William R. Terrill
|William Rufus Terrill|
April 21, 1834|
|Died||October 8, 1862
Boyle County, Kentucky
|Place of burial||West Point Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America
|Service/branch||United States Army
|Years of service||1853–1862|
American Civil War
* Battle of Shiloh
* Battle of Perryville †
William Rufus Terrill (April 21, 1834 – October 8, 1862) was a United States Army soldier and general who was killed in action at the Battle of Perryville during the American Civil War. His Confederate brother James was also killed during the same war, making the Terrills one of the few sets of American brothers killed in action while commanding brigades.
Terrill was born in Covington, Virginia, and grew up at Warm Springs, in Bath County, Virginia. His father, Colonel William Henry Terrill, was a Virginia lawyer and member of the Virginia Legislature prior to the war. He became a cadet at U.S. Military Academy in 1849 and graduated in 1853. While a cadet, he was involved in a fist-fight with classmate Philip H. Sheridan. The encounter caused a one-year suspension for Sheridan from the academy. Terrill graduated 16th in his class of 1853. After graduation, he was assigned to the 3rd U.S. Artillery and 4th U. S. Artillery, serving in various garrisons. He returned to West Point as an assistant professor of mathematics during 1853–54; served in Florida during the 3rd Seminole War; and the U. S. Coast Survey from 1858 - 1861. In 1856 he was promoted to first lieutenant. On May 14, 1861, he was appointed captain of the 5th Regular Artillery in Washington, D.C.
Even though many regular army officers from the south had been opposed to secession, the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's subsequent call for volunteers caused many southern-born officers to resign their commissions. Terrill, however, left no doubt about where his loyalties lay, telegraphing the War Department and General Winfield Scott from Poughkeepsie, New York, on April 29, 1861 that “I am now and ever will be true to my oath and my country. No one has any authority to tender my resignation. I will be in Washington as soon as possible.”  Terrill was commissioned a captain in the 5th Regiment of Artillery in August 1861. His younger brother James B. Terrill was commissioned a major of Virginia Infantry and served in the Confederate States Army. Their father served the Confederate States as the provost marshal of Bath County, Virginia.
William Terrill served as assistant inspector general in Washington, D.C., and then commanded a battery of artillery in the Army of the Ohio at the Battle of Shiloh. On September 9, 1862 he was appointed as a brigadier general of U.S. volunteers and took command of the 33rd Brigade in the Army of the Ohio. He led his inexperienced fresh troops into their first combat action at the Battle of Perryville. There, he was mortally wounded by a shell fragment while trying to rally his brigade in the face of a Confederate attack, and died later that day. The previous night, Generals Terrill and James S. Jackson and Colonel George Webster were discussing the improbability of being killed in action. All three would be killed in the following battle.
In 1864 during the Overland Campaign, Terrill's brother James, by then commanding a brigade, was killed in action at the Battle of Bethesda Church and buried on the battlefield. He was posthumously promoted to brigadier general. Another younger brother, Philip Mallory Terrill of the 12th Virginia Cavalry, was killed near Winchester, Virginia, in November 1864. The fourth brother, Dr. George P. Terrill, a Confederate militia commander, survived the Civil War. An unscrupulous war correspondent from Harper's Weekly manufactured a fitting legend that their grieving father later erected a memorial stone for both brothers, which reads "This monument erected by their father. God alone knows which was right."
William R. Terrill was interred at West Point National Cemetery.
- The battle of Perryville, Ky. 8 October 62 - www.aotc.net
- The Terrills: "God Alone Knows Which Was Right", American Civil War Magazine, September 2006 - www.stevenlossad.com
- Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 677.
- William R. Terrill to Headquarters of the Army, April 29, 1861, National Archives, RG 108, E22, M1635
"God Alone Knows Which Was Right": The Blue and Gray Terrill Family of Virginia in the Civil War