> But isn't \'e an abbreviation for \acute{e},

as david has already said, no.

> and don't the French
> conceptualize it as an accented 'e'?

no, that's for english-speaking schoolchildren learning the language.
just the same as, when i learnt latin, i learned that "v" and "u" are
interchangeable, since there was in classical times no letter "u".

the french alphabet has more letters than ours, that's all.