Peter Turney was born on Sept 22, 1827 in Jasper, Tennessee, the son of United States Senator Hopkins L. Turney. Educated at Winchester, he studied law for three years in his father’s office before being admitted to the bar in 1848. He married Cassandra Garner in 1851, and the couple had three children before she died in 1857. He married Hannah Graham in 1858, and had ten children with her.
Turney called for Tennessee to secede as soon as Lincoln was elected. When Tennessee rejected a secesion convention he called for his county to secede from Tennessee and join Alabama. In February of 1861 Turney organized a company of men in Winchester, Tennessee. This later became company C and Turney became the colonel of the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment (Provisional Army).
The FIrst Tennessee reached Virginia in early May and took take part in the First Battle of Manassas. Turney commanded his regiment in the Shenandoah Valley, the Seven Days Battles, and the Battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam, when Turney temporarily commanded the brigade on the march from Harpers Ferry. Turney was wounded on several occasions and was commended by his superiors, including General Robert E. Lee. His last wound was at Fredericksburg in December of 1862, when he was shot in the mouth. He was unable to return to field command and was given an administrative position in Florida after he recovered.
After the war he resumed his law practice. In 1870 he became Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. In 1876 he was an unsuccessful Democratic candiate for U.S. Senate, but went on to become Governor of Tennessee in 1893, serving until 1897. He was the oldest governor in the state’s history at that time.
Turney died in 1903. Seventy years later a center for youthful offenders was named in his honor in Hickman County, a tribute to his interest in prison reform.