Although removed from the fighting during the Civil War, Abbeville nevertheless played a noteworthy role in the conflict.
(Abbeville County; 2020 pop. 4,958). The initial site of Abbeville was a spring used to supply the blockhouse, or fortified post, built by Andrew Pickens in the late 1760s. The courthouse town derived its name from the county in which it is located. In 1792 South Carolina placed its upcountry powder magazine and arsenal in Abbeville, and the town was incorporated in 1832. The most prominent early residents were lawyers, merchants, and planters, many of whom built elegant town houses in addition to their plantation homes. The Abbeville Bar was particularly distinguished and included John C. Calhoun, who began his law practice in Abbeville and made his maiden political speech there in 1807. In 1861 the Bank of the State of South Carolina opened a branch in Abbeville, its first in the upcountry.
Although removed from the fighting during the Civil War, Abbeville nevertheless played a noteworthy role in the conflict. On November 22, 1860, Abbeville hosted one of the first secession meetings in the state at a site later known as Secession Hill. An Abbevillian, J. Clark Allen, was killed accidentally on Sullivan’s Island on February 13, 1861, arguably the first casualty of the war. In addition, five men who had resided on the town’s North Main Street were killed by the summer of 1863; they were referred to as “The Five Lost Colonels.” The most celebrated events in Abbeville history occurred when Varina Davis, wife of the Confederate president, arrived on April 18, 1865, followed shortly by a wagon train carrying the remainder of the Confederate treasury. For twelve days she was a guest of former congressman Armistead Burt, a family friend. On May 2, two days after she left Abbeville, her husband arrived with his remaining cabinet members and elements of five brigades of cavalry. Davis held the last “war cabinet” meeting in Abbeville, where the decision was made to abandon armed resistance to Union forces. Thus, as host to the “Secession Hill” gathering and the final meeting of the Confederate cabinet, Abbeville claims to be “the cradle and grave of the Confederacy.”
Most of the antebellum wealth of Abbeville evaporated with the emancipation of its slaves. Fires in the 1870s destroyed many antebellum houses and did irreparable damage to public buildings and public records. In the 1890s, however, the town experienced an economic revival. In 1892 Abbeville welcomed the arrival of the Georgia, Carolina and Northern Railroad (which later became the Seaboard Air Line). The Abbeville Cotton Mill Company was organized three years later and commenced operations in 1897. The Seaboard later chose Abbeville to locate its shops for maintaining rail lines between Hamlet, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia.
In the twentieth century Abbeville erected an industrial park that attracted medium-sized industries. During the 1970s and 1980s the town became best known for the restoration of its public square and opera house, which attracted tourists to peruse Abbeville’s antique shops and admire its well-preserved architecture.
Ferguson, Lester W. Abbeville County: Southern Life-Styles Lost in Time. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1993.
Pursley, Larry E. Abbeville, South Carolina: A Backward Glance. Alpharetta, Ga.: W. H. Wolfe, 1993.
Ware, Lowry. Old Abbeville: Scenes of the Past of a Town Where Old Time Things Are Not Forgotten. Columbia, S.C.: SCMAR, 1992.