General William Rufus Terrill

General William Rufus Terrill:

The Civil War Officer that Reading Adopted


On Saturday, October 18, 1862, the weekly newspaper Berks and Schuylkill Journal reported the following concerning the funeral of Brigadier General William Rufus Terrill.

The funeral was attended by the afflicted family of the deceased, who have resided in this city for some months past, by the Gen’s Aids, who accompanied his body from the battle field to this place, and by all the officers and privates of the Army now in the city, including a number of convalescent soldiers from the hospital, and a large concourse of soldiers citizens During the day, all the flags of the city were draped in mourning and displayed at half-mast. The principal places of business were closed, and the Court House bell as well as the several church bells in the city were tolled while the procession was moving, as a further token of respect. We have seldom seen the hearts of our citizens so deeply touched by any similar event. All felt that a true hero and patriot had passed from earth, and that in his untimely death at the outset of what promised to be a most brilliant career, the service, and the country which he honored, had sustained an irreparable loss.

Who was this man that the city of Reading mourned, buried and honored? William Rufus Terrill was born on April 21, 1834 in Covington, Virginia. On July 1, 1853, he graduated 16th in his class at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and began his career in the U.S.Army. On April 17, 1861, when his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union, Terrill faced the difficult decision of all U.S. military personnel from the southern states. Should he remain loyal to the Union that he swore to protect and defend, or should his loyalty lie with his home state? William Terrill chose loyalty to the Union. This decision cost him dearly. As a result of this decision, he received the following searing letter from his father.

Bath Co. Virginia May 13. [1861]

Your two letters of the 29th ultimo & the 7th inst. are rec’d. I am overwhelmed by the position that you have taken. It is the bitterest cup that has ever been commended to my lips. You are surely demented. Your talk about loyalty to your oath is all stuff. Oh! How it makes my heart bleed to think that while Virginian’s sons are rallying to the defense of her firesides and her homes, that my son is found playing the part of Benedict Arnold. If you persist in your present course your name memory will be execrated not only by those who were once your friends in the South, but even by the very devils with whom you are now warring against your native land. Sir: If you carry out the purpose you have avowed, no matter what may be the result, you will never be permitted to revisit your native state but to die. You would be hung before you could get twenty miles within the limits of Virginia. You are strangely deluded. Our people, except a small portion of the N West, are united as one man and are all enthusiastic. Our soldiers, they are legion, are clamorous to be led on to battle. All your brothers, and even your Father whose years would exempt him, will be in the fight and can you be so recreant & so unnatural as to aid in the mad attempt to impose the yoke of tyranny upon your kith & kin. Do so, and your name shall be stricken from the family record, and only remembered in connection with your treachery to the country that gave you birth. This letter may not reach you because of the strict surveillance established by the Post Office Dept., but should it reach you, I beg you to be assured that every word I have written is as true as Gospel & that should you disregard this last appeal, I shall never again subscribe myself

Your Father

PS. The Gov, of Virginia has frequently inquired for you and has been ready to give you a commission fully equal to that you now hold. If you conclude to retrace your steps and return to Virginia, you will be taken care of

On July 4, 1861, he was assigned as the Captain of Battery H of the 5th Artillery Regiment and was sent to Reading to recruit men for his battery. Nine days later, an article in the Berks and Schuylkill Journal announced the following. Recruiting for the Fifth — Capt. William R. Terrill, commanding Battery H of the 5th Regiment US. Artillery, with 2nd Lieut. Frank Rittenhouse of the same corps is now in this city recruiting for the Corps. They have opened a rendezvous at the late residence of Judge Bell, No. 18 East Market Square, and advertise to enlist 200 menfor the batteries of the Regiment. As this is a branch of the service always desirable, an excellent opportunity is afforded young men possessing the proper qualifications to enter it. Capt. Terrill, a Virginian by birth, is a loyal and gallant officer, and enjoys in a high degree the respect and confidence of his superior officers. We hope his sojourn in Reading will be pleasant and agreeable.

The recruiting office was located at what is now 522 Penn Street. Lee’s Boutique presently occupies this building.
Apparently the city was both pleasant and agreeable since at some point he moved his wife to Reading, where she remained until his death. Some of this fondness for the city may have to do with the citizen’s view of him. The Reading Times, on 3 September 1861, had the following to say about his character on the last day of his enlistment tour in Reading. Who Wants to Enlist? — This is the last day any of our young men will have a chance to enlist under Capt.Terrill, who leaves us to go to Kentucky, to serve under the gallant Gen. Anderson, of Sumter fame. The captain has about him all the marks of a true soldier. There is no bluster, no boasting, no display; but in place of these we find a quiet confidence, a modesty and a gentlemanly bearing ever found in the true soldier and [officer]. During his short stay in our city, he [unreadable his] exemplary conduct, endeared himself to [all] who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. The same may be said of his subordinate officers; and we will add, the United States Army shall hereafter have the advantage of being officered by such men, it will prove itself invincible.

That 4th of July, when Capt. Terrill was as signed to Battery H of the newly formed 5th Artillery regiment, Capt. James McKnight of Reading was assigned to Battery M. Terrill may have met McKnight as a result of this assignment. He also may have met him in Washington, D.C. where McKnight was with the Ringgold artillery and Terrill was acting Inspector-General. In any event, if Terrill had not met McKnight before coming to Reading he most certainly would have taken that opportunity to acquaint himself with a fellow Battery commander after arriving in Reading. We know from newspaper accounts that Capt. McKnight returned home on June 29, 1861, while Terrill was here sometime before the 13th of July. The Berks and Schuylkill Journal also reports that Capt. McKnight was in Reading and would take the place of Capt. Terrill when he left for Kentucky. Almost certainly, McKnight would see to it that Terrill was made welcome in his hometown.

