Tag Archives: Primary Sources

“Jubal Early is Simply the Incarnation of Imbecility”

 

jubalearly

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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Two Tales from Pvt. Ball

 

Confederate cavalry Frank LesliePrivate William Ball was two weeks short of his 18th birthday when he fought in the 11th Virginia cavalry at Tom’s Brook. His post-war manuscript memoir resting in the Virginia Historical Society reveals a genial man who liked to tell an amusing anecdote. He relates two incidents that occurred after the flight from Coffman’s Hill–the first so odd as to be scarcely credible and the second perfectly believable

In the first story, Ball states he and a sidekick came upon a lone rider sitting in a field. Ball says he at first thought it was a Northerner, but he claims he soon learned the solitary horseman was a none other than Thomas Rosser. Ball supports the strange-but-interesting assertion with a few details intended to promote verisimilitude. “The general questioned us closely, but we could give him no information,” he admitted,  “so he ordered us to follow him and act as couriers until he found his lost sheep. We followed him at a respectful distance. After so long a time, we came in sight of a house, and he rode up and asked if he could get some buttermilk. While he was drinking, two buxom lassies came over to interview us, and one of the maidens asked, ‘Is that General Rosser?’ and upon being answered in the affirmative, she remarked, ‘He’s a mighty pretty man.’ And he surely was, not pretty, but very handsome in form and feature.” Ball did not fail to point out that he and his friend did not share any of the buttermilk.

The second tale rings absolutely true in suggesting that even after a whipping the troopers could find something to smile about. Ball explains that when he at last found his regiment that night, he and his comrades were too tired to exchange stories of the day. By the next night, he recalled “we had regained our cheerfulness, and swapped stories and jokes over our experiences on that fateful day.” In the timeless tradition of soldiers making superiors the butt of their jokes, Ball and his comrades laughed at the expense of the shoulder straps. One of Ball’s chums declared that in the retreat he thought he “was making the fastest time on record, but when that officer came by me, I thought my horse was tied to the fence.”

Source: William Selwyn Ball, Reminiscences, MSS5:1B2106:1, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia.