Insight into William Mellen’s beliefs
By Delores Gustafson
Editor's note: In recognition of Black History Month, Gustafson, a local historian, submitted a recent find about William Mellen, Queen Palmer's father. Gustafson believes it shows “a very early connection to the black regiments” in the Civil War by a man who was close to the founding of
William Mellen was a special agent for Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase during the Civil War. He traveled the Mississippi as the army confiscated land and property to ensure that the government controlled the sale of goods, mainly cotton.
Part of Mellen's job was to report on events as he found them. Below is part of a letter he sent to Chase May 7, 1863, after Lincoln had announced the Emanci-pation Proclamation and black (“Negro”) regiments were being trained.
“Negro regiments forming more rapidly than anticipated. Tone in Grant's army is completely revolutionized. Those who speak against it are exceptions. Gen. Thomas seems enthusiastic. Women and children are being employed in plantations leased to parties from the north. Gen. Prentiss at Helena has a full regiment formed there and says he has never seen more rapid proficiency made by new regiments of whites than by this regiment All are working well that relates to freedom in Louisiana and Mississip-pi. I talked with very many officers and soldiers and don't think I can be mistaken. General conviction [is] that we must accept these men as soldiers as well as laborers and that we must employ those not engaged with the army in producing for us instead of the rebels and that universal freedom must result from this war or we shall have to fight it over again from time to time until that is done.”