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  • Jubal A. Early:Model Civil War Sufferer
  • Kathryn Shively Meier (bio)

On a drizzly winter’s day in Toronto, Canada, in 1866, former Confederate general Jubal A. Early bent over a letter to a past commander, D. H. Hill.1 Stooped from arthritis contracted long before the Civil War but worsened by the damp chill, Early scratched onto the page unmistakable misery and bitterness. In self-imposed exile and daily worsening poverty and ill health, he divulged to Hill: “I am as far [End Page 206] from that happy state of mind which the Scriptures require[—]to forgive our enemies[—]as it is possible to conceive.” Moreover, he was “far from being reconstructed,” as there was “scare a night of my life that I do no not dream of being engaged in battle with the Yankees.” Instead of longing to banish the nighttime shadows of war, however, he avowed, “I wish it was not ‘all a dream.’ “2

Early was not the only self-exiled former Confederate; many others relocated to foreign climes such as Brazil, the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, Europe, and Australia to avoid dreaded Yankee reconstruction and rebuild broken lives. Most saw themselves as victims, but Early’s commitment to suffering stood out even among this embittered group. At war’s end, despite marginally functional health, he made a mad dash on horseback from Virginia to Texas to escape parole before sailing to the Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, and, finally, traipsing across Canada, condemning almost every place he traversed. Only Canada escaped his complete censure. Havana he deemed “uninteresting.” Mexico was an even graver disappointment. There he had hoped to participate in a French war against the United States, continuing his Confederate service by proxy. When that conflict failed to eventuate, he urged fellow Confederate itinerants to give the country a wide berth.3

At the same time, he began the process of justifying his wartime career, becoming the first important general to pen a memoir, in this case, a justification of his failed 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, which cost him his public reputation and his military career, when Lee removed him (via a very gentle letter) from command on March 30, 1865. Not long after, Early also completed an autobiography of his entire war experiences with the Army of Northern Virginia, which would be published posthumously in 1912.4 His fierce determination to disclose the truth as he perceived it propelled him through exceptionally trying times of illness and squalor so severe that it reduced him to continual begging from family and friends. In a series of pitiful letters from Canada, Early admitted to his brother Sam, “I am so much crippled up that I move about with difficulty, and am more bent than I have ever been.” In regard to Sam’s intermittent financial support of his exile, Early lamented, “I feel as if I were taking from you the means of educating your children, and in that way doing a great injustice to them.” At his frankest, he confessed, “I cannot stand this life that I am leading.”5

Why did Early commit to four miserable years of separation from his beloved home aside from a reasonable fear of being hanged for treason? In the scholarly monograph War Stories, which has most influenced [End Page 207] my cultural understanding of Civil War-era suffering, the historian Frances M. Clarke points out that Victorian Americans emphasized suffering as a measure of morality, particularly for the middle to upper classes.6 Her reading of Northern sentimentalism is also applicable to Southerners, especially Jubal Early, who came from respectable Virginia stock and, as a former Whig, freely espoused his superiority to the democratic masses. Early’s period of self-deprivation was not meant to, say, atone for the sins of slavery or secession, as in religious mortification. Rather his suffering was an attempt to redeem his tarnished reputation and to prove the former Confederacy’s moral superiority to the Union. The affinity he felt with other perceived martyrs, such as the ladies of the memorial association in Winchester, Virginia, confirmed his purpose. “It is sad, sad indeed to be an exile from my country, and still sadder to mourn...


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