Old Jube: October 1, 1864
In a cold October rain the rider came, ambling his horse back down into the Valley of Humiliation. He was riding alone into enemy country—hard to believe, but the Yankees had held the Shenandoah for a week now—along the road that eased off the Blue Ridge from Waynesboro and wound eastward toward Staunton. He rode alertly, but without the careful wariness of a man alone; seeing him, one who had lived through three hard years of war would have sensed that something was coming.
And soon there were more horsemen, in a loose line, picking their way across the fields and through the woods on either side of the road. They hunched cold and dripping under the relentless rain that announced the approach of the winter of 1864. Then, behind their arrowhead advance, a denser body of cavalry, column of fours at the walk, a hundred hooves spattering the rainwater, horses nodding and snorting in protest, riders grumbling. Behind the cavalry, marching men; the whole Confederate Army of the Valley was on the move again.
The trickle of incidental noises swelled slowly to a broad and shallow river of sound as the infantry came into view. There were clinks and creaks and mumbles and steps, here a sudden oath, there a snapped order, as they loped along four abreast in the formless but ground-eating route step of the veteran foot-soldier, rifles pointing at all quarters of the sky from the slovenly but comfortable right-shoulder shift. In the center of the desperately small regiments the cased colors jutted up like stripped trees in winter, while to one side the glum officers rode their gaunt mounts.
Armies have moods, and this one's was sour. It had little to do with the fact that the men were ill-fed and ill-equipped, although how they marched despite these privations is hard to imagine. One of their number was examined closely that fall by one of the Federals who had killed him, who in a kind of tribute recorded exactly how the Southerner had been equipped for his last fight: "His feet, wrapped in rags, had coarse shoes upon them, so worn and full of holes that they were only held together by many pieces of thick twine. Ragged trousers, a jacket, and a shirt of what used to be called 'tow cloth,' a straw hat, which had lost a large portion of both crown and rim, completed his attire. A haversack hung from his shoulder. Its contents were a jack-knife, a plug of twisted tobacco, a tin cup, and about two quarts of coarsely cracked corn, with perhaps an ounce of salt tied in a rag." 1
But this had been the lot of the Confederate soldier for most of the time he had been fighting his second war for independence, and he had for some time now taken pride in his poverty. He had fewer bullets than the Yankees, so he made them count for more; fewer men, so they had to be smarter and faster to attack; less to eat, so they would be tougher. All of this was especially true in the Shenandoah Valley, home to many of the men in this army, a hallowed place to every Virginian for its beauty and productivity, and special even to those who came from far away.
Most people in America, and many in foreign lands, knew something about the Shenandoah. Schoolboys learned that a young George Washington had landed his first surveying job there, had held his first military command there, had learned there how to fight a war without food or ammunition. Most people knew where it was, angled to the northeast from Lexington to Harpers Ferry where the Shenandoah joined the Potomac. Others, who had no idea what or where the Shenandoah was, had heard of it: for a century or so, riverboat men on the Mississippi and blue-water sailors all over the world had been singing out the haunting plaint: "Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you."
Since the fearsome decade of outrage and death known as the French and Indian War, the history of the Valley had been a quiet one, always off to one side of the main hard thrust of revolution and war and consolidation that made a country. Yet its presence was always felt, its special character always shone a muted light into the grand events. In each hour of necessity, the Shenandoah sent out politicians and generals and heroes equal to the task; otherwise the Valley kept its own countenance, husbanded its surpassing peace.
Then the War Between the States began, and for the first time since the Indian Outrages the Shenandoah shuddered to the sound of guns. As a sheltered highway leading to the rear of the Federal defenses of Washington; as an avenue southward toward the railroads knitting together the eastern and western states of the Secession; and most importantly—when embargo, devastation and depopulation began to claim their terrible tolls—as the granary for Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the Valley was a lynchpin of the Southern Cause and a primary target of the Northern war machine.
These considerations, along with the Valley's special hold on all Virginians, invested every conflict in its confines with a special zeal, and imbued every campaign with a mythic quality. This had been especially true in 1862. The Confederates had been outnumbered and outgunned and short of supplies already, but that did not matter when they had on their side the quirky brilliance of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, the Presbyterian deacon who could cripple a Federal army's advance on Richmond by bewildering three Federal armies in the Valley a hundred miles away. Surely, it had seemed then, the Federals would soon tire of being whipped, would see the inevitable as they and the rest of the world began to hunger for King Cotton, and would recognize the Confederacy, make a place for it on the continent, and stop the fighting.
Two years later, as predicted, the Union was tired—bone tired, weary of war, racked by dissension, weakened by voices shouting for peace on any terms. Lee was still punishing each and every mistake the Federal generals made, still making up for his deficiencies of men and material with the power of his will and the force of his mind. But the world had somehow learned to do without cotton, and somehow the Federals kept coming back. Now, under the sandy gaze of their new general in chief, Ulysses S. Grant, they were coming faster and harder than ever, and were driving on Richmond more powerfully by far than they had in 1862. Once again it was necessary to draw off the Federal strength and deflect disaster. But this was 1864, and things were different. Hope was almost gone.
"It was not disaffection or disloyalty for the cause for which they had so long fought," a Georgia veteran mused later about the thinking of his comrades in the Valley that October, "but they reasoned this way: 'We are confronted with an army four times that of our own; Lee is besieged at Richmond and Petersburg; Sherman is marching through Georgia; we are cut off from the Trans-Mississippi Department; our ports are blockaded; our army is daily diminishing, with no material for recruiting; our families are in want and destitution at home, while the Federal government has abundant resources at home and all Europe from which to recruit their armies.' With these conditions, they felt and maintained that there was no hope for our success." 2
Yet they advanced, under the lowering clouds, with the mist streaked in tattered wisps like gunsmoke along the flanks of the mountain palisades behind. They balanced their rain-slicked rifles (most of them Federal makes, snatched up from some battlefield) with hands that had been numbed and stiffened by the cold. It had been a long time since there had been the time or the opportunity for a bath, and in warmer weather, it was said, this army could be smelled long before it could be seen.
At its side, trailed by a knot of staff officers, rode Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early, commanding the Army of the Valley. They had called him "Old Jubilee" back when he had turned the Federal right at First Manassas in 1861, had held his ground at Antietam in 1862 and had healed a broken line at Fredericksburg a few months later. But at Gettysburg, and since, things had not been quite right with him. Maybe it was bad luck, maybe bad orders, but the men were not disposed to be understanding; when a battle went awry, General Early found a reason, and the reason was always that his men had let him down. Now they called him "Old Jube."
He rode along, hunched and brooding, rain dripping from the broad-brimmed white hat that was turned sharply up along the right side and bedecked with a single, rather sorry-looking ostrich feather. As the black eyes darted here and there, taking in the smoking desolation that had been brought to this hallowed Valley by the Federals, tobacco juice and profanity squirted incessantly from behind the gray-brown beard.
