I.In the Virginia Convention of 1860-61, when the great struggle for separation took place, and the hot war of tongues preceded the desperate war of the bayonet, there was a gentleman of resolute courage and military experience who made himself prominent among the opponents of secession. Belonging to the old Whig party, and thinking apparently that the right moment had not yet come, this resolute soldier-politician fought the advocates of the ordinance with unyielding persistence, aiming by his hard-hitting argument, his kindling eloquence, and his parliamentary skill, to give to the action of the Convention that direction which his judgment approved. Many called him a “submissionist,” because he opposed secession then; but when the gauntlet was thrown down, this “Whig submissionist” put on a gray coat, took the field, and fought from the beginning to the very end of the war with a courage and persistence surpassed by no Southerner who took part in the conflict. When he was sent to invade Maryland, and afterwards was left by General Lee in command of that “forlorn hope,” the little Valley army, if it could be called such, in the winter of 1864-5, he was selected for the work, because it required the brain and courage of the soldier of hard and stubborn fibre. Only since the termination of the war has the world discovered the truth of that great campaign; the desperate character of the situation  which Early occupied, and the enormous odds against which he fought. He entered upon the great arena almost unknown. He had served in the Mexican war, and had there displayed skill and courage; but his position was a subordinate one, and he was better known as a politician than a soldier. In the field he made his mark at once. About four o'clock in the afternoon of the 21St of July, 1861, at Manassas, the Federal forces had been driven by the resolute assault of Jackson and his great associates from the Henry-House hill; but a new and formidable line-ofbattle was formed on the high ground beyond, near Dogan's house, and the swarming masses of Federal infantry were thrown forward for a last desperate charge. The object of the Federal commander was to outflank and envelop the Confederate left, and his right wing swayed forward to accomplish that object, when all at once from the woods, which the enemy were aiming to gain, came a galling fire which staggered and drove them back. This fire was delivered by Kirby Smith and Early. So hot was it that it completely checked the Federal charge; and as they wavered, the Southern lines pressed forward with wild cheers. The enemy were forced to give ground. Their ranks broke, and in thirty minutes the grand army was in full retreat across Bull Run. The “Whig Submissionist” had won his spurs in the first great battle of the war. From that time Early was in active service, and did hard work everywhere — in the Peninsula, where he was severely wounded in the hard struggle of Malvern Hill, and then as General Early, at Cedar Mountain, where he met and repulsed a vigorous advance of General Pope's left wing, in the very inception of the battle. If Early had given way there, Ewell's column on the high ground to his right would have been cut off from the main body; but the ground was obstinately held, and victory followed. Advancing northward thereafter, Jackson threw two brigades across at Warrenton Springs, under Early, and these resolutely held their ground in face of an overpowering force. Thenceforward Early continued to add to his reputation as a hard fighter-at Bristoe, the second Manassas, Harper's Ferry, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg,  Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Monocacy, and throughout the Valley campaign. During the invasion of Pennsylvania he led General Lee's advance, which reached the Susquehanna and captured York. In Spotsylvania he commanded Hill's corps, and was in the desperate fighting at the time of the assault upon the famous “Horseshoe,” and repulsed an attack of Burnside's corps with heavy loss to his opponents. After that hard and bitter struggle the Federal commander gave up all hope of forcing General Lee's lines, and moving by the left flank reached Cold Harbour, where the obstinate struggle recommenced. It was at this moment, when almost overpowered by the great force arrayed against him, that General Lee received intelligence of the advance of General Hunter up the Valley with a considerable army; and it was necessary to detach a commander of ability, vigour, and daring to meet that column. Early was selected, and the result is known. General Hunter advanced, in spite of opposition from the cavalry under General Jones, until he reached the vicinity of Lynchburg; but here he came in collision with his dangerous adversary. A complete defeat of the Federal forces followed, and Hunter's campaign was decided at one blow. He gave ground, retreated, and, with constantly accelerated speed, sought refuge in the western mountains, whence, with a decimated and disheartened army, he