Standing 5’10” with deep blue eyes, blonde hair and a drooping mustache, Joseph Brevard Kershaw came from a third-generation family in South Carolina. Kershaw County, formerly Kershaw District, was named for his family. His paternal grandfather plus two brothers emigrated from England in 1748. His maternal grandfather served on Francis Marion’s staff. His father John was a mayor of Camden, state legislator, member of Congress, and judge. His mother was Harriett DuBoise who came from another distinguished South Carolina family. Joseph was born January 5, 1822 in Camden, one of eight children of the couple. Both the Kershaw and DuBoise families had soldiers who fought in the American Revolution. His grandfather Joseph Kershaw was the most famous of the family to fight in the Revolution losing his fortune in the process.
Joseph went to school in Camden and also to the Cokesbury Conference School in the Abbeville District. He did not go to college but read the law and passed the bar in 1843. He married Lucretia Douglass in 1844. He joined the Palmetto Regiment in the Mexican War and was elected First Lieutenant in the DeKalb Rifle Guards. He contracted a fever in Mexico and returned home to Camden a very sick man. He resigned his commission and his wife nursed him back to health. He was elected to the State Legislature in 1852 and 1854. He became active in the Militia in 1859 and participated in the Charleston Convention which led to South Carolina seceding from the Union. He was in Charleston on Morrris Island during the siege at Fort Sumter. He organized the 2nd South Carolina Regiment and was named it’s colonel in 1861. His regiment was sent to Virginia and assigned to General Milledge L. Bonham. They fought at Henry House Hill at First Manassas and played a major role in breaking the Union lines and chasing the Yankees back to Washington. After General Bonham resigned, Kershaw was appointed brigadier general. His unit fought at Second Manassas, South Mountain, and Antietam. He took over at Fredericksburg after the death of General Thomas Cobb. They also fought at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, First Deep Bottom, and Sailor’s Creek.
On June 30, 1863 Kershaw spent the night in Greenwood, PA fifteen miles outside of Gettysburg on the Chambersburg Pike. On July 1, 1863 Kershaw was part of McLaws Division in Longstreet’s First Corps. Kershaw’s men lined up early at 10:00 a.m. but were not able to march until 4:00 p.m. that day. It took them 8 hours to march 12 miles to Gettysburg. Once they got to Marsh Creek after a long day of marching, the men dropped to the ground exhausted and slept. On July 2nd they were at the Black Horse Tavern on the Fairfield Road but realized they could be seen from the Little Roundtop and had to re-route. They then moved north and west on Herr’s Ridge going east to Willoughby Run and Pitzer’s School House. Arriving at Gettysburg his position was at the stone wall to the right of the Rose Farm. He then advanced to the fight at the Peach Orchard with General Daniel Sickles incurring more than fifty percent casualties (picture shows burial of Kershaw’s men at the Rose Farm). His left wing of the 3rd South Carolina was engaged at the Wheatfield. On the third day, his unit was not engaged. Kershaw’s brigade retreated through Falling Waters, Maryland and crossed the Potomac River on July 14th, 1863.
He then commanded a division in Longstreet’s Corps at Chickamaugua, fought at The Wilderness, Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Cedar Creek, and was promoted to major general on June 2, 1864. At Sailor’s Creek, three days before General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, he was captured along with eight other Confederate generals – Richard Ewell, Dudley DeBose, Eppa Hunton, Montgomery Corse, Seth Barton, James Simms, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr., and Custis Lee. Kershaw was taken to General George Armstrong Custer who shared blankets with him. Years later hearing of the disaster at Little Big Horn and Custer’s death, Kershaw recalled fondly Custer sharing his blankets with him. Kershaw was sent to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor and was released in August, 1865.
He returned to Camden where he resumed his legal career, became a judge, was elected to the State Senate in 1865, and chosen as President of the Senate. When his health began to fail, he was appointed as Postmaster of Camden, a position he held until his death in Camden on April 12, 1894.
His obituary reads: “Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw died in Camden, S.C. yesterday. He was born in that place on Jan. 5, 1822. He was educated in South Carolina academies and was admitted to the bar in 1843. He was a member of the State Senate from 1852 to 1857. He organized the Second Regiment of South Carolina at the outbreak of the war, and commanded it at the battle of Bull Run. He was made Brigadier General Feb. 13, 1862, and commanded a brigade in McLaw’s division throughout the Peninsula campaign. His command led the attack of Longstreet’s corps at Gettysburg, where he lost more than half his brigade. After engaging in the battle of Chickamauga and the siege of Knoxville he returned to Virginia in 1864 as Major General, and commanded a division in the final campaign of Lee’s army. He held the Northern forces in check at Spottsylvania until the arrival of Gen. Lee, was at Cold Harbor in Gen. Early’s valley campaign, and in the rear of Lee’s army at Sailors’ Creek, where he surrendered April 6, 1865. He was imprisoned at Fort Warren until July 1865, when he resumed his law practice in his native city. He was a member of the State Senate 1865-6, serving in the latter year as President. In 1870 he prepared for the Conservative Convention the resolutions that were adopted by that body, recognizing the constitutional amendments as accomplished facts and entitled to obedience. In 1877 he was elected Judge of the Fifth Circuit Court of the State. This office he held for sixteen years. He was recently appointed Postmaster of Camden. The State Legislative at its last session elected him to prepare a history of South Carolina troops in the war.”