On June 27th, 1863, while camped at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Nadine Turchin, wife of Brigadier General John Turchin of the Army of the Cumberland, wrote an irate entry in her journal. “Really, I think that the commanding general should take me as his chief of staff,” she began, “or at least as his personal advisor.” She went on to discuss the movements of her husband’s regiment as they campaigned in the west, criticizing the orders given to him by his superiors that had resulted in several deaths within the regiment and offering her own take on how they should have proceeded. “Oh, uncivilized beasts!” she concluded, in reference to the army’s leaders: “They are dedicated to sacrificing this unfortunate army.”
As I have previously written on this blog, Nadine Turchin was an extraordinary woman. Not only did she follow her husband to war (and by some accounts directly engage in the fighting), but she was highly articulate and possessed an incredible intellect. A multilingual Russian immigrant from an aristocratic background, Nadine was a unique observer of the Union army. She kept a diary while with the army, written primarily in 1863 as a writing exercise so that her mastery of French would not decay. In it, she recorded her frequently scathing thoughts on a variety of topics, including the rights of women, the conduct of the war, and the state of the country. She also used it to record her wartime observations, and it includes accounts of both the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, written from her point of view during the fighting.
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”