Dr. Mell was a strong sympathizer with the cause of the South, and at the opening of the war in 1861 he was among the first to offer his services to his country for her defense. In the early part of 1861 a company was formed in Athens Ga., called the “Mell Volunteers,” and afterwards changed to the name of “The Mell Riflemen,” in honor of Dr. Mell, and he was unanimously elected to command it. He accepted the office and at once commenced drilling the men for active service. Benjamin Mell, his eldest son, who had just graduated from the University with the first honor, joined this company as a private. Application was made to the State Government for commissions for the officers and arms for the men. In response to this, Governor Joseph E. Brown sent the following commission to Dr. Mell:
“STATE OF GEORGIA:
By his excellency Joseph E. Brown, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of this State and of the Militia thereof, To P. U. Mell, Greeting:
We, reposing special trust and confidence in your patriotism, valor, conduct and fidelity, do, by these presents, constitute and appoint you Captain of the Mell Riflemen of the Militia formed for the defense of the State, and for repelling every hostile invasion there-of. You are, therefore, carefully and diligently to discharge the duty of Captain as aforesaid, by doing and performing all manner of things thereunto belonging. And we do strictly charge and require all Officers and Privates under your command, to be obedient to your orders as such. And you are to observe and follow such orders and directions, from time to time, as you shall receive from me, or a future Governor and Commander-in-Chief of this State for the time being, or any other of your superior officers, in pursuance of the trust reposed in you. This commission to continue in force during your usual residence within the county to which you belong, unless removed by sentence of Court Martial, or by the Governor on the address of two-thirds of each branch of the General Assembly.
Given under my Hand and the Seal of the Executive Department at the Capitol in Milledgeville this the 28thday of June in the year of our Lord one thousand and eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the Independence of the State of Georgia the eighty-fifth.
By the Governor.
HENRY C. WAYNE,
Attached to this document was the following form of oath:
“I, P. H. Mell, do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the State of Georgia, and to the utmost of my power and ability, observe, conform to, support and defend the Constitution thereof, without any reservation or equivocation whatsoever, and the Constitution of the Confederate States. P. H. MELL.
Sworn to and subscribed before me, this the 5th day of July, 1861. JOHN KILPATRICK, J. P.”
ADJUTANT GENERALS OFFICE,
MILLEDGEVILLE, GA., July 1st, 1861.
CAPTAIN P. H. MELL,
Herewith you have the commissions of yourself as Captain and of W. W. Lumpkin and John B. Cobb as 1st and 2nd Lieutenants and of R. H. Goodman as Ensign of the Mell Riflemen. You will please state in writing, directed to this office immediately, whether you accept the commission, and if so whether you have taken and subscribed the oath thereto attached.
Your obedient servant,
HENRY C. WAYNE,
Preparations were made to carry the Mell Riflemen to the front in Virginia, and the company was assigned to Cobbs Legion. But on the 6th of July, 1861, Lurene Howard Mell, the wife of Dr. Mell, died leaving a large family of children, some of whom were quite young. The father, therefore, was forced to resign his commission in order that his family might not be left helpless and destitute. In the death of Mrs. Mell a noble, Christian woman was lost to society, the husband was bereft of an affectionate companion and sympathizing wife and there was a gloom cast over the household that time only was able to soften. Dr. A. A. Lipscomb, Chancellor of the University, in speaking of Mrs. Mell shortly after her death among other things said:
A beautiful character in early girlhood, fond of such pursuits as elevate and refine the opening heart, and cherishing those tastes that impart a genial glow to youthful affections, she grew up the quiet of home with a steadiness of purpose, a serene thoughtfulness, a dignity of spirit, above bet years. On reaching womanhood her mind expanded with those views and feelings that experience and responsibility never fail to bring to a disciplined nature. She entered on lifes duties as aims and aspirations to cultivate her inward being no less than as obligations to be conscientiously discharged, accepting her sphere as a divine gift and daily finding thc smile of God and the peace of Christ in all its anxieties and tasks. For her clearness and force of intellect; for the gentle charms that add such grace to the intercourse of ordinary life: for the inbred sympathy that gives to manners the rank of a virtue and sheds such a welcome light over human fellowships: for these we admired her. But we loved her for qualities higher and nobler. She was a woman of lofty principles, possessing a sense of truth and right that was a law to her thoughts as well as actions, abiding firmly in her convictions and tenacious of them as fixed rules of action, and unselfishly striving to make her existence a benediction and a joy to all around her. Such were the qualities of character that bound our hearts to her while living and drew from them this humble tribute now that she is dead.
