Joseph Abney was born on December 2nd, 1819, near Lorick’s (now known as Herbert’s) Ferry on the Saluda
River in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the son of John and Agatha Griffith Abney. At the age of three (or four) young
Joseph lost his father to an illness, and his mother re-married a short time later to Mr. Cadaway Clark, who took Joseph and
his brother, John, in as his own and helped to raise the young men. He spent his youth obtaining an education in the local
schools of the district, it was in these schools that he showed his skill and ability as a mathematician and orator. Upon
completing his education in the schools he obtain employment as a teacher in the district as a means of making money to enable
him to study law.
After obtaining the necessary funds to support himself he went to Abbeville, South Carolina, where he entered the law
office of Mr. Perrin, and along with a fellow student, Samuel McGowan, began the study of law. After completing his studies
he went to Columbia and along with Samuel McGowan, Henry R. Spann, and others, passed the bar exam and was admitted to the
South Carolina State Bar in the year 1842. Following his admittance to the state bar he returned to Edgefield in 1843, and
established a law office in that city, building for himself a productive and lucrative practice, until 1846.
In 1846 the United States went to war with Mexico, as the Regular Army was not sufficient to handle such an undertaking
the President issued a call for volunteers from the various State, in this call up South Carolina was asked to provide one
regiment of infantry. In response to this call the men of Edgefield organized themselves into a company known as the “Old
Ninety-Six Boys” under Captain Preston S. Brooks, with Joseph Abney, Lafayette B. Weaver, and David Adams as Lieutenants.
The company would become Company D of the Palmetto Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers, under the command of Colonel Pierce
Mason Butler, a former U.S. Army officer and Governor of South Carolina. Lieutenant Abney and the men of the Palmetto Regiment
went first to Texas and then onto Mexico where they served with the army of Major General Winfield Scott. In the assault at
Churubusco, Mexico, on August 20th, 1847, Lieutenant Abney was severely wounded early in the fighting, however despite his
wound he remained with his company until the end of the fight when he reported to the hospital, it was during this fight that
the Palmetto’s suffered a number of casualties including the death of Colonel Butler who was killed when a cannon ball
passed through both of his legs. In the fight at Churubusco Company D lost Lieutenant David Adams and Private Thomas Tillman
were killed, and Corporal W.B. Brooks, Privates James Goff, J. Whittaker, J. Addison, F. Posey, R.J. Key, W.F. Uthank, J.
Lark, E. Simkins, and R. Sloman wounded, while other companies suffered similar losses.
After recovering from his wounds he rejoined the regiment and was part of the occupation force in the City of Mexico.
It was here that he was struck down, not by bullets, but by illness that had been sweeping through the American Army. Lieutenant
Abney was taken ill with dysentery, to such a degree that he was bed-ridden and spent several days drifting in and out of
conscience. Through the care of a Catholic Priest in the city at that time, Lieutenant Abney attributed his recovery, and
when well enough he returned to South Carolina, and was mustered out of service with the rest of the regiment. Upon returning
home he was called to a presentation ceremony in Edgefield on October 31st, 1848, the men of the Saluda Regiment, South Carolina
Militia, had taken a collection and purchased an elaborate sword made by Gregg & Haden of Charleston for Lieutenant Abney.
The presentation was made by Colonel Arthur Simkins, at the request of the Saluda Regiment, and was a very elaborate ceremony
that was celebrated by all that were present.
Following the close of the Mexican War Joseph resumed his law practice in Edgefield, and continued in that field until
1861, when he would once again be called back into the service of his state. Before that time however Joseph was married to
Miss Susan Margaret Miller of Edgefield on February 4th, 1858, the couple would go on to have five children, Elizabeth Agatha
(August 24th, 1859), Paul B. (1861-1863), Charles B. (1863-1865), Sophie Chpaman (1869-1870), and Elizabeth Eleanor (1867-1882).
Following their marriage Joseph Abney purchased a home known as “Ivy Dale” in Edgefield, the home derived its
name from the large ivy covered oak trees that surrounded it, the home would remain in the family until 1908.
