On this date in 1862, Confederate soldier Frisby McCullough was shot as a terrorist during the U.S. Civil War’s guerrilla Missouri campaign.
McCullough had a youthful stint in the California gold rush to his back when he returned to Missouri in the mid-1850s to practice law. (He also served in the Missouri State Guard, a pro-slavery militia that had been established in 1861 by the since-exiled secessionist governor.)
With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, McCullough signed up for the pro-slavery Southern army and after a few different assignments became detailed to aid Confederate Col. James Porter in the hasty bush war raging in that frontier state.
We’ve previously detailed that conflict here. For purposes of this post it will suffice to say that the border state of Missouri was fiercely contested during this war, and claimed by North and South alike.
The Union commander John McNeil was not very inclined to charitably reading the treasonable secessionist irregulars who opposed him in the state, whom the Union considered to be operating illicitly behind its lines — in the character of spies and saboteurs, like the British agent John Andre during the Revolutionary War. This very much applied to our man, since McCullough’s particular gift was recruitment — you know, luring loyal citizens into sedition and rebellion.
On August 6, 1862, McNeil’s forces routed Porter’s at the Battle of Kirksville, and they pressed their victory. The very next day after, McNeil had 15 Confederate prisoners taken at Kirksville executed as former POWs who had violated their paroles by returning to the field: “I enforce the penalty of the bond,” McNeil icily reported to Washington.
Not long after, northern sentries also captured the ailing McCullough riding alone near Edina. He wasn’t a parolee — but “he had no commission except a printed paper authorizing the bearer to recruit for the Confederate army,” McNeil would write of him later in a missive to a comrade. At a snap trial on the 8th, “he was found guilty of bushwhacking and of being a guerilla. He was a brave fellow and a splendid specimen of manhood. I would gladly have spared him had duty permitted. As it was he suffered the same fate that would have fallen to you or me if we had been found recruiting within the Confederate lines. He met a soldier’s death as became a soldier.”
A memoir of the southern travails during this conflict titled With Porter in North Missouri; a chapter in the history of the war between the states is in the public domain; chapter XXII relates with umbrage the fate of McCullough whom the author Dr. Joseph Mudd* greatly admired:
Leaning against a fence he wrote a few lines to his wife, and these, with his watch and one or two other articles, he delivered to an officer to be given her, with assurance of his devoted affection in the hour of death. Upon the way to the place of his execution he requested the privilege of giving the order to fire, which was granted to him. All being ready, he stood bravely up, and without a tremor in his manly frame or a quiver in his clarion voice, he called out, ‘What I have done, I have done as a principle of right. Aim at the heart. Fire!’
… He was a good citizen, a high-minded gentleman, of fine presence, brave as a lion, gentle as a woman. Even in his death the strongest Unionists who knew him respected and admired his virtues and entertained the most bitter regrets that what they considered his misconceptions of duty had led him to his fearful fate. At the time of his death he was thirty-three years of age.