Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I Shut My Eyes

Union General John Basil Turchin looked the other way on May 2nd 1862, when his troops had their way with Athens, Alabama.

John Basil Turchin was born with the name Ivan Vasilyevich Turchaninov on December 24th 1821 in Russia.  He attended the Imperial Military School in St Petersburg, Russia.  Turchin served with the Russian Guards and saw action as a Colonel in the Crimean War.  He and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1856.  He settled in Chicago, Illinois and went to work for the Illinois Central Railroad.

When the Civil War started Turchin joined the 19th Illinois Infantry, and became their Colonel.  His unit was place under the command of Union Major General Don Carlos Buell in the Army of the Ohio.  Turchin’s was soon commanding a brigade that was part of the Third Division under Brigadier General Ormsby McNight Mitchel.  Buell moved to support Union General Ulysses S Grant at Shiloh, and sent Mitchel south to Huntsville, Alabama to cut the rail line there.  This move over extended the Union line, and Turchin’s men were badly handled, with the locals firing on them from their windows while trying to hold the town of Athens, Alabama.  Turchin’s men finally occupied the town of Athens on May 2nd 1862.  He brought his men together and told them, "I shut my eyes for two hours. I see nothing."  What followed has been called the “Rape of Athens”, with Turchin leaving his men to loot the town.

When Buell heard about the incidence he court-martialed Turchin.  The proceedings became the focus of the nation.  The debate surrounded on the how the conciliatory policy to Southerns were causing Union casualties to grow.  Before the court-martial was finished Turchin received a promotion to Brigadier General.  Turchin continued to serve, distinguishing himself at Chickamauga and Chattanooga.

Turchin suffered heatstroke and resigned his command October 1864.  He returned to Chicago, where he worked as a civil engineer, and invested in real estate.  He developed dementia which was attributed to the heatstroke he suffered while in the army.  Turchin died June 18th 1901 in Anna, Illinois.

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