Autobiographical sketch.

According to the record in the family Bible, I was born on the third day of November, 1816, in the County of Franklin, in the State of Virginia. My father, Joab Early,1 who is still living, is a native of the same county, and while resident there, he enjoyed the esteem of his fellow-citizens and held several prominent public positions, but in the year 1847, he removed to the Kanawha Valley in Western Virginia. My mother's maiden name was Ruth Hairston, and she was likewise a native of the County of Franklin, her family being among the most respected citizens. She died in the year 1832, leaving ten children surviving her, I being the third child and second son. She was a most estimable lady, and her death was not only the source of the deepest grief to her immediate family, but caused universal regret in the whole circle of her acquaintances.

Until I was sixteen I enjoyed the benefit of the best schools in my region of country and received the usual instruction in the dead languages and elementary mathematics. In the spring of 1833, while General Jackson was President, I received, through the agency of our member of Congress, the Hon. N. H. Claiborne, an appointment as cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point.

I repaired to the Academy at the end of May and was admitted about the first of June in the same year. I went through the usual course and graduated in the usual time, in June, 1837. There was nothing worthy of particular note in my career at West Point. I was never a very good student, and was sometimes quite remiss, but I managed to attain a respectable stand in all [ii] my studies. My highest stand in any branch was in military and civil engineering and that was sixth. In the general standing on graduation my position was eighteenth in a class of fifty.

I was not a very exemplary soldier and went through the Academy without receiving any appointment as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer in the corps of cadets. I had very little taste for scrubbing brass, and cared very little for the advancement to be obtained by the exercise of that most useful art.

Among those graduating in my class were General Braxton Bragg, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, Major Generals Arnold Elzey and Wm. H. T. Walker, and a few others of the Confederate Army; and Major Generals John Sedgwick, Joseph Hooker, and Wm. H. French and several Brigadier Generals of minor note in the Federal Army. Among my contemporaries at West Point were General Beauregard, Lieutenant General Ewell, Major General Edward Johnson and some others of distinction in the Confederate Army; Major Generals McDowell and Meade and several others in the Federal Army.

The whole of my class received appointments in the United States Army shortly after graduation. By reason of the Indian War in Florida, there had been a number of resignations and deaths in the army and very few of the class had to go through the probation of brevet lieutenants. I was appointed Second Lieutenant in the Third Regiment of Artillery, and was assigned to Company “E,” which afterward became celebrated as Sherman's battery. We did not enjoy the usual leave of absence, but in August, 1837, a number of my class, myself included, were ordered to Fortress Monroe to drill a considerable body of recruits which were in rendezvous at that place, preparatory to being sent to Florida, where the Seminole War was still in progress. From Fortress Monroe, with several other officers, I accompanied a body of recruits which sailed for Florida, [iii] and we landed at Tampa Bay in October, 1837. From Tampa Bay I went to Gary's Ferry, on Black Creek, and there joined my company, which was comprised almost entirely of recruits recently joined. My Captain (Lyon) was an invalid from age and infirmity, and both the First Lieutenants were absent on special duty, so that being the senior Second Lieutenant, I was assigned to the command of the company. In that capacity I went through the campaign of 1837-8 under General Jessup, from the St. John's River south into the Everglades, and was present at a skirmish with the Indians on the Lockee Hatchee, near Jupiter Inlet, in January, 1838. This was my first “battle,” and though I heard some bullets whistling among the trees, none came near me, and I did not see an Indian.

The party of Seminoles with which we had the skirmish was subsequently pursued into the Everglades and induced to come in and camp near us at Fort Jupiter, under some stipulations between General Jessup and the chiefs, about which there was afterwards some misunderstanding which resulted in the whole party being surrounded and captured; and my company was employed with the rest of the troops in this work. This was my last “warlike exploit” for many years. After this we remained near the sea-coast, inactive for the most of the time, until late in the spring, when, as all active hostilities had ceased, we were marched across to Tampa Bay, from whence my company, with some other troops, was shipped to New Orleans, and then sent up the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers to Ross' Landing (now Chattanooga) to report to General Scott, who had charge of the removal of the Cherokees, with whom some difficulty was apprehended. My company was stationed near Ross' Landing, and it was soon discovered that there would be no trouble with the Indians.

It had not been my purpose to remain permanently in the army, and, as there was to be no difficulty with the Cherokees, and the Seminole War was thought to be [iv] at an end, I determined to resign for the purpose of going into civil life. I tendered my resignation and received a leave of absence until it could be acted on. Under this leave I started from Ross' Landing, on July 4, 1838, for my home, by the way of Nashville and Louisville. Upon arriving at Louisville, I found from the papers that the army had been increased, and that I was made a first lieutenant in my regiment. Had this news reached me before the tendering of my resignation, that resignation might have been withheld, but it was now too late to alter my plans.

