Did 'Stonewall' Jackson
have Asperger's Syndrome?
To conduct a study of General Thomas Jonathan 'Stonewall' Jackson, one of the
greatest military geniuses, to
see if he met the criteria for Asperger's Syndrome or Asperger's Disorder.
A study of the writings on 'Stonewall' Jackson was conducted. 'Stonewall' Jackson
meets the criteria for Asperger's disorder with clear evidence of a qualitative
impairment in social interaction and restricted repetitive and stereotyped
patterns of behaviour, interests and activities. While individuals with Asperger's
disorder suffer major problems in social relationships, nevertheless because
of their ability to focus on a single topic they can be capable of great creativity,
in this case, in the field of battle and in military affairs.
from the Virginia Military Institute
Did 'Stonewall' Jackson have Asperger's Syndrome or Disorder?
In 1944, the Austrian Hans Asperger described a number of children mainly boys
who were socially odd, egocentric and who had circumscribed interests in specific
topics Asperger (1944). He called this autistic psychopathy. Later Wing (1981)
refined the syndrome and called it Asperger's syndrome. Later Szatmari et al.
(1989) outlined specific criteria for the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA, 1994) also set out criteria for
Asperger's disorder. Both (Szatmari et al., 1989; APA, 1994) these criteria
will be used in attempting to establish whether 'Stonewall' Jackson, possibly
the greatest military leader in the American Civil War, had Asperger's syndrome
In defining Asperger's syndrome Szatmari et al. (1989) in their first two criteria
for Asperger's syndrome, emphasised solitary activities and social relationship
problems. It is clear that 'Stonewall' Jackson met these criteria and the evidence
will now be presented. During the American Civil War his nephew Henry Kyd Douglas
(1947) was with him during the campaign and he described how "the General always
kept himself always very much apart . . . and he did not encourage social calls".
It was not thought by those who knew him best that he was a good judge of character
(Douglas, 1947). Douglas (1947) described him as "hard as nails in the performance
of a duty. I never knew him to temper justice with mercy; his very words very
merciless. I can recall no case when he remitted or modified a punishment that
he believed to be just and according to the law . . . He was governed by his
judgment alone, by his strict construction of his sense of duty, by the demands
of the public service. There was no place for sentiment or pity. In the execution
of the law he was inexorable, justice and mercy seemed out of place". Douglas
(1947) describes how at Law School he was regarded as "such an oddity" and
a classmate of his said that "old Jack is a character, genius, or just a little
crazy" and that he "lives quietly and don't meddle". Douglas (1947) points
out that on one occasion a soldier wanted to visit his wife before she died
and he said to the man "man, man, do you love your wife more than your country?" and
turned away. The man never forgave him.
His problem in social relationships was also seen when he was posted in Florida
and he made allegations of immoral behaviour against his commanding officer
Major French. Henry (1979) stated that here Jackson showed his "implacable
and vindictive characteristics and indeed his attack of French was pitiless,
narrow minded and legalistic".
As a teacher at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington he was "an appallingly
bad teacher and extremely unpopular with his students. The cadets considered
him a strange character, grim, aloof, unable to communicate with them in or
outside the classroom, who subjected them to a petty and relentless discipline" according
to Henry (1979). Jackson was known there as "old Hickory" and indeed according
to Henry (1979) the authorities made an unsuccessful attempt to remove him
from his job. Locally the people of Lexington "considered him to be one of
their local eccentrics, but despite his shyness and odd ways" he was respected
by members of his Church (Henry, 1979). People considered his appearance odd "and
this, combined with his reserve and awkwardness in company, made him the object
of many jokes and derisive comments" and he was regarded as having a "shy,
introverted and secretive personality" (Henry, 1979).
He therefore meets all the criteria for Asperger's syndrome as set out by Szatmari
et al. (1989) in social relationships with: (a) having no close friends, (b)
avoiding others, (c) having no interest in making friends, (d) being a loner,
(e) having a clumsy social approach, (f) have a one-sided response to peers
and having difficulty sensing feelings of others as well as being detached
from feelings of others, (g) he was "reticent and self-reliant" (Henry, 1979).
He also meets the criterion set out by Szatmari et al. (1989) for impaired
non-verbal communication. He showed limited facial expression and indeed it
was said by Douglas (1947) that he "rarely if ever laughed" and had a "reserve
and awkwardness in company".
The last criterion Szatmari et al. (1989) was odd speech and he certainly talked
very little. Indeed in battles according to Douglas (1947) he sometimes didn't
inform people about his future military plans. We don't have information on
whether he had idiosyncratic use of words or repetitive patterns of speech.
