Abner Monroe Perrin III was born on February 2, 1827 in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. He was the fourth of nine children (eight of them boys) of Abner Perrin and Sarah Carson Patterson. His grandfather, the first Abner Perrin, had been a captain in the Revolutionary War.
This may have inspired the younger Abner to join the 12th United States Infantry with the outbreak of the Mexican-American War. He left Charleston for Veracruz on October 19, 1847 and became First Lieutenant of Company A on December 31, 1847. The regimental adjutant was future Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock. By late 1847 Perrin had been promoted to captain. He mustered out in Louisiana in July of 1848.
Perrin studied law when he returned home. He also courted Emmeline Butler. She was the daughter of the colonel of the Palmetto Regiment, which Perrin’s regiment had served beside during the war, and in which Colonel Butler had been killed at the Battle of Churubusco.
Abner married Emily, as she was called, on November 25, 1851. They had two children. Pierce (born in 1853) and Robert (born in 1855). His daughter Julia was born in 1856, but she died at the age of 15 months.
Abner was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1854 and began to practice law. He engaged in a number of land transactions that left him with a net worth of over $50,000 in the 1860 census, a quite sizable sum at the time.
When the Civil War began Perrin became the captain of the Edgefield Rifles, which became Company D of the 14th South Carolina Infantry. The regiment’s Lieutenant Colonel Samuel McGowan was an associate in Abner’s uncle’s law practice in Abbeville. The 14th South Carolina organized and trained at Lightwoodknot Springs, near Columbia. In October it moved to Pocotaligo, where it defended against Union gunboats.
On April 14, 1862 the 14th was attached to Maxcy Gregg’s South Carolina Brigade in Virginia. In May Gregg’s Brigade became part of the famous Light Division of Major General A.P. Hill.
Perrin fought in Gregg’s Brigade through all of its major battles, including Gaines’ Mill and Frayser’s Farm in the Seven Days, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas (Bull Run), the Siege of Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg (Antietam), and Fredericksburg, where he was lightly wounded. After the Battle of Fredericksburg Colonel McGowan was promoted to replace the slain Maxcy Gregg, and in January of 1863 Perrin was promoted to colonel of the 14th South Carolina.
When General McGowan was wounded at Chancellorsville in May of 1863 Perrin took over command of the brigade as senior colonel. In the reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia after the death of Jackson the South Carolina Brigade became part of part of the new Third Corps under A.P. Hill, with the division now under the command of Dorsey Pender.
Pender led the brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg (see brigade monument at Gettysburg). On July 1, 1863, Perrin’s brigade was in the Confederate attack that captured Seminary Ridge, losing almost 600 out of the 1600 men engaged. This led the brigade to be relegated to a quiet sector of the line on the next two days of the battle, in which Pender was mortally wounded.
After Gettysburg a change in the law allowed General Lee to make temporary promotions to replace wounded officers on extended convalescence. On September 10, 1863 Perrin was promoted to brigadier general. This was over the head of Col. D.H. Hamilton of the 1st South Carolina Infantry, who was senior to Perrin and who resigned in protest.
McGowan returned to command the brigade in February of 1864, but instead of Perrin returning to command his regiment at the rank of colonel he was transfered to command Cadmus Wilcox’s Alabama brigade in Anderson’s Division. Wilcox had been promoted to take over the division of the slain Dorsey Pender.
Winter brought only a short respite, and the armies were thrown together in the May of 1864 in the Battle of the Wilderness, where Perrin showed conspicuous bravery. He also showed his ambition. At the start of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House he stated “I shall come out of this fight a live major general or a dead brigadier.”
In the brutal fighting for the Mule Shoe on May 12 Perrin led his Alabamans in a counterattack to throw back the Northern troops that had overrun much of the position and captured most of Johnson’s division. Leading the charge on horseback, he was hit by seven bullets and died instantly.
Abner Perrin is buried in the Confederate Cemetery in Fredericksburg, Virginia.