John Basil Turchin
(Ivan Vasilovitch Turchinoff)
John Basil Turchin (Ivan Vasilovitch Turchinoff), Russia's only contribution to the ranks of Civil War general officers, was born in the Province of the Don on January 30, 1822. He was graduated from the Imperial Military School at St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) in 1841, and rose to be a colonel of the Imperial Guard. During the Crimean War, he served on the personal staff of the crown prince, later Czar Alexander II. Turchin also planned and erected the Finnish coastal defenses, which were hailed as among the most elaborate and scientific in Europe. In 1856 Turchin emigrated to the United States, settling in Chicago where he secured employment in the engineering department of the Illinois Central Railroad. He was commissioned colonel of the 19th Illinois Infantry on June 17, 1861, and, utilizing European methods of discipline, soon had his command whipped into shape. Turchin was a thorough soldier; however, he advocated the Continental theory that to the victor belong the spoils. Accordingly, his regiment and later his brigade were notorious for their disregard of the persons and property, regardless of sex, of enemy civilians. In February, 1862, D. C. Buell placed him in command of a brigade of O. M. Mitchel's division, with which he captured the town of Huntsville, Alabama, in April. The next month, after taking the town of Athens, Alabama, he encouraged his men to rob and pillage indiscriminately—allegedly in reprisal for the townspeople having stoned and fired on his leading regiment, the 18th Ohio. For this and the offense of having allowed his wife to accompany him in the field in violation of orders, he was relieved from command, court-martialed, and recommended for dismissal. His wife, however, prevailed upon President Lincoln to set the verdict aside and, further, to commission him a brigadier general of volunteers to rank from July 17, 1862. Turchin's subsequent battle record fully justified Lincoln's confidence. He fought gallantly at Chickamauga, commanding a brigade of J. J. Reynolds' division of Thomas' XIV Corps and earning the nickname "The Russian Thunderbolt." Two months later at the assault on Missionary Ridge, one of his regiments was the first to scale the Confederate works, and during the Atlanta campaign his division commander Absalom Baird eulogized his soldierly and patriotic qualities. Turchin went on sick leave on July 15, 1864, and on October 4, 1864, was compelled to resign because of his health. After the war he became solicitor of patents in Chicago and in 1873 established a Polish colony at Radom in southern Illinois. Late in life he became mentally deranged and died on June 19, 1901, in the Southern Hospital for the Insane, Anna, Illinois. He was buried in the National Cemetery at Mound City.
Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.