"I never saw a man who looked less like a soldier," John S. Wise wrote of Early. Wise, whose father had been governor of Virginia, was a young infantry officer who never served with Early but saw him often, and thanks to a political upbringing saw people clearly. "His eyes were very small, dark, deep-set and glittering, and his nose aquiline," Wise wrote. "His step was slow, shuffling, and almost irresolute." A booming voice of command might have helped, but Early's was "a piping treble, and he talked with a long-drawn whine or drawl."3
The first thing one noticed, however—before one thought of an Old Testament prophet calling down damnation, or pictured some spreadwinged raptor eyeing a meadowful of mice—was the severely stooped and rounded shoulders. While in Mexico during the war of 1847, Early had been stricken with something he called rheumatism (probably spondylitis, a painful affliction of the spinal muscles) that had bent him until he had difficulty holding his head upright, and looked both older than his 47 years and shorter than his six feet.
Some came up with an easier explanation for his infirmity; there were persistent rumors of drunkenness. But a courier, Joseph D. Shewalter of Missouri, who was close to Early for fully half of the war, testified that "I never saw him in my life under the influence of liquor." Instead, wrote Shewalter, because of the effects of the "rheumatism" and a wound Early suffered at Williamsburg in 1861, the general "was unable to get on his horse without assistance. I assisted him repeatedly in mounting. It is owing to this fact, and perhaps malice, that it is believed he was constantly drunk." 4
It was hard to figure the balance sheet on Old Jube, but there was no doubt that, look like it or not, he was a soldier. Only three living generals—the wounded and convalescing James Longstreet, the interim First Corps commander Richard Anderson, and Ambrose Powell Hill of the Third Corps—stood as high in the estimation of Bobby Lee. (Since his canonization it is breathtaking to see him referred to as anything other that General Robert E. Lee; but the fact is that the Valley boys expressed their affection and respect by calling him Bobby Lee, just as the men from plantation country called him Marse Robert.) Lee's trust conferred upon Early a large measure of respect; the reverence in which the men held Lee was boundless, and he could spend it in any way he chose.
Standing second to Lee in the pantheon of Confederate sainthood was Stonewall Jackson—in the Shenandoah Valley it was a close second—and Early had met with his approval as well. Jackson had said after Antietam that Early had "attacked with great vigor and gallantry," and from the flinty Stonewall that was exuberant, almost hysterical, praise. 5
Old Jube's military reputation had not been handed down from above; he had been a hard charger from the first, and had moved steadily toward high command through the fires of every major campaign in the eastern theater of the war. Major Henry Kyd Douglas, who was Early's adjutant general in the fall of 1864 and had served Jackson in the 1862 Valley campaign, wrote that "there were none of General Lee's subordinates, after the death of General Jackson, who possessed the essential qualities of a military commander to a greater extent than Early." No one doubted his courage, his coolness under fire, his aggressiveness, his tenacity; and almost no one liked him. 6
"Arbitrary, cynical, with strong prejudices, he was personally disagreeable," said Douglas; "he made few admirers or friends either by his manners or his habits." John Wise, who saw Early in a different time and setting, caught the same acrid whiff of bitterness, and suspected a perverse stagecraft: "His likes and dislikes he announced without hesitation, and, as he was filled with strong and bitter opinions, his conversation was always racy and pungent. His views were not always correct, or just, or broad; but his wit was quick, his satire biting, his expressions were vigorous, and he was interestingly lurid and picturesque." Not to mention "startlingly profane." 7
Both young men glimpsed fissures and whorls in the man's many-layered character. Douglas saw behind the loud and studied cynicism a startling gentleness. "If he had a tender feeling, he endeavored to conceal it and acted as though he would be ashamed to be detected in doing a kindness; yet many will recall little acts of General Early which prove that his heart was naturally full of loyalty and tenderness." The thoughtful young major also judged the impressive military record to be equivocal: "Quick to decide and almost inflexible in decision, with a boldness to attack that approached rashness and a tenacity in resisting that resembled desperation, he was yet on the field of battle not equal to his own intellect or decision." There is a strange and terrible indictment: to be unequal to one's own intellect. 8
Such were the glimmerings, in 1864, of the savage conflicts that had soured Jubal Early's soul. He seems to have been born knowing, deep in his bones, that nothing was ever going to turn out right for him. It was his special curse also to nurture, in his innermost soul, a bright hard flame of ambition, a lust for public acclaim. He was from time to time a military man who detested uniformity and rejected discipline; an elected official who loathed politicians; a fervent Union man until April 15, 1861, from which date until the end of his life he reviled the Union and everything it did; and the heroic protagonist of a youthful, Byronic romance who became a renowned woman-hater, yet remained capable of disarming charm. His was a life that had begun with great gifts and high promise, but that had always somehow retreated from achievement, slowly but implacably, toward star-crossed disappointment and rage.
He never seemed to get what he wanted, or to want what he got. He did not want a military career, but as one of ten children of a prosperous Franklin County farmer (in far southwest Virginia), he wanted a first-class education, and for that he looked to the United States Military Academy. The local congressman was a neighbor and family friend—Jubal's father Joab had served his county as sheriff, colonel of militia and state legislator—and the appointment was easily arranged. In June, 1833, the 16-year-old rustic became a plebe.
The "clear, direct and comprehensive" mind that Kyd Douglas would admire 30 years later was already in evidence. Jubal consistently ranked near the top of his class in academics, but he stayed near the bottom of the entire corps of cadets when ranked for behavior. The final year was typical; at graduation he ranked 18th in a class of 50, based on general merit, but for conduct he was judged to be 195th in a corps of 211 cadets. The accumulation of 200 demerits in any class year meant automatic dismissal from the Academy; in his third year Jubal had 196 demerits, and in his best year, the first, he had 142. As he explained it years later, "I had very little taste for scrubbing brass."9
Although he intended to resign from the army and study law, he became infected with thoughts of war and glory. In 1835 he was smitten by the cause of Sam Houston and the Texicans, and pleaded with his father for permission —and the means—to leave West Point and go fight Santa Anna for the independence of Texas. Joab denied both permission and money, and the Alamo was denied another martyr. As it turned out, the army was to be denied another glory-hound. When he graduated in 1837 he was sent to dreary duty in Florida chasing Seminoles, then in Tennessee policing Cherokees. This was not what he wanted, and Early resigned.
Meanwhile he had found that Romance, like War, did not measure up to its reputation. It happened, according to a story that may well have been apocryphal, when the handsome young six-footer, mounted on a splendid black stallion, took a brief vacation from his Academy studies with a trip to White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County. And there he met his true love.
She was a comely Quaker debutante from Philadelphia, named Lavinia, and their meeting was recounted as the stuff of a young man's heated daydreams. Touring the countryside in a rented carriage, she attempted to cross a storm-swollen stream. The horses were knocked off their feet by the torrent, the carriage was being swept away and was threatening to overturn when, with timing that defies belief, young Lochinvar galloped up on his black charger, swept the screaming damsel from the jaws of death and bore her away to safety. With the lady prettily recovered, the heroic rescuer and demure rescuee danced and walked and chatted the days away until harsh duty called him hence. But first, an exchange of fervent promises to meet again, next summer, at the scene of their enchantment.