“For some twenty-five years she was a consistent and faithful member of the Baptist church, appreciating in the fulness of her heart its institutions, prizing its communion and devoted to its interests. Her religious experience was uniform and progressive. Marked by no violent transitions, by no abrupt impulses, it was singularly equable and harmonious, risings life advanced into higher views, deepening into an intenser trust, swelling into a richer joy, but always characterized by those traits that give stability and growth to Christian culture. Few persons have had less warning of approaching death, but she was found ready. The summons came at midnight but her lamp was burning and in its light she trod the dark valley.”
Before the expiration of the year the Mell Riflemen were ordered to report to Lees Army in Virginia for immediate duty. On September 14th, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland, Benjamin Mell, who had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, was severely wounded while his company was defending the Pass at Cramptons Gap. He was left helpless on the field and captured by the Federals, who placed him in a church in the village of Burketsville, near by where they had made a temporary hospital. A gentleman, Mr. T. S. Lee, who resided in the neighborhood, obtained permission to remove him to his house, and there the kindest and best attention was shown him. Dr. West, an excellent physician, put forth every effort that skill could devise to overcome the evil effects of the wound but to no avail. It was mortal, and three weeks after he was shot on the field of battle the young soldier breathed his last. The sacrifices this family made for an entire stranger, and the disinterested kindness they extended to him throughout his severe illness, have endeared them beyond expression to his relatives. Miss Mary D. Lee, daughter of Mr. T. S. Lee, who was untiring in her attentions at the bedside of the dying young man, and who did everything that gentle hands could do to relieve his suffering, wrote to Dr. Mell the following letter announcing the death of his son:
“MY DEAR SIR:
It is my painful task to announce to you the death of your brave and interesting son, Benjamin Mell. You have perhaps heard that he was wounded in the battle of Crampton Gap, which was fought on the 14th of September, on a mountain pass about three miles from the house of my father, Mr. T. S. Lee. He was taken to Burketsville (a village close by) by the Federal authorities, where he remained under the care of the Federal surgeons for about a week and was very kindly treated by them. My father then obtained permission to remove him to our house. You may feel assured, my dear sir, that he received every care and attention that it was in our power to bestow. He was attended daily by two excellent physicians. My parents, my brothers and myself nursed him day and night, but unfortunately our care was unavailing to preserve his life. The wound which terminated his life, struck his arm and passed from that into his side and around his back. His sufferings were very great, but he bore them with the utmost patience and fortitude, not the slightest murmur or complaint ever escaped him. He seemed to be most grateful for any little kindness or attention that was in our power to bestow. His great desire was to see his dear father and sisters and brothers of whom he often spoke with great affection, and to whom he desired me to send his tender love. He was perfectly resigned to die and he felt he was prepared. He read his Bible very often and said to my mother and myself that he prayed always. He said he wished his coat to be sent to you, that his father might see where he had been wounded. and that he had not disgraced his dear father, but had behaved bravely. He expired on Monday, the 20th of October, about eleven oclock a.m., and was buried the next day in the churchyard of the Episcopal church in this neighborhood. The Rev. Mr. Trapnell performed the service over his remains. His name is marked on the headpiece above his grave so that it can be recognized hereafter. We have no opportunity of sending you his clothes and the other little articles which he had about him, but they shall be carefully preserved to deliver to you at some future time, but 17 enclose to you a lock of his hair. I will keep a part of the hair for fear that this letter should miscarry. We shall be most happy, dear sir, to see you at any time, and if there is any thing that I have unintentionally forgotten to mention about your son only let me know and I shall be most happy to inform you. We feel great sympathy for you in the loss of your brave and interesting son.
Yours most respectfully.
MARY D. LEE.”
