Benedictine Father, Emmeran Bliemel,

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‎by Ellen McWhorter Stone‎


Benedictine Father, Emmeran Bliemel, native son of Bavaria, Germany, died on the first afternoon of the Battle of Jonesboro in 1864.

Father Bliemel traveled by steamer to America at 19 years old. He felt he had a calling to become a priest and serve his fellow Germans who had emigrated to America.

He was accepted into the Novitiate of St. Vincent. In August 1852, he took vows as a monk and was ordained a priest four years later.

Father Bliemel first served in Pennsylvania before answering the call of Bishop James Whalen of Tennessee to serve in the Diocese of Nashville.

After Nashville was occupied by Union forces early in 1862, he dedicated himself to giving aid to wounded soldiers, whether they were Confederate or Union and regardless of religious affiliation.

Father Bliemel’s sympathies aligned with the Confederacy. He saw that the South was more tolerant of Catholics and he decried anti-Catholic prejudice in America, which he associated with the North. When Father Bliemel arrived in Pennsylvania, the so-called Know-Nothing movement, an anti-Catholic nativist party, was strong in many Northern states.

Smuggling medicine to Confederate forces, Father Bliemel was arrested twice by the Union occupation forces. Eventually, he decided that he must take a more active role. The Tenth Tennessee had elected him in absentia as their chaplain. Seeking permission from his bishop, which was reluctantly given, Chaplain Bliemel joined the Tenth Tennessee.

On Aug. 31, 1864, Union troops were posted on a high ridge and preparing to attack Jonesboro. Union General William T. Sherman had decided to attack the supply lines of railroads at Jonesboro that were moving crucial material to Confederate forces. The goal was to force Confederate soldiers to evacuate Atlanta. The cut of the supply lines was successful, more than 3,100 soldiers on both sides died, and Atlanta fell into Union hands in the following days.

Colonel William Grace of the 10th Tennessee was fatally wounded in the attack, and as Father Bliemel was ministering to him, he himself was struck by an enemy cannon ball, which decapitated him.

Up until that time, Benedictines had led more quiet, monastic lives within abbey walls. Father Bliemel had been part of a movement to change that.

In an article for the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Benedictine Father Peter Meaney wrote that Father Bliemel served all men regardless of their religion or regiment. He also became particularly close with men serving in the 4th Kentucky regiment.

Father Meaney wrote that this affection remained strong even years after the priest’s death when a battle survivor tried to claim Father Bliemel as the official chaplain of “The Bloody Tenth” of Tennessee.

A soldier from the 4th Kentucky wrote a letter protesting that claim, writing: “There is only a handful of the 4th Kentucky left, but there will be trouble in Tennessee if you do not give up the gallant glorious martyred Chaplain.”

Father Bliemel was originally buried in what became the Patrick Cleburne Confederate Cemetery in Jonesboro, but his remains were moved to Tuscumbia, Alabama, in 1899.

Father Bliemel was the first American Catholic Chaplain to die on the battlefield.

Sources: Georgia Bulletin, Find A Grave, Wikipedia, Tennessee Historical Society, The American Catholic, Civil War Trust

~Ellen
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