Tag Archives: Jubal A. Early

“Jubal Early is Simply the Incarnation of Imbecility”

 

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Few figures of the Civil War era have been as celebrated and as reviled as General Jubal Anderson Early. Some loved him as a patriot and a hero. Others despised his egotism and grotesque personality. Unshakably loyal to his ideas and to his friends, Early earned the trust and support of Robert E. Lee. But as a confirmed bachelor of fixed habits, Early could be repulsive. His alcoholism and coarse language, his caustic “wit,” and his fondness for prostitutes repelled many peers and subordinates. His failure in the Shenandoah Valley in the final months of the war made him an easy scapegoat for Confederates looking for someone to blame, and his abrasive nature and unconventional personal habits gave his critics plenty of ammunition to use against him.

While even his enemies conceded Early’s intelligence and commitment to principle, his many faults made him so objectionable to those around him that many wrote vehement criticisms of his pride, vulgarity, intemperance and irascibility. In many ways he is even more controversial in the 21st century than he was among his contemporaries. While his gifts for sarcasm and mockery make him an icon among unapologetic, unrepentant curmudgeons, Early’s ardent, often vicious, post-war writings and speeches on behalf of Lee and the Confederacy make him a prime target for modern writers who approve of neither his views nor his methods.

Decision at Tom’s Brook discusses one of Early’s many post-war controversies. In 1884, General Thomas Rosser publicly blamed Early for the disastrous defeat at Tom’s Brook, and Early responded in the pages of a Richmond newspaper. Rosser, a controversialist throughout his life, made charges against Early without offering a shred of verifiable evidence. In the absence of proof, Rosser’s attacks seem an attempt to shift responsibility onto an unpopular man whose many enemies would welcome more mud to sling. Rosser did indeed find support and fellowship among some former Confederates who loathed Early. For pure vitriol, few haters of Early could match the articulate and venomous Alexander Hunter of Virginia.

hunter alexander croppedJust 18 when he enlisted in 1861, Hunter served as a Confederate infantryman early in the war and later in the 4th Virginia Cavalry. He was wounded twice, captured thrice and spent months in Federal prisons. He came to loathe Jubal Early with an uncommon vehemence. In mid-1884, two decades after the Valley Campaign, while Rosser and Early were publicly mauling each other in the press, Hunter stepped forward to back Rosser. Though a stranger to Rosser, Hunter sent the general a blistering rebuke of Early and reassured Rosser that he had the support of “every fair minded soldier in the old A.N.Va.” From his home in Washington, D.C. Hunter wrote his letter on the letterhead of the “Washington Aid Association for the Ex-Confederate Soldiers,” on which Hunter was listed as financial secretary. Misspellings, omissions and errors in syntax have been retained.

June 6, 1884

Gen Thos L. Rosser.

My Dear General,

Though personally unknown to you, yet being from the same state and belonging to the same army, I cannot resist the inclination to write to you, and to endorse every word of your communication to Jubal Early, who by the grace of the devil and the temporary aberration of Gen Lee was placed in command of the army in the valley.

The Richmond State of June 4 published your communication of May 30 – without comments – and I know it was endorsed by every fair minded soldier in the old A.N.Va.

I belonged to the Black Horse – 4th Va. Cav. Fitz Lees old Brigade–and being in the valley I know whereof I write; With a good leader, we could have taken Washington + Baltimore for never was there a more splendid set of troops than those given to Early in the Campaign of ‘64. But the rank and file soon lost confidence in him + after awhile this feeling changed into contempt + was then followed by a bitterness of hatred, and lothesome [sic] disgust for the man – that you officers high in rank could never understand. Indeed so bitter is it, that at the summer watering places when the (“) old hero surrounded by a set of self constituted admirers and in his glory (being about three quarters drunk – which is his normal condition) Yet not a single private in his command was ever known to go up to him and give him that affectionate greeting that the Rank + file to loved to [sic] honor their old commanders.