hastened towards the Ohio. The great advance up the Valley, from which, as his report shows, General Grant had expected so much, had thus completely failed. The campaign beginning with such high hopes, had terminated in ignominy and disaster. The inhabitants of the region, subjected by General Hunter to the most merciless treatment, saw their powerful oppressor in hopeless retreat; and an advance which threatened to paralyse Lee, and by severing his communications, drive him from Virginia, had been completely defeated. Such was the first evidence given by General Early of his ability as a corps commander, operating without an immediate superior. He was destined to figure now, however, in scenes more striking and “dramatic” still. General Grant, with about 150,000 men, was pressing General Lee with about 50,000, and forcing  him slowly back upon the Confederate capital. Every resource of the Confederacy was strained to meet this terrible assaultthe sinews almost broken in the effort. To divert reinforcements from General Grant was a matter of vital importance — a thing of life and death-and Jackson's Valley campaign in 1862 had shown how this could be most effectually done. To menace the Federal capital was evidently the great secret: a moderate force would not probably be able to do more than divert troops from Grant; but this was an object of the first importance, and much might be accomplished by a soldier of decision, energy, and rapidity of movement. Early had been selected for the work, with orders when he left the lowland to “move to the Valley through Swift Run Gap or Brown's Gap, attack Hunter, and then cross the Potomac and threaten Washington.” This critical task he now undertook with alacrity, and he accomplished it with very great skill and success. Not a moment was lost in pushing his column toward Maryland; and such was the rapidity of the march upon Washington, that the capital was placed in imminent danger. In spite of the prostrating heat, the troops made twenty miles a day, and the rumour of this determined advance came to the Federal authorities at the moment when Grant was supposed to be carrying everything before him. To meet the attack of their formidable adversary, the authorities at Washington sent to hurry forward the forces of General Hunter from the Ohio, and a considerable force from General Grant's army was dispatched up the bay to man the fortifications. Early had pressed on, crossed the Potomac, advanced to Frederick City, defeated General Wallace at the Monocacy, and was now in sight of the defences of Washington; the crack of his skirmishers was heard at the “White house” and in the department buildings of the capital. The enormous march, however, had broken down and decimated his army. The five hundred miles of incessant advance, at twenty miles a day, left him only eight thousand infantry, about forty field-pieces, and two thousand badly mounted cavalry-at the moment detached against the railroads northward — with which to assault the powerful works, bristling with cannon, in his front. His position at this moment was certainly critical, and calculated  to try the nerves of any but a resolute and daring soldier. He was in the heart of the enemy's country, or at least in sight of their capital city; in his front, according to Mr. Stanton, the Federal Secretary of War, was the Sixth and part of the Eighth and Nineteenth Corps, and General Hunter was hastening from the West to strike his rear and cut him off from his only avenue of retreat across the Potomac. It behoved the Confederate commander under these circumstances to look to his safety; and he was reluctantly compelled to give up his intended assault upon the capital — to abandon the attempt to seize the rich prize apparently in his very grasp. Early, accordingly, broke up his camp, retreated, and, with little molestation, recrossed the Potomac, and stood at bay on the Opequon in the Shenandoah Valley. Such had been the result of the daring advance upon the Federal capital. The extent of the danger to which Washington was then exposed, still remains a matter of doubt and difference of opinion among the most intelligent persons. It will, no doubt, be accurately defined when the events of the recent struggle come to be closely investigated by the impartial historian of the future, and the truth is sifted from the error. To the world at large, the Federal capital seemed in no little danger on that July morning, when Early's lines were seen advancing to the attack. Northern writers state that, if the assault had been made on the day before, it would have resulted in the capture of the city. But however well or ill-founded this may be, it is safe to say that the primary object of the march had been accomplished when Early retreated and posted himself in the Shenandoah Valley--a standing threat to repeat his audacious enterprise. It was no longer a mere detached column that opposed him, but an army of about 50,000 men. To that extent General Grant had been weakened, and the heavy weight upon General Lee's shoulders lightened.
