Ivan and Nadine Turchin: Russian Revolutionary Aristocrats at Chickamauga

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In the Immigrants’ Civil War we have met immigrants from the solid middle class, like the German revolutionary Carl Schurtz, and from among the working masses like Irish Brigade soldier Peter Welsh who had been a carpenter before the war. They represent the backgrounds of the overwhelming majority of Civil War Era immigrants. Ivan Vasilyevich Turchaninov, John Turchin to the soldiers he led at Chickamauga,  was from neither of these social classes. He and his wife were unusual in their nationality, Russian, and in their class origins.1

Turchin had been born to the Crimean aristocracy in 1821. He received a military education while in his teens and served in the Tsar’s army that suppressed the nationalist uprising in Poland and the Liberal rising in Austria during the late 1840s. Already absorbing radical ideas from the West, he was attracted to dissident currents in Russian thought, but his duty as a soldier was at odds with his developing ideals.In 1850 Turchin was accepted into the elite Russian General Staff academy and he was promoted to captain of the Imperial Guards. He then served in the Crimean War, where he met George McClellan who had come to the peninsula to observe the fighting. The war was a disaster for the country as the West united against Russian expansionism. 2

In 1856 Turchin married Nadezhda Lovov, an aristocratic Russian Liberal. Turchin had been critical of the Russian autocracy since his youth and his relationship with the well-educated and intellectual Nadezhda led him to leave the army and move to London. There the couple became part of the circle of the Russian revolutionary socialist Alexander Herzen. Herzen was a fierce opponent of serfdom and slavery and other forms of human bondage. In August of 1856 the couple sailed to the United States, settling initially on Long Island.3

After some unsuccessful attempts at making a living in New York and Washington, the couple moved to Illinois and Anglicized their names. Nadezhda became Nadine and Ivan became John Basil Turchin. George McClellan, then chief engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad, offered Turchin a coveted job as a construction engineer on the rail line. Turchin soon joined the Republican Party because he opposed the Southern aristocracy that he said combined an insistence on the white man’s “right to be free” with a “firm determination to hold millions of blacks in bondage.”4

The Turchins had left Russia as members of the aristocracy, but they felt that they were “becoming American.” Turchin wrote in an 1859 letter to Alexander Herzen that “I have to thank America for one thing. This country helped me destroy my nobleman’s ideals and put me on the level of an ordinary person. I am not afraid of any kind of work, no matter what situation I am in. It does not matter to me… I have been reborn.” 5

In June 1861, the young officer was commissioned colonel of the 19th Illinois.  Turchin soon rose to command a brigade, which he led to Athens, Alabama in April and May of 1862. When Confederate troops fired at Union soldiers from houses in the village and after some prisoners were reportedly executed by the Rebels, Turchin’s troops pillaged the town.6

Turchin was court martialed and found guilty of not maintaining discipline in his unit when it was in Athens. He was also tried for allowing his wife to accompany him with the army. Turchin was dismissed from the service. He returned to Chicago, where he was hailed by Radical Republicans as a hero for his abolitionism and his “hard war” approach to wealthy Southerners. During a welcoming celebration, an officer arrived and delivered a commission promoting to Brigadier General sent by President Lincoln.7

Turchin was dubbed “The Mad Cossack” by the Democratic press after the Athens incident. Even though he was reinstated in the army and promoted, he would always feel that he was stigmatized for his radical views and his foreign birth. 8

Nadine accompanied her husband on the new Tullahoma military campaign in Tennessee in June of 1863. She had been Ivan’s partner since they married and he encouraged her to seek an independent career as a writer in the 1850s. They both seem to have held what would today be described as feminist views on the rights of women. When Ivan had been ill in 1862, she took over some of his duties with the army. She nursed the wounded and was always close to the battlefield. Nadine was also a fierce believer in democracy. She described the virtues of the American soldier as an outgrowth of the democratic experience writing that; “Only a free man can endure hunger, cold, and injustice with such boundless patience.” 9

Nadine was very concerned with the emergence of a wealthy class in democratic America. She wrote that she feared that country was in danger from“the enriched industrialist basely imitating the nobleman…displaying the luxury of an aristocrat…This type of person attracted my attention 7 years ago, when I first set foot on American soil. I was astonished, revolted, and confused! It was…disgusting and threatening at the same time. “ During the war, these industrialist aristocrats had gained even more wealth by profiteering off of military contracts.10

