Today marks the 150th anniversary of the sack of Athens, Alabama on 2 May 1862 by Union troops serving under the command of Colonel John Turchin, who was born Ivan Vasilovitch Turchinov, near St. Petersburg, Russia. Upon entering Athens, Turchin turned his men loose, telling them “I see nothing for two hours.” The unrestrained Union troops raped a black woman and destroyed over $50,000 in property, including hundreds of bibles that were taken from a store and trampled. Turchin was court-martialed for his actions, but suffered no consequences other than being promoted to Brigadier General. In From Conciliation to Conquest, their recent account of the sack of Athens and the court-martial of Colonel Turchin, George Bradley and Richard Dahlen argue that the sack of Athens marked a turning point in the war. Turchin’s promotion gave other commanders the green light. They conclude: “The nature of the war would change. . . . From this point forward, the people of the South would feel the full weight of the war. On the way to Savannah, every brigade commander in Sherman’s army would be watching his men do the very same things Turchin and his men had been castigated for in the spring of 1862. Those volunteers, free to invade, would offer no apologies for doing that which they had come to do. Turchin’s men never did either.” (Bradley & Dahlen, 243)
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