In August 1856, Ivan Vasilievitch Turchaninov and Nedezhda Dmitrievna Lvow arrived in the United States. The two had been married for only three months, and were both natives of the Russian Empire. Ivan was descended from a family of Cossacks with a strong military background in whose footsteps he followed by attending military school in St. Petersburg. He had served as an army captain during the Crimean War, stationed in the critical port city of Sevastopol, and was part of the forces sent to put down rebellions in both Poland and Hungary. It was while stationed in Russia that he had met Nedezhda, a highly educated and articulate woman with ties to the aristocracy.
The two shared a secret passion—aside, that is, from their love. Both were committed liberals, with connections to republican intellectuals considered subversive to the autocratic reign of the Tsars. And after Russia’s humiliating defeat at the hands on the Western powers in 1856, both were firmly tired of that autocracy. In April 1856, after Ivan obtained a one year leave of absence from the army, he and Nedezhda eloped to Krakow, then part of the Austrian Empire, and quickly fled to the United States, where they hoped to make a new home in a republican state. Neither spoke a word of English upon arrival, but they wasted little time Anglicizing their names. Ivan and Nedezhda Turchaninov became John and Nadine Turchin. Continue reading “From Russia with Love: John and Nadine Turchin”
Analyzing soldiers letters’ home gives deep insight into not only the political tensions during the time they were writing, but also the personal struggles they went through during combat. What was it like seeing a close comrade killed during a battle that was viewed as pointless? How did dreams affect soldiers’ views on the war?
While researching Henry A. Kircher of the 12th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, I found a collection of his letters written to loved ones back home during the time he served in the Civil War. Born in Illinois from German immigrants, Kircher spent much of his early years surrounded by German-Americans. Despite his social separation due to his decent, his devotion to the Union led Kircher to enlist in the 9th Illinois Infantry at the age of nineteen. While still with the ninth, he wrote to his father of an accident in camp. A young man had tripped and his rifle fired into the guardhouse, hitting another soldier in the abdomen. “Life and death are fighting,” he wrote of the experience. “Probably the latter one will win.” It did not take long for the young Kircher to be exposed to death.
As the American Civil War entered its fourth summer in 1864, both Union and Confederacy delved ever deeper into their remaining reserves of manpower. Legions of men continued to enter the armed forces of their nations, reinforcing drastically undermanned units as well as forming regiments of their own. One such regiment was the 133rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Organized at Camp Butler, Illinois in May of 1864 and mustered in for only one hundred days, the 133rd Illinois was stationed at the Rock Island Arsenal, where its men guarded Confederate prisoners of war. Here the 133rd would remain until its men’s enlistment expired and they were mustered out of service in September. Continue reading “A Life Cast Asunder: The Fate of Sanford Pettibone”
The men of the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry were out of their minds with boredom in the closing months of 1864. Those veterans who remained from the campaigns of the year before could recall the proud service of their regiment. Mustered into service at Camp Butler, Illinois in September of 1861, the 33rd has spent the first year of its war fighting minor skirmishes in the trans-Mississippi theater. Then, in the late fall of 1862, the 33rd Illinois was transferred to the First Briagde, First Division, XIII Corps of the Army of the Tennessee.
Commanded by Major General John A. McClernand until June of 1863, when he was replaced by Major General Edward O.C. Ord, the XIII Corps would take part in one of the greatest military campaigns ever waged on the North American continent: Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg campaign. The 33rd Illinois fought with distinction at nearly every major battle of Grant’s final push towards Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863. They drove through a Confederate delaying action at Port Gibson on May 1 before bloodlessly capturing the Mississippi state capital of Jackson two weeks later. Wheeling to the west, Grant’s army and the 33rd along with it then proceeded to drive through Confederate General John C. Pemberton’s feeble efforts to halt the Union juggernaut and avoid a siege, first giving battle at Champion Hill on May 16 and at the Big Black River Bridge on May 17. Having finally reached the city itself, the men of the 33rd Illinois would take part in both the failed early assaults on Vicksburg and the month-long siege that followed. Continue reading ““Wrecked cars and suffering humanity”: The Fortunes of the 33rd Illinois”