JAmes Kemper

James Kemper

Original query from MICHAEL E HARTENSTINE

Wasn't Brig. Gen James Kemper taken prisoner by the federal army? After he was wounded leading his brigade during Picketts charge. The movie "Gettysburg" depicts him of being retrieved by his own men.

Reply from Dave

Subject: Re: Gen.Kemper

Gen Kemper was retrieved by his men after the attack, but because of his serious wounds, they had to leave him to the mercy of the enemy during the retreat. He fell into Federal hands on July 6, 1863. -Dave

Reply from Bryan Meyer

You are correct...the movie "Gettysburg" has another flaw. I was wondering about this myself after reading Gettysburg: Battle & Battlefield by W.C. Storrick. He mentions Kemper's medical situation in the medical field hospital after the battle. He was captured, but was so seriously wounded, that he could not be moved.

According to the Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (Patricia L. Faust, Editor), here is a quote of Kemper's situation: "Encountering severe flanking fire, it (Kemper's Brigade) was eventually repelled, and withdrew with the battered remnants of that fateful charge. Its commander remained on the field, desperately wounded and a captive of the Union forces."

It also says: "In 1864 Kemper was exchanged and returned to Richmond, where he served in a staff position. He was promoted to major general Sept. 19, 1864, and commanded the defense of Richmond after its evacuation at the end of the war."

Reply from Dennis

Dave and Bryan are both correct, but that does not preclude the movie scene from also being correct. I cannot find a report from Kemper, but here are the few sources I could find.

Stuart recounts the conversation almost as exactly as does the movie on page 257 of _Pickett's Charge_

"Some men came by, bearing the wounded Kemper. Lee turned to him, 'General Kemper, I hope you are not very seriously wounded.'
'I am struck in the groin and the ball has ranged upward; they tell me it is mortal.'
'I hope it will not prove so. Is there something I can do for you?'
'Yes, General Lee, do full justice to this division for the work it did today.'
'I will.'"

Stuart cites as his source R.A. Bright 's article "Pickett's Charge" SHSP, xxxi, 228.

Sergeant David Johnston, 7th Va., details Kemper's location after his wounding in Richard Rollins' _Pickett's Charge: Eyewitness Accounts_ page 93.

"About dark I was placed in an ambulance and carried some few miles from the battle field whither General Kemper was also removed and placed in the barn... It was thought General Kemper would not live during the night his sufferings were so great --- almost beyond endurance."

GEO. G. MEADE, recants the capture of Trimble and Kemper in a letter he wrote to Halleck on July 6, 1863-8 p.m.

" General [J. L. ] Kemper was found mortally wounded on the road to Fairfield, and a large number of wounded, estimated as several thousand. " OR page81 ; Chapter XXXIX , THE GETTYSBURG CAMPAIGN.

R. E. LEE wrote to Jefferson Davis on the status of several Confederate officers. July 4, 1863.

"Generals Garnett and Armistead are missing a prisoner . Generals Pender and Trimble are wounded in the leg, General Hood in the arm , and General Heth slightly in the head . general Kemper , . it is feared , is mortally wounded."


Kemper returned to politics and campaigned for Greeley for President. He was elected Governor of Virginia in 1873. He practiced law until his death in 1895 in Orange County, Va. where he is buried.