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From Conciliation to Conquest

The Sack of Athens and the Court-Martial of Colonel John B. Turchin

Written by George C. Bradley and Richard L. Dahlen

Publication Year: 2006

In the summer of 1862, the U.S. Army court martialed Colonel John B. Turchin, a Russian-born Union officer, for "outrages" committed by his troops in Athens, Alabama. By modern standards, the outrages were minor: stores looted, safes cracked, and homes vandalized. There was one documented act of personal violence, the rape of a young black woman. The pillage of Athens violated a government policy of conciliation; it was hoped that if Southern civilians were treated gently as citizens of the United States, they would soon return their allegiance to the federal government.

By following Turchin to Athens and examining the volunteers who made up his force, the colonel's trial, his subsequent promotion, the policy debate, and the public reaction to the outcome, the authors further illuminate one of the most provocative questions in Civil War studies: how did the policy set forth by President Lincoln evolve from one of conciliation to one far more modern in nature, placing the burden of war on the civilian population of the South?

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

There are many people who deserve credit for helping to create this book, for without the aid and assistance of the countless archivists, research assistants, librarians, and scholars who either broke related ground before we began or who helped us locate, collate, and understand the wealth of material that came before, this work would never have been done. To any and all who thus ...

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pp. 1-8

We, as Americans, have great faith in our form of government, and many of us take considerable pride in the notion that our nation is nearly unique, our people dedicated to lofty principles rather than to high and mighty princes. That pride has at times carried with it a degree of hubris, a conclusion that other people in other places should embrace our ideas and ideals just as ...

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1. The Policy

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pp. 9-17

It was, perhaps, somewhat ironic that the clouds, which had pretty much shut out the sun over Washington, DC, on the morning of March 4, 1861, cleared away shortly after noon. Sunlight then fell on the thirty thousand people standing on the great west lawn of the Capitol as president-elect Abraham Lincoln stood and strode forward to address the nation. Just how large a ...

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2. The Man

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pp. 18-30

Ivan Vasilevitch Turchininoff was born on January 30, 1822, in the Military Province of the Don Cossacks, between the Black and Caspian seas. His father served as a major in the Imperial Russian Army, giving him a place, albeit on a lower rung, in the Russian table of nobility. This, in turn, gave the son entry into the schools that led to his own commission—not an unusual ...

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3. The Men

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pp. 31-44

When Hylan Downs and his friends decided to go off to war, they knew exactly how they wanted to go about it. As he recalled long after the war had ended, “a member of our company named Sanders and myself had repeatedly witnessed the drilling of the Ellsworth Zouaves in the old Garrett Block, corner of Randolph and State, [and] we decided that we must all join the ...

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4. Advanced Basic

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pp. 45-58

A few days before their departure, Turchin met his new commanders. The ¤rst was Stephen A. Hurlbut, who unceremoniously burst into Turchin’s tent to inform the colonel that he was now under Hurlbut’s command. Hurlbut was just one month a soldier and already a brigadier general, his apparent qualifications for the rank having been that he was a northern Illinois lawyer, ...

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5. Leadership

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pp. 59-70

At Louisville, Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman was about to succeed to the command of Union forces in central Kentucky when the Nineteenth and Twenty-fourth Illinois encamped on a defensive line at Lebanon Junction, thirty-five miles south of the city. However much Turchin and his men may have wanted to strike hard at organized rebel forces, ...

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6. The Orders

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pp. 71-90

A day after accepting Nashville’s surrender, which the Yankees seized without contest on February 25, 1862, Major General Don Carlos Buell first took up the question, How should Union troops treat the people of rebel Tennessee? In General Order No. 13a, issued the very next day, he answered with a straightforward mandate of conciliation. “We are in arms not for the purpose ...

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7. The Campaign

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pp. 91-108

The men of Turchin’s Brigade stepped off in column and marched out of Nashville on Tuesday, March 18, 1862, having rested quietly there for three weeks. With the rest of Mitchel’s Third Division, altogether 7,400 strong, they headed south. The Union army had entered the city, as the University of Nashville’s chancellor observed, with “[a]ll the air and assumption of a ...

