John Joseph Abercrombie, Junior was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1798. His gravestone shows two superimposed dates of March and July 28, but his daughter told that he was born on March 4 and it is reported as such in his military records. He is also listed by some sources as being born in Tennessee, and in fact his father John, Sr., and mother Sarah DeNormandie had moved with the family to Nashville, Tennessee before John Jr. left home for West Point in 1817.
Abercrombie attended the United States Military Academy, graduating 37th out of 40 in the class of 1822 with fellow future Civil War generals David Hunter, Isaac Trimble, Joseph Mansfield and George McCall. John was assigned to the 1st Infantry as a Second Lieutenant and was posted to the garrison in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
In September of 1828 Abercrombie was promoted to first lieutenant. He took part in the Black Hawk War against the Sauk Indians in 1832, then served in the garrisons of Fort Crawford, Wisconsin and Fort Armstrong, Illinois from 1832-37. While on recruiting service in 1836 he was promoted to captain.
Abercrombie took part in the Seminole War from 1837 to 1840. He fought in the Battle of Okeechobee on December 25, 1837, for which he was breveted major for gallant and meritorious service.
He returned to recruiting duty in 1840, and on July 26, 1840 married Mary Engle Patterson, daughter of Robert Patterson, a wealthy Philadelphia businessman who was also commander of the Pennsylvania State Militia. Between 1840 and 1860 the couple would have eight children who lived to adulthood, six of whom survived until the Twentieth Century. In 1842 Abercrombie was assigned to Fort Atkins, Iowa, then Fort Crawford in 1844 and Jefferson Barracks, Missouri in 1845.
When war broke out with Mexico in 1846 the 1st Infantry became part of Zachary Taylor’s army on the Texas frontier. Abercrombie was wounded in the Battle of Monterrey on September 23, where he was awarded a brevet of lieutenant colonel for gallant and meritorious service. He recovered to join Winfield Scott’s army on November 14, 1846 as Aide-de-Camp to his father-in-law General Robert Patterson, who commanded Scott’s Volunteer Division. Abercrombie took part in the Siege of Vera Cruz in March, 1847 and the Battle of Cerro Gordo on April 17‑18. He was promoted to full Major in the 5th Infantry on September 8, 1847, and continued to serve as Patterson’s A.D.C. after Patterson returned to the United States to recover from his wound and until the end of the year.
After the war Abercrombie was posted to Fort Towson, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) until 1850, then to a variety of posts in Texas in 1851 and 1852 including San Antonio, Corpus Christie, and an unnamed post at the Clear Fork of the Brazos protecting the Santa Fe Trail. Abercombie was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Infantry on May 1, 1852.
In July of 1853 he left the frontier for two years for New York City as Superintendant of the General Recruiting Service. But in July of 1855 he returned to the frontier in Minnesota, serving at Fort Ridgely, Fort Abercrombie, which he established, and Fort Ripley. Abercrombie was promoted to colonel of the 7th Infantry on February 25, 1861.
With the outbreak of the Civil War Abercrombie was ordered to Washington. He once again joined his father-in-law Robert Patterson, who was assembling an army intended to advance up the Shenandoah Valley. In June Abercrombie was given command of the 6th Brigade in Keim’s 2nd Division consisting of four regiments from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. On July 2 Patterson sent Abercrombie’s and George Thomas’ Brigades across the Potomac and pushed back Confederate Brigadier General Thomas Jackson’s Brigade several miles. Abercrombie lost 18 men in the skirmishing. But Patterson failed in his main goal of keeping the Confederates from joining their main army at Manassas, and he withdrew his men to the north side of the Potomac.
Patterson was replaced at the beginning of August by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, with Abercrombie commanding the 2nd Brigade of his Department of the Shenandoah. On August 31 Abercrombie was promoted to Brigadier General of United States Volunteers. In a few weeks the Department of the Shenandoah became Banks’ Division of the Army of the Potomac. In March the division became the 1st Division of the 5th Corps, and on April 4th the changing political and command situation brought it back to a newly reconstituted Department of the Shenandoah.
In May Abercrombie was transferred to command of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division of the 4th Corps on the Virginia Peninsula. He was wounded in the Battle of Fair Oaks (or Seven Pines), but he returned to his brigade and fought at the battle of Malvern Hill and in the withdrawal of the army to Harrison’s Landing. On July 12 he took command of the 1st Division from the ailing General Couch.
When Couch returned to command his division on August 12 Abercrombie’s time with the Army of the Potomac was over. With his recent wound and his age (he was 65) he was given command of a reserve division in the Defenses of Washington from August until June of 1863. At that time, just before the Battle of Gettysburg, his division was split up and assigned to the Army of the Potomac while Abercrombie remained in Washington, where he carried out a variety of administrative duties. His last military command was at the supply base at White House, Virginia, in May of 1864, which he held against Hampton’s Legion.
Abercrombie mustered out of volunteer service on June 24, 1864, reverting to his rank of colonel in the regular army and going on leave to await further orders. It was not until March of 1865 that he was assigned to command Fort Schuyler, one of the harbor forts of New York City. In the meantime, on March 13, 1865, he was awarded the brevet of brigadier general, U.S. Army, for long and faithful service. Abercrombie applied for retirement from active service on June 12, 1865, but would remain in command at Fort Schuyler until August 3, 1866 and continued on court-martial duty until June 1869.
The Abercrombies settled into retirement in Roslyn, New York. Mary died on August 14, 1874. John survived her only a short time, dying on January 3, 1877 in Roslyn. They are buried in Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.