Nadiane saw the Southern slave owner as kin to the Russian aristocrat writing that “The…owner of Negro slaves, resembles very closely the imperial gentleman, owner of white serfs. Social conditions created by these two dominating classes are quite similar. Negligence, arbitrary ignorance, primitive instincts given free rein,…even racial mixture, having one father for an unlimited number of servile mothers.” The fact that many black women were raped by their white “masters” was the greatest indication of the moral degeneracy of these American aristocrats.11

Nadine often spoke of the slave owners of the South and the big capitalists of the North as two sides of the same anti-democratic coin, writing that “the spirit of democracy is already considerably altered by the fatal influence of slavery and by the aristocratic tendencies of the rich-ignorant and perverted. …While the people are being crippled and exhausted, this other class-all businessmen, money-makers, financiers, adventurers-the least generous and the most selfish, grows and adds many aristocrats to the democracy, with no thought for the future.” She contrasted the selfishness of the wealthy with common American men and women as possessed of “the instinct for great truths”.12

Nadine was clearly depressed by the position of women in an America that proclaimed freedom and equality. She saw powerful men puff themselves up as heroes and saviors, only to fail at the time of crisis. She wrote that “in this great conflict I do not see any great man. Only the women are great, the majority because of their suffering, some for showing their great and high moral virtues…” She said that the war and politics constantly jeopardized the lives and well-being of women, but because they had no civil or social equality with men they were the “[e]ternal slaves of fatal destiny! Shall we ever see the day when mankind is civilized enough to consider seriously our position in the society where they allow us to be everything but intelligent beings authorized to enjoy the rights guaranteed to All! by the American constitution.13

Nadine accompanied the army as a nurse. It pained her that the contribution of women to the war effort was ignored by the press and the efforts of women to organize to support emancipation and other war aims were mocked. Even the Republican press “hardly mentions these brave efforts on the part of the population suffering most, of those women to whom war brings neither profit nor honor, nothing but suffering…”14

She urged women to prepare the next generation for change: “prepare for daughter other conditions of life than those you have received. A strong physical and moral education, a means of providing for the material necessities of life, a sufficiently developed and educated mind for some career work, not just for the routine care of the family-less sentimentality, more common sense. All this will simply form a sensible and responsible person, a woman capable of being, literally, a companion, and a collaborator with man. Despite what prejudices and sophisms tell us, a man will respect the woman, then, only when he recognizes in her a person truly independent, self-sufficient, whose devotion is above suspicion of self-interested helplessness…”15

Nadine was also appalled at how the foreign-born were treated in the army. She said that many of the officers were contemptuous of immigrants, even of generals like her husband. “And of a general who is a foreign refugee, what does it matter? American republicans have no consideration except for titled foreigners…others do not count in their eyes.” 16

July 14-As the Union army marched south in June, July, and August,  she heard it called the Abolitionist Army by Southerners. She wrote that in fact the “heterogeneous army” was “composed of all and sundry elements of Northern society-freethinkers, humanitarians, Puritans, autocrats, Democrats,…and even Copperheads.” While she said that while the men had not been abolitionists when they entered the army “it seems to me that this reproachful baptismal name given [to the army] is well chosen to consolidate the people and weld divergent ideas and opinions into one general feeling: the resentment of the free man living off the fruits of his work…against the despot, exploiting the slave, living as a parasite…”17

While the Southern “aristocrats” hurled slurs at the Union army, Nadine wrote that the “blacks welcomed us at every gate…the smile from ear to ear.” Black men are “being enrolled into the service of the army, and they are going away, rags on their backs, while their families are left at the mercy of their masters….this poor race-humiliated, exploited, and crucified-must have somewhere in centuries to come a brilliant destiny.”18

During the third week of September, she and the army moved toward Chickamauga Creek in the mountainous borderlands between Tennessee and Georgia. She wrote ominously two days before the great battle there began Sept. 16- “I do not trust this rugged forested terrain as a battlefield for undisciplined troops…” 19

creek-overgrowthThe difficult terrain along Chickamauga Creek.

Resource:

Nadine Turchin’s diary is available here. Originally written in French, this is a good translation in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. To access it, follow the link and click that you want to “Read Online Free”. You will be asked to register, which is free, and you will be able to read the article. The service that stores the article is called JSTOR. It allows you to read three scholarly journal articles for free every two weeks. Here is Wikipedia’s description of JSTOR.


