James Lawson Kemper (1823-1895)
James Lawson Kemper (June 11, 1823 - April 7, 1895) was a lawyer, a Confederate general in the American Civil War, and a 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.
Kemper was born in Mountain Prospect, Madison County, Virginia, brother of F. T. Kemper (the founder of Kemper Military School). His grandfather had served on the staff of George Washington during the American Revolution, but he himself had virtually no military training.
He graduated from Washington College (now Washington and Lee College) 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 was a brigadier general in the Virginia Militia. He also served three terms as a Virginia legislator, rising to become the Speaker of the House of Delegates and the chairman of the Military Affairs Committee, where he was a strong advocate of state military preparedness.
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, commanding the 7th Virginia Infantry starting in May 1862. His regiment was assigned to A.P. Hill's brigade in James Longstreet's division of the Army of the Potomac from June 1861 to March 1862. He saw his first action at the First Battle of Bull Run.
After a gallant performance at the Battle of Seven Pines during the Peninsula Campaign, Kemper was promoted to brigadier general on June 3, 1862, and briefly commanded a division in Longstreet's Corps. Upon the return to duty of wounded Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, Kemper reverted to brigade command, the highest role in which he would serve in combat.
At the Second Battle of Bull Run, Kemper's brigade took part in Longstreet's surprise attack against the Union left flank, almost destroying John Pope's Army of Virginia.
At the Battle of Antietam he was south of the town of Sharpsburg, defending against 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.
At the Battle of Fredericksburg, his brigade was held in reserve.
In 1863 Kemper's brigade was assigned to Pickett's division in Longstreet's Corps, which means that he was absent from the Battle of Chancellorsville while the corps was assigned to Suffolk, Virginia. But 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 (and, thus, on the right flank of the entire assault). 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 spurs 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 forces. He was rescued by Confederate forces, but was too critically injured to be transported during the retreat from Gettysburg and was left behind to be treated and recaptured. Newspaper accounts at the time claimed he was killed in action and Robert E. Lee sent condolences to his family. He was exchanged on September 19, 1863. From then until the end of the war he was too ill for combat (the bullet that struck him could not be removed surgically and he suffered from groin pain for the remainder of his life) and commanded the Reserve Forces of Virginia. He was promoted to major general on September 19, 1864.
After the war Kemper worked as a lawyer and served as the governor of Virginia from January 1, 1874, to January 1, 1878.
He died in Walnut Hills, Orange County, Virginia, where he is buried.