Januarius MacGahan

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Januarius MacGahan
Януарий Мак-Гахан.jpeg
Born(1844-06-12)June 12, 1844
New Lexington, Ohio, United States
DiedJune 9, 1878(1878-06-09) (aged 33)
Istanbul, Ottoman Empire
GenreWar correspondent
Notable worksCovered the Franco-Prussian War, Uprising of French Commune, Bulgarian Massacres of 1876, Russian-Turkish War of 1877–78
Barbara Nicholavna Elagin
(m. 1872; his death 1878)
Children1 son

Januarius Aloysius MacGahan [məˈɡæn][2] (June 12, 1844 – June 9, 1878) was an American journalist and war correspondent working for the New York Herald and the London Daily News. His articles describing the massacre of Bulgarian civilians by Turkish soldiers and irregular volunteers in 1876 created public outrage in Europe, and were a major factor in preventing Britain from supporting Turkey in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78, which led to Bulgaria gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire.[3]

Youth and education[edit]

Januarius Aloysius MacGahan was born near New Lexington, Ohio on June 12, 1844.[4] His father was an immigrant from Ireland who had served on the Northumberland, the ship which took Napoleon into exile on St. Helena. MacGahan moved to St. Louis, where he worked briefly as a teacher and as a journalist. There he met his cousin,[5] General Philip Sheridan, a Civil War hero also of Irish parentage, who convinced him to study law in Europe. He sailed to Brussels in December 1868.

MacGahan did not get a law degree, but he discovered that he had a gift for languages, learning French and German. He ran short of money and was about to return to America in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War broke out. Sheridan happened to be an observer with the German Army, and he used his influence to persuade the European editor of the New York Herald to hire MacGahan as a war correspondent with the French Army.

In France, Russia and Central Asia[edit]

MacGahan's vivid articles from the front lines describing the stunning defeat of the French Army won him a large following, and many of his dispatches to the Herald were reprinted by European newspapers. By the age of twenty-seven, he was a celebrity[citation needed]. When the war ended, he interviewed French leader Léon Gambetta and Victor Hugo, and, in March 1871, he hurried to Paris and was one of the first foreign correspondents to report on the uprising of the Paris Commune. He was arrested by the French military and nearly executed, and was only rescued through the intervention of the U.S. Minister to France.

In 1871 MacGahan was assigned as the Herald's correspondent to St. Petersburg. He learned Russian, mingled with the Russian military and nobility, covered the Russian tour of General William Tecumseh Sherman and met his future wife, Varvara Elagina, whom he married in 1873.

He learned in 1873 that Russia was planning to invade the khanate of Khiva, in Central Asia. Defying a Russian ban of foreign correspondents, he crossed the Kyzyl-Kum desert on horseback and witnessed the surrender of the city of Khiva to the Russian Army. There he met a Russian Lieutenant Colonel, Mikhail Skobelev, who later became famous as Russian commander during the Russian-Turkish War of 1877–78. MacGahan described his adventures in a popular book, Campaigning on the Oxus and the fall of Khiva (1874).[6] MacGahan was also married to the daughter of an old Russian noble family.[7]

In 1874 he spent ten months in Spain, covering the Third Carlist War. In 1875, he voyaged with British explorer Sir Allan William Young on his steam yacht HMS Pandora on an expedition to try to find the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The expedition got as far as Peel Sound in the Canadian Arctic before it met pack ice and was forced to return.[8]

Investigation of Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria (1876)[edit]

In 1876 MacGahan quarreled with James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald, and left the newspaper[citation needed]. He was invited by his friend, Eugene Schuyler, the American Consul-General in Constantinople, to investigate reports of large-scale atrocities committed by the Turkish Army following the failure of an attempted uprising by Bulgarian nationalists in April 1876. (See April Uprising.) MacGahan obtained a commission from the Daily News, then the leading liberal newspaper in England, and left for Bulgaria on July 23, 1876.[9] He became a member of the American investigation commission of the US Consul-General in Constantinople, Eugene Schuyler, together with the Constantinople correspondent of Kölnische Zeitung, German journalist Karl Schneider (1854–1945); Georgian prince Aleksi Tsereteli (Aleksei Tseretelev) - governing secretary of the Russian embassy in Constantinople; and Turkish and Bulgarian translator Petar Dimitrov, an instructor at the American Robert College in Constantinople.[10] After visiting Philippopolis on July 28, and Peshtera and Pazardjik on August 1 and 2, MacGahan travelled to the village of Batak, and sent the paper a graphic report of what he saw:

...We looked into the church which had been blackened by the burning of the woodwork, but not destroyed, nor even much injured. It was a low building with a low roof, supported by heavy irregular arches, that as we looked in seemed scarcely high enough for a tall man to stand under. What we saw there was too frightful for more than a hasty glance. An immense number of bodies had been partially burnt there and the charred and blackened remains seemed to fill it half way up to the low dark arches and make them lower and darker still, were lying in a state of putrefaction too frightful to look upon. I had never imagined anything so horrible. We all turned away sick and faint, and staggered out of the fearful pest house glad to get into the street again. We walked about the place and saw the same thing repeated over and over a hundred times. Skeletons of men with the clothing and flesh still hanging to and rotting together; skulls of women, with the hair dragging in the dust. bones of children and infants everywhere. Here they show us a house where twenty people were burned alive; there another where a dozen girls had taken refuge, and been slaughtered to the last one, as their bones amply testified. Everywhere horrors upon horrors...[11][12]

MacGahan reported that the Turkish soldiers had forced some of the villagers into the church, then the church was burned and survivors tortured to learn where they had hidden their treasures. MacGahan said that of a population of seven thousand, only two thousand survived. According to his account, fifty-eight villages in Bulgaria had been destroyed, five monasteries demolished, and fifteen thousand people in all massacred.

These reports, published first in the London Daily News, and then in other papers, caused widespread popular outrage against Turkey in Britain. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, a supporter of Turkey, tried to minimize the massacres and said that the Bulgarians were equally to blame, but his arguments were refuted by the newspaper accounts of MacGahan.

Following the publication of MacGahan's articles, William Ewart Gladstone wrote a pamphlet called Bulgarian Horrors: "I entreat my countrymen," he wrote, "upon whom far more than upon any other people in Europe it depends, to require and to insist that our government, which has been working in one direction, shall work in the other, and shall apply all its vigour to concur with the states of Europe in obtaining the extinction of the Turkish executive power in Bulgaria. Let the Turks now carry away their abuses in the only possible manner, namely, by carrying off themselves...."[13]

In 1876 Ivan Vazov dedicated a poem to Macgahan called Жалбите на майките (The Sorrows of the Mothers).[14]

Russian-Turkish War (1877–78)[edit]

MacGahan's grave, identifying him as the "Liberator of Bulgaria". New Lexington Cemetery, in his hometown of New Lexington, Ohio.

In the wake of the massacres and atrocities committed by the Ottoman forces during the suppression of the April Uprising, as well as centuries-long conflicts between Russia and Turkey in Crimea, the Russian Government, stirred by anti-Turkish and Pan-Slavism sentiment, prepared to invade The Ottoman Empire, and declared war on it on April 24, 1877. The Turkish Government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II appealed for help to Britain, its traditional ally against Russia, but the British government responded that it could not intervene "because of the state of public feeling."

MacGahan was assigned as a war correspondent for the Daily News, and, thanks to his friendship with General Skobelev, the Russian commander, rode with the first units of the Russian Army as it crossed the Danube into Bulgaria. He covered all the major battles of the Russian–Turkish War, including the siege of Pleven and Shipka Pass. He reported on the final defeat of the Turkish armies, and was present at the signing of the treaty of San Stefano, which ended the war.[15][16]

He was in Constantinople, preparing to travel to Berlin for the conference that determined the final borders of Bulgaria, when he caught typhoid fever. He died on June 9, 1878, and was buried in the Greek cemetery, in the presence of diplomats, war correspondents, and General Mikhail Skobelev.[17][18] Six years later his body was returned to the United States and reburied in New Lexington.[19][20] A statue was erected in his honor by a society of Bulgarian-Americans.[21]


A monument of Januarius Macgahan in Elena, Bulgaria
A granite boulder with commemorative plaque in honor of Januarius MacGahan in Panagyurishte. The plaque reads: To the Memory of the Prominent American Humanist, Selfless Journalist and Friend of the Bulgarian People Januarius Aloysius MacGahan (1844-1878), from the Fellow Countrymen-Volunteers in the Peace Corps, 2002. (42°30.316′N 24°11.258′E / 42.505267°N 24.187633°E / 42.505267; 24.187633)

MacGahan is still remembered in Bulgaria for his role in winning Bulgarian independence. A street and a school in the capital, Sofia, a square in the city of Plovdiv, streets in the towns of Varna, Sliven, Vratsa, Montana, Panagyurishte, Pazardzhik and Stamboliyski are named after Januarius MacGahan.