Ii.These events took place in the summer of 1864, and in the autumn of that year General Early fought his famous battles,  and — the world said-sustained his ignominious defeats in the Shenandoah Valley. “Ignominious” was the adjective which expressed the views of nine-tenths of the citizens outside of the immediate region, and probably of one-half the army of Northern Virginia. In the eyes of the world there is a crime for which there is no palliation, and that is failure. There is a criminal to whom all defence is denied — it is the man who fails. No matter what the failure results from, there it is, and no explanations are “in order.” Early was defeated in a pitched battle near Winchester, on the g9th of September, and the country, gloomy, despondent, embittered, and clamouring for a victory, broke out into curses almost at the man who had sustained this reverse. It was his bad generalship, they cried; “the troops had no confidence in him;” he was the poorest of soldiers, the veriest sham general-else why, with his splendid army, did he allow a second or third-rate general like Sheridan to defeat him? When the defeat at Fisher's Hill followed, and the fiasco at Waynesboroa terminated the Valley campaign, people were convinced that General Jubal A. Early was a very great dunce in military matters, had been outgeneralled and outfought by an opponent little, if any, stronger than himself, and the whole campaign was stigmatized as a disgraceful series of blunders, ending in well-merited defeat and disaster. That was the popular clamour; but it is safe to say that popular clamour is essentially falsehood, because it is based upon passion and ignorance. The truth of that campaign is that Early was “leading a forlorn hope,” and that he never fought less than four to one. At Fisher's Hill and Waynesboroa, he fought about eight to one. It is not upon General Early's statements in his recent letter from Havana, that the present writer makes the above allegation, but upon the testimony of officers and citizens of the highest character who are unanimous in their statement to the above effect. From the date of the battle of Winchester, or the Opequon, to the present time, it has been persistently declared by the fairest and best informed gentlemen of the surrounding region, who had excellent opportunities to discover the truth, that Early's force in that fight was about eight or ten  thousand, and Sheridan's about forty or fifty thousand. General Early states upon his honour-and the world is apt to believe him — that his effective strength in this action was eight thousand five hundred muskets, three battalions of artillery, and less than three thousand cavalry. General Sheridan's force he makes, upon a close calculation, about thirty-five thousand muskets, one of his corps alone numbering, as captured documents showed, twelve thousand men — more than the whole Southern force, infantry, cavalry, and artillery. In the number of guns Sheridan, he says, was, “vastly superior” to him; and official reports captured showed the Federal cavalry “present for duty” two days before the battle, to have numbered ten thousand men. 1 There   was thus a terrible disproportion between the Federal and Confederate forces. Greatly outnumbered in artillery; with thirtyfive thousand muskets opposed to his eight thousand five hundred; and ten thousand excellently mounted and armed cavalry to his three thousand miserably mounted and equipped horsemen; Early occupied anything but a bed of roses in those days of September, when his little force so defiantly faced the powerful army opposed to it. Why he was not attacked and driven up the Valley long before the 19th of September, will remain an interesting historical problem. Nothing but the unceasing activity and audacity of the Confederate commander appears to have retarded this consummation. General Hunter seems to have been paralysed, or intimidated by the incessant movements of his wary opponent. From the period of his return to the Valley from Washington, Early had given his adversary no breathing spell. To-day he seemed retreating up the Valley; on the next day he was in Maryland; when he fell back and his adversary followed, a sudden and decisive blow at the head of the pursuing column threw the whole Federal programme into confusion; and grim and defiant, Early faced General Hunter in line of battle, defying him to make an attack. It will be hard to establish the statement that in these movements, during the summer and autumn of 1864, in the Shenandoah Valley, Early did not carry out in the fullest degree the instructions received from General Lee, and accomplish admirably the objects for which he had been sent to that region. He was placed there as Jackson had been in 1862, to divert a portion of the Federal forces from the great arena of combat in the lowland. By his movements before and after the battle of Kernstown, Jackson, with about four thousand men, kept about twenty-five thousand of the enemy in the Valley. By