Benjamin McCulloch was born on November 11, 1811 in Rutherford County, Tennessee, where one of his neighbors was “King of the Wild Frontier” David “Davy” Crockett. At the age of 23 McCulloch followed Crockett to Texas, where he found himself in the middle of the Texas Revolution. In the Battle of San Jacinto, led by Sam Houston, McCulloch fought against Mexican forces. During the battle he used one of the first two six pound cannon with such skill that he received a commission to First Lieutenant. He stayed in Texas and served in the State Legislature and fought under Zachary Taylor during the Mexican War. Once again he proved to be a good soldier though he was one of the few who did not have formal education or training in military affairs.After the Mexican War McCulloch attempted to take advantage of the gold rush in California, but he failed to accumulate any wealth from the venture. He returned to Texas, where then President Franklin Pierce appointed him Federal Marshal for Texas; he would serve his post until 1859. In 1858, President James Buchanan had sent him to Utah to assist in settling problems related to the Mormons.
When Texas seceded from the Union in February 1861, McCulloch led a group of Texas state troops as a Colonel and forced Union General David Twiggs to surrender his arms and equipment in San Antonio, as well as all the Union posts in the state of Texas. For this, McCulloch received a commission to Brigadier General in the Confederate army on May 11, 1861. He was ordered to Arkansas and was put in charge of the troops there.
It would be August of 1861 before McCulloch saw his first battle. His enemy would not only be troops from the border state of Missouri, but also controversial Union Captain Nathaniel Lyon.