There is also a festival and memorial service held each June in his honor in his hometown of New Lexington.[22]


  1. ^ Bullard, F. Lauriston (1933). "MacGahan, Januarius Aloysius". In Malone, Dumas. Dictionary of American Biography. 12 (McCrady-Millington). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 46. Retrieved 4 August 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ "MacGahan, Januarius Aloysius", in Webster's Biographical Dictionary (1943/1960), Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.
  3. ^ MacGahan, Januarius A. (1876). Turkish Atrocities in Bulgaria, Letters of the Special Commissioner of the "Daily News," J.A. MacGahan, Esq., with An Introduction & Mr. Schuyler's Preliminary Report. London: Bradbury Agnew and Co. Retrieved 2 August 2016 – via Internet Archive. The introduction (p. vii) cites the importance of MacGahan's reports on British policy: 'the letters...have been acknowledged by the Government not only to have made it aware of the important facts of which, until their publication, it was ignorant, but to have changed the conditions under which diplomacy must henceforth be exercised." (p. iii).
  4. ^ The 2005 MacGahan Festival, MacGahan American-Bulgarian Foundation, New Lexington, Ohio. Accessed 2008-01-16.
  5. ^ "MacGahan, Januarius Aloysius", in Concise Dictionary of American Biography (1964), New York: Scribner's.
  6. ^ MacGahan, Januarius A. (1874). Campaigning on the Oxus, and the fall of Khiva. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  7. ^ Todorova, Marii︠a︡ Nikolaeva (1997). Imagining the Balkans. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 106.
  8. ^ MacGahan, Januarius A. (1876). Under the Northern Lights. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington. Retrieved 3 August 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  9. ^ Thomas, Frederick Moy, ed. (1904). Fifty Years of Fleet Street being the Life and Letters of John Richard Robinson (1 ed.). London: Macmillan. pp. 185–186. Retrieved 5 June 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, p. 106, Oxford University Press 2009
  11. ^ MacGahan, Januarius A. (1966). Turkish Atrocities in Bulgaria. Geneva. pp. 59–60. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  12. ^ See also the W.T. Stead Resource Site for MacGahan's Batak dispatch.
  13. ^ Gladstone, William Ewart (1876). Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East. London: J Murray. p. 31. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  14. ^ Вазов, Иван (1942). "Жалбите на майките". Събрани съчинения, пълно издание под редакцията на проф. Михаил Арнаудов. I лирика. София: Хемус. pp. 115–117.
  15. ^ The War Correspondence of the "Daily News" 1877 with a Connecting Narrative Forming a Continuous History of the War Between Russia and Turkey to the Fall of Kars Including the Letters of Mr. Archibald Forbes, Mr. J. A. MacGahan and Many Other Special Correspondents in Europe and Asia. London: Macmillan and Co. 1878. Retrieved July 26, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  16. ^ The War Correspondence of the "Daily News" 1877-1878 continued from the Fall of Kars to the Signature of the Preliminaries of Peace. London: Macmillan and Co. 1878. Retrieved July 26, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  17. ^ "Death of Mr. MacGahan", The New York Herald: 7, June 11, 1878, retrieved August 3, 2018 – via The Library of Congress
  18. ^ See Pears, Edwin (1916). Forty Years in Constantinople, The Recollections of Sir Edwin Pears 1873-1915 (1 ed.). London: Herbert Jenkins Limited. p. 24. Retrieved 31 March 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  19. ^ Martzolff, Clement L. (1902). "The Knight of the Pen". History of Perry County, Ohio. New Lexington, Ohio: Ward & Weiland. pp. 157–162. Retrieved August 3, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  20. ^ Taylor, William Alexander (1909). Centennial History of Columbus and Franklin County, Ohio. I. Chicago-Columbus: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. p. 280. Retrieved August 10, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  21. ^ Walker, Dale L. (1989), "The Search for Januarius MacGahan", Carl Hertzog Lecture Series, The University of Texas at El Paso (2), retrieved August 4, 2018 – via Digital Commons@ UTEP
  22. ^ "US Hometown Honors Journalist MacGahan - 'Liberator of Bulgaria'". novinite.com. June 10, 2011. Retrieved 2013-05-14.


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