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8. Outrage

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pp. 109-125

Turchin’s aide, Lieutenant William B. Curtis, galloped back to report that the Confederate soldiers were gone from Athens. Curtis had gone forward around 3:00 a.m., accompanying Kennett’s advance—two hundred troopers and one artillery piece from Edgarton’s battery. Turchin had ordered Kennett to strike hard and fast: “[I]f the town held only a cavalry force he was to ...

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9. The Nomination

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pp. 126-137

Illinois governor Richard Yates visited the nation’s capital from June 14 through June 21, 1862, accompanied by John Wood, his state’s quartermaster general. Staying at the National Hotel, they spent time with their senators, Lyman Trumbull and Orville Hickman Browning, and gained an audience with the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton. The main objective of their trip ...

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10. The Indictment [Includes Illustrations]

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pp. 138-155

Don Carlos Buell spent the middle two weeks of June 1862 marching his men from the area of Corinth, Mississippi, eastward toward Chattanooga. As had been the case with virtually every prolonged movement of his army, the advance had the pace of molasses running along a 3 percent grade. Henry Halleck had ordered Buell to move out on June 9. On June 25 the headquarters ...

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11. The Court-Martial

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pp. 156-174

Major General Don Carlos Buell could not have doubted that in James Abram Garfield he had the right young brigadier to preside over a trial on these accusations. Garfield, a proven combat leader, had spoken earlier in the spring publicly affirming his support of conciliation. His keen intellect and sharp political skills had gained for him a brigadier’s nomination from high ...

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12. The Switch

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pp. 175-188

The conflict that had simmered since the war began, pitting Lincoln’s policy of conciliation against the likes of the widespread and popular demand, echoed in the Chicago Tribune, that the South be rendered “a desolated, blackened country” had come to its boiling point. Now, in July 1862, the point of decision arrived. The army, its ranks being depleted by casualties, disease, and ...

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13. Confirmation

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pp. 189-202

With more than four dozen nominations for brigadier pending, careful legislative management would be needed to bring any of them to the forefront quickly and successfully so that its message, if one was intended, might be loudly and clearly conveyed. Normally that job would have fallen to the chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs and the Militia, Senator ...

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14. The Verdict

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pp. 203-220

The promotion of the new class of brigadiers of which John Basil Turchin was a member represented the close of business for the United States Senate. On Thursday, July 17, it confirmed the last of those appointments, wrapped up all of its other business, and adjourned until December, many of the members, their staffs, and hangers-on catching trains for distant cities and other ...

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15. The Conquering Hero

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pp. 221-234

The former colonel, perhaps brigadier, John B. Turchin kicked around Huntsville for six days before he accepted the fact that he had been cashiered. He took off his uniform, donned civilian garb, and on August 12 telegraphed his friends and family in Chicago, telling them that such was the state of affairs. He would catch a train home the next day, Wednesday, the thirteenth. Four ...

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16. Afterward

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pp. 235-243

General Turchin stayed with the army until July 15, 1864, when he returned home on furlough due to illness and soon after resigned. Until then he continued to lead and inspire the men who served under him. During an engagement near Dalton, Georgia, in late February 1864, he “gallantly appeared and exposed his life on horseback through the thickest of the fight.” ...

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pp. 244-246

There is a danger in bringing men together to fight for a cause. The danger lies in the risk that the people will volunteer for a cause that is different than that for which their government seeks their service. If not adequately trained, if left to fend for themselves, untrained, undisciplined, their own dark motives can quickly determine the actions they take, especially where ...


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pp. 247-248


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pp. 249-274


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pp. 275-290


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pp. 291-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381707
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817315269

Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Turchin, John B. (John Basil), 1822-1901 -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Turchin, John B. (John Basil), 1822-1901.
  • Athens (Ala.) -- History, Military -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Destruction and pillage.
  • Civil-military relations -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States. Army -- Officers -- Biography.
  • United States. Army. Illinois Infantry Regiment, 19th (1861-1864).
  • Trials (Military offenses) -- United States.
  • Pillage -- Alabama -- Athens -- History -- 19th century.
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