Person:General James Abram Garfield (President)

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General James Abram Garfield (President)

General James Garfield (Wikipedia)

James Abram Garfield (Wikipedia)
 US. President of the United States

Born:November 19, 1831, Moreland Hills, Ohio
Died:September 19, 1881, Elberson, New Jersey
Buried:LakeView Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio


•  General Union Army

     Lay Preacher
     US Congress Representative from Ohio's 19th district
     Free Mason - Wikipedia

•  Because James Abram Garfield was President of the United States, biographical information abounds. We have primarily linked to references to his time in Northern Alabama. - Editor's note

•  James Record lists General James Fargield as one of many Generals in Madison County. This is what he wrote in 1970: "At least seventy-three generals and admirals have called Madison County home, at least for a short time. A large number were natives, while some served in the County during a term of military service. Many were commissioned in the Alabama State Militia. Probably no county in America of comparable size, can lay claim to more." - Record 1

•  "It was in June of 1862 that a Union Brigadier General named James A. Garfield entered Mooresville and Huntsville, Alabama. His job was to rebuild the railroad (CSA troops had torn it up to deny use to the Union Army). Thereby re-establish service between Memphis and Chattanooga and thus provide supply support to the Union Army presence in North Alabama and North Mississippi; captured after the CSA loss at Shiloh, Tennessee in April, 1862.
     While a General, before the war he was a Preacher and College President of the Disciples of Christ Church Restoration Movement. And thus in July of 1862 he was asked to preach on Sunday to a group of Christians in Mooresville. He did, and the church holds his bible today as a memorial to that event. A Union General preaching to Southern Christians - for they shared a common faith." - Heritage Trip

•  General James A. Garfield preached at the Church of Christ on Broad Street in Mooresville during the Civil War while encamped at Bibb's Spring in 1863 with the 42nd regiment of the Ohio Volunteers. The Bible Garfield allegedly used was at the church until recent years when its deterioration necessitated replacement. - Mooresville Walking Tour

•  Steenburn tells of the atrocities in Athens of Col. Turchin and his soldiers. General Garfield served on the court martial board. While the trial was started in Athens, it was moved, after two weeks, to the Madison county courthouse. "Court-martial charges were filed against the man who had become known as the "Mad Cossack" The court-martial began on July 7, 1862.
     There were over two hundred complaints filed against Turchin by the citizens of North Alabama. However, only 20 separate charges of rape and pillage were filed against Turchin.
     The trial lasted thirty-one days and a defiant Turchin, a haughty figure in his full spit-and-polish parade attire, barked in a loud and commanding voice; "Nyet guilty!"
     Turchin continued:
     'Since I have been in the army, I have tried to teach these Rebels that treason to the United States was a terrible crime. My superior officers do not agree with my plans. They want the rebellion treated tenderly and gently. They may cashier (discharge) me, but I shall appeal to the American people and implore them to wage this war in such a manner as will make humanity better for it.'
     The verdict was guilty of nineteen of the twenty charges and Turchin was ordered dismissed from the service." - Steenburn

•  In this account, the Madison County portion of the trial was conducted in the "stately Northern Bank of Alabama in Huntsville" instead of the county court house. - Rohr

•  Garfield is described as a man that wished to teach rebels that treachery to the Union was a terrible crime. "Nevertheless Garfield considered the conduct of Mitchel's men ' the history of war. There has not been found in American history so black a page.'" - Rohr

•  "General Garfield, recovering but still weak from illness, was 'allowed a cot to lie on and have thus been enabled to work and be sick at the same time' while in Huntsville." - Rohr

•  "Many citizens of the Tennessee Valley might have felt a certain satisfaction to know that the hated Gen. Basil Turchin died in 1901 in the Southern Illinois Hospital of Insane. General James Abram Garfield, who served on Turchin's court-martial board, survived the War and became the 20th President of the United States, only to be killed by an assassin." - Rohr

