It was almost impossible to find someone without a southern drawl at last night's hot, crowded farewell party for Energy Secretary James B. Edwards.

Probably because most of them were from South Carolina. Some of them were from work, such as Lee Atwater, deputy assistant to the president for political affairs. And all of them were friends of Edwards, former South Carolina governor and oral surgeon.

"We're a bunch of South Carolinians who came up here and needed someone to hold hands with, so we formed a club," said Tommy G. Reed, as he explained the name of the First Tuesday Club of Washington, cohost of the glittering gathering.

About 350 folks stood in lawyer and maritime lobbyist Sam Dawson's fancy 18-room Connecticut Avenue apartment (one room was nothing but red velvet and another had puffy gold curtains to the floor). They raised their Taylor champagne-filled glasses to the ceiling in farewell to Edwards, who leaves his post in the Reagan Cabinet Nov. 5.

"I didn't come up here to stay even this long," Edwards said of his two-year stay in Washington.

Abolishing the five-year-old Department of Energy was one of President Reagan's campaign promises, a vow made so that government energy regulations would not interfere with the workings of the marketplace. But the DOE has not yet been dismantled, although many of its functions have been shifted to the Department of Commerce.

"There will be a Department of Energy left when I leave town," Edwards said, with little enthusiasm.

"I still would like to see it abolished," he said. "But there are certain things we need to keep--for example, the nuclear weapons program."

But Edwards seemed eager to get back to South Carolina, where he will take the post of president of the Medical University of South Carolina.

One little girl, Perri Reed, took her turn shaking hands with Edwards.

"I remember you from when you were governor," she said politely.

"Did you like that better, honey?" Edwards said, giving her a hug. "I kind of did."

After an hour of nibbling on stuffed mushrooms and shrimp cocktails, the guests listened to toasts.

"To a fellow South Carolinian, a great doctor . . ." began Reed, standing next to Edwards, after having presented him with a case of rum, a painting of the view from his office and a picture of a ship on which he once served.

". . . a great AMERICAN," shouted a voice in the crowd, which met with cheers of approval.

". . . a great secretary," Reed continued, "and above all, a great American."

Edwards, however, made the final toast.

"To one of the greatest leaders ever seated in the White House -- Ronald Reagan."