Dr. Mell replied to this kind letter as follows:
“UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA.
ATHENS, June 13th, 1866.
MY DEAR MISS LEE:
Your kind letter of the 20th of October, 1862, reached me, I cannot say how. It came to hand after a long delay, and was delivered to me by the Engineer of the railroad here, who received it from a passenger on a connecting line, he knew not whom. It had been preceded by a letter from Dr. West, which reached me in a way alike undefinable. This letter arrived while I was absent in Virginia making fruitless efforts to get access to the bedside of my wounded boy. The tidings had reached here, with all the appearance of authenticity, that he had died on the field of battle, and I did not learn to the Contrary until the return of Captain Camack four weeks after. God knows how my heart yearned towards my son, and what strenuous efforts I made to get to his side. He was the pride of my heart. But the will of the Lord be done! I did not learn of his death until I returned from Virginia; and ever since I have been living under the shadow of a great sorrow I have long desired to write you and express to you and your fathers family my deep gratitude for your kindness to my noble boy. First the progress of the war prevented; then the want of mail facilities here, and finally when this want was removed, my poor heart, longing as it was to unburden itself of expression of the gratitude it felt, sunk at the idea of recurring to a loss so irreparable: and shrunk from a task which necessarily filled it with unutterable anguish. Some sorrows are assuaged by silence. The arrival through Dr. Fuller of the little relics of my son, preserved and forwarded by you, however, chides my delay, and demands that I should nerve myself for the task. I thank God for the evidence that my boy did his duty; that he bore his sufferings with manly fortitude: and that he died in the hope of immortality. It is no small consolation too to know that he did not find an indiscriminate grave on the field of carnage; but that kind hands closed his eyes and sympathizing hearts followed him to Christian burial, and perhaps dropped a tear, (ah me!) over his premature grave. Perhaps I shall recover pecuniary resources time enough to remove his body; but if not, the Archangels trump will awake him as easily under the hospitable sod of Maryland as though he was sleeping by the side of his sainted mother here.
Be pleased to present my gratitude to Dr. West and the other physicians who attended him in his illness, and be assured, my dear Miss Lee, that I shall ever retain you and your fathers family in grateful and affectionate remembrance.
Praying Gods blessing on you and yours, I remain
Yours with gratitude,
P. H. MELL.”
Dr. Mell was married the second time to Miss Eliza E. Cooper, in Scriven county, Georgia, December 24th, 1861. By this marriage there were born six children, five of whom are now living. Mrs. Mell is residing in Athens, Ga.
On the 30th of May, 1863, the citizens of Athens and vicinity met in convention to devise some plan for defending the northern part of the State of Georgia against a threatened invasion. At this meeting it was “Resolved that the people be organized into companies of cavalry, artillery and infantry, and that Prof. P. H. Mell be requested to command such companies with the rank of Colonel. Resolved that in view of the Governors Proclamation, the Colonel, P. H. Mell, be instructed to proceed at the earliest day practicable to Milledgeville for the purpose of procuring commissions from the Governor for himself and all other officers under him. On motion of W. L. Mitchell a committee of three was appointed by the chair to wait on Prof. P. H. Mell and request him to accept the appointment this day made. The chair appointed W. L. Mitchell, J. Billups, and R. D. Moore.”
In connection with this occasion an amusing incident is copied here from some recently published reminiscences of that time.
“When the Federals began to make raids into Georgia during the war, many of the towns organized home guards for their protection. When the time came to make preparation for emergencies and for active duty, the question of a commander was broached. Three of the most discreet and bravest citizens of Athens were appointed to put things in good shape, and to suggest the name of a suitable man to command the force. When they met in consultation, and the question was asked, who shall it be? one of the committee, a man of very decided convictions, and of very positive manner, replied, I am for Mell. Why, said another of the committee, he knows nothing about military affairs. I dont care for that, said the other, I am for Mell anyhow. For a man who can manage four hundred Baptists can do anything. So Dr. Mell was elected Colonel.”
