James Kemper was born in Virginia in 1823. After graduating from Washington College he worked as a lawyer. He fought during the Mexican War and served in the Virginia House of Delegates.
On the outbreak of the American Civil War he joined the Confederate Army. He was commissioned as colonel of the 7th Virginia Regiment and served at Bull Run (July, 1861). Leading his brigade he fought at 2nd Bull Run (August, 1862), Antietam (September, 1862), Fredericksburg (December, 1862) and Gettysburg (July, 1863) where he was seriously wounded and captured.
Kemper was exchanged in October, 1863, but his poor health made it impossible to return to active duty. On 19th September, 1864, Kemper was placed in charge of the Conscript Bureau in Virginia.
After the war Kemper served as governor of Virginia (1874-77). James Kemper died in 1895.