Jubal Anderson Early was born in Franklin County, Virginia, the son of a prominent old line family. He attended local schools and academies, then graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1837. He served briefly in the Second Seminole War, but resigned from the army in 1838.
Early practiced law in Virginia, became active in politics and was elected to the state legislature. Following the outbreak of the War with Mexico in 1846, Early reentered the service, but soon returned to his practice. He was widely admired for his legal abilities, but his personality frequently caused friction; he was profane, opinionated, and sarcastic.
Early was a vocal opponent of secession in the Virginia Convention in 1861, but once war broke out he accepted appointment as a colonel in the Confederate Army. He saw action at First Bull Run and was wounded at Williamsburg. Promoted to brigadier general, he later served at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.
In 1864, Early was appointed by Lee to head an army in the Shenandoah Valley, which was intended to divert Union attention from Confederate positions in Richmond and Petersburg. Early’s efforts brought immediate success, driving the Union forces under David Hunter out of the area. His army proceeded down the valley to the outskirts of Washington, D.C.
For months he was able to avoid disaster at the hands of superior forces, but the tide turned in the fall of 1864. Early’s force was shattered by a series of defeats at the hands of Philip Sheridan. In March 1865, George A. Custer decisively defeated Early’s force at Waynesboro, Pennsylvania — an event that opened the door to Richmond.
Some historians have speculated that the Valley Campaign lengthened the war by more than six months. Nevertheless, public pressure forced Lee to remove Early from his command shortly before the war ended.
Early avoided capture by Federal soldiers until he was able to plan his exile. He moved first to Mexico and later to Canada. In 1868, Early was pardoned by Andrew Johnson, although he never took the oath of allegiance to the United States.
In his remaining years, Early practiced law in Lynchburg and served as president of the Southern Historical Society. In the latter capacity he did much to establish the reputation of Robert E. Lee and he engaged in a literary war against James Longstreet, who had opposed Lee’s Gettysburg strategy.
Early was also involved with P.G.T. Beauregard in the notorious Louisiana lottery.