In the fall of 1838, I commenced the study of law in the office of N. M. Taliaferro, Esq., an eminent lawyer residing at the county seat of my native county, who some years afterward became a judge of the General Court of Virginia. I obtained license to practise law in the early part of the year 1840, and at once entered the profession. In the spring of the year 1841, I was elected by a small majority, as one of the delegates from the County of Franklin, to the Virginia Legislature, and served in the session of 1841 and 1842, being the youngest member of the body.

In the following spring, I was badly beaten by my former preceptor in the law, who was a member of the Democratic Party, while I was a supporter of the principles of the Whig Party, of which Mr. Clay was the principal leader.

My political opponent, though a personal friend, Mr. Taliaferro, held the position of prosecuting attorney in the circuit courts of several counties, and as these offices were rendered vacant by his election to the Legislature, I received the appointments for the Counties of Franklin and Floyd, having previously been appointed prosecuting attorney in the county court of Franklin. These appointments I held until the reorganization of the State government under the new constitution of 1851.

In the meantime, I continued the practice of law in [v] my own and the adjoining counties, with very fair success until the breaking out of the war between the United States and Mexico, consequent upon the annexation of Texas. Though I had voted, in the presidential election of 1844, for Mr. Clay, who opposed the annexation of Texas, yet, when war ensued, I felt it to be my duty to sustain the government in that war and to enter the military service if a fitting opportunity offered. When the regiment of volunteers from Virginia was called for by the President, I received from the Governor and Council of State the appointment as Major in that regiment, and was mustered into service on the 7th of January, 1847. Colonel John F. Hamtramck, of the County of Jefferson, and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas B. Randolph, of the County of Warren, were the other field officers. The regiment was ordered to rendezvous at Fortress Monroe and the superintendence of the drilling there and the embarkation for Mexico were entrusted to me. Two extra companies were allowed to the regiment, and, on account of some delay in the organization of them, I did not sail from Fortress Monroe with the last detachment of these companies until March 1st, arriving at Brazos Santiago on the 17th, to learn, for the first time, the news of General Taylor's victory at Buena Vista. We proceeded up the Rio Grande at once and the whole regiment was assembled at Camargo, under the command of the Colonel, the day after my arrival there.

About the first of April the regiment moved from Camargo for Monterey, by the way of a little town called China, as an escort for a provision train. Onehalf of the regiment was left temporarily at China under Lieutenant Colonel Randolph, and the other half moved to Monterey under my command-Colonel Hamtramck having become too sick to remain on duty. We were encamped at the Walnut Spring near General Taylor's headquarters, and there I met, for the first time, Colonel Jefferson Davis, of the First Mississippi Regiment, who [vi] has become illustrious as the President of the Confederrate States. I was struck with his soldierly bearing, and he did me the honor of complimenting the order and regularity of my camp. After being here a short time, the battalion under my command relieved an Ohio regiment, which had been garrisoning Monterey, but was going home, and for two months I acted as miltary governor of the city. It was generally conceded by officers of the army and Mexicans that better order reigned in the city during the time I commanded there, than had ever before existed, and the good conduct of my men won for them universal praise. Some time in the month of June, the whole regiment, under the command of the Colonel, moved to Buena Vista, a few miles from Saltillo, and joined the forces of General Wool, at that point. It remained near that locality for the balance of the war, for the most part inactive, as all fighting on that line, except an occasional affair with guerillas, ceased after the battle of Buena Vista. I had, therefore, no opportunity of seeing active service. For a short time I was attached, as acting Inspector General, to the staff of Brigadier General Caleb Cushing, who commanded the brigade to which my regiment was attached, until he was ordered to the other line. During this period I contracted, in the early part of the fall of 1847, a cold and fever, which eventuated in chronic rheumatism, with which I have ever since been afflicted. My condition became such that I received a leave of absence in the month of November, and returned to the States, on a visit to my friends in the Kanawha Valley.

After improving a little I started back to Mexico, and on my way I had the luck to meet with that fate, which is very common to Americans who travel much, that is, I was on a steamboat which was blown up, the 8th of January, 1848, on the Ohio River, a few miles below the mouth of the Kanawha. I had a very narrow escape, as half of my state-room was carried off and some pieces of the boiler protruded through the floor, [vii] cutting and burning my feet when I jumped out of the berth. The explosion took place about 1.00 o'clock at night, when it was very dark and extremely cold, and before the passengers, who were not killed, could get ashore and obtain shelter, they were very much exposed; but, after getting over the first effects of the slight injury received, I experienced a decided improvement in my rheumatism, though I would not advise blowing up in a western steamboat as an infallible remedy.

