PROFILE/OBITUARY of PETER McCULLOUGH
8th MO Infantry (US) - Company G
(Hanging Judge of Andersonville Prison)
Born April 12, 1839 in McLean, Illinois.
Died of pneumonia Dec. 6, 1915 at his home in Mexico, Missouri.
Pvt. Peter McCullough joined the 8th Missouri out of McLean, Illinois just outside Bloomington, Illinois. He was wounded
at Fort Henry. He was taken prisoner near Jackson, Mississippi, just after the Battle of Vicksburg.
He was sent to Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Peter McCullough became known as "Big Pete" because he was 6',1" tall.
In Andersonville, he became the prisoners' advocate to protect them from the beatings and corruption of the New York Raiders, who were Union soldiers abusing fellow soldiers. During the trail of the Raiders to make it a fair trail, prisoners selected the prisoners who would serve on the Jury. (This included 8 sergeants). Pvt. Peter McCullough was appointed by the prisoners to serve as the Judge. The New York Raiders were all found guilty and hanged.
Mark McCullough of St. Louis, the great-grandson of "Big Pete", wrote in the
8th Missouri guestbook that people should
see the movie "Andersonville" because many of the prisoners portrayed in
the movie were from the 8th Missouri. Mark also recommended reading
a first-hand account: "This Was Andersonville: The True Story of Andersonville
Military Prison as told in the Personal Recollections of John McElroy,
Sometime Private, Co. L, 16th Illinois Cavalry."
Gene McCullough of Huddleston, Virginia, also a great-grandson of "Big Pete",
gave us this biography of Peter McCullough in the 8th Missouri Guest Book:
My Great Grandfather served in Co. G of the 8th MO.- out of Peoria, Ill. and sent to St. Louis. Wounded at Ft. Donelson, captured at Brandon, Miss., taken to Belle Isle, Va., and then to Andersonville, Ga. While there he was a member of the "Regulators" a group of soldiers designated to keep order. Another group called the "Raiders" caused considerable abuse to the newer prisoners arriving. The 5 ring leaders of this group, were put on trial, found guilty, and hanged. "Big Pete" (a Private) was the JUDGE of this trial.
Peter McCullough was one of the founders of Mexico, Missouri. His obituary is reprinted below:
OBITUARY OF PETER McCULLOUGH
"HANGING JUSTICE" OF ANDERSONVILLE STOCKADE IS DEAD
reported in the DAILY INTELLIGENCER
(the largest circulation daily newspaper in Audrain County, Missouri)
The article is dated Monday, December 6, 1915.
"Big Pete" McCullough, who sentenced 6 fellow prisoners to death and helped carry out sentence, dies.
Peter McCullough, the "hanging judge of Andersonville Prison", 76 years old, died Sunday night at his home on South Washington Street of pneumonia. He was ill only a few days.
"Big Pete", as he was known in Andersonville stockade, was a native of McLain County, Illinois. He was born April 12, 1839. He came to Mexico, Missouri, 35 years ago. He leaves his wife and one son, Richard McCullough of Cameron, Kansas.
Funeral services will be conducted Tuesday afternoon at the home.
The records of the War of the Rebellion do not show that 6 Union soldiers, who were captured by the Confederates, were executed by their fellow prisoners in Andersonville Prison. Nevertheless, the 6 men were hanged. They were charged with being ringleaders in raids when they stole the scanty rations of other prisoners, their valuables, and as McCullough expressed it, "they took our lives when they took our grub."
"The gang was know as 'The Raiders'", McCullough told a reporter for the INTELLIGENCER, "and they had everything their own way nearly 3 months. We sent a petition to the prison authorities and requested relief. They granted our request and sent in a body of armed men, to whom we pointed out the raiders. In three hours, we had rounded up 200 men, who were identified with all kinds of villainy. They were marched outside the stockade that they might receive a fair trial. In fact, the raiders begged to be taken out for fear of violence as there were 35,000 prisoners in the stockade and everybody was against the raiders.
The stockade was in command of Capt. Henry Wirz, a Swiss, who was a physician. He afterward was executed by Union troops after a court martial. Gen. John A. Winder was his superior officer. Wirz informed our leading men he dared not proceed against the raiders, either by Court Martial or by civil law, but added he would permit us to organize a court, elect a judge, and impanel a jury to try our prisoners."
"I was elected judge of that court and the first day I tried fully 100 men for petty misdemeanors, the raiders soon saw we meant business and like men of today, they wanted immunity. In a short time, we had the ringleaders spotted and their trial was ordered."
"We permitted them to select their own attorneys and we had some good ones, too, in the 35,000 men in the stockade. The trial lasted 2 days and finally the 6 raiders were found guilty of murder, or of such crimes that made their presence among us intolerable. They were sentenced to death."
"Upon the pretense of going out for "firewood", 12 of our men were permitted to leave the prison although under watchful eyes of the sentries. They obtained the "firewood", which, in reality, was timber of building a scaffold. We informed Gen. Winder of our intentions to carry out the death sentence, and, like Pilate, he washed his hands of the affair and declined to take official notice of it."
"Father Hamilton, a priest who visited us often, was called to administer the last rites to the dying. The condemned men, even then, thought the whole thing a hoax concocted to frighten them and they refused to believe we were in earnest until they were brought within sight of the scaffold. When the 6 were led out, a big fellow named Curtis from New York looked up at the scaffold. 'Hang me? God, no,' he cried and broke away from the fellow who was holding him and ran down to a camp of prisoners, yelling at every jump for them to save him. Instead of saving him, they brought him back to us, and Curtis was marched up to the scaffold behind Father Hamilton and the rest of the condemned men.
"We had everything ready and the nooses were quickly adjusted. We had no trap doors, but a man was stationed behind each prisoner and at the word we gave each man a shove. The drop was 6 feet. The rope broke on one wretch as he dropped. He came begging for mercy. He was seized, the rope was re-adjusted, and he went with the others."
"The hanging broke up raiding. We formed a league amongst the better class of prisoners and were allowed to punish all offenders in the stockade."
McCullough's statement is borne out by a writer in the CENTURY MAGAZINE in 1890, who referred to "Big Pete", but did not remember his last name. The writer's name was T. H. Mann. He was a physician and lived at Milford, Massachusetts.
"Big Pete, the chief of the league, exercised absolute authority to punish all offenders," Dr. Mann wrote. "After the execution he was chief of police, judge and jury. He often carried out his own sentences, he had a kind heart, and there was many a poor fellow, who could speak of acts of kindness received at Big Pete's hand".
NOTE: Peter's wife Nancy also died in December 1915.
They are buried in Section C, lot 125, in Elmwood Cemetery, Mexico, Missouri
(Click here for a
explanation of why people from other states joined the 8th Missouri)