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Joseph Kershaw was born in Camden, South Carolina on January 5th, 1822. Kershaw attended school in Camden and the Cokesbury Conference School in the Abbeville District. He did not attend college, but studied law and passed the bar exam in 1843. The next year he married Lucretia Douglass.

He joined the Palmetto Regiment for service in the Mexican War and was elected 1st Lieutenant in the DeKalb Rifle Guards, but ill health forced him to return home before the fall of Mexico City.

With James Chesnut and Thos. J. Withers he represented Kershaw County in the Convention which passed the Ordinance of Secession on December 20, 1860. Eight regiments were immediately organized by the State and Kershaw was elected Colonel of the 2nd. This regiment was present at the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, being brigaded on Morris Island at the time under the command of Colonel P.H. Nelson.

After the fall of Fort Sumter, Kershaw went on to Richmond, Virginia, where with the accession of forces, his 2nd was organized into the 2nd Regiment of the First Brigade of the First Division, of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. The Battle of Bull Run was Kershaw's Civil War baptism of fire, and he and his troop earned themselves a good reputation in the army. Kershaw participated with renown and associated in every crucial engagement of the war from that point on.

After the war, General Kershaw returned to his practice of law at Camden. In 1877 he was elected to the Circuit Court Bench, a job that he kept until his resignation in 1893. Kershaw passed away in April of 1894.