Robert McCullough was a 21-year old private in the 1st Delaware Infantry when he received furlough in February of 1864. This was probably welcome news as he’d already survived being shot in the hip and head at Antietam (which was in 1862). After recovering from his wounds, Robert had re-enlisted in the Union Army.
In early February, he and a friend were relaxing on their temporary leave at a home on Church and Seventh streets in Wilmington, Delaware. They were drinking heavily which became more of a problem after they grew so belligerent that they “took possession” of the house and broke any furniture they could get their hands on. The military authorities were called.
This was not Robert’s first run-in with authorities. He’d been arrested once before, during his first service term, for not reporting to duty.
When the authorities arrived, they asked Robert for his military papers. He informed them that the papers were at his parents’ home just a short walk away. As the military guards escorted him home, Robert attempted to flee. He was shot in the back and died there on the street, face down (on Eighth and Locust if you’re a local).
As he bled out, hundreds of people gathered around the grim scene.
Desertion during the Civil War was punishable by death on both sides of the border, though it wasn’t a common punishment because it actually harmed morale. An infamous example is when General Braxton Bragg had Private Asa Lewis executed in Tennessee for leaving the army twice to visit his ill and starving mother. Lewis’ execution was bad enough, but it was also carried out at Christmastime putting the Kentucky soldiers and Bragg at extreme odds. General Bragg remained unsympathetic believing that unauthorized leave was inexcusable.
His point was easily proven when Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet invaded Maryland without 7,000 soldiers who had deserted, only to return when the fighting was over.
It’s difficult to say if Robert was truly unruly or if a weariness from battle, plus being shot in the head, had resulted in PTSD and other trauma. Today, his grave rests in the Soldiers’ Section of the Wilmington Brandywine Cemetery (read more about the stories held in this cemetery in the post “Stories From A City Of The Undead”). The place where Robert died is now a parking lot.