On this day in 1811, Confederate General Benjamin McCulloch is born near Rutherford City, Tennessee.
Raised in Tennessee, McCulloch followed his friends Davy Crockett and Sam Houston to Texas in 1835. An illness kept McCulloch from joining Crockett at the Alamo, where its defenders, including Crockett, were massacred in March 1836 when the Mexican army overran the mission during the Texas War for Independence. In April 1836, McCulloch served with Houston at the decisive Battle of San Jacinto, in which Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's army was defeated and Texas gained its independence. After the war, McCulloch served in the Texas legislature and the Texas Rangers, the primary law enforcement agency in the Republic of Texas. He fought under General Zachary Taylor during the Mexican War (1846-48) and served as a U.S. marshal in the 1850s.
When the Civil War broke out, McCulloch became a colonel in command of Texas troops. He rode to San Antonio and forced the surrender of a Federal arsenal there, while his brother, Henry, took control of Federal posts on the Texas frontier. In May 1861, Benjamin McCulloch became a brigadier general in the Confederate army and was assigned to defend Indian Territory. He formed alliances with several tribes in the area before moving his force to southwestern Missouri, where he played a key role in the Confederate victory at Wilson's Creek on August 10, 1861.
McCulloch commanded a wing of the Army of the West as it approached a Union force led by General Samuel Curtis in northwestern Arkansas in March 1862. Curtis took up a defensive position around Elkhorn Tavern and waited for the Confederates to attack. On the night of March 6, McCulloch marched his troops around Curtis's right flank and prepared for an early morning assault on March 7. Curtis discovered the movement, and blocked McCulloch's advance. That day, at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Curtis held off a furious attack by McCulloch's force. McCulloch rode forward to monitor his men's progress and emerged from some brush directly in front of a Union regiment. Identifiable by his trademark black velvet suit (he eschewed uniforms), McCulloch was killed instantly by a volley from the Yankees. His successor, General James McIntosh, was killed minutes later and the leaderless Confederates retreated. McCulloch's death was the turning point in the battle, and the Confederate defeat ensured Union domination of northern Arkansas for the rest of the war.