Trading Flags: The Shifting Loyalty of Jubal A. Early

Jubal A. EarlyThe year 1861 divided the nation and a great many men were forced to make the incredibly difficult choice as to which allegiance was strongest in their hearts. Men across the country made their choices for numerous reasons such as devotion to the Union, belief in the Constitution, defense of their State, the support of the peculiar institution, among others. As we look at Jubal A. Early, he represents such a man torn between two allegiances. A man who in 1860-1 argued vehemently against secession in the state of Virginia, yet ended up forsaking his military oaths of defense of the country.1 Here was a man who twice left his comfortable civilian life to take up arms for the Republic; the epitome of the American citizen-soldier so glorified during the Revolutionary War, turning his back on the flag he bravely defended only to raise the flag of the newly founded Confederacy.2 What could make a man trade flags by resigning from one military to join another?

Early was raised in the state of Virginia and therefore exposed to slavery throughout his life. Although there is no record of Early himself owning slaves (other than perhaps a servant) his extended family owned numerous slaves as part of their holdings throughout Virginia. He held that the blacks were property and that there could be no abolition of slavery because the Constitution guaranteed to protect an individuals property. “He believed the government established by the Constitution protected liberty and the sanctity of private property, allowing Americans, whether above or below the Mason and Dixon’s Line, to prosper.”3 Along this line of argument he believed that every state had decided for itself whether to be “slave” or “free” at the time of its inception and at the signing of the Constitution there didn’t appear to be any obstinate hurdles regarding the issue of slavery. “Slavery was a domestic institution and should not be subject to interference from the North in the form of ‘moral suasion, legislative enactment, or physical force’.”4 Despite being a centralist in regards to slavery, equally disliking fire-eaters and abolitionists, Early felt that the institution of slavery should not be touched by meddling Northerners.

A West Point graduate from the class of 1837, Jubal A. Early did not strike many as a commanding battlefield figure. Seeing no future in the military, Early resigned from the United States Army just a year after graduating. However short and unrewarding his early military career, Early experienced some fighting against the Seminoles in Florida.5 After his short military service, Early spent the better part of the next 15 years practicing law in his home state of Virginia. This time was broken with another short return to military action during the Mexican-American War from 1847-1848. “Impelled by his sense of patriotic submission, he accepted a commission as major of the First Regiment of Virginia Volunteers” to fight against a Mexican foe who sought to deprive the Texans of their rights.6
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