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Jubal Early: Robert E. Lee’s “Bad Old Man”

 Benjamin Franklin Cooling III Rowman & Littlefield

“I wish them all in Hell,” muttered Jubal Early as he watched the Union withdrawal after the bloodletting at Fredericksburg in 1862. His comment was markedly different from the more reflective tone taken by Robert E. Lee, but illustrated Early’s irascible temperament and growing disdain for his opponents. Benjamin Franklin Cooling III pulls from an impressive set of primary sources, including the general’s own memoirs, previous biographies and articles, to satisfy the first question posed in this impressive study: “What do we really need to know about Jubal Anderson Early after 150 years?”

In stark contrast to many of Lee’s other “lieutenants,” Early has not been heavily covered. A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence was published by Early in 1866 and was followed by Autobiographical Sketch and Narrative of the War Between the States in 1912, which asserted Early’s position as the first notable Confederate figurehead to promote the “Lost Cause.” These books have colored much of the scholarship on Early until recently. Cooling deftly summarizes Early’s life by providing perspective on his personal life and the martial campaigns, especially his pre- and postwar experiences. He dives into finer points not previously explored while briefly contextualizing better-known events.

Cooling illustrates a continued decline in Early’s disposition, contrasted by his highs and lows as an army commander. Guided through an almost predictable course that plays out after the fall of 1864 until the war’s close, the reader is poised for the most emotional part of Early’s story. The final chapters are compelling—challenging the “Old Jube” we choose to remember. Ironically, Cooling ends by dismissing his opening question: “[A]fter 150 years, except for the aficionados, does it really matter?” Despite that, his book represents both an engaging text and also a rewarding research endeavor for Civil War aficionados.


Originally published in the April 2015 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.