Viewed in retrospect, Early was the most improbable member of the anti-secession coalition that dominated the convention and that believed disaster would befall the Old Dominion if it left the Union. He worked tirelessly to promote a Union-saving compromise that would halt secession in the Upper South and oblige the Lower South to reconsider its reckless course.
After a careful examination of the country, I proceeded to fortify the banks of the river at points likely to afford facilities for crossing, and I established a line of defence also along the main road running parallel with the river, where high embankments with cedar hedges on them afforded good cover for troops and excellent breastworks.... New roads were constructed in rear of the line of defence out of reach of artillery from the opposite bank, for the purpose of facilitating communication between the different positions, and two Whitworth guns... were placed on a high hill in rear of Port Royal…. We were compelled to haul our supplies in wagons from Guiney's Depot on the railroad, and as the winter was a severe one with much snow and rain, the country roads, which we had to use, became almost impassible from the mud, and we were compelled to employ the men for a considerable time in corduroying them at the worst places.
But once the war started, he committed to the Confederate States of America and never let go, becoming one of Robert E. Lee’s corps commanders by the last year of the war. Then, during the postwar era, he became the quintessential promoter of “Lost Cause” mythology, which airbrushed slavery as a cause of the conflict and instead celebrated the heroic fight by outnumbered white Southerners, who sought only to vindicate their honor and maintain their rights.