page 215 from John Basil Turchin and The Fight To Free The Slaves
The ultimate outcome of the American Civil War was decided to a great extent on the battlefields of the West. The heroic stand at Chickamauga saved the Union army from a disaster of unimaginable consequences. The stunning victory at Missionary Ridge turned the tide of the war. The determined campaign against Atlanta sealed the fate of the Confederacy. John Basil Turchin played an important role in all of these campaigns as a brigade commander. But perhaps his greatest contribution to his adopted nation was his insistence on the vigorous prosecution of the war …
ON THE AFTERNOON OF SEPTEMBER 19, DAY 1 AT CHICKAMAUGA, THE CONFEDERATE ARMY HURLED THEIR RESERVES INTO THE CENTER OF THE UNION LINE, WHICH SEEMED ON THE VERGE OF BREAKING. JOHN BASIL TURCHIN’S BAYONET CHARGE SAVED THE UNION ARMY.
pages 148 – 149 from John Basil Turchin and The Fight To Free The Slaves
Turchin moved the Eleventh and Thirty-Sixth Ohio Regiments behind his two regiments already engaged in the fighting. Losses were heavy. At one point, the Eleventh Ohio under Colonel Philander Lane drove back the enemy with a fierce charge. There was little guidance of divisional command … Turchin’s Brigade was aligned to the left of Cruft’s Brigade of Palmer’s Division. A strong rebel force charged, causing Grose’s brigade alongside Cruft’s to give way and then Cruft’s right began to run. Confusion reigned. As the Confederates pressed forward, they exposed their right flank. Turchin recognized a situation in which it was most effective to close with the enemy and use the bayonet. He had thoroughly drilled his men on the use of the bayonet with a parry and thrust, knowing well that, “As to the bayonet drill, it gives a soldier an assurance in his skill to use the weapon. It is his belief that he can whip the enemy that prompts hum to charge bayonet.” Turchin described the action in his report. “Shortly afterward, at about 4:30 p.m., the enemy came in heavy columns on our front, there was wavering and indecision and I ordered a charge. The brigade yelled, rushed forward and drove the enemy back in confusion, taking some prisoners … The charge was executed by the whole brigade most gallantly. Cruft’s soldiers rallied and joined Turchin’s in the attack. They drove the Confederates back for a quarter of a mile. Turchin subsequently re-formed his men and returned them to their original position, the shock attack having thrown back the enemy attempt to overwhelm the Union position. General Palmer wrote in his After Action Report: “Cruft, Turchin and all their officers exerted themselves with distinguished courage to arrest the retreat … It seemed as if nothing would prevent a rout, but as if by magic, the line straightened up, the men turned on their pursuers.” Turchin later wrote, “There is no magic.”
ON THE AFTERNOON OF SEPTEMBER 20, DAY 2 AT CHICKAMAUGA, AFTER TWO LONG BLOODY DAYS OF FIGHTING, FOUR UNION DIVISIONS DESPERATELY CLUNG TO THEIR POSITION IN THE HORSESHOE. THE QUESTION WAS HOW TO EXTRACT THE UNION ARMY WHILE STILL ENGAGED BY THE ATTACKING CONFEDERATES. THE CONFEDERATES KNEW THEY WERE ON THE VERGE OF A MAJOR VICTORY FOLLOWING LONGSTREET’S LATE MORNING ATTACK AND MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH OF THE UNION LINE. THE UNION COMMAND TURNED TO GENERAL TURCHIN, WHOM THEY KNEW COULD BE RELIED ON. THE KEY WAS TO KEEP OPEN THE ESCAPE ROUTES THROUGH ROSSVILLE GAP AND MCFARLAND’S GAP UNTIL DARK.
pages 153 – 157 from John Basil Turchin and The Fight To Free The Slaves
General Reynolds, commanding the division rode up to Turchin at about 4:30 p.m. Turchin told Reynolds, “What? Surrender? No, sir. Never. I will take my brigade and cut my way out. When I tell my men to charge, they charge right out. I say this, we never surrender.” One report was that Turchin made the statement to General Thomas himself … As he approached each regiment, he asked which regiment they were, to which hundreds proudly shouted out the reply … “Now when I say charge, you do not charge in, then charge out, but you must go right through them, damn them” … The plan was to withdraw from the extreme right of the Union line and march behind three divisions, shifting from the right of the Union left to the extreme left. This not only would remove Reynold’s men, but also concentrate forces on the Union extreme left, which was being again threatened … save the Union line and keep open the line of retreat until darkness allowed withdrawal in the direction of Chattanooga. Turchin led his brigade north … The brigade marched in two parallel columns … Turchin’s brigade halted at the edge of the open field. Thomas wrote in the After Action Report of being “cautioned by a couple of soldiers, who had been to hunt water, that there was a large force of rebels in those woods, drawn up in line and advancing toward me.” He saw the head of Reynold’s column, Turchin at the lead and directed the soldiers to charge the enemy. Thomas had no idea how large the enemy force was or what was behind it … “We counted eight lines bearing down on us … We lay low … until they got close enough … Then Turchin took his hat by the crown and , waving it over his head, gave the order, “My brigade, charge bayonet, give ‘em hell, damn ‘em.” … The Confederates facing Turchin’s fierce bayonet charge were Liddell’s division … They represented the last and final attempt to extend beyond the Union left flank and overwhelm the Horseshoe Ridge defense from the rear … Govan’s left flank was exposed and Turchin was just the officer that could execute the attack … “So sudden was our attack that we had our bayonets in their teeth before they knew it and in fifteen seconds the whole plain was a mass of fleeing butternuts … Major General George Thomas wrote of Turchin’s “splendid advance … driving the enemy a mile and a half…”. Turchin’s great charge, as his men reverently referred to the daring action, became legendary among the Army of the Cumberland. Old veterans at reunions for many years afterward would re-tell their stories.
THE ARMY OF THE CUMBERLAND WITHDREW TO CHATTANOOGA UNDER COVER OF DARKNESS.
CHARGE UP MISSIONARY RIDGE NOVEMBER 25, 1863
pages 169 – 170 from John Basil Turchin and The Fight To Free The Slaves
Turchin made the decision at this point for his brigade to cross the clearing to the rifle-pits on the double-quick … “one of the most terrific artillery fires from the top of the ridge that has ever been experienced by any troops during the present war.” As Turchin’s brigade approached its objective at the base of the ridge, Confederate resistance melted away as the defenders withdrew up the slope … Confederate riflemen and artillery on the ridge poured a murderous fire down into the captured rifle-pits with deadly accuracy … John Basil Turchin, a veteran of combat, observed his men: “ … reached the rebel rifle-pits at the foot of the ridge and wavered for a moment, some men dropping down to escape the murderous fire from the enemy’s artillery and musketry. Knowing that men dropping down under fire are very slow to get up and start again, I urged my regiments on and they rushed forward and commenced to climb the hill.” The men of Turchin’s brigade followed orders and surged forward … Flank elements of Turchin’s brigade ran “over the heads” of Beatty’s and Van Derveer’s men lying in the rifle-pits on either side of his brigade. At about this time, units to Turchin’s right, brigades of Wood’s division, also began to advance up the slope … “If the honor belongs to any General, it should go to Turchin.”
MISSIONARY RIDGE WAS ARGUABLY THE TURNING POINT OF THE CIVIL WAR.