On this day in 1816, Confederate General Jubal Early is born in Franklin County, Virginia. Early had a distinguished career in the Confederate army, and in 1864 he waged a campaign in the Shenandoah Valley that kept Confederate hopes alive by relieving the pressure on General Robert E. Lee's army around Richmond, Virginia.
Early graduated from West Point in 1837, fought in Florida's Seminole War in 1838 and was promoted to first lieutenant but resigned later that year. He studied in Virginia and was elected to the State House of Delegates in 1841. When war with Mexico broke out in 1846, Early rejoined the military as a colonel in the Virginia volunteers. He served in General Zachary Taylor's army but saw no combat. Early left the service in 1848 to resume his political career. In 1861, he was elected to Virginia's secession convention as a pro-Union delegate, and he strongly opposed secession. Despite his opposition, Early offered his service to the Confederacy when Virginia left the Union on April 17, 1861.
Commissioned as a colonel in the 24th Virginia Infantry, Early played a key role at the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, in July 1861, when he led a crucial counterattack against the Union's right flank. He was promoted to brigadier general and soon earned a reputation as a highly effective commander. In 1863, his force played important roles in the battles of Chancellorsville, Virginia, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. By 1864, he was considered one of the best division commanders in the Army of Northern Virginia. In the spring campaigns of 1864, Early took over command of a corps when Richard Ewell was wounded, and earned high marks from his commander, General Robert E. Lee. When that campaign turned into a siege at Petersburg, Lee tapped Early to lead a force of 14,000 to the Shenandoah Valley.
Early's campaign that summer was initially successful. He drove a Union force from the valley, then turned down the Potomac River to Washington, D.C. In early July, he reached the outskirts of the capital, and the Union commander, General Ulysses S. Grant, had to divert two corps from his army at Petersburg to defend Washington. Early did not intend to attack the formidable defenses there, so he withdrew back to the Shenandoah by the end of July. Early's activities boosted Southern morale and showed Northerners how difficult it would be to defeat the Confederacy. Grant dispatched General Philip Sheridan and 40,000 troops to neutralize Early's army. Sheridan dealt two serious defeats to Early in September at Winchester and Fischer's Hill, but Early struck back at Cedar Creek in October. Early's men drove the surprised Federals back several miles before Sheridan personally rallied them and routed the Confederates. Early waged a fine campaign, but by the end of October his force was defeated and badly outnumbered. When Sheridan took control of the Shenandoah Valley, an important Confederate resource was lost.
Early was relieved of command just before the Confederate surrender in April 1865, an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise stellar career. He fled to Mexico after the war, and, after a stint in Canada, returned to the United States under a general amnesty granted to former Confederates. He practiced law, ran the Louisiana state lottery, and was an architect of the "Lost Cause" movement, with much of his work aimed at protecting the reputation of Robert E. Lee. Early died in 1894 in Virginia at age 77.