His whole record is blunder after blunder; and after he had utterly ruined the finest army that [illegible] along the Valley Turnpike, [sic] hated and despised by his troops—mocked at by his officers, and removed by his general officer, he sunk into retirement that in all good taste should have been as final as that of Pemberton, Lovell and Huger[1]; but when the war was over, this despicable old man came to the front and commenced to make war against his old foes and set himself up as the Exponent of the Lost Cause, God save the Mark.”[2] We all know that but for that man, we would have been a grand Empire to day. It is Jubal Early that undertakes to make history, to puff up that officer who scratches his back and vilify that officer that disagrees with him. He rushes into print upon every occasion possible, and makes himself the hero of the grand old Army of Northern Virginia. He strikes at Gordon that ideal soldier. He sneers at Mosby[3]. He fercily [sic] assails Longstreet + Mahone[4] and would uncork the vials of wrath upon Gen. R.E. Lee for removing him were he not afraid. And look at the soldiers he compliments. Billy Payne, a roystering fellow like Cassio, but no soldier[5]. Bev Robinson,[6] who can court a pretty girl, tell a good anecdote + always has a flask of whiskey in his haversack. Lomax[7], who – well nobody ever heard of Lomax doing anything good or bad, and a whole hosts of others who form a select coterie.

And to see this old reprobate as I have seen him, dressed in his gray semi uniform, maudlin drunk in the lobby of the Exchange Hotel in Richmond during the last Convention, publically before hundreds of people, embracing every negro chambermaid that passed through the hall, made his degradation complete. It only needs to be told that this grand old Hero has lived since the war by giving his name and fame, for a stated salary, to that swindling concern called the Louisiana Lottery, which annually robs thousands of credulous people of his own state out of their hard earned money.

You may think I write bitterly, and from a personal grievance, but it is not so, I never spoke to Early in my life, but I served under him, and have watched his course since the war, and like any *every Virginia soldier who was commanded by him, I look upon him as the greatest foe the South ever had, and the prayer has often escaped my lips during those dark days of ‘64 when we were racing up the turnpike, or skulking in the bushes, “Good Lord deliver us from our friends.”

Jubal Early is simply the incarnation of imbecility, conceit, envy, and brutal lusts, + so foul mouth and obscene that he resembles a satyr more than a man.

If he strikes with his malign envy at you, deal with him without gloves + every man who ever swung himself in saddle or loped in a dog trot with his musket on his shoulder, will endorse and applaud you.

As far as I am concerned you can use this letter as you wish. My name and standing in Virginia are sufficiently well known. What I write is strictly true, and like old Captain Cuttle[8] “what I says I stands to.”

Yours Very Truly

Alex Hunter

1224 New York Ave, Wash DC

P.S. For an estimate of what our own officers think of Early  I commend Col. R. L. Maury in Southern Historical Society Papers, p. 285, on Early at Williamsburg.: Longstreet in same Magazine, p. 258. Early at Gettysburg, Swinton Campaigns p. 527, Early’s failure to take Washington, all which shows what he really is – a military Charlatan.

Source: Alexander Hunter to Thomas L. Rosser, June 6, 1884, Papers of Thomas L. Rosser and the Rosser, Gordon and Winston Families, Acc. 1171-a, Box 1, Correspondence of Thomas Lafayette Rosser 1884-1904, Special Collections, University of Virginia.

[1] Former Confederate generals John C. Pemberton, Mansfield Lovell and Benjamin Huger

[2] “God save the mark” served as an expression of contempt or derision.

[3] Former Confederate colonel, John S. Mosby

[4] Former Confederate generals James Longstreet and William Mahone

[5] Former Confederate general William H. F. Payne. Cassio was is a character in Shakespeare’s “Tragedy of Othello.”

[6] Former Confederate general Beverly Robertson

[7] Former Confederate general Lunsford L. Lomax

[8] A character in the novel Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens.

For more of Hunter’s judgments on Early, see Alexander Hunter, Johnny Reb and Billy Yank. New York: The Neale Publishing Co, 1905, pp. 649-660.

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R.E. Lee Calls for Investigation into Tom’s Brook

By evening of October 9, 1864, Lt. Gen. Jubal Early knew for certain that his cavalry had been beaten badly that day. Early likely spoke personally with Gen. Lunsford Lomax, whose cavalry division had retreated to near Early’s headquarters at New Market. Even before hearing from his other cavalry commander, Gen. Thomas Rosser, Early dutifully reported the news to his superior, Gen. Robert E. Lee:

NEW MARKET, October 9, 1864.

GENERAL: Rosser, in command of his own brigade and the two brigades of Fitz Lee’s division, and Lomax, with two brigades of his own cavalry, were ordered to pursue the enemy, to harass him and ascertain his purposes, while I remained here, so as to be ready to move east of the Ridge if necessary, and I am sorry to inform you that the enemy, having concentrated his whole cavalry in his rear, attacked them and drove them back this morning from near Fisher’s Hill, capturing nine pieces of horse artillery and eight or ten wagons. Their loss in men is, I understand, slight. I have not heard definitely from Rosser, but he is, I understand, falling back in good order, having rallied his command, which is on what is called the Back road, which is west of the pike; but Lomax’s command, which was on the pike, came back to this place in confusion.

Rosser soon reported his defeat to Early via dispatch, but he did not elaborate on his losses or the events of the day. Early would have to wait until his commanders filed official reports before he could know the magnitude of the defeat.

Three days later, Lee replied to Early. As usual, Lee filled his letter with encouragement and practical suggestions. Lee addressed many problems, large and small, including the ineffectiveness of Early’s cavalry.

The last defeat of your cavalry (on the 9th) is much to be regretted. It may have proceeded from bad management, and I wish you to investigate it. I would not for the present send them too far from your main body, or allow them to hazard too much. Although the enemy’s cavalry may exceed ours in numbers, and I know it does in equipment, still we have always been able to cope with them to advantage, and can do so again by proper management. You have the greater proportion of the cavalry in Virginia and it must be made effective. The men are good and only require to be properly commanded. I wish you would bring every officer who misbehaves before a board of examiners, or a court-martial, as their cases require, and have their conduct investigated.

Early never found the time to fully investigate the defeat at Tom’s Brook. Events moved the armies swiftly onward to other crises, and just a week after Lee suggested an investigation Early’s entire army was badly beaten at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Because Rosser never filed a report, Early never learned the true extent of the losses at Tom’s Brook, and not until Decision at Tom’s Brook was published in 2016 was Lee’s request for an inquiry into possible “bad management” complied with. Rosser, the man responsible for the disaster, deflected responsibility onto subordinate officers, evaded censure, and instead was promoted to major general.

Sources: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Volume 43, pt. 1, p. 579 and Volume 43, pt. 2, p. 893

 

 

 

 

 

Rosser the Cavalry Theorist? (part 2)

 

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Eduard Detaille’s “Charge of the 4th Hussars at the Battle of Friedland (Vive L Empereur)” portrays the best use of cavalry as envisioned by theorists in the mid-19th century.

In a previous post, I addressed the question of whether Rosser’s abilities as a cavalry commander extended beyond the realm of elementary tactics. I noted that we have some evidence–including Tom’s Brook–that suggests Rosser’s capabilities did not even go so far as a mastery of elementary tactics. I implied that judgment and discretion were not prominent among Rosser’s gifts and that the historical record suggests that spirit, instinct, physical courage and stamina defined his style of aggressive leadership. I then called attention to Rosser’s 1868 letter to George Taylor Denison, III, and in this second part of the two-part post will offer some background to the letter with comments.

The story behind the letter, like many good stories of the Civil War period, involves Jubal Early. The cranky Early fled into self-exile in 1865 rather than live in the same country with the victorious Yankees. From Canada, he looked across the Niagara River into New York and felt only loathing at sight of the stars and stripes flying over Fort Niagara and its Federal garrison. The flag Early had once served as a young officer in the U. S. Army now only reminded him of “a barber pole.” In Canada, Early met George Denison, a former militia officer and a budding historian. Denison’s passion for military history, and especially for the cavalry, led him to research and publish two still-respected books, Modern Cavalry (1868) and History of Cavalry (1877). At Early’s urging, Denison solicited opinions from former Confederate cavalrymen, including Fitzhugh Lee, S. D. Lee, and Rosser. Rosser’s response survives as an appendix in Modern Cavalry, where Jubal Early found it after he and Rosser became bitter enemies in the 1880s. In the letter, Rosser referred to “my noble friend General Early,” but he later proved to be anything but a friend, and Early cited the letter as evidence in branding Rosser a hypocrite.

