Born in Camden, South Carolina in 1822, Joseph Brevard Kershaw enjoyed a growing law practice in Camden before he volunteered to serve with South Carolina troops .during the War with Mexico.
He returned to his
law practice and served for a time in the state legislature. In 1860, Kershaw was nominated to serve as a state representative in the secession convention of 1860 and began his Civil War career as colonel of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers. Though Colonel Kershaw had limited military training when he took command, the middle-aged officer threw himself into his work and with the help of his assistant commanders, the 2nd became one of the better trained regiments in southern service.
Kershaw also proved to be one of the Army of Northern Virginia's finest officers. By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, Kershaw was a brigadier general leading a South Carolina Brigade in McLaw's Division of Longstreet's Corps. His regiments fought in the woods and fields of the George Rose farm and were swept up in the "whirlpool" of the wheat field.
Twenty years after the battle, there was an ongoing debate as to why the Confederacy had lost at Gettysburg.
Kershaw commanded a division in General James Longstreet's Corps at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, and during the Wilderness to Petersburg Campaign in 1864. Promoted to major general on June 2, 1864, he was given permanent command of McLaw's old division, which he led during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign to the final battle at Cedar Creek, Virginia, in October 1864.
The general rallied and withdrew his shattered command from the battlefield, whereupon it returned to the Richmond defenses. During the retreat from Richmond and Petersburg in April 1865, Kershaw was captured along with most of his troops at Saylor's Creek, Virginia, three days before the end came at Appomattox Court House.
Paroled that July, Kershaw returned to Camden where he remained active in politics and again returned to the state legislature, this time as a senator. He later served as a judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit os South Carolina. In 1894, Kershaw resigned from the bench due to ill health and accepted an appointment as postmaster in Camden, a position he held for only several weeks until his death on April 13, 1894. General Kershaw is buried in Camden.