Ivan Vasilyevich Turchaninov
[[Image:250px|center|200px|border]]Ivan Vasilyevich Turchaninov
Personal Information
Born: December 24, 1821(1821-12-24)
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Died: June 18, 1901 (aged 79)
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Other Information
Allegiance: Russian Empire
United States of America
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Branch: Imperial Russian Army
Union Army
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Rank: Colonel (Imperial Russian Army)
Brigadier General (Union Army)
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Battles: Crimean War
American Civil War
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Ivan Vasilyevich Turchaninov, Russian language Иван Васильевич Турчанинов (December 24, 1821 – June 18, 1901), better known by his Americanized name of John Basil Turchin, was a Union army brigadier general in the American Civil War. He is most noted for the "Rape of Athens," a controversial incident in Athens, Alabama, in which he allowed his soldiers to terrorize the local civilian population.

Early life and career[edit | edit source]

Ivan Turchaninov was born into a Don Cossack family in Russia and attended the Imperial Military School in St. Petersburg in 1851. He later served as a Colonel of Staff in the Russian Guards and fought in Hungary and in the Crimean War.

In May 1856, he married Nadezhda Lovov, the daughter of his commanding officer. Later that year, he and his wife immigrated to the United States, where he eventually settled in Chicago and worked for the Illinois Central Railroad.

Civil War[edit | edit source]

Turchin joined the Union army at the outbreak of the war in 1861 and became the colonel of the 19th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Having led his regiment in Missouri and Kentucky, he soon found his unit under command of the newly organized Army of the Ohio under major general Don Carlos Buell. General Buell was impressed by Turchin and promoted him to command a brigade in the Army of the Ohio's Third Division, commanded by Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchel. Buell advanced southward into Kentucky and Tennessee in early 1862.

When Buell headed west to support Grant at Shiloh, he left Mitchel to hold Nashville. Turchin convinced Mitchel to move southward. Mitchel did so, and his bold advance led to the taking of Huntsville, Alabama, and cutting the strategic railroad line that connected the Confederacy from east to west.

The occupation of northern Alabama by this overextended arm of the Union Army led to attack by combined partisan and Confederate cavalry units. One such attack overran one of Turchin's regiments at Athens, Alabama. Frustration had been building among these Union soldiers for weeks over repeated attacks and Buell's clearly-stated conciliatory policy of protecting the rights and property of Southerners. The involvement of local citizens in the rout at Athens and the humiliation suffered by the Union soldiers led to the sacking of the town when Turchin brought up reinforcements.

After occupying the town on May 2, 1862 Turchin assembled his men and told them: "I shut my eyes for two hours. I see nothing."[1] Businesses were hit first, and anything of value that could be carried away was stolen and anything that could not be was simply destroyed.[1] After rampaging through stores the soldiers plundered private homes.[1] A slave girl was raped.[1] The soldiers also attempted to rape a servant girl.[1] The violent behavior of the soldiers caused a pregnant woman to suffer a miscarriage and die.[1] The townspeople estimated the damage to be fifty-five thousand dollars.[1]

When word reached General Buell, Turchin resigned his commission but Buell refused to accept it, insisting instead on a court-martial.[1] Turchin's court proceedings received national attention and became a focal point for the debate on the conduct of the war, related to the conciliatory policy as Union casualties in the war mounted. President Abraham Lincoln, an astute observer of public opinion, promoted Turchin to brigadier general even before the court-martial was finished.

Turchin received a hero's welcome upon his return to Chicago. Prominent figures called for the removal of Buell and a more aggressive conduct of the war such that it be brought to a swift end. Turchin was given command of a new brigade. He distinguished himself during the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and in the Atlanta Campaign.

Turchin's wife , known in the army as Madame Turchin , always stood by him and followed her husband on the field during his campaigns, witnessing the battles (as at Chickamauga and at the battle of Missionary Ridge ) , and writing the only woman's war diary of the A.C.W. .

The song Turchin's got your mule (stemming from Here's your mule was popular during the war, and its chorus is said to have been used by disheartened troopers as a derisive answer to general Bragg's endearments at Missionary Ridge [2].


Turchin resigned from service in October 1864 after suffering heatstroke on the campaign.

Postbellum career and legacy[edit | edit source]

Turchin returned to Chicago and worked for a time as a patent solicitor and civil engineer. He later was involved in real estate and the settlement of immigrants in southern Illinois. He suffered dementia, attributed to his heatstroke, and died penniless in an institution in Anna, Illinois, at the age of 79.

Turchin has been portrayed by many in the South as a villainous figure for the so called "Rape of Athens," however his actions presaged those that other Union commanders, in particular William Tecumseh Sherman, would adopt in prosecuting total war against the Confederacy.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Cisco (2007), pp. 59-62
  2. in Pollard's "The Lost Cause", p. 457 : "The day was shamefully lost. Gen. Bragg attempted to rally the broken troops; he advanced into the fire, and exclaimed, 'Here is your commander,' and was answered with the derisive shouts of an absurd catch-phrase in the army, 'Here's your mule'."

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

fr:John B. Turchin ru:Турчанинов, Иван Васильевич

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