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Turchin's Chickamauga Brigade

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Two of the more colorful minor characters of the Civil War were Ivan Vasilyevich Turchaninov, better known as John Basil Turchin, and his wife Nadezhda Antonina Lvov, known to us as Nadine and to the soldiers who knew her as Madame Turchin.

John was born sometime in 1822 (sources vary on the actual date, being either in January or December) and joined the Russian Army in 1843. He saw service as a lieutenant in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. His father, a major, had enough influence to gain for his son a commission and then later entry to the Imperial Military School from which John graduated in 1852. Turchin became a staff member in the Imperial Russian Guards, rising to the rank of colonel. In 1856 he married Nadezhda, and the couple relocated to the United States later that same year.

Nadine was born on November 26th, 1826, she too being the child of a Russian officer. On May 10th, 1856 she married John in Krakow. The couple settled on a farm in New York, then move to Philadelphia, and finally settle in Chicago. John was a topographical engineer for the Illinois Central Railroad. When the Civil War started he became colonel of the Nineteenth Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a three-year unit that organized in Chicago during June of 1861, and having such colorful company names such as the "Chicago Highland Guards," Chicago Light Infantry," and "Chicago Zouaves." Tragedy struck the Nineteenth shortly after formation. On September 17th, 1861 the regiment suffered several casualties as a result of a railroad accident near Shoals, Indiana, with twenty-four men killed immediately and 105 men wounded, some later dying of their wounds.

Turchin utilized his prior military experience in making the Nineteenth a well-drilled regiment, aided by several men who has previously served in the Ellsworth Zouaves, leading Don C. Buell to remark that he "never saw a better drilled Regiment." Buell made Turchin commander of the Eighth Brigade in Ormsby Mitchel's division. This command was left to hold Nashville while another portion of Buell's army went to aid Hiram U. Grant along the Tennessee River. Mitchel's command later moved into north Alabama, where Turchin was involved in a controversial act, the Sack (or Rape) of Athens, which caused Turchin to be court martialed. Turchin believed in waging total war: "My superior officers do not agree with my plans. They want the rebellion treated tenderly and gently. They may cashier me, but I shall appeal to the American people and implore them to wage this war in such a manner as will make humanity better for it." Ironically he was promoted to brigadier general after Lincoln set aside his guilty verdict and Turchin later led troops at Stones River, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga, as well as advocate for the enlisting of slaves into the service. He resigned his commission in 1864 due to heatstroke suffered on campaign.

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 developed dementia, and die penniless on June 18th, 1901 in Anna, Illinois. Nadine followed him in death in 1904, and the couple are buried together in Mound City National Cemetery.

Turchin's brigade at Chickamauga consisted of the following infantry regiments:

Eighteenth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry - Organized at Falmouth, Kentucky, February 8th, 1862. From March until August it was unattached in the Army of the Ohio. Eighteen men took part in the First Battle of Cynthiana where they were captured. In August it was briefly a part of the 2nd Brigade, Army of the Kentucky (where it was engaged and mostly captured at the Battle of Richmond), and then the regiment became part of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Army of Kentucky (Army and Department of the Ohio) in October. In that same month the regiment was unattached within the Army of Kentucky, where in December it returned to the previous organization. From February 1863 until June it was in Crook's Brigade, Baird's Division, Army of Kentucky. From June until Chickamauga it was a part of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Division, XIVth Corps. Strength was 266 men.

Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry - The three year version of the regiment was organized at Camp Dennison, Ohio, June 20th, 1861. From July until October of that year it was in the Kanawha Brigade of the Army of Occupation. It then became part of the 2nd Brigade, District of Kanawha (Department of Western Virginia) until March 1862 when it moved to the 3rd Brigade of the Mountain Department. In September the regiment was then in the 2nd Brigade, Kanawha Division, IXth Corps, Army of the Potomac, seeing action at South Mountain and Antietam. In October it was moved to the Army and Department of the Ohio, staying in the same brigade and division. From February 1863 until Chickamauga the Eleventh followed the same path as the Eighteenth. Strength was 433 men.

Thirty-Sixth Ohio Volunteer Infantry - Organized at Marietta, Ohio, July 30th-August 31st, 1861. In September 1861 it was in the Kanawha Brigade of the Army of Occupation. In October it was unattached, now in the District of Kanawha (Department of Western Virginia), and then in March 1862 it was moved to the 3rd Brigade of the Mountain Department until September. From February 1863 until Chickamauga the regiment followed the same path as the Eleventh. Strength was 484 men.

Ninety-Second Ohio Volunteer Infantry - Organized at Camp Marietta and at Gallipolis, Ohio, August-September, 1862. From October 1862 to January 1863 the regiment was in the District of Kanawha as part of the Army and Department of Ohio. From February 1863 until June of that year the Ninety-Second was in Crook's Brigade, Baird's Division, Army of Kentucky. From June until Chickamauga it was a part of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Division, XIVth Corps. Strength was 400 men.

