James Barbour Terrill was born in Warm Springs, Virginia, on February 20, 1838, the son of William H. and Elizabeth Pitzer Terrill. He entered thein Lexington in 1854, where was one of his professors, but he did not excel. At his graduation in 1858, he stood sixteenth of nineteen cadets. He remained in Lexington to study law, and, in 1860, opened a practice back home in Bath County, where he also served as major in the Virginia militia.
When the Civil War erupted, Terrill rushed to. Named major of the 13th Virginia Infantry, he guarded fords at the and skirmished in northern Virginia under Colonel . He fought in the under Jackson, including the Battles of and . After trailing Jackson east to join Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s , he fought in the . Twenty days later, he participated in the and was promoted to lieutenant colonel that autumn. In December, he helped repulse Union troops at , and, on May 15, 1863, was promoted to colonel of the regiment. He was in during the but later fought in the Overland Campaign (1864), including at .
On May 30, 1864, the regiment was deployed to attack Union lines at Bethesda Church, near Mechanicsville. Terrill was shot through the body, but struggled to his feet and ordered the men forward before he was shot in the head and killed. The next day, the Confederate Senate confirmed his nomination to brigadier general.
He was buried by Union soldiers and his father reinterred his body, but his final resting place is now unknown. Thesuffered more losses. Two of James Terrill’s brothers were also killed in the war, Union general in 1862 and Confederate officer Philip M. Terrill in 1864. Legend holds that their father erected a monument in their honor that reads, “This monument erected by their father. God alone knows which was right.”