John Basil Turchin – Russian hero of the US Civil War
Ivan Turchaninov was born in the Don region, into the family with long-reaching military traditions. Therefore, the boy was enrolled into the First Cadet Corps in St. Petersburg, and later - into the famous "court" Mikhailovsky artillery school.
Due to his extraordinary military abilities, he was accepted into the Imperial Guard. And in 1852 he also graduated from the Nikolay Staff Academy in St. Petersburg, where he got acquainted with Prince Alexander, the future Emperor Alexander II. In 1853 he went to the Crimea War, and fought bravely for three years, and later served in the Baltics and in Poland.
During his travels across the country and his service, Turchin became a staunch supporter of abolitionism, which he considered a hindrance to Russia's development, and in 1853 even started a secret correspondence with A. Gertzen. His dissatisfaction with the existing order grew.. And so, in 1856, while serving in Poland, where he had been sent to for his bravery in the Crimean campaign and where he had successfully reached the high position of the head of staff for a whole infantry corps, he suddenly left - basically escaped - for Chicago, USA, together with his young wife Nadezhda (born Lvova).
In America, Turchaninov, having taken a new name – John Basil Turchin – failed to adapt and went bankrupt. Even more, he was disappointed with the country: in his letters to Gertzen, he wrote that US is plagued by just as many problems as Russia.
But he also noted that “…one thing I am grateful to America form, is that it has helped me get rid of my snobbish mentality, took me down to a level of a mere mortal. No labor is too dirty for me now”.
Turchin graduated from an engineering school, and Nadezhda received medical education, and so soon the couple returned to wealthy life and to the high society. He even got acquainted with a certain businessman George McClellan, and a certain lawyer named Abraham Lincoln!
With the breakout of the Civil War (June 1861), Turchin enrolled into the Federal Army, receiving the rank of a colonel at once, and taking over the 19th Illinois infantry regiment.
It was after this decision, the news of which reached his original homeland and caused a small scandal, that the Tzar signed an order expelling Turchin from the ranks of the Russian Army, and even making a personal note "An American officer cannot be a Russian officer as well!", also taking away the officer's commission Turchin had held for all those years.
He distinguished himself in a series of large battles, but his star hour came in 1863: during the battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863), the lines of the North were breached, and the federal troops turned to run. Turchin personally led his brigade into a counter-attack, broke through the South positions, finding himself deep behind enemy lines, then turned around and fought back to the North army! This exploit was enetered ito American history as Turchin’s raid behind enemy lines.
During the battle at Chattanooga (November 24-25, 1863), Turchin’s brigade found itself under heavy cannon fire at the foothills of the Missionary ridge. He personally lead his men into a charge up the ridge, withstanding everything including bombs with fuses lit, being thrown down at them by the defending artillerists, and knoking out the enemy guns. The casualties reached 282 killed, but the victory at the Missionary ridge changed the balance in the whole war radically into the North’s favor.
An interesting fqact from Turchin’s biography: having fallen ill, he put his wife Nadine, a nurse at the hospital, as the regiment’s commander, and she, surprisingly, was quite successful at the position.
The commander was personally acquainted with three US Presidents: Lincoln, Grant and Garfield. And his soldier made an ironic song about him, called “Turchin’s got your mule”, which became his brigade’s battle anthem.
After a heart attack in October 1864, Turchin left the military service, returned to Chicago where he worked as a patent engineer, and also helped settle immigrants coming to the US from Europe. It was him who in 1873 founded the Radoma Polish commune in Illinois.
He also wrote memoirs and historic novels about the Civil War – works that would later be featured in the libraries of all the military schoold of America: “The Battle at The Missionary Ridge” and “Experiences and Impressions of The Civil War”!
At the very end of his life, Turchin wrote to Emperor Alexander II a plea to grant him the right to return to Russia, but was denied.
The former hero died in poverty in 1901, aged 79, having lived his last years on a meager military pension. He was buried with military honors on a military cemetery in Mount City (Illinois), at the expense of the local authorities.
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