy, yet Early left his two brigades guarding the approach until the next day.
That evening, Lee rode over to confer with the Second Corp leaders, asking specifically if the Second Corps could storm Cemetery Hill at daylight. Early, never at a loss for words, presumed to speak for the Second Corps, answering that Cemetery Hill was too steep to assail from its northern side, and that tomorrow's attack should be made on Longstreet's front instead. In that case, Lee asked, shouldn't the Second Corps be withdrawn to shorten the lines? Again Early answered (when his superior Ewell would be expected to have done so): it would hurt morale to give up the ground the men had gained, he said. Gettysburg should not be given up, and the ground in the Second Corps front was good for defense. It was a vintage Early performance--presumptuous and argumentative.
By mid-day of July 2, Gordon's brigade was recalled from the York Pike and put into position behind Hays's and Avery's brigades, which were placed in low ground just east of town, in a place where they could charge Cemetery Hill if a favorable opportunity presented itself. Smith's brigade was left to guard the York Pike approach. A little before dusk, Maj. Gen. Ed Johnson's division struck across Rock Creek against Culp's Hill, which was the signal for Early to attack Cemetery Hill. Early ordered Avery's and Hays's brigades forward in the dying light, and these overran the Union lines on the northeast slope of the hill, but were thrown back after reaching the crest, a moment which was perhaps the true "High-water Mark of the Confederacy," an honor usually bestowed on Pickett's Charge.
During the night Early detached Smith's brigade to Johnson for an all-out attempt to capture Culp's Hill on the morning of July 3. Early's other brigades were not further engaged in the battle. Early's division suffered the least casualties of any Confederate division at Gettysburg--1,188 men, compared to the more than 2,000 men lost by most of the other divisions.
Lee's opinion of Early's qualifications for independent leadership, already high, were probably enhanced at Gettysburg. During the next year Early led the corps several times in Ewell's absence. At the end of May 1864 Early was made lieutenant general and given the Second Corps after Ewell was transferred to command the Richmond defenses. Early was given the task of taking the corps and moving up the Shenandoah Valley to threaten Washington. Early succeeded in this task, but was subsequently soundly defeated by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan in the Valley, and Lee was forced by public opinion to remove Early from command in the last days of the Confederacy.
For further reading:
Bushong, Millard K. Old Jube: A Biography of General Jubal A. Early. Boyce, VA, 1955. Reprint, Shippensburg, 1985
Davis, William C. "'Jubilee': General Jubal A. Early." Civil War Times Illustrated 9, Dec 1970
Early, Jubal A. Autobiographical Sketch and Narrative of the War Between the States. Philadelphia, 1912. Reprint, Wilmington, 1989
Gallagher, Gary W. "East of Chancellorsville: Jubal A. Early at Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church." in Chancellorsville: The Battle and Its Aftermath. Chapel Hill, 1996
Osborne, Charles C. Jubal: The Life and Times of General Jubal A. Early, CSA, Defender of the Lost Cause. Chapel Hill, 1992