By that time he had quit the army, but since his resignation would not be processed in time for the rendezvous, he applied for leave. Approval was soon forthcoming, but in the same mail came an envelope addressed to him in a familiar, feminine hand. There was no letter, just a Philadelphia newspaper containing a description of his true love's long-planned wedding. Jubal Early never again found it easy to like a woman. 10
There were other things to want. He took up law and politics in 1840, applied himself for five years, and made a good start. By the time war with Mexico threatened in 1846, Early had built up a decent practice and had been elected twice to the Virginia General Assembly. Governor William Smith, whom Early would meet again, appointed him a major of volunteers for the war. But where other officers in that conflict got brevet promotions, honorable wounds and decided boosts to their careers, Early got garrison duty, boredom, and the "rheumatism" that bent his back and prematurely aged him.
More disappointments. After the war he lost his seat in the general assembly. He managed to hold on to a lesser position—county commonwealth's attorney, or prosecutor—and he made a living practicing law, but just a living. Thus a decade passed, and Jubal Early passed from his thirties into his forties, the time of life when a man confronts his limitations and realizes how many things he will not achieve. He had a small reputation as an honest and capable country lawyer, but substantial wealth and a glittering career were clearly beyond his reach; he had firm hold on a minor political office, but he would never be a Stephen Douglas or a Henry Clay, shaping a growing nation or guiding a powerful state with his words.
The public record of this time is straightforward and innocuous, yet something lurks here. Young John Wise, seeing Old Jube in Rocky Mount in the summer of 1862, saw shadows cast on Early's reputation by events that had transpired before the war. By then Early had been wounded in the Peninsular Campaign, and while convalescing was holding court on a tavern porch overlooking Rocky Mount's steeply inclined main street. "He was the hero of Franklin County," Wise remembered, "and although he professed to despise popularity and to be defiant of public opinion, it was plain that he enjoyed his military distinction. It had done much to soften old-time asperities, and blot out from the memory of his neighbors certain facts in his private life which had, prior to the war, alienated him from many of his own class." 11
Those "certain facts" had to do with his relationship with a young woman named Julia McNealey, who from the age of 17 to the time she married in 1871 kept Jubal's house and warmed his bed. She bore him four children, all of whom bore his last name and one of whom was christened Jubal. They lived in his house just off North Main Street in Rocky Mount, and for this arrangement Jubal never offered a word of explanation or apology.
The facts did not deter the people of Franklin County from turning to Jubal Early for representation in the ultimate crisis of their time. When the Virginia General Assembly called for a convention to be held in the spring of 1861 to decide the question of secession, Franklin County sent Jubal Early and another delegate to vote against secession and for the Union. Their attitude was shared by a large majority of the convention delegates and by virtually every one of the delegates from the western part of the state, between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Ohio River.
The westerners had little in common with the delegates from the other side of the Blue Ridge, where lay plantations, aristocracy, high society, old money and slavery. Slavery was never successfully transplanted across the Blue Ridge, not from any moral superiority or tenderness of feeling, but for the most implacable of reasons; it simply did not work. Cotton and tobacco did not do well west of the mountains, while other, less labor-intensive crops did. The farms that evolved were small in scale, the people who prospered were tough-minded, unpretentious, self-reliant folk who might never have amounted to anything had it not been for the freedoms offered by the Union. Thus the threat of losing the right to take slavery into the territories—the most powerful impetus to civil war in 1861—did not strike the westerners with anything like the power it held for the planters.
But one thing shared by all the delegates to the 1861 convention in Richmond was a powerful sense of being Virginians. Whether a baronial planter from the Tidewater or a hardscrabble farmer from some narrow, penurious valley in the Alleghenies, the delegates and the people they represented had powerful and emotional bonds to their state, the Mother of States and Presidents, the largest state save only Texas, the richest state, whose capital was claimed to be the center of the most glittering intellectual, artistic and political society to be found on the continent.
Jubal Early was extraordinary in this gathering not for what he believed —that Virginia should remain in the Union—but for the asperity with which he argued his beliefs. One Virginian remembered him as "the most extreme anti-secessionist and anti-war man in the Virginia Convention." He defended President Lincoln even after the creation of the Confederate States of America and the beginning of the siege of Fort Sumter. He told the delegates on February 20 they need not worry about the armaments being rushed to Federal military installations in Virginia. The President was doing his job in protecting public property, Early said, and Virginians would not be in danger from these guns "unless they may foolishly run their heads into the mouth of one of them." Jubal's colleagues called him the "Terrapin from Franklin," undoubtedly having in mind the snapping turtle. 12
On April 4 the convention recorded a vote of 88-45 against a proposed ordinance of secession, but remained in session out of fear of the General Assembly. That group was radically pro-secession, and had the power to summon another convention if it did not like the work of the first one. On April 12, Federals fired on Fort Sumter. On April 15, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to join the army and suppress the rebellion. Thus required by the Union president to take up arms against their fellow Southerners, most Virginians instantly became secessionists. On April 17, the Virginia convention adopted an ordinance of secession by a vote of 88-55. (It took Early a little longer; confused and disbelieving on the day of the stunning proclamation, he continued to vote against secession, but endorsed it immediately after the ordinance it passed.) 13
The conversion of the Old Dominion was swift, total, and accompanied by unrestrained emotion; they were embarking on the second American Revolution, they were defending their state, their homes, their families and, yes, their sacred honor. The issue was not slavery, but coercion; the desire was not to sunder the Union, but to protect the United States from a tyranny being attempted by a national government that existed only to serve the states. They had not chosen war until they were forced to choose between war on the one hand and on the other submission, cowardice and disloyalty to kindred states. Then they did not merely choose war, they embraced it with consuming ardor. The same man who had noted Early's extremism in opposing secession and war now found him to be "the most enthusiastic man in the Commonwealth in advocacy of the war and personal service in it." 14
Jubal went home briefly to put his personal affairs in order before going off to defend Virginia. It must have been an exhilarating time, a chance to shuck off all at once the encrusted strictures of a mundane life and ride toward the sound of guns, where glory was. A man seldom gets a chance to reorder his life completely, to come suddenly within reach of the dreams of power and renown that nurtured his youth, but have been almost forgotten. Such is the hidden and terrible appeal of war.
