James B. Terrill (1838–1864)


James B. Terrill was a Confederate general during the American Civil War (1861–1865). As the longtime colonel of the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment, Terrill fought in nearly every major battle of the Eastern Theater. Confederate general Robert E. Lee called the 13th Virginia “a splendid body of men,” while Confederate general Richard S. Ewell noted that it was “the only regiment in my command that never fails.” Jubal A. Early declared that the unit “was never required to take a position that they did not take it, nor to hold one that they did not hold it.” Noted for his bravery and respected by superiors, Terrill was killed at the Battle of Bethesda Church the day before his appointment to brigadier general was confirmed by the Confederate Senate. Two of Terrill’s brothers also died in the war, one fighting for the Confederacy, the other for the Union.

James Barbour Terrill was born in Warm Springs, Virginia, on February 20, 1838, the son of William H. and Elizabeth Pitzer Terrill. He entered the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington in 1854, where Thomas J. Jackson 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 Harpers Ferry. Named major of the 13th Virginia Infantry, he guarded fords at the First Battle of Manassas and skirmished in northern Virginia under Colonel J. E. B. Stuart. He fought in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 under Jackson, including the Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic. After trailing Jackson east to join Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, he fought in the Seven Days’ Battles. Twenty days later, he participated in the Second Battle of Manassas and was promoted to lieutenant colonel that autumn. In December, he helped repulse Union troops at Fredericksburg, and, on May 15, 1863, was promoted to colonel of the regiment. He was in Winchester during the Gettysburg Campaign but later fought in the Overland Campaign (1864), including at Spotsylvania Court House.

Battle of Bethesda Church

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. The family suffered more losses. Two of James Terrill’s brothers were also killed in the war, Union general William R. Terrill 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.”

February 20, 1838
James B. Terrill is born in Warm Springs in Bath County.
October 18, 1854
After studying in Bath County schools, James B. Terrill enters the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. There, he is nicknamed "Bath," after his home county, and has future Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson as a professor.
James B. Terrill studies law under Judge John W. Brockenbrough in Lexington.
July 5, 1858
James B. Terrill graduates from the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, standing sixteenth in a class of nineteen graduates.
Governor Henry A. Wise appoints James B. Terrill as major of the 5th Virginia Cavalry Regiment.
James B. Terrill begins practicing law in Bath County, where his father is commonwealth's attorney.
April 5, 1861
James B. Terrill asks Governor John Letcher for a military appointment.
May 1861
James B. Terrill is named major of the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment.
July 21, 1861
James B. Terrill is present at the First Battle of Manassas, where his troops are detailed to guard fords along Bull Run.
September 7, 1861
After a summer spent skirmishing, sometimes with J. E. B. Stuart, the Richmond Daily Dispatch reports that James B. Terrill "in all of these skirmishes acted with the most determined bravery, fearlessly exposing himself to the fire of the enemy."
September 11, 1861
Led by Confederate cavalry general J. E. B. Stuart, James B. Terrill distinguishes himself in a fight at Lewinsville.
May—June 1862
James B. Terrill and the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment participate in Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign.
Autumn 1862
Major James B. Terrill is promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment.
October 8, 1862
William R. Terrill is killed at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. His remains are later moved to the post cemetery at West Point.
December 13, 1862
James B. Terrill and the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment fight at the Battle of Fredericksburg.
May 15, 1863
Lieutenant Colonel James B. Terrill is promoted to colonel of the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment.
May 30, 1864
James B. Terrill, colonel of the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment, is shot twice and killed at the Battle of Bethesda Church.
May 31, 1864
A day after he is killed, the Confederate Senate confirms James B. Terrill's appointment to brigadier general, to replace Brigadier General John Pegram, who had been wounded.
November 12, 1864
Philip Mallory Terrill, James B. Terrill's younger brother, is killed while fighting for the Confederate army.
  • Armstrong, Richard. “God Alone Knows Which Was Right”: The Blue and Gray Terrill Family of Virginia in the Civil War. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2010.
  • Christian, C. B. “The Battle at Bethesda Church.” Southern Historical Society Papers 37 (1909): 236–242.
  • Hillard, James M. “You Are Strangely Deluded.” Civil War Times Illustrated 8 (February 1975): 13–18.
  • Wise, Jennings C. The Military History of the Virginia Military Institute. Lynchburg: J. P. Bell Co., 1915.
APA Citation:
Sanders, Stuart. James B. Terrill (1838–1864). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/terrill-james-b-1838-1864.
MLA Citation:
Sanders, Stuart. "James B. Terrill (1838–1864)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 19 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2024, May 03
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