Military Wiki
James L. Kemper
37th Governor of Virginia

In office
January 1, 1874 – January 1, 1878
Preceded by Gilbert Carlton Walker
Succeeded by Frederick W. M. Holliday
Personal details
Born (1823-06-11)June 11, 1823
Madison County, Virginia
Died April 7, 1895(1895-04-07) (aged 71)
Walnut Hills, Orange County, Virginia
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Cremora "Belle" Conway Cave
Alma mater Washington College
Profession Lawyer, Soldier, Politician
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
 Confederate States of America
Service/branch U.S. Army
Virginia Virginia Militia
Confederate States Army Infantry
Years of service 1861–1865 (CSA)
Rank Union army cpt rank insignia.jpg (USA)
File:CSAGeneral.png Major General (CSA)
Battles/wars American Civil War

James Lawson Kemper (June 11, 1823 – April 7, 1895) was a lawyer, a Confederate general in the American Civil War, and the 37th Governor of Virginia. He was the youngest of the brigade commanders, and the only non-professional military officer, in the division that led Pickett's Charge, in which he was wounded and captured but rescued.

Early life

Kemper was born in Mountain Prospect, Madison County, Virginia, the son of William and Maria E. Allison Kemper and brother of Frederick T. Kemper (the founder of Kemper Military School). His father was of German ancestry, which had been in Virginia since the colonial era.[1] His grandfather had served on the staff of George Washington during the American Revolutionary War, but he himself had virtually no military training. He graduated from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in 1842, becoming a lawyer.

After the start of the Mexican-American War, he enlisted and became a captain and assistant quartermaster in the 1st Virginia Infantry, but he joined the service too late (1847) to see any combat action. By 1858 he was a brigadier general in the Virginia Militia.

Kemper was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1853. He became chairman of the Military Affairs Committee, where he was a strong advocate of state military preparedness. In early 1861 he became Speaker, a position he held until January 1863. Much of his term as Speaker coincided with his service in the Confederate States Army.

Civil War

After the start of the Civil War, Kemper served as a brigadier general in the Provisional Army of Virginia, and then a colonel in the Confederate States Army, becoming head of the 7th Virginia Infantry. At First Bull Run, Kemper led the regiment as part of Jubal Early's brigade. His regiment was later assigned to Brig. Gen. A.P. Hill's brigade in Maj. Gen. James Longstreet's division of the Confederate Army of the Potomac from June 1861 to March 1862. On May 26, A.P. Hill was promoted to division command and Kemper got the brigade. After a gallant performance at the Battle of Seven Pines during the Peninsula Campaign, Kemper was promoted to brigadier general on June 3, 1862. Leading the brigade through the Seven Days Battles, he then became a division commander after Robert E. Lee reorganized the army (commanding half of James Longstreet's old division).

At the Second Battle of Bull Run, Kemper's division took part in Longstreet's surprise attack against the Union left flank, almost destroying Maj. Gen. John Pope's Army of Virginia. Afterwards, his division was merged into General David R. Jones's command and Kemper reverted to brigade command. At the Battle of Antietam he was south of the town of Sharpsburg, defending against Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's assault in the afternoon of September 17, 1862. He withdrew his brigade in the face of the Union advance, exposing the Confederate right flank, and the line was saved only by the hasty arrival of A.P. Hill's division from Harpers Ferry.

When George Pickett returned to duty after Antietam, he took command of the troops Kemper had led at Second Bull Run. In 1863, the brigade was assigned to Pickett's Division in Longstreet's Corps, which meant that he was absent from the Battle of Chancellorsville, while the corps was assigned to Suffolk, Virginia. However, the corps returned to the army in time for the Gettysburg Campaign.

At the Battle of Gettysburg, Kemper arrived with Pickett's Division late on the second day of battle, July 2, 1863. His brigade was one of the main assault units in Pickett's Charge, advancing on the right flank of Pickett's line. After crossing the Emmitsburg Road, his brigade was hit by flanking fire from two Vermont regiments, driving it to the left and disrupting the cohesion of the assault. Kemper rose on his stirrups to urge his men forward, shouting "There are the guns, boys, go for them!"

This bravado made him a more visible target and he was wounded by a bullet in the abdomen and thigh and captured by Union troops. He was rescued by Sgt. Leigh Blanton of the 1st Virginia[2] and was carried back to Confederate lines on Seminary Ridge. General Robert E. Lee encountered Kemper being carried on a stretcher and inquired about the seriousness of his wound, which Kemper said he thought was mortal. He requested that Lee "do full justice to this division for its work today."[3] During the Confederate Army's retreat from Gettysburg, Kemper was again captured by Union forces. He was exchanged (for Charles K. Graham) on September 19, 1863.[4] For the rest of the war he was too ill for combat, and commanded the Reserve Forces of Virginia. He was promoted to major general on September 19, 1864.

Postbellum career

It had not been possible to remove the bullet that had wounded Kemper at Gettysburg, and he suffered from groin pain for the rest of his life. After the war he worked as a lawyer and served as the first Governor of Virginia after Reconstruction from January 1, 1874, to January 1, 1878 having defeated Republican Robert W. Hughes with 43.84% of the vote. Jones (1972) argues that Kemper and like-minded Conservatives implemented racial policies which were less anti-Negro and which gave fuller recognition than historians have conceded. The Virginia Redeemers attempted to shape race relations to conform to what C. Vann Woodward has defined as the Conservative philosophy. Jones concludes that Kemper and the Virginia Redeemers deserve to rank in history alongside the Wade Hamptons and other proponents of the Conservative philosophy.[5] Kemper died in Walnut Hills, Orange County, Virginia, where he is buried.

In popular media

Actor Royce D. Applegate portrayed Kemper in two films, Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003).

See also


  1. Germanna By John W. Wayland page 13
  2. Gallagher, p. 61.
  3. Freeman, vol. 3, p. 130.
  4. Eicher, p. 330.
  5. Robert R. Jones, "James L. Kemper and the Virginia Redeemers Face the Race Question: A Reconsideration." Journal of Southern History 1972 38(3): 393–414.


Further reading

  • Hess, Earl J. Pickett's Charge—The Last Attack at Gettysburg. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8078-2648-0.
  • Jamerson, Bruce F. Speakers and Clerks of the Virginia House of Delegates, 1776–2007. Richmond: Virginia House of Delegates, 1996. OCLC 182976627. Revised version of work by E. Griffith Dodson, first published in 1956.
  • Stewart, George R. Pickett's Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959. ISBN 0-395-59772-2.
  • Wert, Jeffry D. Gettysburg: Day Three. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-85914-9.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Gilbert C. Walker
Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
Frederick W. M. Holliday
Preceded by
Oscar M. Crutchfield
Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates
Succeeded by
Hugh W. Sheffey

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).