his movements preceding the battle of Opequon, Early, with eight or ten thousand men, kept between forty and fifty thousand from General Meade's army at Petersburg. That he could meet the Federal force in his front, in a fair pitched battle, was not probably believed by himself or by General Lee. His command was  essentially what he calls it, a “forlorn hope” --the hope that it could cope with its opponents being truly forlorn. As long as that opponent was amused, retarded, or kept at arm's length, all was well. When he advanced to attack in earnest, it was doubtless foreseen that the thirty or forty thousand bayonets would drive back the eight or nine thousand. That result followed on the 9th of September, when, Sheridan having superseded Hunter, the attack was made at the Opequon. And yet nothing is better established than the fact that up to the moment when he put his cavalry in motion against the Confederate left, General Sheridan had been virtually defeated. Every assault of his great force of infantry had been repulsed; and nowhere does this more clearly appear than in an account of the action published in Harper's Magazine, by a field officer, apparently of one of the Federal regiments. That account is fair, lucid, and records the precise truth, namely, that every advance of the Federal infantry was met and repulsed. Not until the ten thousand cavalry of General Sheridan advanced on the Martinsburg road, attained the Confederate rear, and charged them in flank and rear, was there the least wavering. It is true that from that moment the action was lost. Early's line gave way in confusion; his artillery was fought to the muzzle of the guns, but could do nothing unsupported; and that night the Confederate forces were in full retreat up the Valley. Such, divested of all gloss and rodomontade, was the battle on the Opequon. It was a clear and unmistakable defeat, but the reader has seen what produced it. Not want of generalship in the Confederate commander. It is gross injustice to him to charge him with the responsibility of that reverse; and no fair mind, North or South, will do so. He was defeated, because the force opposed to him was such as his command could not compete with. By heroic fighting, the little band kept back the swarming forces of the enemy, holding their ground with the nerve of veterans who had fought in a hundred battles; but when the numerous and excellently armed cavalry of the enemy thundered down upon their flank and rear, they gave up the struggle, and yielded the hard fought day.  The second act of this exciting drama was played at Fisher's Hill, three days afterward. Sullenly retiring like a wounded wolf, who snarls and shows his teeth at every step, Early took up a position on the great range of hills above Strasburg, and waited to be attacked. His design was to repulse any assault, and at nightfall retire; but the enemy's large numbers enabling them to turn his flank, they drove him from his position, and he was forced to fall back in disorder, with heavy loss. This result was charged upon the cavalry, but Early's small force could not defend the ground, and the Federals assuredly gained few laurels there. So heavy had been the blow struck by the great force of the enemy three days before, that it is wonderful how the Southern troops could make any stand at all. Early's loss in the battle of the Opequon, in killed, wounded, and “missing” --that terrible item in a defeated and retreating army — was so great, that it is doubtful whether his army, when it stood at bay on Fisher's Hill, numbered four thousand muskets. Such, at least, is the statement of intelligent and veracious officers who took part in the engagement. They are unanimous in declaring that it did not exceed that number. Sheridan's force they declare to have been overpowering, but the Southern troops could and did meet it when the attack was made in front. Not until the great force of the enemy enabled him to turn the left flank of Early and sweep right down his line of works, did the troops give way. Numbers overcame everything. Early retreated up the Valley, where he continued to present a defiant front to the powerful force of Sheridan, until the middle of October. On the 19th he was again at Cedar Creek, between Strasburg and Winchester, and had struck an almost mortal blow at General Sheridan. The Federal forces were surprised, attacked at the same moment in front and flank, and driven in complete rout from their camps. Unfortunately this great success did not effect substantial results. The enemy, who largely outnumbered Early, especially in their excellent cavalry, re-formed their line under General Wright. Sheridan, who had just arrived, exerted himself to retrieve the bad fortune of the day, and the Confederates were forced to retire in their turn.  