Sources:

1. This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1992) p. 117; Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale: The Battle of Chickamauga, September 18-20, 1863 (Emerging Civil War Series) by White, William Lee (Oct 6, 2013); The Chickamauga Campaign (Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland) by Steven Woodworth (2010); Guide to the Battle of Chickamauga (The U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles) by Matt Spruill Army War College (1993); The Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign, Including the Tullahoma Operations, June 22 – September 23, 1863 Paperback by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2009); Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West by Glenn Tucker and Dorothy Thomas Tucker (1995); General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier: A Biography by Jeff Wert, published by Simon & Schuster (1993); The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) by Earl J. Hess published by University of North Carolina Press (2012); The Maps of Chickamauga by David Powell published by Savas Beatie (2009);  Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns (Great Campaigns of the Civil War) by Steven E. Woodworth published by University of Nebraska Press (2009) August Willich’s Gallant Dutchmen translated and edited by Joseph Reinhart published by Kent State University Press (2006); The Civil War Letters of Colonel Hans Christian Heg by Hans Heg and Theodore Blegen, published by Norwegian-American Historical Association (1936);  From Conciliation to Conquest. The Sack of Athens and the Court-Martial of Colonel John B. Turchin by George C. Bradley, and Richard L. Dahlen, Richard L.published by University of Alabama Press (2006);  John Basil Turchin and the Fight to Free the Slaves by Stephen Chicoine published by Praeger (2003); “Lincoln’s Russian General”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 52, No. 1, Lincoln Sesquicentennial (Spring, 1959), pp. 106-122 by Ernest E. Ernst; “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott; Leonard, Elizabeth. All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies. by Elizabeth Leonard published by W. W. Norton & Company, (1999).
2. John Basil Turchin and the Fight to Free the Slaves by Stephen Chicoine published by Praeger (2003) pp. 1-4.
3. John Basil Turchin and the Fight to Free the Slaves by Stephen Chicoine published by Praeger (2003) pp. 4-5
4. John Basil Turchin and the Fight to Free the Slaves by Stephen Chicoine published by Praeger (2003) p. 12.
5. John Basil Turchin and the Fight to Free the Slaves by Stephen Chicoine published by Praeger (2003) p. 13.
6.  “Lincoln’s Russian General”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 52, No. 1, Lincoln Sesquicentennial (Spring, 1959), pp. 106-122 by Ernest E. Ernst pp. 106-116.
7. “Lincoln’s Russian General”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 52, No. 1, Lincoln Sesquicentennial (Spring, 1959), pp. 106-122 by Ernest E. Ernst p. 116.
8. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott.
9. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott; Leonard, Elizabeth. All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies. by Elizabeth Leonard published by W. W. Norton & Company, (1999) pp. 133-143.
10. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott p. 20.
11. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott pp. 30-36.
12. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott.p. 26.
13. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott.p. 37.
14. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott pp. 38-39.
15. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott p. 39.
16. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott p. 46
17. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott p. 50
18. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott p. 51.
19. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977) by Mary Ellen Mcelligott p. 63.

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that will examine the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear monthly between 2011 and 2015, the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Here are the articles we have published so far:

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg

74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War

75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews

76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order

77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews

78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg

79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade

80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade

81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?

82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory

83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause

84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy

85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge

86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves

87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked

88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge

89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps

90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville

91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville

92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville

93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville

94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg

95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee

96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg

97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg

98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

99. An Irish Colonel and the Defense of Little Round Top on the Second Day at Gettysburg

100. A Prayer Before Death for the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863

101. The Irish Regiment that Ended “Pickett’s Charge”: July 3, 1863

102. Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots

103. Before the Draft Riots: The Cultivation of Division

104. The New York Draft Riots Begin

105. Convulsion of Violence: The First Day of the New York Draft Riots

106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.

107. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate and the Know Nothings

108. Killing Pat Cleburne: Know Nothing Violence

109. Pat Cleburne: Arresting a General, Becoming a General

110. The Immigrant Story Behind “Twelve Years a Slave”

111. A German Immigrant Woman’s Gettysburg Address

112. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate’s Emancipation Proclamation

113. Pat Cleburne: The South Can’t Use Black Soldiers Without Ending Slavery

114. The Suppression of Pat Cleburne’s Emancipation Proposal

115. An Irish Immigrant Colonel’s Warnings Ignored at Chickamauga

116. An Immigrant Colonel’s Fighting Retreat at Chickamauga

117. August Willich: German Socialist at Chickamauga

118. Hans Heg:at Chickamauga: Norwegian Commander on the Eve of Battle

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