•  When Buell was told what had happened in his absence, his reaction was swift. Mitchel was transferred to desk duty in Washington, D.C. and Turchin, who'd offered to resign, was court martialed. The military trial was to be conducted in the Athens Courthouse on July 10, 1862 with the future 20th U.S. President, the then thirty year old Brigadier General, James Abram Garfield, to preside. The impending proceeding received a great deal of press coverage due to tremendous public interest in the case, not just because of the back story of Turchin being Russian, but the subject matter before the military court - conciliatory conduct toward Southerners while Northern casualties mounted - had become the hottest of political hot potatoes.
     The Illinois letters to Lincoln, led by the lobbying thrust of Turchin's wife, Madame Nadine Turchin, in support of her husband, picked up steam like a locomotive as May became June. Thanks to Lincoln's intercession on his behalf, Turchin was promoted to Brigadier General. Garfield found himself between a rock and a hard place. In a letter written to his wife the night before testimony was taken in Turchin's trial, Garfield wrote:
     "The town was sacked according to Muscovite custom".
     On July 30, 1862, Turchin was found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, of neglect of duty, of failing to control his men, and of violating Buell's General Order No. 13a, which forbade depredations However, the military tribunal recommended leniency due to extraordinary circumstances. Turchin was dismissed, not discharged, from duty and sent home to await final word. He departed Huntsville by train and arrived in Illinois to a hero's welcome. Afterwards he was the poster boy of personages who pushed for a rougher and tougher effort to end the war.      - Stelnick

•  Turchin: Russian American Civil War General (Don Cossack Ivan Vasilievich Turchaninov, also known as John Basil Turchin, made his mark in Russia and then in America during the Civil War.) The article tells of Turchin's atrocitiesin Athens, Alabama and the results. There are three paragraphs with references to Garfield. - Stelnick

•  In 1880, Joe Wheeler and William Manning Lowe ran against each other in a political contest for the US Congress, North Alabama district. These were complicated times in Alabama. After the Civil War, alliances and power structures were shifting. Most of the voting rights for southern sympathizers had been reinstated, but African American's also had voting rights. Garfield was running for President of the United States and, in Northern Alabama, Lowe aligned with Garfield. This is the section of the larger article that deals with Garfield:
     Although Lowe, like Wheeler, had based much of his early campaign on "white supremacy," as he saw traditional Democratic votes began to peel away, and in an effort to replace them, he met with the State Chairman of the Republican party and received their endorsement. In addition, the leading Black newspaper in the south strongly endorsed Lowe.
     The Wheeler factions heralded this as proof that Lowe was in the pockets of the "carpet bagging radicals." Secretly, though, they were worried. With Lowe picking up a unified black vote it could spell doom for Wheeler's candidacy. In an attempt to nullify the Republicans' effect on the race, Wheeler operatives enlisted the help of W.H. Councill, a leading black educator in Huntsville. Rumor mills in Huntsville had connected Councill's name to a sordid sex scandal and possibly he saw this as a way to change the subject.
     With Councill's help, the Democratic party began holding mass rallies across North Alabama. Abundant quantities of free food and drink attracted thousands of people who listened to speeches by Councill and other black leaders urging them to vote for Wheeler.
     Now, the Lowe camp was worried. With Councill and other black leaders supporting Wheeler, they could no longer count on a solid black vote. To counter this, and with advice from the Republican party, Lowe's operative's began to link his name with that of James Garfield, the Republican candidate for president. Garfield had been a Union General stationed in Huntsville for a while during the civil war and was highly popular with the black voters. The white voters, however, detested Garfield as a reminder of the Union occupation during the war.
     In an almost comical sense, Lowe was placed in the situation of portraying himself as a loyal Confederate veteran at white gatherings and a friend of Garfield and the Union Army before blacks. It was a successful strategy however as newspapers of the day describe Lowe's rallies as having almost a religious fervor, with his speeches before black rallies being constantly punctuated by choruses of 'Amen' and 'Hallelujah."
     Garfield won Madison County votes for president. Lowe and Wheeler's story is more complicated and the full account can be read in the link here. -

