Autograph letter, signed. Peter Carr to Warrick Miller. 1840 November 18.
Autograph letter, signed, Peter Carr to Warrick Miller, 18 November 1840.

Paul Semmes

Perhaps the most notorious student in the history of the University was Joseph G. Semmes. In November 1840, Semmes and a classmate, William A. Kincaid, both masked, were firing their pistols on the lawn. Professor John A. G. Davis left his Pavilion to determine the cause of the disturbance.

According to this letter written by Davis's nephew, Peter Carr, "Davis stepped up to him & caught hold of his disguise in order to detect him, as he was committing a high infringement of the laws of good order of the Institution. The person however jerked away from him, ran three or four yards, wheeled around, and fired his pistol at Mr. Davis--He then fled as fast as possible past Mr. Davis' pavilion, jumped down a wall that bounds the southern side of the University & escaped." Davis died two days later after requesting that no harm should come to the culprit on his account. Semmes was apprehended, released on $25,000 bail, disappeared and was rumored a suicide.


When Semmes matriculated in 1840 he listed his birthplace as Washington, Georgia, and his parent/guardian as one Paul Semmes. A Paul Semmes, also of Washington, Georgia, entered the University in 1833. He became a prominent Georgia businessman, was later commissioned a Colonel in the 2nd Georgia and appointed Brigadier-General in 1862. He commanded his brigade at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, where he was mortally wounded. If the two Paul Semmeses are the same man, the most notorious alumnus of the University was probably the younger brother of one the most honored alumni.

William A. Kincaid, Semmes' partner in the initial disturbance, remained at the University. He was later a planter in Mississippi and served in the Confederate Army.