The great gifts and high promise that Jubal Early brought to this new arena were immediately apparent. A colonel at the first battle of Manassas, Early brought his brigade swinging around to the Confederate left at the crisis of the day. "He reached the position intended just when the Federal army was about to assume the offensive, and assailed its exposed front," recalled the Confederate commander, General Joseph E. Johnston. "The attack was conducted with too much skill and courage to be for a moment doubtful. The Federal right was at once thrown into confusion. A general advance of the Confederate line, directed by General Beauregard, completed our success, and won the battle." 15
(Beauregard had seen Early's brigade approach, but could not tell if it was friend or foe because the colors were hanging limply in the still air. He watched tensely, knowing he would have to retreat if the men were Federals, until a breeze revealed the Confederate flag. Afterward, Beauregard agitated for a new flag, easier to identify on the battlefield; the Stars and Bars, with its three horizontal red and white stripes and its white-starred blue field in the top left quarter, too closely resembled the U.S. flag. A few months later the Confederate Battle Flag—a blue St. Andrew's cross bedecked with seven white stars, on a red field—was adopted.)
In the long, shocked pause that followed that unexpectedly harsh initial taste of civil war, Jubal was promoted to brigadier general for his achievement; but, prophetically, another officer garnered the lion's share of the public acclaim for the victory. Just before Early's counterattack, a brigade of Virginians under Brigadier General Tom Jackson, just rushed in from the Shenandoah, held against a Federal turning movement and got their commander compared to a stone wall, the very antithesis of his approach to warfare.
Jubal achieved some notoriety the next year, however, when in the first battle of the Peninsular Campaign, near Williamsburg, he led his Virginians in a race with D. Harvey Hill's North Carolinians for the privilege of taking some Federal guns. The guns were not taken, his brigade suffered heavy casualties, and Early, shot twice, was out of the war for two months. Instead of fame, he got a reputation for being a bit of a hothead.
When he returned to the army at the end of June he was assigned to a brigade in the Army of the Valley, and began an apprenticeship for high command under two of the best there were: Richard Ewell, whose division Early joined, and Stonewall Jackson, who had just completed his brilliant Valley Campaign and had now come east of the Blue Ridge to maneuver toward Second Manassas.
Both sides in the war were doing a great deal of reorganizing. Early's old brigade no longer existed, and he was given temporary command of another brigade, in place of a wounded general. It was not an unusual or demeaning arrangement, but for some reason Early was offended. Perhaps he was galled by the fame and rank achieved by Jackson and Ewell, who had been fellow brigade commanders at First Manassas; perhaps his sense of being underappreciated was heightened by the aftereffects of his wounds; whatever the reason, he wrote a petulant complaint that came to the attention of Lee himself. In the soothing tones of a father dealing with a very young son, Lee assured Early that "confidence in your zeal and ability has been increased instead of diminished by your service," and that Early's wounds were seen as "a badge of distinction and a claim for high consideration instead of a crime, as you suppose." 16
During the engagement at Cedar Mountain that began the campaign of Second Manassas, Early was in the thick of the fighting and distinguished himself by his intelligent handling of his men, his prompt and cool response to emergency and his personal courage. Jackson noted crisply that Early had held his position with "great firmness," and Ewell strongly recommended a promotion to major general. If Early began to think that with Ewell's patronage he was finally beginning to get somewhere, the feeling lasted less than three weeks; on August 28 at Groveton, during the opening engagement of Second Manassas, a rifle ball shattered Dick Ewell's knee and took him out of the war for eight months.
In the battle of Second Manassas that began the next day, Jubal Early's part was active but not particularly distinguished. With his newfound mentor wounded, Early apparently felt the need to blow his own horn afterward, and to his official report he appended a remarkable, self-congratulatory sentence: "I hope I may be excused for referring to the record shown by my own brigade, which has never been broken or compelled to fall back or left one of its men to be buried by the enemy, but has invariably driven the enemy when opposed by him and slept upon the ground on which it has fought in every action, with the solitary exception of the affair at Bristow Station, when it retired under orders covering the withdrawal of the other troops."
Two and a half weeks later, Lee's first invasion of the North took the opposing armies to the bloody crucible of Antietam. No soldier of dubious mettle could escape the harsh, clear light thrown by this most awesome of battles, and Jubal Early stood up to the worst it had to offer, which was the worst there ever was.
It had hardly begun when Ewell's replacement went down wounded and the command of the division devolved on Early. In fact, however, only his own brigade remained intact on the field and it was that force he maneuvered, with characteristic nerve and effectiveness, throughout the fighting on the Confederate left. By his prompt movement he stopped a division-sized Federal breakthrough, then joined in the repulse of a Federal corps. The splendid cavalier Jeb Stuart was impressed enough to mention in his official report that Early had attacked with "great coolness and good judgment." Jackson was impressed enough to leave Early in command of the division, but not enough to recommend a promotion. Most importantly for Early, however, was the fact that Lee had noticed, praised Early's "great resolution," and recommended him for promotion to major general. The promotion was not forthcoming; Jackson, on the other hand, was made a lieutenant general and was given command of the newly-organized Second Corps. 17
Instead of going into winter quarters that year, the Federals decided to make another push toward Richmond, by way of Fredericksburg. The Army of the Valley was called to help, and on the way east there occurred an exchange between the testy Jackson and the irascible Early that was recounted over campfires for years to come. After a hard day's march during which Jubal's division had been in the lead, he received a note from Jackson's headquarters: "General Jackson's compliments to General Early, and he would like to know why he saw so many stragglers in rear of your division today." The response was immediate: "General Early's compliments to General Jackson, and he takes pleasure in informing him that he saw so many stragglers in rear of my division today, probably because he rode in rear of my division." One veteran who recorded the story marveled that "not another officer in the Army of Northern Virginia would have dared send such an impertinent note to Jackson." 18
Although not nearly fast enough to satisfy him, Early's stock was rising, both with Lee, whose eye was on the new division commander now, and with the men. They were telling each other stories about Old Jubilee, and they were liking the way the stories told. During the battle of Fredericksburg in December, they loped confidently forward, under fire, to stop a potentially disastrous Federal breakthrough of A.P. Hill's line on the Confederate right. They had saved some of Hill's guns at Cedar Mountain, and they had saved his flank at Second Bull Run, and now as they charged they yelled, "Here comes old Jubal! Let Old Jubal straighten that fence! Jubal's boys are always getting Hill out of trouble!" Early may have been gratified to hear that evidence of respect, or he may immediately have reflected that Hill had made major general six months earlier. 19
On the way into combat, as the first casualties fell to the preliminary shocks of stray shells, Jubal saw a chaplain streaking for the rear. At once, the general's oddly-tilted humor whined its way to the mark: "Chaplain, I have known you for the past 30 years, and all that time you have been trying to get to heaven, and now that the opportunity is offered you are fleeing from it. Sir, I am surprised!" Then Early's division swung into the breach in the Confederate line, slammed it shut and drove the Federals back into the bottomlands along the Rappahannock River. One of his brigades threatened for a time to drive right through the Federal army, but for lack of ammunition and support had to fall back.