The brigade suffered a loss of twenty-one percent at Chickamauga. The performance of the brigade was aptly described n this 1863 newspaper article:

Sacramento Daily Union, November 17th, 1863


{Correspondence of the Cincinnati Commercial.}

Chattanooga (Tenn.), October 9th. - The position assigned the brigade was held by it all day, though charge after charge was made upon it. It was a line of slight breastworks thrown up during Saturday night on the right of Brannan's division, and on the right center of the line of battle. Toward two o'clock the enemy's fire slackened, or rather changed to a heavy skirmish fire. The brigade had been under fire for six hours, and now fell back from the breastworks, though not out of range of rebel bullets, and the men laid down, four companies being sent forward as skirmishers. Behind the skirmish line of the enemy could be distinctly seen a heavy force of infantry, and why they did not attack us was a wonder which was not cleared up until after four o'clock, when General Reynolds ordered the brigade to the rear. Moving across the corner of a cornfield, to the left of our position, we struck the Rossville road, a few rods south of the large farm house used as a hospital on Saturday and the morning of Sunday; the mangled remains of the dead - the rebels' dead outnumbering ours two to one - and the dying showing that it was no place for a hospital during the afternoon of Sunday. A few rods further north the brigade changed direction by filing to the left, into the woods skirting the road on that side, and were halted and brought to a front, leaving the brigade in columns by companies, forming two lines of battle, the Eleventh Ohio and Eighteenth Kentucky in front, and the Ninety-second and Thirty-sixth in the rear. Hardly had this been completed, when a rebel battery in our rear opened a perfect storm of shell and grapeshot into our ranks. This was entirely unexpected to us. It seems a whole division of the enemy had passed entirely around our left, and coming up in our rear, expected to capture the entire left wing of our army, which explained the reason of our not being pressed in front.

Just at the moment the rebels opened, General Thomas rode up: "Whose brigade is this?" "General Turchin's," was promptly answered. "General, can your brigade break those lines?" "Yes, I guess so, if any brigade can." "Very well, do it at once."

General Turchin has been commanding our brigade but a short time, but long enough to gain the confidence of all his men. Rising in his stirrups he gave the command, "About face - forward - double-quick - bayonets - march!" With a yell, the volume of which was decreased not a whit by the fact that the men fully realized that everything depended on the success of this movement, they did charge. The enemy were drawn up in three lines in an open field, and as we emerged from the woods delivered a volley that tore through our ranks, but failed to check the onward course of our men, who returned the fire, charged bayonets, and dashed into them before they could reload. The rebels broke in the wildest confusion, while cheer upon cheer from our brave boys added swiftness to their flight. A running fight now ensued which baffles description. The smoke arising from the discharge of so many guns and the thick clouds of dust completely obscured both rebel and Federal, while the hoarse commands of the officers, endeavoring to keep their men in line, the lurid flash of artillery, and the bursting of shell and the rattling of grapeshot, which the rebels continued to pour into our ranks at short range from three points, made up a picture as nearly resembling pandemonium as one need wish to see.

At this point, while Generals Reynolds and Turchin were endeavoring to bring some order out of the confusion that had unavoidably ensued, in order to further drive the enemy, General Turchin's horse was struck in the flank by a cannon ball and killed, and by the time he had procured a remount the brigade had passed over the first field, through a small wood and into a second field, where he came up and gave the order to march by the left flank, and then charged a battery on a commanding elevation to the left, that had been throwing a few shell at us. At this point the brigade was split, the larger part following General Turchin to the left, and captured the Tenth Wisconsin Battery, which had been playing on us, thinking we were rebels.

General Reynolds, who was bravely leading the advance, had not noticed the movement to the left, it being so very dusty that it was impossible to distinguish a man twenty yards from the head of the column, and followed by Colonel Lane and several other officers of the Eleventh, Thirty-sixth, Ninety-second Ohio and Eighteenth Kentucky regiments, the colors of the Thirty-sixth in the lead, with about one hundred and fifty men from all four regiments, pushed rapidly forward on the road, driving the enemy before him, who kept up a general scattering fire as they retreated. The General thought himself cut off from the army, and his only hope was to cut his way through to Rossville, but when about two miles on the road he approached a wood, spreading out on each side of the road, the ground thickly covered with underbrush, from which the rebels opened a heavy fire. With a cheer the men dashed into the woods, driving the enemy back, but the road forked here, and the General, attended by one mounted orderly, made a reconnaissance, and finding the rebels too strong for him, ordered a retreat to a hospital about half a mile back, where he thought he could hold out till night, when darkness would render pursuit dangerous. The men were very nearly exhausted, but Colonel Lane formed them in line, and, as the enemy had not followed us, gave a rest, while General Reynolds and himself consulted as to the best way of getting out of the difficulty. At this time, about five o'clock, one of our mounted men appeal in sight, coming toward us on a side road, and from him we obtained the joyful information that the road connecting with Granger's reserves was still open. We lost no time in joining the brigade, who had supposed us captured or killed. We here found out that General Thomas had kept open the road we had made, by bringing off his divisions, one after the other, covered by General Granger's reserves. It was a battery of the reserve which General Turchin had charged at the point of the bayonet, supposing it belonged to the rebels.

On this charge our brigade captured about six hundred prisoners and four pieces of cannon, but were so closely pushed that we had to abandon the cannon, and half our prisoners escaped in the confusion; but three hundred were marched along and sent safely through to Chattanooga that night.

Officers of the reserve, who had a fair view of the whole charge, describe it as the grandest spectacle imaginable.


American Civil War Research Database

Chronicling America

David Powell - Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of the Battle, September 11 to October 20, 1863.

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