•  A local note on the presidential election of Garfield: "The same group supporting Lowe carried Madison County for Republican James Garfield, who had been in Madison County in 1863, for President. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur, his vice presidential running mate, took the White House. Garfield received 3,062 votes in Madison County, while Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock took 2,808, with Greenback candidate Weaver receiving only 489. The election was close nationwide, 4,454,416 to 4,444,952." - Record 2

•  "The crowd hissed and booed as Colonel Ivan Turchin, surrounded by an armed guard, was escorted into the Huntsville courthouse.
     A Russian emigre, he had offered his services to the Union and became the symbol of all things considered despicable by the people of North Alabama.
     Brigadier Gen. James Garfield, presiding officer of the court martial, made several attempts to start the proceedings, but his demands for silence were repeatedly drowned out by the ugly scene from outside the courthouse. Finally, angrily, he ordered the guards to clear the entire block surrounding the building.
     The crowd, prodded by bayonet tips, grumbled but slowly dispersed, making sure their utterances reflected their condemnation of the beast who was standing trial.
     Peace finally restored, the crowded courtroom's attention centered on the presiding officer. It was Garfield's first time to preside at a court martial and he found the assignment distasteful.
     Curtly ordering the clerk to read the charges, he seemed in a great hurry to complete the entire affair.
     'How do you plead?' He asked the short, heavy-built man in the defendant's chair.
     Col. Turchin, a haughty figure in his full spit-and-polish parade attire, jerked himself erect in a military manner reminiscent of his Prussian background. Delaying his response long enough to assure that he was the center of attention, he barked in a loud and commanding voice:
     'Nyet guilty!'
     He had been named Ivan Vasilvetich Turcheninov at birth, in Russia, and had pursued a military career before emigrating to America in 1856 with his wife, Nadine, a dark-haired beauty.
     The outbreak of the Civil War found America's Union army woefully short of trained officers. Through the efforts of his friend, George McClellan, Turchin was commissioned a colonel in the Nineteenth Regiment Illinois Volunteers.
     From the beginning of his American military career, Turchin had trouble obeying orders. Openly contemptuous of his commanders, he constantly reminded all within earshot that 'the way to win wars is by fighting, not pulling garrison duty guarding potato patches!'
     In addition, while wives of military men were forbidden to follow their men on military maneuvers, Turchin's wife accompanied him on his various campaigns. This caused considerable consternation among his junior officers and animosity among the other wives. He even had a uniform altered to fit Nadine, who often rode alongside her husband at the head of the column of troops.
     On April 11, 1862, General Ormsby Mitchel captured Huntsville in a surprise raid. After securing the town as a base of operations, he sent various units into the surrounding areas to occupy and guard them from Confederate forces.
     Col. Turchin was sent west toward Tuscumbia and Sheffield to block the movements of Confederate units. One of these Rebel units was under the command of young Col. Ben Hardin Helm, a longtime thorn in the Union's side.
     A brilliant officer of the Confederate army, Helm was, ironically, President Lincoln's favorite brother-in-law.
     Turchin quickly realized it would be impossible to conquer the Shoals area without maintaining a permanent garrison there. He would occupy a community one day, but as soon as he left, the citizens would, once again, defiantly raise the Stars and Bars.
     After weeks of fruitless maneuvering and being taunted by Confederate sympathizers at every turn, Turchin's patience wore thin. He knew these people were aiding the Rebel cause while at the same time asking for Union protection, but army regulations forbade him from taking any action against the citizens.
     By May 2, 1862, when the 19th Illinois marched into Athens, Turchin was ready for revenge. What happened next became one of the bleakest episodes in Alabama's history.
     After assembling his troops in the middle of downtown Athens, Turchin sat on his horse and stared at the soldiers for what seemed an eternity. Finally he spoke in his heavily accented voice:
     'Men, I close mein eyes vor von hour.' Dismounting, he turned his back on the troops and walked across the street to the hotel.
     At first the troops remained in formation, confused at what they had just heard. Finally, a grizzled old sergeant who had served with Turchin on earlier campaigns, let out a loud whoop and hurled a rock through a store window.
     'Come on, boys,' he yelled, 'the town belongs to us!'
     Instantly the soldiers, a normally well-disciplined unit, became a wild, lawless mob. Surging through the streets surrounding the square, they demolished doors and pillaged stores and homes in their frenzied delight. Residents who tried to resist the intrusions were cruelly beaten and, in many cases, the women raped.
     One squad, which apparently included a demolitions expert, took vaults from the stores and blasted them apart in the middle of the street.
     Within minutes the streets were littered with Confederate money, bonds and stock certificates. The only valuables the Yankee soldiers were interested in were Union greenbacks.
     Had the scene not been so horrible, the townspeople might have laughed at some of the incidents unfolding before their eyes.
     Three of the Yankee soldiers, in a drunken craze, plundered a woman's wardrobe and paraded up and down the main street wearing petticoats. Other soldiers, heeding the proverb that 'an army travels on its stomach,' chased chickens and turkeys through the streets.