That was the first starving winter for the Army of Northern Virginia. It was an unusually harsh one, made worse for the men by shortages of shoes, overcoats, blankets and food. They endured with remarkable cheerfulness, not imagining how many more such winters were in store for those who lived. For Jubal Early, huddled in his winter quarters south of Fredericksburg near the Rappahannock, spring came early that year; January brought him the long-awaited promotion to major general, and assignment to permanent command of Ewell's division, which now became Early's division. 20
When campaigning resumed in May, Early and his division were denied a major role in the intense drama of Chancellorsville. It was Jackson, again, who took the glory with his stunning flanking maneuver and rout of the Federal right—the right of an army that was itself attempting a flanking maneuver against Lee's smaller force. This, however, was Jackson's final glory, won at the expense of a mortal wound inflicted by his own men.
While all this was happening 10 miles west of Fredericksburg, Early had been left behind to hold the city. Although he faced overwhelming odds, and at a critical juncture received mistaken orders to withdraw, he held for as long as anyone could have expected. Then he rushed west in time to help drive the rest of the Federal forces back across the Rappahannock again. Jubal was performing competent service, he was doing precisely what Lee asked, but he was hardly becoming a legend in his own time. And that, unquestionably, is what he wished to become. 21
After Chancellorsville, Lee reorganized his army for his second invasion of the North—his ultimate gamble that he could rise above his shortages of men and material and so stagger the Union that it would negotiate a peace. Now that Jackson was gone, Lee believed his two corps to be too large and unwieldy for effective control, and he put his 60,000 men into three corps. Old Pete Longstreet continued in command of the First Corps, of course, and Jackson was succeeded at the helm of the Second by an obvious choice, Dick Ewell. (Old Bald Head had returned to the army in May of '63, without his leg and with a wife. This a formidable widow lady, whom the old bachelor persisted in introducing as "Mrs. Brown," firmly deprived him of chewing tobacco and cuss words, introduced him to home life and religion, and, in the opinion of the army, ruined him.) The new Third Corps was the plum that required that someone be promoted, and Lee's selection must have aggravated Jubal Early's biliousness: the anointed officer was the very one Jubal's men had so often bailed out—Ambrose Powell Hill. 22
On the march toward Maryland and Pennsylvania, the Second Corps had the responsibility of clearing the lower Shenandoah Valley of Federals. Under Ewell's close supervision, Early's division won a fine victory at Winchester, after which Lee's invasion route was clear. Dick Ewell, a year younger than Early, had been greatly aged by his grievous wound and by his infirmity. But he still felt younger than Jubal, apparently, for when the attack on Winchester began Old Bald Head, watching excitedly, yelled, "There's Early! I hope the old fellow won't be hurt!" 23
They marched north then, to the ragged, unplanned, uncontrolled meeting engagement at Gettysburg. Once again, Jubal Early's thirst for unequivocal glory was to go unslaked. He was caught in a web of failure. Ewell's nerve failed, inexplicably, and despite repeated urgings by Lee, for some reason the new corps commander could not bring himself to attack the Federal right on Cemetery Hill until it was too late. Truth to tell, the army commander's generalship failed that day, and Lee displayed none of the vigor and aggressiveness that always before had taken him to the heart of the enemy's weaknesses; on these three fateful days he battered away at strong points. Jeb Stuart, the legendary cavalier, failed to show up in time to do what cavalry was supposed to do, and Old Pete Longstreet, in a monumental snit because Lee refused to take his advice on strategy, was slow to prosecute his orders.
Old Jube came on the field like a thunderclap during the first day of battle, with a charge that broke the Federal left and won possession of Gettysburg itself. Thereafter, however, he was held on a short leash by the unnerved Ewell, and did his duty. When finally unleashed, near dark on the second day of the three-day battle, Early's men clawed their way to the very top of Cemetery Ridge and for a time threatened the Federal army headquarters. But they were unsupported, the Federals soon threw in reinforcements, and the Confederate lodgment on Cemetery Hill was short-lived. 24
The wounded Army of Northern Virginia, blessed again by a slow and unenthusiastic Federal pursuit, made its way back through the Valley and took position along the south side of the Rappahannock River. It was a perilous position, depending for its safety on a bridgehead at the north end of the ruined Rappahannock Bridge of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. On November 7, 1863, the vital sector was the responsibility of Jubal Early, and here he confronted what he had so long avoided—unmitigated military disaster. 25
During the afternoon the Federals appeared in front of the bridgehead, which was held by one of Early's brigades, and pushed across the river at another ford four miles downstream. For several hours they made no further progress. A howling wind and approaching darkness made it difficult for Early to assess the danger to his brigade across the river, but the Federals were not known for night attacks and Lee, who was anxiously watching over the situation, agreed that the dispatch of one more brigade should be a sufficient response.
But the Federals attacked in force at dusk, and for once moved smartly, in an exquisitely planned and executed attack that overwhelmed the bridgehead before the Confederates realized what was happening. Early had roughly 2,000 men on the north side of the river; of these almost 1700 were lost, most of them taken prisoner along with four guns and eight regimental flags. The Army of Northern Virginia was forced to fall back nearly ten miles and take up a new line along the Rapidan River. 26
"This was the first serious disaster that had befallen any of my commands," Early wrote in his memoirs, adding a qualification that was to become familiar: "I felt I was not responsible for it." His official report, written at the time, strained mightily to confer upon himself absolution. Or at least to preempt severe criticism by admitting to a lesser crime: "I must candidly confess," he wrote fatuously, "that I did concur in the opinion of the commanding General that the enemy did not have enterprise enough to attempt any serious attack after dark." With the blame for any error of judgment thus shifted to Lee's capacious shoulders, Early went on to add that he had "felt there would be very great danger in a night attack if vigorously made," but that he "had no discretion about withdrawing the troops." Then he pointed out that he had previously done well, and that on the whole he had captured more guns and prisoners thus far in the war than he had lost at Rappahannock Bridge. 27
That Jubal was stridently explaining things that Lee did not need explained, and thrusting forward a record that Lee knew intimately, was demonstrated a little more than two weeks later when Dick Ewell became so ill he had to leave his command. His temporary replacement as commanding general of the Second Corps was Jubal Early. But the fires of ambition soon had to be banked again, when Ewell recovered.
Now began the second starving winter for the Army of Northern Virginia, and Lee became ever more engrossed with the problem of finding food for his men. Thus when a Federal raid threatened the Shenandoah Valley, his army's one unfailing source of flour, cornmeal, beef, pork, fruit and forage, Lee was determined to hold it. Jubal Early was the man to do it for him.
Flattering as it might have been to have the confidence of the great chieftain, it was perhaps the worst assignment of Jubal's life. He who had recently commanded the Second Corps found himself conducting a months-long, comic-opera chase up and down the Valley, in and out of the Alleghenies, all to no effect. Time and again a brigade of Federal cavalry, led by Brigadier General William W. Averell, slipped away, threading the myriad little valleys and hollows of the western mountains, feinting and dodging. It drove Jubal Early to distraction, and as was becoming usual, he found someone to blame.
