Ed Bearss, the world's leading authority on the Civil War, wrote of General Joseph Kershaw
that he "repeatedly demonstrated that he was without peer as a combat leader." Few of
Kershaw's contemporaries or modern historians would disagree with this assessment.
Joseph Kershaw was born on January 5, 1822, in Camden, South Carolina. He was the son of
John and Harriett DuBose Kershaw, a distinguished family. A third-generation South Carolinian,
his paternal grandfather had emigrated from England in 1748 and was active in public affairs
during and after the American Revolution. The Kershaw District (now county) was named in honor
of him. His maternal grandfather had served on Francis Marion's staff during that conflict
with England. Joseph's father had been a mayor of Camden, judge, state legislator and member
He joined the Palmetto Regiment for service in the Mexican War and was elected 1st Lieutenant
in the DeKalb Rifle Guards. He was stricken with fever and returned from Mexico as a physical
wreck. He resigned his commission and his wife nursed him back to health. In 1852, he was
elected to the state legislature and reelected in 1854. After John Brown's Raid in October
of 1859, Kershaw became active in the militia and was elected colonel of the local regiment.
He participated in the Charleston Convention that for South Carolina to secede from the Union.
In response to Governor Andrew Pickens' call to arms, he proceeded to Charleston with his
militia regiment and was assigned duty on Morris Island. During the crisis in Charleston
Harbor, he organized the 2nd South Carolina Regiment and was named its colonel on April 9,
In January 1862, Bonham resigned and Kershaw was promoted to brigadier general in command
of the brigade which forever after would be identified with him. One of his soldiers,
Y. J. Pope of the 3rd South Carolina and later Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme
Court, eulogized Kershaw after his death in 1894. Pope wrote that Kershaw "was not without
blemishes or faults, but it endeared him all the more" to those he dealt with.
After much service through 1863 and 1864, Kershaw's Division returned to Richmond in early
December 1864. A month later his old brigade was sent to their home state to stop General
Sherman's invasion. Kershaw remained in the Richmond/Petersburg area until Lee's army
withdrew on April 2, 1865. Kershaw was one of six unfortunate Confederate generals captured
at Sayler's Creek on April 6th, three days before Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
Kershaw returned to Camden to resume his legal career and was elected to the state senate
in 1865 and chosen as the President of the Senate. During Reconstruction, his 'counsels were
for prudence' rather than extreme action. In 1870, as a member of the Union Reform Party
convention, he wrote resolutions recognizing the Reconstruction Acts. In 1874 he ran
unsuccessfully for Congress, but was elected judge of the fifth circuit court of the state
Kershaw resigned in 1893 as his health began to fail. At his retirement party, some of his
former soldiers as well as associates in the legal profession paid tribute to him. Three
members (John D. Kennedy, Robert W. Shand and William D. Trantham) of Kershaw's 2nd South
Carolina were also lawyers who used the occasion to speak in glowing terms of Kershaw's
abilities as a military officer, his efforts to help the state during Reconstruction, and
his integrity as a judge. Afterwards he was chosen to write the history of South Carolina's
participation in the Civil War, a work he never completed. He was postmaster of Camden when
death came at his home on the evening of April 13, 1894, the 133rd anniversary of the initial
surrender of Fort Sumter. He is buried in Camden's Quaker Cemetery along with many of his
soldiers from Kershaw County.
Copyright by UDC Joseph Brevard Kershaw #205. All rights reserved.