Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Madness of Turner Ashby

The Madness Of Turner Ashby

Turner Ashby

I recently began reading the book Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens. As I'm currently working on a book about Bloody Bill Anderson and have been studying Sadistic Personality Disorder something Cozzens mentioned about Ashby caught my attention.
Ashby may not have been quite the knight that history records him to be. Don't take what I'm saying the wrong way. Ashby was a great warrior and a gentleman but certain events seem to have affected his mental health.
Born into an upper class Virginia family, the entire fortune was lost soon after his father's death. Turner was just six years old and according to Cozzens, his mother spent the family fortune attempting to keep up appearances with the planter class.
Ashby worked his way into a moderate home, yet was often hauled into court because he couldn't pay his debts. Probably, for this reason, he remained a bachelor his short life.
The event that seems to have sent Turner over the edge was the death of his brother Richard in the summer of 1861. During a skirmish with Federal cavalry, Richard had been hacked over the head with a saber that took off part of his skull. As he lay in the road wounded, another Federal horseman dismounted and drove his saber through Richard's stomach. When Turner reached his brother's side, he was lucid and begging for water. He would survive for a week.
According to Cozzens, Turner struggled with grief and rage. He vowed to kill every Yankee he possibly could without regard to his own safety. His men seemed to grasp his rage and began to do things to embarrass the enemy soldiers. Some Federal soldiers were found stripped naked and even placed in the shape of a crucifix.
Ashby would never become a Quantrill or Bloody Bill Anderson, but he would never cease to hate the Federals until his dying day on June 6, 1862 at Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Turner Ashby photographed in death

Cozzens says that following his brother Richard's death, Turner struggled with his good nature and his maniacal desire for revenge. Although, it is true that Ashby despised the enemy, there were times when he showed kindness to Federal prisoners and wounded. The question I suppose I would love to have answered is had he survived and the uglier the war became especially in his beloved valley in 1864, would he have become a Quantrill or Bloody Bill Anderson?

Writing the book on Bloody Bill, I consulted a psychologist friend of mine who says that Sadistic Personality Disorder is an old term for what is now called a sociopath. My wife and I went to his house on the 4th of July (he has a house overlooking the Tennessee River) to watch the annual fireworks show from a barge in the middle of the river. There was a psychiatrist friend of his there and I asked her if a person was born a psychopath or could they be turned into one by events in life. She informed me that if I could answer that question I could write a million dollar book. 

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