Col. Joseph Abney

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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 active.
       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.


                                    Suddenly and unexpectedly, we are called to mourn the loss of a much valued and 
                                    beloved citizen.  Col. Joseph ABNEY died at his residence in the town of 
                                    Edgefield on Wednesday night the 2nd inst. after an illness of only ten hours, 
                                    a victim of the prevailing epidemic, Meningitis, as pronounced by his brother, 
                                    Dr. M.W. ABNEY, the attending physician.  He died in the prime of manhood at 
                                    the age of forty-eight, leaving a wife and three children.
                                    Bravely, honestly and efficiently, he fought the battle of life as he fought 
                                    for the honor, interest and glory of his country.  Self educated, he became an 
                                    accomplished scholar, lawyer and soldier.  His civic triumphs in popular 
                                    assemblies in the Legislature and in the forum, as well as laurels won in the 
                                    War, make up the sum of a reputation of which his family, his friends and his 
                                    native Carolina are justly proud.
                                    But although he received the plaudits of his country for services rendered in 
                                    peace and in war, in every battle ground from Vera Ctuz to the Garita de Belin 
                                    of Mexico and his blood was shed on the field of Churubusco and later in life 
                                    at Drury's Bluff in our last War, it attests his devotion and skill as a 
                                    He has left behind a monument ot his fame, not less to be appreciated in the 
                                    memory of gratitude of careworn poverty which with a ready hand, prompted by 
                                    Christian charity, he never failed to alleviate;  and the poor will bless him 
                                    in their sorrow for his departure.  But he is gone!  And it is a consolation to 
                                    believe that he has entered into his eternal rest, as a Christian and an heir 
                                    of salvation.   
SOURCE: The Edgefield Advertiser;
                                    Issue of Friday, Feb. 18, 1870