Featured Book Reviewer
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
Old Jube, A Biography of General Jubal A, Early by Millard Kessler Bushong, Ph.D.
Beidel Printing House, Shippensburg, PA, 1955
Third Edition and Printing, 1985
343 pp. Including Footnotes, Bibliography, and Index
Millard Bushong's Old Jube was one of the first attempts to produce a "modern" biography of the cantankerous and controversial Confederate commander, now possibly best-known as one of the founders of the Lost Cause school of Confederate history and historiography. Since in the 1950's when this book was first written, however, the current revisionist outcry against that interpretation of events was yet to be heard, that aspect of his career is unfortunately mostly left untouched other than his literary position as editor and writer, and it is instead logically his military career that is the focus. The principal weakness of Bushong's book is that it resembles others I've read wherein the story of a man is told mainly through his works, in this case the actions of the various units he led throughout his career both in the Regular United States Army and that of the new Southern Confederacy. In short, there is relatively little of the man himself, which is certainly too bad, considering what a colorful character Jubal Anderson Early was.
I am particularly aware of a glaring example of this omission, completely through the accident of knowing one of his descendants; forgive me if I digress a bit from the book itself. We learn early on the well-known fact of Jubal's lifelong bachelorhood, supposedly on account of rejection by a lady love he met while on leave while he was still a cadet at West Point; however, his familiar apparent resultant dislike of members of the fair sex goes largely unstated or underplayed, leaving this important aspect of anyone's life a blank. But according to my friend and Jubal's great-great-great grandson, Early sired no fewer than four or five illegitimate children in the 1840's and 1850's while living in Virginia as a lawyer and State legislator! Although for some reason he steadfastly refused to marry the lady in question, he nevertheless recognized and allowed each of the children the Early surname, eventually parceling them out to his relatives before or once the war came. (Many seem to have adopted the names of their new families due to the notoriety of their father, especially following the war when he temporarily became a wanted man.) Sadly, nothing this titillating is to be found in the pages of Bushong's book.
Instead, we the readers are left with a fairly competent, if pedestrian, account of Early's very real accomplishments in the military sphere, especially with the coming of the Civil War. When war came, lawyer Early first served as a member of the Virginia Secession Convention from Franklin County, notably voting against. However, once secession became a reality, Early quickly offered his services to his native state, becoming Colonel of the 24th Virginia after organizing it and several other regiments in Lynchburg at the behest of the commander of Virginia's State forces, Robert E. Lee. In this capacity, Early served at First Manassas/Bull Run, taking command of a brigade including his own 24th Virginia, where he made the final assault on the Union troops and participated in the brief pursuit. Early had gained the reputation as an aggressive and competent leader who was a prime candidate for greater things, soon to be realized in the campaigns of the following year.
1863 was a watershed for the Confederacy, the Army of Northern Virginia, and Jubal Early: at its beginning he remained unsatisfied as the "temporary" head of a division, which he had led with notable success at Fredericksburg, prompting him to threaten his resignation; soon, now "officially" promoted, he was to lead it in the campaigns of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. The loss of his mentor Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville and Early's own stalwart performance at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg and Salem Church secured him a place as senior division commander in the Second Corps, now led by Richard Ewell, with whom Early worked well until a mysterious and unexplained incident the following year caused a rift between the two when Ewell ordered Early arrested and threatened with court-martial. (The commander-in-chief himself interceded to put this to rest prior to the campaigns of 1864.) The invasion of Pennsylvania followed, with Early again performing well in the Second Battle of Winchester and the first day at Gettysburg, marred only perhaps by his deliberate destruction of the iron foundry owned by Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens. One major revelation to me, however, came in the following winter when Old Jube was sent to first take charge in the Shenandoah Valley, largely directing operations of the disorganized Confederate cavalry he came to seemingly despise! He remained there until active operations brought him back to the main army in time for the Overland Campaign.
Early's greatest challenge and the one given the most attention came in 1864 at the head of his own division, and then leading the old Second Corps replacing Ewell. One of the author's greatest accusations against his subject is that while leading his division in the Wilderness, he missed a golden opportunity to crush the Federal right, instead temporizing with Ewell until Lee himself intervened, alas, too late to do more than drive the Union right back, though capturing many prisoners in the process. This reveals one of author Bushong's weaknesses - a tendency to rely too much on accounts like those of Early's subordinate John B. Gordon who has by now become discredited himself as an unbiased witness to Early and his career. Later, we again hear Gordon's story of the fight at Cedar Creek, resulting in the rout of Early's Army of the Valley and dashing of Confederate hopes in the Shenandoah. Following this debacle, Early's infantry were steadily withdrawn, leaving him with only the shadow of an unreliable cavalry force with which to contest the conquest of the valley by Phil Sheridan's well-supplied host at the beginning of 1865. The rout at Waynesboro sealed the fate of the Confederates and their commander, who was ordered to return home and await a recall which never came. His tremendous manpower and supply difficulties while in command in the Valley were constantly downplayed in Richmond, largely for propaganda purposes, thereby making him a pariah in his own state with the Confederate politicians and the public. Unfortunately, although not blamed by Lee who understood the real situation for the defeat and loss of the Valley, this fact went unnoticed in the decline and fall of the Confederacy so soon thereafter.
Early, like many other former leaders, became a fugitive and was a hunted man, due to the destruction of property that had occurred at his behest during his independent command in the Shenandoah, notably the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania by cavalry under John McCausland acting on Early's direct orders. Now he traveled incognito, first to Cuba, then Mexico, and ultimately Canada before becoming satisfied that it was safe for him to return to Virginia. Resuming the practice of law, Early was at least able to support himself into the 1870's when fate took a more favorable turn, though somewhat unfortunately, it is this financial aspect of his subject's life that the author stresses rather than the truly personal or intellectual. Along with former General P. G. T. Beauregard, Early became one of the directors of the Louisiana State Lottery which paid the two handsome salaries that freed Early of his previous financial restraints in his old age. Old Jube is altogether an interesting if flawed look at one of Lee's principal lieutenants in the Army of Northern Virginia.