     Meanwhile, Col. Turchin availed himself of the best room in the hotel, puffed a cigar and calmly read from a book on European history. His solitude was interrupted by a knock on the door.
     It was the colonel's adjutant. 'Sir,' he said, 'the hour is up.'
     'Are the men done?' asked Turchin.
     'Well, sir, they are scattered all over town.' Taking a long draw off the cigar, Turchin reflected on what course to take next. If he did not stop his men now, what other atrocities might be committed?
     His next comment shocked no one who knew him: 'Let the men continue.'
     At the outset of the looting, several townspeople had mounted fast horses and rode to Huntsville to seek protection from Gen. Mitchel.
     At first Mitchel refused to believe the reports, but as word of more atrocities were received hourly, he became alarmed. Quickly he dictated a telegram to Turchin, demanding to know the cause for the accusations reaching Huntsville.
     'Isolated incidents,' replied Turchin. 'I have everything under control.' Although Turchin may have tried to stop the looting in the days that followed, the situation had gotten out of control. The crimes continued.
     Over the next several weeks, Gen. Mitchel repeatedly admonished Turchin to bring his troops under control. It was to no avail, however.
     Finally, an exasperated Mitchel sent Turchin the following dispatch:
     'I would prefer to hear that you had fought a battle and been defeated in a fair fight than to learn that your soldiers have degenerated into robbers and plunderers.'
     A few days later, court-martial charges were filed against the man who had become known as the 'Mad Cossack.'
     The court-martial began on July 7 in the Athens courthouse. Twenty separate charges of rape and pillage were filed against Turchin. As presiding officer, Gen. Garfield was so shocked that he wrote his wife:
     'I cannot sufficiently give utterances to my horror of the ravage and outrages which have been committed. There has not been found in American history so black a page as that which will be the record of this campaign.'
     The townspeople of Athens made no secret of their hatred of the accused. Within two weeks, Garfield was forced to move the trial to Huntsville, hopefully to a more impartial atmosphere.
     A recurring bout with jaundice had so weakened Garfield that he had to be carried into the Huntsville courthouse on a stretcher. In less than a month he had lost 43 pounds. His ill health, combined with having to live in the midst of Confederate sympathizers, caused his attitude toward Turchin to slowly change.
     Although never a friend of the South, Garfield's bitterness toward the Rebels seemed to increase every day of the trial. A few days earlier, he had written: Until the Rebels be made to feel that rebellion is a crime which the Government will punish, there is no hope of destroying it.'
     Now, as he listened to Turchin's testimony, he felt he had found a kindred soul.
     'Since I have been in the army,' testified Turchin, 'I have tried to teach these Rebels that treason to the United States was a terrible crime. My superior officers do not agree with my plans. They want the rebellion treated tenderly and gently. They may cashier (discharge) me, but I shall appeal to the American people and implore them to wage this war in such a manner as will make humanity better for it.'
     The trial lasted thirty-one days. Toward the end, Garfield was very sympathetic with Turchin, saying, 'It would be good to have a few towns in Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio suffer the same treatment.'
     Regardless of personal feelings for the defendant, the court was forced to find Turchin guilty because of the overwhelming evidence. The man now known as the Mad Cossack was found guilty of nineteen of the twenty charges and was ordered dismissed from service.
     Despite the findings of the court, Garfield recommended that Turchin be granted clemency.
     Weeks later, the dismissal came to President Lincoln's attention.
     Lincoln was keenly aware of the publicity his 'Southern in-laws,' Ben Helm in particular, were generating in the Washington papers. Already, one New York paper was editorializing that Turchin had been dismissed because of his pursuit of Lincoln's brother-in-law.
     Col. Turchin's wife, the elegant Nadine, who was now in Washington, made sure the President read these editorials.
     A short while later, Turchin's dismissal was overruled by Lincoln, who also raised him to the rank of brigadier general. However, the rank and file of the Union army never respected him, and Turchin finally resigned in disgust.
     Ironically, his nickname, the 'Mad Cossack,' became prophetic. He died in 1901 as a raving maniac in an insane asylum in Illinois.
     As for Lincoln's brother-in-law, Ben Helm, he died heroically on the field of battle while leading his Kentuckians at Chicamauga. Lincoln reportedly wept when he heard the news. Helm's widow and children, Confederate to the core, were taken to Washington and became residents of Lincoln's White House.
     Such furor arose over Mrs. Helm's constant outbursts against the Yankees, however, that Lincoln was forced to send her across the line to her old Kentucky home, along with her children, who had unnerved the White House staff by raising a Confederate flag on the presidential lawn.
     Helm's son had also raised eyebrows by running through the White House yelling, 'Hoorah for Jeff Davis!' and arguing with Lincoln's son over who the real president was.
     Despite his sentiments that other towns deserved the same treatment as Athens, Alabama, Gen. Garfield, upon returning to civilian life, entered politics and was elected President of the United States.
     He didn't get many votes in Huntsville." - Carney

