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James L. Kemper

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Title: James L. Kemper  
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Subject: Frederick W. M. Holliday, Spotsylvania Court House Confederate order of battle, Governor of Virginia, Charles K. Graham, Benjamin Harrison V
Collection: 1823 Births, 1895 Deaths, American Civil War Prisoners of War, American Military Personnel of the Mexican–american War, American Militia Generals, American People of German Descent, Confederate States Army Generals, Confederate States Army Major Generals, Democratic Party State Governors of the United States, Governors of Virginia, People from Madison County, Virginia, People of Virginia in the American Civil War, Speakers of the Virginia House of Delegates, Virginia Democrats, Virginia Lawyers, Washington and Lee University School of Law Alumni
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James L. Kemper

James L. Kemper
37th Governor of Virginia
In office
January 1, 1874 – January 1, 1878
Lieutenant Robert E. Withers
Henry Wirtz Thomas
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  United States Army
 Confederate States Army
Years of service 1847–1848 (USA)
1861–1865 (CSA)
Rank Captain (USV)
Major General (CSA)
Unit Regiment of Virginia Volunteers (USA)
Commands 7th Virginia Infantry
Kemper's Brigade
Kemper's Division
Virginia Reserve Forces

Mexican-American War
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 and family life 1
  • Military and political career 2
  • Civil War 3
  • Postbellum career 4
  • In popular media 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Early and family life

Kemper was born at Mountain Prospect American Revolutionary War, and his grandfather John Stadler Allison served as an officer in the War of 1812, but died when his daughter Maria was very young.[2] Although several of his paternal ancestors were involved in the German Reformed Church, William Kemper was an elder in the local Presbyterian church and his mother was devout, but also hosted dances and parties that lasted several days. His brother, Frederick T. Kemper later founded Kemper Military School).

James Kemper had virtually no military training as a boy, but his father and a neighboring planter, Henry Hill of Culpepper, founded Old Field School on the plantation to educate local children, including Kanawha County (a former U.S. Representative), after which Washington College awarded him a Master's degree in June 1845. He was admitted to the Virginia bar on October 2, 1846.[4]

Military and political career

Meanwhile, Congress had declared war on Mexico in 1846, and President James K. Polk called for nine regiments of volunteers. Kemper and his friend Birkett D. Fry of Kanawha County traveled to the national capital on December 15, 1846, hoping to secure commissions in the First Regiment of Virginia Volunteers. After traveling to Richmond and back to Washington for more networking, Kemper learned that he had been appointed the unit's quartermaster and captain under Col. John F. Hamtramck. During the Mexican-American War, Kemper received favorable reviews and met many future military leaders, but his unit arrived just after the Battle of Buena Vista and mainly maintained a defensive perimeter in Coahuila province.[5]

Honorably discharged from the U.S. Army on August 3, 1848, Kemper returned to practice law in Madison County, and neighboring Orange and Culpeper Counties. He represented many fellow veterans making land claims, as well as speculated in real estate and helped form the Blue Ridge Turnpike Company (between Gordonsville and the Shenandoah Valley.[6]

Interested in politics, Kemper first campaigned for office in 1850, but lost the contest to become clerk of the Commonwealth's constitutional convention. Promoting himself as pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist, and pro-states' rights, Kemper defeated Marcus Newman and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1853 (the year his father died at age 76).[7] A strong advocate of state military preparedness, as well as an ally of Henry A. Wise, Kemper rose to become chairman of the Military Affairs Committee. By 1858 he was a brigadier general in the Virginia militia.

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 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,[8] 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."[9] 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.[10] 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 was not 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-black 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.[11]

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. ^ John W. Wayland, Germanna at page 13
  2. ^ Harold R. Woodward, Jr., The Confederacy's Forgotten Son (Rockbridge Publishing Company, 1993) at pp. 1-3.
  3. ^ Woodward at pp. 4-5.
  4. ^ Woodward at pp. 6-8.
  5. ^ Woodward at pp. 9-15.
  6. ^ Woodward at pp. 16-18.
  7. ^ Woodward at pp. 16-18.
  8. ^ Gallagher, p. 61.
  9. ^ Freeman, vol. 3, p. 130.
  10. ^ Eicher, p. 330.
  11. ^ 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.


  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Freeman, Douglas S. R. E. Lee, A Biography. 4 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934–35. OCLC 166632575.
  • Gallagher, Gary W., ed. The Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8078-4753-4.
  • Tagg, Larry. The Generals of Gettysburg. Campbell, CA: Savas Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1-882810-30-9.

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

  • "James L. Kemper".  
  • A Guide to the Executive Papers of Governor James L. Kemper, 1874–1877 at The Library of Virginia
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
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