Asperger's Disorder (APA, 1994)
He certainly meets the first criterion of a qualitative impairment in social
interaction (APA, 1994). He had a failure to develop peer relationships and
there was a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment and interests with
other people (Douglas, 1947; Henry, 1979). There was a lack of social and emotional
reciprocity. Henry (1979) described him as "a withdrawn, morose, isolated personality
of eccentric habits and with a hypochondrical preoccupation which bordered
on the bizarre". He also said that he was "grim and humourless" (Henry, 1979).
At school he was described as being "shy and unsociable, retaining much of
the awkwardness of his previous personality" (Henry, 1979). During the American
Civil War there were much rumours that he was "mad" and some of his fellow
officers resented his aloof, high handed way of conducting his campaigns (Henry,
1979). It was noted by Douglas (1947) that when General Winder came to work
with Jackson he had "a will as inflexible as that of Jackson himself and at
first their relations were not very cordial and each certainly underrated the
other; in many things, they were too much alike to fit exactly". Despite being
a loner, being aloof and distant Douglas (1947) stated that "never in the history
of warfare has an army shown more devotion to duty and the wishes of one man" as
his army showed during the second battle of the Manassas.
The second criterion for Asperger's disorder (APA, 1994) are restricted repetitive
and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities. He was preoccupied
with religion and with war. Henry (1979) points out that he was "an avoid reader
of military history and studied intensively the campaigns of Napoleon". He
received the nickname "Stonewall" during the 1st battle of the Manassas when
his "Virginia brigade stood up to the enemy in a very rigid fashion and Lieutenant
H. Lee cried out "look! There is Jackson's brigade standing behind you like
a stone wall" (Douglas, 1947).
He and his army was "well-disciplined" (Douglas, 1947). Nevertheless Jackson
was described as the "worst-dressed, worst-mounted, most faded and dingy-looking
general" there was ever seen (Douglas, 1947). "In all his movements in riding
to a horse to handling a pen, the most awkward man in the army" (Douglas, 1947).
He walked and rode in a most "ungainly" manner (Douglas, 1947). While he was "aloof
and secretive he drove his soldiers mercilessly; and his discipline was almost
inhumane but the troops marched and fought and died for him with remarkable
devotion" (Douglas, 1947). He studied war and military matters all his life
and was probably one of the greatest generals that has ever commanded an American
army. He was described as being "a bold leader, probably the boldest the war
(American Civil War) produced" (Douglas, 1947). Indeed it was this boldness
and leading out his army from the front which was entirely unnecessary which
led him to be shot at the battle of Chancellorsville an event that may very
well have lost the war for the southern states (Alexander, 1996). He was entirely
indifferent to bullets flying around him. He was a brilliant military strategist
but then he thought of very little else throughout his life except perhaps
of God" and had a great ability to "mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy
(Alexander, 1996). He read no newspapers and allowed no newspaper correspondents
to visit his camp.
There is no doubt that 'Stonewall' Jackson met the criteria for Asperger's
disorder which gives the individual enormous handicaps in terms of social relating
and empathising with other individuals but can be enormously beneficial for
a leader as is shown by Jackson in his leadership of his army. He met all Szatmari's
et al. (1989) except missing one additional item under the heading of odd speech
for which historical data is not available. Because he was a Professor in the
Military Academy and studied battles and war throughout his life he was better
prepared for the American Civil War than any other military general. This extreme
focus on a single topic can have enormous benefits and it is probably impossible
for anyone to produce work of true genius without this exclusive focus.
Professor M. Fitzgerald,
Henry Marsh Professor of Child Psychiatry, Trinity College Dublin,
Child & Family Centre, Ballyfermot Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin
Telephone Number: (+ 353 1) 626 5676.
Fax Number: (+ 353 1) 454 4418.
(1) Alexander B. (1996). Lost Victories: The Military Genius of Stonewall Jackson.
New Jersey: Blue and Grey Press.
(2) American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic Criteria from DSM-IV. (1994).
Washington: American Psychiatric Association.
(3) Asperger H. (1944). Die "autistischen Psychopathen im" Kindesalter. Archives
fur Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, 117, 76 - 136.
(4) Henry W. D. (1979). Stonewall Jackson - The Soldier Eccentric. Practitioner,
223, 580 - 587.
(5) Kyd-Douglas H. (1947). I rode with 'Stonewall'. London: Putnam.
(6) Szatmari P., Brenner R., Nagy J. (1989). Asperger's Syndrome: A Review
of Clinical Features. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 34, 544 - 560.
(7) Wing L. (1981). Asperger's Syndrome: A Clinical Account. Psychological
Medicine, 11, 115 - 129.