The local commander, John Imboden, led a collection of cavalry units that more closely resembled Mosby's Rangers than any Army of Northern Virginia regiment in spirit, conduct, discipline—and achievement. Imboden and his fellow partisans, of whom the best known were John "Hanse" McNeil of West Virginia and Harry Gilmor of Maryland, shared Jubal Early's dislike for scrubbing brass, fought with unbridled ferocity and effectiveness when protecting their homes, but became listless and indifferent when the assignment was too far afield. They were used to darting about in the enormous folded wilderness of the Alleghenies, raiding and skirmishing and maneuvering in a way that a sea captain would understand more readily than an infantry officer.
Jubal Early found all this insubstantial, unsatisfactory and irritating. To hear him tell it, he was surrounded by incompetents, and to be sure there were foulups aplenty. The Federal raiders escaped northward, as did a regiment of infantry—the 34th Massachusetts under Colonel George D. Wells—that pushed into the Valley as a diversion. Early chased the infantrymen for a while but had no cavalry with which to run them to ground; all his horsemen were off on wild-goose chases in the mountains.
All this set Early to smoldering and carping, to shifting his plug of tobacco and spitting with rage. It could not have helped his mood, after the escape of Averell, to be told by Lee that since all was quiet along the Rapidan Early should stay with his ragtag Valley command and go foraging in the West Virginia valleys for livestock, cloth and shoe leather. He was to pay for what he took, Lee stressed, and leave enough behind for the subsistence of the local people.
Even years later when he wrote his memoirs, Early remained reverent in all his references to Lee, and gave no hint that he found this duty unpleasant. Nor did he have anything unkind to say about the commanding general's nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, who with his cavalry brigade helped chase Averell for a time. The only clue that Early might not have been entirely sanguine about acting as a commissary agent and forager exists in his savage treatment of John Imboden, who had no friends in Richmond. The partisan's brigade was "wholly inefficient, disorganized, undisciplined and unreliable," Jubal was quoted as saying; it was made up of deserters and shirkers. These comments and doubtless other, more profane observations were repeated so often, over so long a period of time, that Imboden, who shunned official proceedings, was goaded into demanding a court of inquiry. Lee responded, a deep sigh almost audible between the lines of his carefully-phrased response, that such a proceeding, at such a time, would not be "advantageous."28
When Fitz Lee went back to the Rapidan and another cavalry brigade under Brigadier General Thomas L. Rosser joined Early, Old Jube promptly mixed it up with Rosser, too. In one report Early disparaged Rosser's brigade, much as he had Imboden's, but in a later communication he praised the unit and recommended the young man's promotion. Rosser was one of those people who liked to have his wife nearby, a practice that Jubal found insufferable, and Mrs. Rosser took up residence in Staunton that winter. At least once, Rosser visited her when Early thought he should have been on duty elsewhere, and complained about it to the long-suffering Lee. 29
Early's difficulties with cavalry that winter apparently prejudiced him against the entire mounted arm of the service. Henceforward, his attitude was that all cavalry units were "disorganized, undisciplined and unreliable." Cavalrymen did not appreciate such generic contempt, and Jubal Early's military career was diminished by the harsh judgment.
Having rounded up and sent to Richmond 1700 cattle and sheep, Early took a two-week leave and went home to Franklin County. The respite did nothing to mellow him. His craving for the recognition he pretended to spurn was taking on a shrill, desperate, reckless edge. He had not been back with the army a month when something happened between him and Dick Ewell. Nothing is known about the specifics except that Ewell, who had been Old Jube's constant friend and mentor, actually placed the Second Corps' senior major general under arrest. The charge was conduct "subversive of good order and military discipline." Whatever Old Jube had done, Lee pronounced it inexcusable, but restored him to command nevertheless. Lee needed his officers working together. Grant was coming. 30
In the dreadful spring of 1864 he came from every direction, with everything. The Federal Army of the Tennessee punched into Georgia, driving for Atlanta, Savannah and the Carolinas; the Army of the James came up the Peninsula again, toward Richmond; the Army of the Shenandoah moved up the Valley from Harpers Ferry; and George Meade, with Grant smoking a cigar and peering over his shoulder, began to hook around and slam into Lee's right flank with a fired-up Army of the Potomac.
If ever there was a time for a man to keep his date with destiny, this savage campaign should have been it. The Federals maneuvered; were outmaneuvered; attacked; were beaten off; then with stunning tenacity maneuvered and attacked again. They shrugged off appalling losses—50,000 casualties in a single month —and kept coming, through the Wilderness, past Spotsylvania Court House, to the banks of the North Anna and the stunning slaughter at Cold Harbor. Through it all Lee reacted brilliantly, anticipating and outfighting his enemy, yet being borne steadily back by the awesome weight of Federal numbers. In these desperate battles Jubal Early took full part, and achieved much, and won advancement. Yet nothing came to him untainted, and that special state of grace he sought eluded him.
Ewell's corps was the first to be attacked in the Wilderness—a nasty, trackless area of scrub-oak, jackpine and thick underbrush—and the two leading divisions had been roughly handled by the time Early brought his three brigades up. He quickly stabilized the line and oversaw a counterattack that sent the Federals reeling. But much of the credit went not to Early, but to one of his brigade commanders, Brigadier General John Gordon, a young Georgia lawyer whose remarkable, unschooled aptitude for battle had caused Lee to mark him as a rising star. It had been bad enough for Old Jube to see his contemporaries raised up ahead of him; now his juniors were coming up from behind and calling for the right-of-way.
Lee lost two of his three corps commanders in the Wilderness. Longstreet went down with a bad wound, shot by his own men just as Jackson had been at nearby Chancellorsville the year before. At the same time A. P. Hill, suffering from the effects of a wound received at Chancellorsville, became so ill that he could no longer command. This meant opportunity for Early, of course, who once again was given temporary command of a corps, this time Hill's Third Corps. But it was hardly a triumphal promotion, and it could not have delighted Old Jube to turn over command of his division to John Gordon; or to see Richard H. Anderson, a man five years his junior who had made major general almost a year ahead of him, given command of Longstreet's First Corps; or to see Anderson, in his first battle, turn up at the right place and the right time to do the heaviest fighting with the best results at Spotsylvania Court House.
Two weeks later, on May 22, A. P. Hill resumed command of the Second Corps and Early returned to his division. John Gordon was promoted to major general and was given command of another division in Ewell's corps. This galling situation lasted only a week, however, whereupon the ailing Dick Ewell once again had to ask Early to take temporary command of the corps. Stubbornly refusing to give in to his infirmities, Ewell was struggling to return to duty when Lee gently relieved him from the command that was killing him, and sent him to take charge of the defenses of Richmond. Jubal Early had command of the Second Corps in his own right at last.
The first thing he did was to bungle a battle. Sent out by Lee to sting the Federals badly enough to stop their constant reaching to the southeast, Early attacked at Bethesda Church without coordinating his move with Anderson's adjacent First Corps, and without determining that the Federal line was entrenched. The result was a costly repulse.