He accepted the Colonelcy, and was duly commissioned by the Governor. He addressed the people in many places in Northern Georgia, urging them to form companies and cooperate with the citizens of Athens in the defense of the country against invasion. The Chancellor, Faculty and nearly all the students of the University joined this regiment, and college exercises were suspended until the close of the war.
Colonel Mell was in camp with his regiment at Rome, Georgia, and also at Savannah during the remainder of the war, and was mustered out at its close and returned to his home in Athens. A comrade in arms has said that “Colonel Mell, with sword in hand, made as fine a military commandant, and exhibited as much executive talent as when, with gavel in hand, he sat presiding as a parliamentarian over a deliberative body.”
A detachment of Shermans army was stationed at Athens just after the war and the people of that city will long hold them in remembrance for the many violent attacks made on both person and property. General Lee had surrendered a few days before and the Federal soldiers were riding through the streets of Athens in every direction, firing their guns and insulting the citizens, although it was well known by them that the war had ended, and there was no resistance offered to the occupancy of the city. Dr. Mell was sitting on his porch when one of these soldiers rode up to the gate and asked him to come out saying he wished to speak to him. Upon complying with the request the fellow demanded of him his watch and all other valuables he had on his person upon the ground that he was a prisoner. This demand was emphasized by a gun pointed at his breast. Dr. Mell refused to give up his watch and informed the soldier that the war was ended and he would not submit to be taken prisoner. Whereupon the man began cursing him and told him if he did not give up the watch at once he would blow out his brains. Dr. Mell looked the fellow straight in the eye and said in a quiet voice: “You may shoot me, sir, but you shall never have any of my property if I can help it. I am defenseless so far as weapons are concerned, but I will not yield one inch to you, even though you murder me.” And there the brave man stood, bareheaded, looking the ruffian in the face without the tremor of a muscle, expecting to be shot immediately, for the soldier had cocked his carbine and was aiming at the defenseless breast as though about to fire. He suddenly changed his mind, however, and lowering his gun he leaned forward, seized the Doctors watch-guard, jerked out his watch, wheeled around and rode triumphantly away, cursing violently the outraged man who stood silently watching the thief ride off with his property.
While this was transpiring, a wounded Confederate soldier witnessed it with indignation from the window of one of the college buildings that had been in use for some time as a hospital. He determined to help the Doctor regain his property. He went, therefore, to the officer commanding the Federal forces and entered complaint. This General ordered a search to be made throughout the camp and the watch, together with many others that were stolen from the citizens of Athens, was recovered after much difficulty. This was the timepiece given Professor Mell by the citizens of Penfield in 1855, already referred to in this biography.
Dr. Mell, like nearly every one else throughout the South, was penniless when the war ended, and, having a large dependent family, the question, where to get bread to feed them became a grave one. Providence, however, presided over his destiny and, even during the darkest hours, he never lost faith but kept his trust firm and steadfast in the saving power of God. It was during these desperate times that the warm and generous devotion of his friends manifested itself. It would be impossible to enumerate all those who came to his assistance while he was absent in the war and just after the close of the war, but the writer feels obliged to mention one. Mr. Mordecai Edwards, a deacon in his church at Antioch and a lifelong friend, made it his business to see that all the wants of the family were supplied while the father was in the army. If it had not been for his great kindness the wife and children would have suffered for the necessaries of life. Dr. Mell frequently spoke of this and kept in his heart the deepest feelings of gratitude and affection for his friend. The churches at Antioch and Bairdstown did not forget their pastor during these dark days, but frequently in the familys need, these kind and loving friends sent boxes and some times wagon loads of provisions for “Brother Mell,” and there would be rejoicing in the household at Athens. The love and admiration the members of these two churches had for him, their pastor, and the great influence for good he exerted throughout the surrounding country made them call that section “Mells Kingdom.”
On January 1st, 1866, the exercises of the University of Georgia were resumed and the Professors were able to draw their salaries again, and the impending starvation disappeared from their homes.
In 1868, Professor Mell was asked by members of the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama to permit his name to go before that body for the position of President, assuring him that his election would be certain. He declined, however, because he was unwilling to leave his native State where almost all of his life had been spent. The Trustees of Howard College, Alabama, conferred upon him the degree of LL.D., July 2nd, 1869.