The absence of a comprehensive study of one of the Civil War’s most successful and colorful generals has been remedied by Charles Osborne’s well-researched and well-written biography of Jubal Early. One of Virginia’s most outspoken proponents of Unionism before the Act of Secession was passed in his home state, Early became a key military leader in the South’s battle for independence and one of the strongest voices raised in defense of the “lost cause” after the war.
Understanding the importance of focusing his narrative on the most crucial years of Early’s career, Osborne moves his account quickly to 1861, deftly summarizing Jubal’s West Point years and his subsequent career as a soldier, lawyer, and politician. Readers receive detailed analyses of dozens of battles in which Early had a major role; his hardnosed approach to pursuing the war, and his unflinching devotion to Robert E. Lee, made him a fierce opponent for the series of inept Union commanders who faced his units during the early years of the conflict.
Through this running commentary on battle plans and troop maneuverings for strategic and tactical advantage, there emerges a portrait of the man himself: savvy as a military commander, but impetuous and at times petulant, proud to a fault. Osborne is frank in assessing his subject’s failures as well as his successes; his balanced portrait allows one to gain a genuine appreciation for all that was right, as well as all that was wrong, with the leaders engaged in defending what they believed was a just cause. The concluding chapters, detailing Early’s attempts to remain “unreconstructed” and to promote the memory of his beloved General Lee, remind readers of the psychological toll the war took on the leading citizens of the South.