This was an odd failure, because Early had a reputation for careful reconnaissance before engaging, and had reaped the rewards of preparation on such fields as Cedar Mountain, Fredericksburg and Winchester. He had proved brilliant at surveying and comprehending the ground over which a brigade of under 2,000 men would move; skillful, under the close direction of Ewell, at controlling the operations of a division of perhaps 10,000; but seemed frequently nonplused by the awesome scale of movement of a 20-000-man, 12-brigade, 13-gun corps. Thus at Mine Run the previous November, while handling the Second Corps for the first time, Early had lost track of a division.31
However forceful, decisive and courageous an officer might be at handling smaller units, he could not succeed in corps or army command without a mystical ability to envision what he could not see, to comprehend chaos, to wrest from smoke and noise and confusion the essential trends of battle. Old Jube had proved himself at one level, but whether he could make the quantum leap to the next was still in question.
The question was not resolved by the fateful battle of Cold Harbor, which followed on June 3. While the Federals smashed into the Confederate right and center, Early held the left, encountering only skirmishing while one of the bloodiest battles of the war raged a short distance away. He held his lines firmly, he counterattacked with telling effect, he remained alert and steady. But History did not visit him there.
Then, at last, with breathtaking suddenness and from an unexpected direction, Jubal Early's time arrived. On June 12 came a summons from Lee, a long discussion of strategy and prospects, and finally orders, heavy with responsibility, tingling with possibility. Save the Shenandoah. Invade the north. Wreck the Federal railroads, raid the Yankee farms, threaten Washington, free the Confederate prisoners at Point Lookout, Maryland, but above all: save the Shenandoah. Surely Old Jube's glory days, so long awaited, had arrived at last.
He would take with him nearly one-third of the Army of Northern Virginia, despite the grave danger posed by Grant's incessant pounding at the gates of Richmond. Without those men, Lee had to abandon his plans to attack the Federal army, which had lain unmoving for days as if stunned by the slaughter at Cold Harbor. Such was the importance Lee attached to the disaster that had just occurred in the Shenandoah Valley.
John Breckinridge had broken Franz Sigel's Federal army at New Market in May, and had cleared the invaders from the granary of the Confederacy. Such a defeat had always immobilized the Federals for months, and Lee had brought Breckinridge east to help at Cold Harbor. Grant, meanwhile, had put Black Dave Hunter in command of the Army of the Shenandoah and immediately sent it back up the Valley, where it wiped out the small Confederate garrison force left behind, cut the Virginia Central Railroad, sacked Staunton and advanced on Lynchburg. By thus cutting off the Valley's irreplaceable food supplies, Hunter had within his grasp, in the words of his chief of staff, "the vitals of the Confederacy."
Early's mission was twofold: retake the Valley, because without its ripening wheat, tasseling corn and fattening cattle the Army of Northern Virginia would starve; and threaten the North, as Lee had done in 1862 and 1863, so that the politicians in Washington City would demand protection and weaken Grant's tightening stranglehold on Richmond.
Jubal's glory days had come indeed. The Second Corps went swinging into Lynchburg, confronted Hunter's advancing army, snapped his nerve like a cheap sword and chased him back into the Valley he had conquered, across it, and then out of it again into the fastnesses of the West Virginia mountains. Then, reorganized as the Army of the Valley, Early's men punched into the soft underbelly of the North, smashed another Federal army on the banks of Maryland's Monocacy River, and staggered through the searing July heat to the very gates of Washington. They formed up in Rockville, Maryland, in sight of the United States Capitol, and opened fire. They nearly changed history when they shot down a man standing next to the Federal president, watching the affair from the ramparts of an earthen fort. But at the very least, as Early put it, they "scared Abe Lincoln like hell."
They had had to fall back, through Leesburg into the Shenandoah again, but that was all right, no one had really expected that they could capture Washington or stay for long in the North. The important thing was that they had drawn off nearly two full corps from Grant's Army of the Potomac, had taken that much pressure off Lee. They lashed and stung the invaders over and over again, surprising them at Snicker's Ferry, routing them at Kernstown, confusing them at Berryville. Every so often they dashed north and tore up the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and the cavalry went back into Pennsylvania and burned Chambersburg, until the Federals from Abe Lincoln on down were beside themselves with helpless fury. It was like the old days under Stonewall, when another Federal drive on Richmond had been sapped of its strength by the need to swat flies in the Valley.
A terrible weariness afflicted the North. Newspapers and politicians decried the lack of victories, the terrible cost of the war, the incompetence of Lincoln. The president privately despaired of his chances for re-election, and began laying plans for turning over to his successor a fatally diminished office —President of the Divided States. His opposition nominated as his opponent George McClellan, who once boasted he would win the war but now simply said he would declare it over.
Yet somehow, for a third time the Federal army came rolling south in the Valley, now reinforced and led by Grant's vigorous young protégé, Major General Philip H. Sheridan. On the morning of September 19, the Federals came boiling west out of Berryville Canyon and up from Opequon Creek to smash into the young Major General Dodson Ramseur's division west of Winchester, with the rest of the Army of the Valley strung out for miles along the Pike. Ramseur's men fought ferociously, the rest of the army struggled to their support, and at mid-day were still holding off the massive Federal assault. Then the Federal cavalry and George Crook's Army of West Virginia crashed in on their left, they couldn't stand it any more, and they had run.
Only as far as Fisher's Hill. That was the Confederate Gibraltar, a sharp hill across the throat of the main valley south of Strasburg. Early had almost enough men left to cover the four miles from the snout of Massanutten Mountain, looming over Strasburg, to Little North Mountain, the first range of the Appalachians to the west. But not quite, and on the morning of September 22 there came Crook again, from the woods to the west. He had flanked them completely, and the army had run again. Ever since, they had been skulking around in the Blue Ridge watching the bastards burn the Valley.
Early would not admit defeat. Even years later he continued to take an odd, inverse pride in having avoided "utter annihilation" at Winchester. He claimed that his escape demonstrated the "incapacity of my opponent," who, Early thought, "ought to have been cashiered." Nor did he feel responsible for the debacle at Fisher's Hill. "The enemy's immense superiority in cavalry and the inefficiency of the greater part of mine," he told Lee, "has been the cause of all my disasters." 32
Thus the sullen look as the sodden men filed back out into the Valley on October 1st; thus when their commanding general rode along their column they did not raise a cheer as they used to do for Stonewall, they did not even acknowledge him. No one saluted. The men did not look at him, and he did not look at them. He rode and they walked, for the moment in the same direction, out into the Valley after an army that had whipped them twice, and outnumbered them two to one. They were going, but they were not sure that they were going to follow Old Jube into another battle. The soldier who had written pessimistically about the cause of the Confederacy was similarly somber about the state of the Army of the Valley. "Many of the rank and file expressed the belief," he wrote, "that our army would not repel an attack with the same courage and composure as formerly." 33
The strands that bound each individual soldier to his duty—concern for his comrades, pride in his unit, confidence in his commanders, belief in his cause, and of course courage—when unbroken formed a web strong enough to propel men unflinchingly toward chaos and death. But the individual threads were fragile, especially vulnerable to incompetence and pointless sacrifice, and in Jubal Early's army they were fraying badly.
