Marker Text: This Greek Revival-style house was built about 1852 for state senator Thomas N. Welch. In 1868 James Lawson Kemper (1823-1895) purchased it from his mother-in-law, Mrs. Belfield Cave. Kemper, an attorney, represented Madison County in the House of Delegates (1853-1863), served as speaker (1861-1863), led a brigade in the Civil War, was wounded in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, and served as governor of Virginia (1874-1878). In 1882 he moved from Madison to Walnut Hills in Orange County.
Location: On Business Route 29 and Route 231, northern end of Madison near Ruth Road in the driveway for the residence. Erected by the Department of Historic Resources in 1991.
Considering my interest in American history and many visits to Gettysburg, I enjoyed watching the movie made several years ago called, “Gettysburg.” With any movie attempting to cover a massive event, like the Battle of Gettysburg, the producers have to be selective concerning the specific events and individuals of the battle they cover. Of course, the movie covered the people and activities surrounding the third day of the battle, particularly Pickett's Charge. When it came to Pickett's Charge the movie concentrated on specific military officers from both sides. The movie focused on three specific officers who participated in Pickett's Charge and one of those officers was Confederate General James Lawson Kemper. When I was traveling through Madison, VA in 2009 and saw this marker I knew this name and why.
Photo taken in front of the residence, home is in the background. Click any photo to enlarge.
During the American Civil War both sides had many officers who were not professional military officers. James Lawson Kemper 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.
James Kemper was a lawyer by profession and he was born in Mountain Prospect, Madison County, Virginia in 1823. He was the 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.
Kemper received his training and education as a lawyer at Washington College (now Washington and Lee College) in Lexington, VA graduating in 1842. 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 in 1847, too late to see any combat action.
By 1858 Kemper 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. Kemper served under James Longstreet's division in the Army of the Potomac and before his participation at Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, he commanded brigades during First and Second Manassas, Battle of Seven Pines, and the Battle of Antietam.
James Kemper’s home in Madison, VA. It now serves as offices for the county.
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. Kemper was rescued by Sgt. Leigh Blanton of the 1st Virginia 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. At the time Kemper thought his wounds were mortal. He requested that Lee "do full justice to this division for its work today." This scene was reenacted in the movie “Gettysburg.” Kemper 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 Kemper had been 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 during Pickett's Charge could not be removed surgically and he suffered from groin pain for the remainder of his life. He spent the rest of the war commanding the Reserve Forces of Virginia. He was promoted to major general on September 19, 1864.
After the Civil War, continued to practice law and bought this house in Madison, VA in 1868 and lived here until 1882, while he served as the governor of Virginia from January 1, 1874 to January 1, 1878.