Thursday, April 14, 2011

I'm a Little Late in Learning About Early

Daniel Crofts's post about Jubal Early on the Times's Disunion blog ( was the first I'd read about the "Bad Old Man" having been opposed to secession. Obviously, I should not have skipped the preface of Early's book about the war. Crofts tells us:
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.
From what I've read by Early and about him, however, he seemed a thoroughly disagreeable and stubborn old man, who who was just as skilled at advancing his own interests as he was at commanding men on the field of battle. Early was said to be hyper critical of his subordinates, and Henry Brown Richardson must have suffered when he served as Early's Engineering Officer during the long, cold winter of 1863, when the division was encamped east of Fredericksburg. Henry never complained, however, despite the heavy work load the old man laid on him. In Early's book he writes about the engineering work undertaken during that winter:
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.
Of course, It was Henry who organized and supervised this work, but Early probably didn't even remember his name.
Crofts continues:
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.
As promoter of the "lost cause" meme, he was probably no worse than many others. What confirmed my negative opinion of Early, though, was his association with the Louisiana State Lottery during the post war years of Reconstruction and Redemption. Early and General P. G. T. Beauregard provided a front of respectability for this organization by officiating at the drawings, while the Lottery's corrupt backers made millions on the backs of Louisiana taxpayers for a quarter century.
In 1890, Henry's brother-in-law, Edgar Howard Farrar of New Orleans, took a leading role at the Anti-Lottery Democratic Convention, which helped bring down the Lottery machine. But that's another story to be expanded in a later post.

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