This frailty was spotted from above as well as below. Lee, for all his ruthlessness in battle, was the gentlest of commanders when it came to his subordinates; he made suggestions rather than give orders, and sketched objectives in the broadest possible outlines, trusting his commanders to achieve them in their own way. He was exceedingly slow to criticize, and in this light the gentle admonition sent to Early after Fisher's Hill takes on a sharper edge than is immediately apparent: "As far as I can judge, at this distance, you have operated more with divisions than with your concentrated strength." There was truth in this, but even though Lee consistently underestimated the number of Federal troops opposing Early in the Valley, he had not lost confidence in Old Jube. "One victory," he added, "will put all things right." 34
What Lee did not say was that the victory had better come soon, for powerful forces were gathering to bring Early down. They were being led by none other than the governor of Virginia—William ("Extra Billy") Smith. (The nickname derived from his extraordinary ability to think up additional charges to sweeten a Federal mail-carrying contract he once had.)
Old Jube and Extra Billy had had a long acquaintanceship. Smith had been governor of Virginia before—it was he who commissioned Early a major of volunteers for the Mexican war. Smith had been elected to the Confederate Congress and commissioned a colonel of volunteers at the outset of the War Between the States, and had divided his time since between fighting and debating. His regiment had been in Early's brigade at Antietam, where Smith had been wounded; and the following year the former governor had been promoted to brigadier general and given command of a brigade in Early's division. In May of 1863, Smith had been elected to a second term as governor, but since he did not take office until January he first went along on the Gettysburg campaign. During the maneuvering that preceded that fateful battle, there occurred an incident that may have contributed to Smith's interest in procuring Early's scalp.
On the evening of June 27, Extra Billy had been leading his brigade through York, Pennsylvania, 30 miles from Gettysburg, watched by a fearful assembly of the town's citizens. It was not in Smith's makeup to resist such an opportunity; he drew up his horse, halted his men and commenced making a speech. It was, as he recalled it, a "rattling, humorous speech" designed to reassure the locals that the Confederates, as he put it, "are not burning your houses or butchering your children. On the contrary, we are behaving ourselves like Christian gentlemen, which we are." The problem was that Smith's brigade was in the van of the division, and just as he was getting warmed up and comfortable with his captive audience, an enraged Jubal Early came clawing his way through the jammed street to grab the orator by the shirt-front and roar, "General Smith! What in the devil are you about, stopping the head of this column in this accursed town?" The governor-elect resumed the march, but perhaps he did not forget the humiliation. 35
At any rate, during the last week of September Smith began an exchange with General Lee on the subject of relieving Jubal Early from command. A long Sunday conversation with Lee on September 25 had apparently encouraged Smith to follow up. So when he received a letter from one of Early's officers complaining about a march made on October 1, and whining about things in general, Smith gleefully forwarded it to Lee. The men had marched, the unnamed officer wrote, "in the hardest, coldest and bleakest storm of the season." They had left Waynesboro just when a shipment of shoes was expected, only to march 25 miles to Mount Crawford, on the Valley Pike south of Harrisonburg, to camp for several days. And that was not all. The disjointed litany of complaints condemned Early for being "surprised at Winchester," for not putting his whole army into his battles at once, for losing 25 cannons to the enemy, and for his character. "I believe the good of the country requires that General Early should not be kept in command of this army," Governor Smith's informant wrote, "and I believe it is the sentiment of the army." 36
He had other such reports "from high sources," Extra Billy told Lee, but saw no need for further evidence. The case was clear, and the helpful governor had even worked out a whole series of changes and transfers that would accomplish the object of removing Early: "I implore prompt and immediate action."
General Lee's response was uncharacteristically brusque. "I regret to see such grave charges made against General Early," he said. "As far as I have been able to judge at this distance, he has conducted the military affairs in the Valley well." Nothing more could or would be done, Lee said, unless he was given the name of the officer who had written the letter: "Justice to General Early requires that I should inform him of the accusations made against him and of the name of his accuser."
This was not at all what Extra Billy had in mind. In a huffy response that repeatedly emphasized his exalted station, Extra Billy quoted Lee as having said that if public opinion turned against Early, he should be removed: "I respectfully ask how you were to learn that sentiment? Certainly by communications from some quarter, and what quarter more entitled to respect and appreciation than the Governor of Virginia?"
Lee terminated the exchange with a letter whose tone managed to be at the same time correct and scornful, respectful and unyielding. He had never intended to be guided by "public opinion," Lee said, but by the opinion of the army—which was to say, by people who knew what they were talking about. "You necessarily know only what others tell you, and, like myself, are dependent for the accuracy of your information upon the character of your informant. The reports that have reached me as to several of the subjects of complaint against General Early differ from those you have received." And there was no doubt in Lee's mind about whose informant had more character.
"You will readily perceive," wrote Lee, flirting with sarcasm, "the little importance to be attached to the statement of a subordinate officer as to the propriety of any movement when he does not profess to know the reasons which induced his superior to order it." Lee professed not to know why Early had advanced again, and then went on to explain exactly why: Lee had directed that Early advance as soon as the enemy force showed signs of retreating, in order to inflict "such injury as he could," to force the Federals to concentrate instead of spreading out "to devastate and plunder," and to "restore confidence and heart to his own command." In any case, said Lee in tones as curt as he ever used, "I do not propose to enter into any argument on these points." Extra Billy was for the moment rebuffed, but he and others like him were wheeling over Old Jube's reputation like the turkey buzzards that blackened the Valley's sky after a battle.
Thus under attack from superiors and subordinates, plagued by unfulfilled ambitions, strange failings and secret doubts, Jubal Early put his discouraged army into camp on the Valley Pike in that cold October rain, ready to do what the beloved Lee had asked of him. Tom Rosser was on the way from Richmond with a brigade of cavalry, and as soon as he arrived Early was going to attack, outnumbered or not.
Repeatedly, Lee urged him on, almost begging him to be equal to his own intellect: "I have weakened myself very much to strengthen you. It was done with the expectation of enabling you to gain such success that you could return the troops if not rejoin me yourself. I know you have endeavored to gain that success, and believe you have done all in your power to insure it. You must not be discouraged, but continue to try. I rely upon your judgment and ability." 37
If Old Jube's persistence seemed to some more demented than courageous, that was because they did not know what was being required of him— and because they did not yet know the end of the story. As it stood on October 1, it had all the ingredients of a triumphant epic or an inevitable tragedy. The final chapter would cast its shadow backwards over all that had gone before, and the final chapter would be written on the banks of Cedar Creek.