Related Links:
• - In the article "Alabama Recount" in (Huntsville Times) we find a five part story about a political contest for US Congress in 1880. The discussion of Garfield's political positioning is in drama is in Part 2.
•  Carney - The Way It Was: The Other Side of Huntsville's History by Tom Carney, 1994, pages 111-117.
•  Familypedia - Biography
•  Heritage Trip - Joel Mize prepared this information before he took a trip that included Madison County, Alabama in 2001.
•  Mize - The following request for information: "Seeking correspondence with anyone familiar with the role played by General Garfield in setting up the underground Union League & Peace League in North Alabama during the Civil War. He was invited to address the Christian Church at Mooresville AL in July 1862; thereafter, a number of Church members across North Alabama became secretly engaged as part of the Union League. Has anyone encountered specific government or personal records of this clandestine organization."
•  Mooresville Walking Tour - The Huntsville Museum of Art, 1975, page 20.
•  Record 1 - A Dream Come True: The Story of Madison County and Incidentally of Alabama and the United States, Volume I, by James Record, 1970, page 373.
•  Record 2 - A Dream Come True: The Story of Madison County and Incidentally of Alabama and the United States, Volume II, by James Record, 1978, page 46.
•  Rense - Conspiracy Theory including a paragraph about Garfield's assassination. (By all other accounts, blame goes to a disillusioned rejected Federal office seeker.)
•  Rohr - Incidents of the War: The Civil War Journal of Mary Jane Chadick, by Nancy M. Rohr, 2005, pages 52, 53, 68,303, 314, 338, 366.
•  Steenburn - The Man Call Called Gurley, by Colonel Donald H. Steenburn, 1999, page 84.
•  Stelnick - Information originally posted at, but no longer available.
•  Storey - Article titled "Civil War: 150th anniversary of the Union occupation of Huntsville" by Deborah Story in (Huntsville Times). Garfield was mentioned once in the article.
•  Wikipedia - Biography

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