Soldier, jurist. Kershaw was born on January 5, 1822, in Camden, the son of John Kershaw and Harriet Dubose. After a childhood education in private academies, Kershaw studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1843. On November 6, 1844, he married Lucretia Douglas. The marriage produced ten children. During the Mexican War, Kershaw served as a lieutenant in South Carolina’s Palmetto Regiment, but he took ill in June 1847 and returned to South Carolina. He returned to his law practice in Camden and became involved in politics. He represented Kershaw District in the state House of Representatives from 1852 to 1855 and as a delegate to the Secession Convention of December 1860, where he signed the Ordinance of Secession.
Just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, on April 9, 1861, Kershaw was made colonel of the Second South Carolina Regiment. Its first engagement was at Fort Sumter (April 12, 1861), where the regiment manned the Morris Island fortifications. Shortly thereafter the regiment was sent to Virginia and played an active role in the Confederate victory at First Manassas (July 21, 1861). In January 1862 Kershaw was given command of a brigade, and the following month he was promoted to brigadier general. Admired for his coolness in battle and his decision-making ability, Kershaw led his brigade to action at the Seven Days’ battles (June 25–July 1, 1862), Antietam (September 17, 1862), Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862), and during the Chancellorsville campaign in the spring of 1863. Kershaw was also actively involved in the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863). Later that fall he participated in the Knoxville campaign. Returning to Virginia, Kershaw was promoted to major general in May 1864 and given command of the First Division, First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. His division saw action in every major Virginia engagement throughout the remainder of the war, including the Wilderness (May 5–6, 1864), Spotsylvania (May 8–12, 1864), and the siege of Petersburg and final defense of Rich- mond. He was captured just days before the surrender at Appomattox and remained a prisoner until his release in July 1865.
After the war, Kershaw returned to South Carolina, resumed his law practice, and reentered political life. He served in the S.C. Senate from 1865 to 1866, where he was chosen president pro tempore in December 1865. He lost a reelection bid in 1868 and a bid for Congress in 1874. With the return of the Democrats to power in 1876, the General Assembly made Kershaw a circuit court judge in 1877, a position he held until failing health forced him to resign in 1893. In his later years he contributed accounts of his war service for the multivolume Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (1887–1888) and briefly oversaw efforts to collect the records of Confederate veterans in South Carolina. He died on April 12, 1894, and was buried in Quaker Cemetery, Camden.
Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.
Freeman, Douglas Southall. Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command. 3 vols. New York: Scribner’s, 1942–1944.
Tagg, Larry. The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle. Campbell, Calif.: Savas, 1998.