Kenton Harper, a general of the
Virginia militia in 1861, was born in Pennsylvania in 1801, the son of George
Kenton and Nancy (McClintock) Harper. His father, of a wealthy Philadelphia
family with Virginia connections, was the longtime publisher of the Franklin
County Repository. Kenton's early youth was spent as a ptinter in Chambersburg.
In 1823 Harper bought a newspaper in Staunton, Virginia, a paper later known as
the Staunton Spectator. Harper, who published the Spectator through 1849, gained
a regional reputation as an editor and publisher with political influence. In
1836 he was elected to a term in the Virginia House of Delegates. During the
Mexican War he was captain of the Augusta County company of the 1st Virginia
Infantry. He was promoted to acting inspector general of his brigade and served
as military governor of Parras in northern Mexico. After that war Harper became
a farmer in Augusta County. He served in a variety of government posts—assistant
to the U.S. secretary of the interior and agent to the Chickasaw Indian tribe
(1851 to 1852)—as well as becoming president of a local bank.
Major general of the 5th Division of the Virginia Militia since 1860, Harper was the commander of the militia units that seized Harpers Ferry on April 18, 1861. To guard that strategic post, the whole division was called into service. Harper and his men removed the invaluable ordnance stores and machinery of the Harpers Ferry arsenal and shipped them south to safety, securing their use for the Confederacy. On April 28, 1861, Harper ("a born soldier" of "energy, skill and sagacity," but of "delicate health" ') and his 2,400 men were relieved of duty by Stonewall Jackson and regular Confederate troops. With the organization of the PACS, Harper was commissioned colonel of the 5th Virginia Infantry on May 7, 1861. He led the 5th, a part of the Stonewall Brigade, at First Bull Run, where his soldierly ability attracted the notice of the army commander. The old militia general resigned his colonel's commission in September, 1861, in order to return home and be with his dying wife. Harper spent the balance of the war in his native Shenandoah Valley. On June 2, 1864, Harper was authorized to form a regiment from the organized reservist companies in the Shenandoah Valley. The regiment fought at the Battles of Piedmont and Waynesboro, being routed on both occasions.
Harper returned to Staunton after
the war. He died of pneumonia at his home, Glen Allen, in Augusta County on
December 25, 1867, and is buried in Thornrose Cemetery, Staunton.
General Harper's command of a brigade of militia that served in a campaign qualifies him to be considered a Confederate general.
Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.