General Early's account of this event is interesting: “I went into this fight,” he says, “with eight thousand five hundred muskets, about forty pieces of artillery, and about twelve hundred cavalry, as the rest of my cavalry, which was guarding the Luray Valley, did not get up in time, though ordered to move at the same time I moved to the attack. Sheridan's infantry had been recruited fully up to its strength at Winchester, and his cavalry numbered eight thousand seven hundred, as shown by the official reports captured. The main cause why the rout of his army in the morning was not complete, was the fact that my cavalry could not compete with his, and the latter, therefore, remained intact. He claimed all his own guns that had been captured in the morning, and afterward recaptured, as so many guns captured from me, whereas I lost only twenty-three guns; and the loss of these and the wagons which were taken, was mainly owing to the fact that a bridge, on a narrow part of the road between Cedar Creek and Fisher's Hill, broke down, and the guns and wagons, which latter were not numerous, could not be brought off. Pursuit was not made to Mount Jackson, as stated by both Grant and Stanton, but my troops were halted for the night at Fisher's Hill, three miles from Cedar Creek, and the next day moved back to New Market, six miles from Mount Jackson, without any pursuit at all.” Thus terminated the Valley campaign of 1864. In November, Early again advanced nearly to Winchester, but his offer of battle was refused, and he went into winter quarters near Staunton, with the small and exhausted force which remained with him, the second corps having been returned to General Lee. He had then only a handful of cavalry and a “corporal's guard” of infantry. In February, 1865, when the days of the Confederacy were numbered and the end was near, he was to give the quidnuncs and his enemies generally one more opportunity of denouncing his bad generalship and utter unfitness for command. In those dark days, when hope was sinking and the public “pulse was low,” every reverse enraged the people. The whole country was nervous, excited, irascible, exacting. The people would hear no explanations — they wanted victories. Such was the state of  public sentiment when intelligence came from the mountains that Early's “army” had been again attacked, this time near Staunton, and owing to the excessively bad generalship of that officer, had sustained utter and ignominious defeat. How many thousands of men had thus been defeated was not exactly stated; but the public said that it was an “army.” It was one thousand infantry and about six pieces of artillery. This force was attacked by two divisions of cavalry, numbering five thousand each-ten thousand in all. Early had not a mounted man, his entire cavalry force, with the rest of his artillery, having been sent off to forage. By the great force of the enemy, Early was driven beyond the mountains, his command hopelessly defeated, and his name was everywhere covered with obloquy and insult. He said nothing, waiting with the equanimity of a brave man for the moment which would enable him to justify himself. He has done it now; and no manly heart will read his noble words without respect for this true patriot and fearless soldier. “Obvious reasons of policy,” he says, “prevented any publication of these facts during the war, and it will now be seen that I was leading a forlorn hope all the time, and the people can appreciate the character of the victories won by Sheridan over me.” But this is General Early's account of the campaign, it may be said. It is natural — some persons even now may say — that he should endeavour by “special pleading” to lift from his name the weight of obloquy, and strive to show that he was not deficient in military ability, in courage, skill, and energy. The objection is just; no man is an altogether fair witness in regard to his own character and actions. Somewhere, a fault will be palliated, a merit exaggerated. Fortunately for Early's fame-unfortunately for the theory of his enemies — a document of the most conclusive character exists, and with that paper in his hand, the brave soldier may fearlessly present himself before the bar of history. It is the letter of General Lee, to him, dated March 30, 1865, three days before that “beginning of the end,” the evacuation of Petersburg. The clamour against Early had accomplished the object of many of those who raised it. His ability was distrusted; he was regarded as unfit for command; “remove  him!” was the cry of the people. Here is General Lee's letter relieving him of his command. It would be an injustice to the good name of Early to suppress a line of it.
In defeat, poverty, and exile, this recognition of his merit remains to that brave soldier; and it is enough. There is something better than the applauses of the multitude-something which will outweigh in history the clamour of the ignorant or the hostile; it is this testimony of Robert E. Lee to the “zealous and patriotic services” of the man to whom it refers; to the “ability, zeal, devotion, fidelity, energy, and courage” which he had “ever manifested in the service of the country,” leaving the “confidence” of the Commander-in-Chief in him “unimpaired.”