American Civil War: Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early

Lieutenant General Jubal Early, CSA. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Jubal Anderson Early was born November 3, 1816, in Franklin County, Virginia. The son of Joab and Ruth Early, he was educated locally before receiving an appointment to West Point in 1833. Enrolling, he proved to be an able student. During his time at the academy, he was involved in a dispute with Lewis Armistead which led to the latter breaking a plate over his head. Graduating in 1837, Early ranked 18th in a class of 50. Assigned to the US 2nd Artillery as a second lieutenant, Early traveled to Florida and took part in operations during the Second Seminole War.

Not finding the military life to his liking, Early resigned from the US Army in 1838, and returned to Virginia and trained to be a lawyer. Successful in this new field, Early was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1841. Defeated in his re-election bid, Early received an appointment as prosecutor for Franklin and Floyd Counties. With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, he returned to military service as a major in the Virginia volunteers. Though his men were ordered to Mexico, they largely performed garrison duty. During this period, Early briefly served as the military governor of Monterrey.

The Civil War Approaches

Returning from Mexico, Early resumed his law practice. As the secession crisis began in the weeks after Abraham Lincoln's election in November 1860, Early vocally called for Virginia to remain in the Union. A devout Whig, Early was elected to the Virginia secession convention in early 1861. Though resisting calls for secession, Early began to change his mind following Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion in April. Electing to remain loyal to his state, he accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the Virginia militia after it left the Union in late May.

First Campaigns

Ordered to Lynchburg, Early worked to raise three regiments for the cause. Given command of one, the 24th Virginia Infantry, he was transferred to the Confederate Army with the rank of colonel. In this role, he took part in the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. Performing well, his actions were noted by army commander Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard. As a result, Early soon received a promotion to brigadier general. The following spring, Early and his brigade took part in actions against Major General George B. McClellan during the Peninsula Campaign.

At the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, Early was wounded while leading a charge. Taken from the field, he recovered at his home in Rocky Mount, VA before returning to the army. Assigned to command a brigade under Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Early took part in the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Malvern Hill. His role in this action proved minimal as he became lost while leading his men forward. With McClellan no longer a threat, Early's brigade moved north with Jackson and fought in the victory at Cedar Mountain on August 9.

Lee's "Bad Old Man"

A few weeks later, Early's men aided in holding the Confederate line at the Second Battle of Manassas. Following the victory, Early moved north as part of General Robert E. Lee's invasion of the north. At the resulting Battle of Antietam on September 17, Early ascended to division command when Brigadier General Alexander Lawton was severely wounded. Turning in a strong performance, Lee and Jackson elected to give him command of the division permanently. This proved wise as Early delivered a decisive counterattack at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13 which sealed a gap in Jackson's lines.

Through 1862, Early had become one of the more dependable commanders in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Known for his short temper, Early earned the nickname "Bad Old Man" from Lee and was referred to as "Old Jube" by his men. As a reward for his battlefield actions, Early was promoted to major general on January 17, 1863. That May, he was tasked with holding the Confederate position at Fredericksburg, while Lee and Jackson moved west to defeat Major General Joseph Hooker at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Assaulted by Union forces, Early was able to slow the Union advance until reinforcements arrived.

With Jackson's death at Chancellorsville, Early's division was moved to a new corps led by Lieutenant General Richard Ewell. Moving north as Lee invaded Pennsylvania, Early's men were at the vanguard of the army and captured York before reaching the banks of the Susquehanna River. Recalled on June 30, Early moved to rejoin the army as Lee concentrated his forces at Gettysburg. The next day, Early's division played a key role in overwhelming the Union XI Corps during the opening actions of the Battle of Gettysburg. The next day his men were turned back when they assaulted Union positions on East Cemetery Hill.

Independent Command

Following the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg, Early's men aided in covering the army's retreat to Virginia. After spending the winter of 1863-1864 in the Shenandoah Valley, Early rejoined Lee prior to the beginning of Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign in May. Seeing action at the Battle of the Wilderness, he later fought at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

With Ewell ailing, Lee ordered Early to take command of the corps with the rank of lieutenant general, as the Battle of Cold Harbor was beginning on May 31. As Union and Confederate forces began the Battle of Petersburg in mid-June, Early and his corps were detached to deal with Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley. By having Early advance down the Valley and threaten Washington, DC, Lee hoped to draw away Union troops from Petersburg. Reaching Lynchburg, Early drove off a Union force before moving north. Entering Maryland, Early was delayed at the Battle of Monocacy on June 9. This allowed Grant to shift troops north aid in defending Washington. Reaching the Union capital, Early's small command fought a minor battle at Fort Stevens but lacked the strength to penetrate the city's defenses.

Withdrawing back to the Shenandoah, Early was soon pursued by a large Union force led by Major General Philip Sheridan. Through September and October, Sheridan inflicted heavy defeats on Early's smaller command at Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek. While most of his men were ordered back the lines around Petersburg in December, Lee directed Early to remain in the Shenandoah with a small force. On May 2, 1865, this force was routed at the Battle of Waynesboro and Early was nearly captured. Not believing that Early could recruit a new force, Lee relieved him of command.


With the Confederate surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, Early escaped south to Texas in hopes of finding a Confederate force to join. Unable to do so, he crossed into Mexico before sailing for Canada. Pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1868, he returned to Virginia the following year and resumed his law practice. A vocal advocate of the Lost Cause movement, Early repeatedly attacked Lieutenant General James Longstreet for his performance at Gettysburg. An un-reconstructed rebel to the end, Early died on March 2, 1894, after falling down a set of stairs. He was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg, VA.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). American Civil War: Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).