Four sons fought in the Civil War - three were killed. James Barbour Terrill was a Confederate Brigadier General, while his brother - William Rufus Terrill - was a Union Brigadier General. Both were killed. The third brother killed was Philip Mallory Terrill, a member of the 12th Virginia Cavalry, CSA. George Parker Terrill, a physician in Salem, Va., survived until 1884. A biography will be available next year.


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Colonel William Henry Terrill (1800-1877), distinguished lawyer in Bath Co., Virginia and member of the state House of Delegates, served as provost marshal for Bath Co. during the war. He saw four of his sons take part in the Civil War, three for the Confederacy, one for the Union. Only one came home. 

William Rufus Terrill (1834-1862) was an 1853 graduate of West Point and career military officer. He initially saw fighting in the Third Seminole War before serving in the U.S. Coast Survey, mostly in Florida. When the Civil War began he chose to remain with Union forces. By the fall of 1862 he attained the rank of Brigadier General, but shortly thereafter he was killed at the Battle of Perryville, KY on October 8. 

His brother, James Barbour Terrill (1838-1864), graduated from rival Virginia Military Institute in 1858 and began studying law at Washington College. He just began his law practice when war broke out. He enlisted as Major in the 13th Virginia Infantry and shortly thereafter served as its Lt. Col. He worked his way up to Brigadier General, but was killed at Bethesda Church, VA on May 30, 1864, the same day Confederate President Jefferson Davis approved his appointment. 

Younger brother Philip Mallory Terrill (1842-1864) was a student at the University of Virginia when the war began. He abandoned his studies and joined the 25th Virginia Infantry, later serving in the 62nd VA (Mounted) Infantry and 12th VA Cavalry. He was killed near Winchester in November 1864. 

The only brother to survive the war, George Parker Terrill, was an 1849 graduate of VMI. He went on to medical school at the U. of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1853. At the start of the war he joined as Colonel of the 157th VA militia and later served as a recruiter and CSA Post Surgeon treating wounded soldiers. Although much of the war was fought on Virginia soil, he was not as “exposed” as his younger brothers to the front lines of combat. 

Another member of the family by marriage was Colonel George Alexander Porterfield (1822-1919). He married Emily Cornelia Terrill. He was an 1844 graduate of VMI and Mexican War veteran. While trying to recruit near Grafton, western Virginia, he learned of the approach of George McClellan. While moving his new recruits, only about 2000 strong, he was surprised by Federal troops near Philippi on June 3, 1861, and forced to retreat. Although not a major battle, it is considered by some to be the first land battle of the Civil War. Colonel William H. Terrill died at the Porterfield home at the age of 77. 

Dr. George Morton Terrill, George P. Terrill’s son, became a well-known Army surgeon later in the 19th century. He served in the Apache campaign of 1885-86, and later settled in San Francisco, becoming a prominent doctor there. 

The Terrill family became famous because of an article in Harper’s Weekly by Richard Dana that described a monument to William and James that supposedly was inscribed “God Alone knows Which Was Right.” The article was fictional, even allegorical, intended as a memorial to all the soldiers who fought (and to sell the publication). Unfortunately, there is no indication the monument ever existed (and the brothers are not buried together). But the sentiment still resonates.

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