As with all writers of public prose, Rosser often composed through a persona, sometimes two. There is the man of sincerely held beliefs and there is also the manipulative schemer with an ulterior motive. It is difficult to determine how much of Rosser’s letter to Denison is sincere and how much is intended to inflate Rosser’s reputation as a military man. Rosser drops four names that suggest he knew some history and theory of the use of cavalry in combat. The two most recognizable names are of Napoleon’s famed cavalry commanders Michel Ney and Joachim Murat (aka “First Horseman of Europe”). Less famous, outside of military circles, was the name Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Seydlitz, commander of Frederick the Great’s Prussian cavalry in the Seven Years’ War. Rosser’s reference to Lewis Edward Nolan, a British cavalry officer, suggests familiarity with Nolan’s important text Cavalry: Its History and Tactics, published in Europe before the American Civil War and reprinted in South Carolina in 1864. Much of what Rosser shares with Denison are lessons born of practical experience, but these lessons do not seem to extend beyond the knowledge of an experienced regimental or even company officer. Rosser’s recommendations about the most suitable weapons for cavalry, for example, are so obvious that hardly anyone could disagree. Rosser also makes a distinction between cavalry and mounted infantry. He argues that neither side in the Civil War used cavalry per se but only mounted infantry. This, too, is a valid idea, but, like the recommendations of weapons, it is a point so commonly made at the time that in making it Rosser is again only stating the obvious. Rosser’s letter offers no theoretical insights into the use of cavalry that he could not have gleaned either from casual conversations with other cavalry officers or from Nolan’s book.

Perhaps Rosser’s most interesting point is his assertion that cavalry’s only true and correct role is to attack. The assertion is interesting not because of what it might reveal about Rosser’s attributes as a theorist but of Rosser’s shortcomings as a combat commander.

Rosser’s statement that the strength of true cavalry rests only in its ability to deliver a severe shock to the enemy comes as no surprise because a craving for aggressive action dominated Rosser himself.  The argument that cavalry, to be most effective, had to use the speed of the horse and the power of the charge absolutely reflected Rosser’s personal predispositions. He charged first and stopped to think about it only later. This idea of the proper use of cavalry also happened to concur with the theories of Nolan, von Seydlitz, Ney, Murat and, eventually, Denison himself, so Rosser was firmly among the proponents of cavalry theory at the time. The key point, though, is that none of that mattered.

Cavalry was evolving, and the era of pure cavalry, as known by von Seydlitz, Murat, Ney and even Nolan, had passed. Technology had changed everything, as it always does, and Colts and Spencers and Henrys and Winchesters meant that every well-equipped cavalryman from 1863 onward would be a hybrid soldier and more mounted infantryman than chasseur.

TLRosserBandL75percentfeatured imageSo, while Rosser’s views regarding cavalry and the employment of it therefore agreed with the best authorities of his time, those views were based on facts so obvious and apparent to every observer that they seem hardly worth making. More interesting is the question of how the evolution of cavalry in the 1860s affected Rosser’s career. Given Rosser’s gifts for command and his inherent preference of vigorous and immediate mounted charges, might he have been a great cavalry commander born too late? If he had been able to command “pure” cavalry as it had been used a generation or two earlier rather than the hybrid troopers of the 1860s that masqueraded as cavalry but were in truth mounted infantrymen, perhaps Rosser would have excelled as a cavalry general. Instead fate assigned to Rosser the more complex task of handling mounted infantry in combat, which called for a flexibility and subtlety that Rosser did not possess. . .at least not at Tom’s Brook.

 

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Louis Braun’s watercolor captures the aggressive spirit of Von Seydlitz

Postscript: In his Cavalry from Hoof to Track (2007), historian Roman Johann Jarymowycz includes two vibrant quotes that enliven Seydlitz and suggest that he and Rosser were kindred spirits as cavalrymen. Jarymowycz writes: “Von Seydlitz was the complete cavalry commander; he excelled at all military virtues and petty vices. He embraced base temptations as recklessly as he faced danger. The outspoken, heavy drinking officer was a rogue’s rogue as well as a cavalier’s cavalier.” The Prussian also trained his cavalrymen under war-like conditions, exercising them at full gallop over rough terrain. Predictably, such demanding training produced many injuries and even deaths, for which the king reproached Van Seydlitz. The general replied, “If you make such fuss about a few broken necks, your Majesty will never have the bold horsemen you require for the field.” pp. 70-71.