Jubal Early: Lee’s Bad Old Man

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Jubal Early's 1864 Valley Campaign

Jubal Early:

Lee’s Bad Old Man

Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early was called Lee’s Bad Old Man for good reason. He had an infamously foul disposition. He was consistently described by his fellow officers as eccentric, outspoken, caustic, opinionated, and a great swearer with imaginatively profane speech – so much so that General Lee referred to him as his “bad old man.”

General Jubal EarlyHe was not above replying to superior officers with messages like the following one to General Stonewall Jackson during the 1862 Valley Campaign when asked by Jackson’s adjutant why he had so many stragglers. Early replied as follows: “In answer to your note I would state that I think it is probable that the reason you saw so many of my stragglers on the march today is due to the fact that you rode in the rear of my division.”

Jubal Early was a native of Franklin County, Virginia who graduated from West Point in 1837. He served briefly after graduation during the Seminole Wars, resigned to practice law in Virginia but rejoined the Army during the Mexican War. Before his Mexican War service, Early had served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1841 to 1843. After the Mexican War, he resumed his practice of law.

Early was a member of the Whig Party and was strongly opposed to secession as a member of the April 1861 Virginia Convention. However, like many Virginians, he accepted a commission as a brigadier general of the Virginia state militia once Lincoln made his call for volunteers to suppress the rebellion. He raised three regiments in Lynchburg and commanded one of them, the 24th Virginia Infantry, as a colonel in the Confederate Army.

Early was promoted to brigadier general after the Battle of First Manassas where he was engaged at Blackburn’s Ford. He subsequently fought in most of the major battles in the Eastern theater: the Peninsula campaign,  Seven Days BattlesSecond Bull RunAntietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and numerous battles in the Shenandoah Valley with Stonewall Jackson.

Early was wounded at the Battle of Williamsburg in May 1862 while leading a charge against staggering odds. He returned home for two months to recuperate. He resumed command of his brigade at the Battle of Malvern Hill where his lack of aptitude for battlefield navigation was displayed. He managed to get lost in the woods and suffer 33 casualties without seeing any significant action.

Early was promoted to division command at Antietam when his division commander, Alexander Lawton, was seriously wounded. Lee retained himSecond Battle of Fredericksburg at that level because he was impressed with Early’s performance. Lee’s confidence was repaid by Early at the Battle of Fredericksburg, where Early led a critical counterattack against General Meade’s division. A month later, on January 17, 1863, he was promoted to major general.

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, Early was given the critical task of defending Fredericksburg from the Union attempt to circle the Confederate defenses with 4 divisions. He was able to delay General John Sedgwick’s corp with only 5,000 men. This action is often called the Second Battle of Fredericksburg.

At the start of the Gettysburg Campaign, Early’s division which was in Lt. Gen.Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps was one of the main attacking forces at the Second Battle of Winchester. They were to clear the way for the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia for their advance into Pennsylvania.

Prior to the actual Battle of Gettysburg, Early’s Division captured the town of Gettysburg and two days later, the town of York. On the first day of the battle, his division drove Union troops of Francis Barlow’s Division back through the town and inflicted twice as many casualties as they themselves suffered. On the second day, his troops assaulted East Cemetary Hill but they were repulsed. On the third day, one of his brigades took part in the unsuccessful assault on Culp’s Hill. His division assisted in covering the Confederate rear during the withdrawal from the battlefield.

Early served in the Valley through the winter of 1863-1864. Occasionally, he took over as corps commander during Ewell’s absences for illnesses. Battle of the Wilderness, skirmishOn May 31, 1864, he was promoted to the temporary rank of lieutenant general. Lee expressed his confidence in Early’s ability for higher command with this promotion.

Lee concentrated his forces in the late spring of 1864 in the Chancellorsville-Fredericksburg area. He brought the Second Corps back from the Valley for this purpose. Early was at the Battle of the Wilderness in May, where he assumed command of the ailing A.P. Hill’s Third Corps. At Spotsylvania, his corps was at a relatively quiet part of the line. At Cold Harbor, Lee relieved Ewell of command and replaced him with Early as commander of the Second Corps.

Once the two armies settled into their siege lines around Richmond and Petersburg, Lee decided to return Early and the Second Corps to the Shenandoah Valley. His assignment was to defend the Valley from Union incursions and draw off as many of the enemy’s forces as possible. Lee hoped that by doing this, the Confederates around the capital would be able to be more evenly matched with the surrounding Union armies.

Early was to come very close to this consequential goal during the summer and fall of 1864.


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