“God Alone Knows Which Was Right”: The Blue and Gray Terrill Family of Virginia in the Civil War
by Richard L. Armstrong, McFarland
Among the most literal embodiments of the Civil War tragedy of “brother against brother” was the progeny of Colonel William H. Terrill. Since he was Virginia-born and related to J.E.B. Stuart on his mother’s side, it’s no surprise that prosecuting attorney Terrill took a Rebel stand, serving in staff officer positions until 1863. Of his four sons, three also served in the CSA, two of whom— James Barbour and Philip Mallory Terrill—were killed in 1864.
Another, William Rufus Terrill, remained loyal to the Union, and was killed at the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862. Despite disowning his Federal-leaning son, the Terrill patriarch lamented his death, remarking in a letter to the Richmond Enquirer, “It is a source of some consolation to me to know, that he never stood upon the soil of Virginia in an attitude of hostility to her people and their institutions.” A son-in-law, George A. Porter, also served the South, losing the war’s first land battle, Philippi, on June 3, 1861.
Richard Armstrong presents the full biographies of William Terrill and his sons, daughters and in-laws, so readers can draw their own conclusions. He also investigates the much-quoted epitaph his title is based on, allegedly carved by Terrill on a monument between those of sons William and James, but which in fact never existed—primarily to get to the bottom of that spurious bit of lore.
Originally published in the October 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.