WINCHESTER — Jubal Early seems an unlikely candidate to have a Winchester street named in his honor.
Early was a Confederate Civil War general and unrepentant white supremacist from Franklin County. He never lived in Winchester, but commanded troops during the Second Battle of Winchester in June 1863 and defended the Shenandoah Valley from Union forces in 1864.
Early’s military downfall began on Sept. 19, 1864, when he lost the Third Battle of Winchester. He rallied his troops on the morning of Oct. 19, 1864, and routed the Union army at the onset of the Battle of Cedar Creek near Middletown. However, instead of continuing his mission to drive Union soldiers out of the Shenandoah Valley, Early and his men stopped to plunder food, clothing and equipment, which gave U.S. Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan enough time to rally his Union army and ultimately win the Battle of Cedar Creek. It marked the beginning of the end for the Confederates.
Early was no longer part of the Confederate army by the time it surrendered in 1865. Commanding Gen. Robert E. Lee had stripped him of his command after Early lost the confidence of Confederate officers and soldiers.
Early spent the next four years hiding in Mexico, Cuba and Canada. He returned to Virginia in 1869 after being pardoned by U.S. President Andrew Johnson, but continued to justify the Confederate cause until his death on March 2, 1894, in Lynchburg.
His post-war defense of the Confederacy’s principles, including slave ownership, inspired what became known as the Lost Cause movement, which romanticized the Confederacy and resulted in many Southern communities, including Winchester, erecting statues in the early 20th century that glorified the failed Confederate cause.
Former Winchester Mayor Stewart Bell Jr. was among those who viewed Early as a proud defender of the Shenandoah Valley and its resources. During Bell’s tenure as mayor from 1972 to 1980, he repeatedly advocated for the naming of a local road in Early’s honor.
Winchester Planning Director Timothy Youmans, an avid local historian, said Bell’s wish came true on Feb. 12, 1991, when City Council approved a resolution that designated the city’s new east-west thoroughfare as Jubal Early Drive.
But recent nationwide civil rights protests have prompted some Winchester residents to question why the city has a street named after Early, who once wrote that slavery should be commended for providing “a great improvement in the moral and physical condition of the negro race.”
On June 23, City Council initiated a process to determine if Jubal Early Drive should be renamed. Officials in Rouss City Hall posted a public survey to collect feedback from local residents.
If City Council decides to rename Jubal Early Drive, approximately 80 business addresses would need to be updated, Youmans said. City staff would recommend a 60- to 120-day grace period before the road is officially renamed, giving those businesses enough time to order new business cards, envelopes and so on.
No homeowners would be affected, Youmans said, because there are no residences on Jubal Early Drive.
Regardless of what City Council decides, Youmans said the legacy of Jubal Early, who Lee called “Bad Old Man” because of his temper and use of profanity, will live on.
“Changing the name of a road doesn’t erase history,” Youmans said. “It just changes the name of a road.”