I rejoined the regiment about the first of February, and commanded the greater part of it during the rest of the war--three or four companies having been detached to the town of Parras — as Colonel Hamtramck had returned to Virginia on recruiting service. At the close of the war, I carried the regiment to the mouth of the Rio Grande, and had it embarked at Brazos for Fortress Monroe, going on one of the vessels myself. I was mustered out of the service with the rest of the regiment in the first part of April, 1848, being the only field officer on duty with it. It had no opportunity of reaping laurels during the war, but I can say that it had not sullied the flag of the State, which constituted the regimental colors, by disorderly conduct or acts of depredation on private property, and non-combatants. It had been my fortune to have the disagreeable duty of breaking in the regiment at the beginning and I had commanded it for a much longer time than any other field officer. Being rather a strict disciplinarian and, in consequence thereof, naturally regarded by inexperienced troops as harsh in my treatment of them, I was by no means popular with the mass of the regiment prior to the commencement of the return march from Saltillo, but I can safely say that, on the day they were mustered out of service at Fortress Monroe, I was the most popular officer in the regiment, and I had the satisfaction of receiving from a great many of the men the assurance that they had misjudged me in the beginning and were now convinced that I had been their best friend all the time. [viii]

I returned to the practice of law and continued it until the commencement of the late struggle between the Southern and Northern States.

After my return from Mexico, I was the only one of my name left in my county, as all the rest of my father's family had removed to the Kanawha Valley.

In the year 1850 I was a candidate for the convention called to revise the constitution of Virginia, but I was defeated by an overwhelming majority, receiving only about two hundred votes in a district polling several thousand. I opposed firmly and unflinchingly all the radical changes, miscalled reforms, which were proposed, and as the people seemed to run wild in favor of them, not only was I beaten, but so were all other candidates professing similar sentiments.

In the year 1853, I was again a candidate for the Legislature, but was badly beaten, as the county had become strongly wedded to the opposite party.

My practice had become very considerable, and at the close of my professional career, I believe I was regarded as among the best lawyers in my section of the State. My most important contest at the bar and my greatest triumph was in a contested will case in Lowndes County, Mississippi, in the autumn of 1852, in which a very large amount of property was involved. I went to Mississippi to attend to this case specially, and I contended single-handed and successfully with three of the ablest lawyers of that State.

I had in a very limited degree the capacity for popular speaking as generally practised in the States, and it was regarded that my forte at the law was not before a jury as an advocate, but on questions of law before the court, especially in cases of appeal.

I was never blessed with popular or captivating manners, and the consequence was that I was often misjudged and thought to be haughty and disdainful in my temperament. When earnestly engaged about my business, in passing through a crowd I would frequently [ix] pass an acquaintance without noticing him, because of the preoccupation of my mind, and this often gave offence. From all of which it resulted that I was never what is called a popular man. I can say, however, that those who knew me best, liked me best, and the prejudices against me were gradually wearing off as the people became better acquainted with me.

My labors in my profession were rather spasmodic, and by procrastination, I would often have to compass a vast deal of work in a very short time, on the eve of or during the session of a court. I was careless in securing and collecting my fees, very often relying on memory as the only evidence of them, and the consequence was that my practice was never very lucrative.

I have now given a sketch of my life up to the time of the beginning of the great struggle in the South for independence, and like most men, I had done many things which I ought not to have done, and left undone many things which I ought to have done, but I had done some good, and had not committed any very serious wrong, considering it in a mere worldly point of view. I would, however, by no means, commend my life as a pattern for the young, unless it be in the sincerity and integrity of purpose by which I claim to have ever been actuated.

As there have been some descriptions of my person attempted, in which I have failed to recognize the slightest resemblance, I will state that, up to the time of my service in Mexico, I was quite erect and trim in stature. My average weight for many years was from 154 to 164 pounds-during the war it was about 170 pounds. The stoop with which I am now afflicted is the result of rheumatism contracted in Mexico, and when casual observers have seen me bent up, it has been very often the result of actual pain to which I have been very much subjected for the last nineteen years. One writer, who was actuated by the most friendly motives and ought to have known better, has described me as having a rough, curly head and shaggy eye-brows, whereas the [x] fact is that my hair always has been, and what is left still is, as straight as an Indian's, and my eyebrows are very moderate and smooth. Some writer, who certainly never put himself in a position to see me during the war, has described my dress as being habitually like that of a stage-driver. All tailors who have ever worked for me up to the present time will testify to the fact that I have always been one of the most particular men about the cut and fit of my clothes among their customers.

During the war I was almost constantly in the camp or field, except when wounded, and I had no time to get new clothes if I had been able. My tastes would always have induced me to dress neatly and genteelly if I could have indulged them.

So much for my life previous to the war. Henceforth it will be developed in my narrative. [1]

1 Died at the home of his son, Robert H. Early, in Lexington, Mo., 1870.

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