Following the secession of South Carolina in December of 1860 the state began raising volunteers for service against
the north, as part of these volunteer Joseph Abney organized the “Edgefield Blues” in December of 1861
and was promptly elected as the Captain of the Company. The company joined with others in Charleston, South Carolina, and
were formed together in a regiment designated as the 22nd South Carolina Infantry Regiment, and on January 29th, 1862, Captain
Abney was elected as Colonel of the regiment, with S.D. Goodlett as Lieutenant Colonel and T.C. Watkins as Major. Colonel
Abney commanded the 22nd Regiment in its early days while it was engaged in the defense of Charleston from January to May
of 1862. In May of 1862 the South Carolina regiments serving in the Confederate army were all re-organized and elections for
the various officer positions were held. It was in these elections that Colonel Abney failed to be re-elected and Lieutenant
Colonel Goodlett was elected to the position of Colonel in his place.
It was at this same time that the Confederate Congress passed legislation organizing battalions of Sharpshooters in
the various Departments and Armies. Under these orders Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, then commanding the Department
of South Carolina, Georgia, & Florida, appointed Joseph as Major of the 1st South Carolina Sharpshooter Battalion on June
21st, 1862. With this commission he set to work on organizing his battalion that would be composed of three companies under
Captain’s Robert Chisolm, J.B. Allston, and Henry Buist. This battalion would serve from June of 1862 to September of
1863 in the defense of Charleston, performing various duties along with the rest of the Charleston garrison, as well as actions
at Coosawhatchie in 1862, and James Island in May of 1863.
In September of 1863 the Sharpshooter Battalion was consolidated with the 1st South Carolina Infantry Battalion, the
Charleston Battalion, and the unit was designated as the 27th South Carolina Infantry Regiment, with Peter C. Gaillard as
Colonel, Julius A. Blake as Lieutenant Colonel, and Joseph Abney as Major, all being commissioned as such on September 30th,
1863. The regiment continued its service in the Charleston area until early 1864 when it was transferred as part of Brigadier
General Johnson Hagood’s Brigade to Virginia, and placed in the defenses of Richmond and Petersburg. Major Abney was
with the regiment until May 16th, 1864, when he was severely wounded in action at Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia. It was during
this action that General Hagood recorded a strange incident involving Major Abney:
“Hagood immediately ordered the picket back, and to drive these skirmishers to a greater distance. His picket
commander, Colonel Blake, had completely lost his aplomb, and deprecatingly told General Hagood it could not be done. He was
told to attempt it anyhow, and leading out his men from Fort Stephens along the prong of the abandoned line, he stopped without
deploying his men, and conversing with them huddled together, remained a target for the sharpshooters from the cabins who
rained their fire upon him. Major Abney was sent for to relieve Blake, and his manner while receiving instructions was not
indicative that a proper selection had been made. When they were concluded, though directed to go promptly in person to take
command of the picket, he went some ten steps toward the sally port and sitting down upon the banquette began vacantly to
comb his hair with a pocket comb. He, too, from cause was not himself.”
He remained in Virginia until March of 1865 when he was officially retired to the Invalid Corps as a result of his
wounds. With his retirement from the service he returned to Edgefield to recover from his wounds, and began to rebuild his
practice, however it was briefly interrupted when in April of 1865 it appears that he was recalled and commanded the 27th
South Carolina in its final campaign with the Army of Tennessee in North Carolina, with which force he was surrendered on
April 26th, 1865, in the meeting between General Joseph E. Johnston, PACS, and Major General William T. Sherman, USA.
With the close of the war and the dismal situation that presented itself thereafter he was one of several present in
August of 1865 at a meeting which formed the Southern Colonization Society in Edgefield, of this society he was elected the
President. The purpose of the Society was to find a new land for the defeated southerners in Brazil, and for a short time
he went with those who had decided to go to Brazil, however before long he returned to South Carolina and his home in Edgefield.
On Wednesday, February 2nd, 1870, after only ten hours of illness Colonel Abney died at his home in Edgefield, he was
48 years old. He had fallen victim to an epidemic of meningitis that was then raging through Edgefield County. His remains
were laid to rest shortly after his death at the Willowbrook Cemetery in Edgefield, South Carolina.
Following his death Colonel Carey W. Styles of Albany, Georgia, described Colonel Abney as “kind, generous, courteous, and brave. He possessed exalted character, and a sense of honor as pure
and lofty as the knightliest champion that e'er bore a prize from the lists.”
Another description of Colonel Abney was given in General Johnson Hagood’s book “Memoirs of the War of Secession”
in which he says that “Abney was a brave man, but his habits were not good, and his virtues were rather passive than
· “History of Edgefield County, from Earliest Settlements to 1897.” John A. Chapman;
Elbert H. Aull, Publisher & Printer, Newberry, S.C., 1897.
· “Memoirs of the War of Secession.” Johnson Hagood
Researched, written and used by permission from Kenneth H. Robison III.