After leaving Reading, Terrill, in command of Battery H, proceeded to Kentucky where, from November 21st to December 21st, he served as Commandant of Artillery at the Camp of Instruction near Louisville. From January to June of 1862, he served as Chief of Artillery, 2nd Division, Army of the Ohio, in Maj. Gen. Buell’s Campaign in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Of Battery H’s performance at the battle of Shiloh (April 6 & 7,1862) General Nelson, commander of the 4th Division writes: “Captain Terrill’s battery was a host in itself. It consists of four 12-pdr. brass guns and two Parrott rifles. Its fire was terrific. It was handled superbly. Wherever Captain Terrill turned his battery silence followed on the part of the enemy. Captain Terrill, his officers and soldiers, won for themselves this 7th of April both the admiration and thanks of the 4th Division.

From April 10th to May 30th, Terrill participated in the siege of Corinth, Mississippi.

In mid-June of 1862, Terrill left Battery H. On September 9,1862, he was promoted to Brigadier General.

On October 8, 1862, William Rufus Terrill entered his final battle as the commander of the 33rd Brigade, 10th Division, First Army Corps, Army of the Ohio. On a field near the small town of Perryville, Kentucky, Major General Buell’s Army of the Ohio clashed with General Bragg’s Confederate forces. During this battle, “Terrill, absorbed with the action of the guns, unwittingly ordered the raw 123rd Illinois Infantry Regiment to charge the fence. Maney’s 1,500 Confederates decimated the 770 troops, leaped the fence and rushed the hill, where they drove off the equally inexperienced 105th Ohio Infantry. Terrill’s brigade, shattered and demoralized, raced toward the west with Maney’s brigade hot on their heels.” While attempting to rally his troops, Terrill was hit in the left side of the chest with a shell fragment “that carried off a portion of his left lung.” Major James A. Connolly of the 123rd Illinois Regiment recounted: “General Terrill, commanding our brigade was killed by a shell within 5 feet of me, and while he was giving me directions for rallying the men. I was the only one with him; I raised him to a sitting position and saw that nearly his entire breast was torn away by the shell. He recognized me and his first words were: ‘Major do you think it is fatal?’ I knew it must be, but to encourage him I answered: ‘Oh I hope not General.’ He then said: ‘My poor wife, my poor wife.’

He lived until 2 o’clock next morning.” After his injury, “he was carried off the field to a house about two miles distant, soon after reaching which he breathed his last.”
His remains arrived in Louisville on October 13th and in Reading on October 15th. The funeral took place the following day. The Reading Times posted the following notice on October 16, 1862.

The funeral of a brave man —Brig. Gen. William R. Terrill — takes place today. Prompted by the dictates of duty he left his home, friends, prospects, family ties, his all in the South, to serve in a cause in which his whole heart and mind were enlisted. He did all this for us — to fight our battles. Let us then, today, pay the last sad tribute to his memory by attending his funeral en masse. We know that our citizens need only to be reminded of what they owe him to make them turn out promptly

The service was held in Christ Church located on the northwest corner of 5th and Court Streets, where the Rev. Alexander G. Cummins, pastor of that church delivered the address. At the request of several prominent citizens, the text of the address was privately published and distributed “among the friends of the deceased, — as a slight memorial of the patriotic and Christian virtue.” Several copies of this pamphlet are still in existence today.

The funeral procession then moved to Charles Evans Cemetery where the body was buried in a lot owned by fellow artillerist James McKnight and his brother David.

The pall bearers consisted of 8 notable men: John Banks, lawyer and former representative in Congress; J. Glancy Jones, lawyer and former congressman; J. Pringle Jones, lawyer and judge; Hiester Clymer, state senator; William M. Hiester, lawyer and former state senator; John S. Richards, lawyer and former editor of the Berks and Schuylkill Journal; Isaac Eckert, owner of Clay Furnace and president of Farmer’s Bank and Leesport Iron Company; and Joseph L. Srichrer, former partner in the hardware business with James McKnight, before McKnight left to join the Army.

Terrill never returned to his home in Virginia. His brother James Barber Terrill fought for the Confederacy and was killed on May 30, 1864, at the Battle of Bethesda Church, Virginia. It is ironic that this also was his first battle after being promoted to brigadier general.

When a camp was established in Reading as a place for draftees of the 167th Regiment, and two additional companies that were assigned to other regiments, the camp was initially called Camp Kupp (Henry S. Kupp was the Commissioner of the Draft for Berks County). The name was soon changed to Camp Terrill in honor of William R. Terrill. This camp was located in a large field known as the “Hiester Farm” just north of Charles Evans Cemetery about equidistant between the Portsville Turnpike (present day Centre Avenue) and the Reading Railroad tracks. This camp was in existence from November 3 to December 12, 1862.

Reading, however, was not to be Terrill’s final resting place. His remains were exhumed and taken to the West Point Military Academy Cemetery and buried there on November 19, 1864. When his wife died on February 18, 1884, she was buried in the cemetery at West Point in the same grave.

Author’s Note: In my previous Historical Review of Berks County article, “The 167th Pennsylvania: Civil War’s Only All Berks Regiment”, I stated incorrectly that Terrill was buried in an unmarked grave in Charles Evans Cemetery. Further investigation showed that his body had been transferred to West Point.