Published July 24, 2014
JONESBORO—One hundred and fifty years ago this August, a Benedictine priest became the first Catholic chaplain in U.S. military history to be killed in action.
Father Emmeran Bliemel, the military chaplain of the 10th Tennessee, died on Aug. 31, 1864, while ministering to soldiers during the Battle of Jonesboro in Georgia.
The Father Emmeran Bliemel O.S.B. Assembly 1962 of the Knights of Columbus will pay honor and tribute to the priest on the 150th anniversary of his death with several events scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 30.
A laying of a wreath and a gun salute will be held at the headstone for military chaplains on the grounds of the historic courthouse in Jonesboro at 10:30 a.m. Benedictine Father Brian Boosel, of the college board of directors of St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, will deliver the eulogy.
At noon, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will celebrate Mass at St. Philip Benizi Church, 591 Flint River Road, in Jonesboro.
A 2 p.m. luncheon will be held in the John C. Gavel Hall of the Knights of Columbus, Jonesboro.
According to a Tennessee Historical Quarterly article by Benedictine Father Peter Meaney, Father Bliemel was born on the feast day of St. Michael, Sept. 29, 1831 in Bavaria, Germany. As a young man he felt a call to leave home and become a missionary to German Catholics who had migrated to America.
Upon arrival in America in 1851, at the age of 19, he was accepted in the Novitiate of St. Vincent, a new Benedictine community in Latrobe.
In August 1852, as he began his training for the priesthood, Bliemel made solemn vows as a monk. Four years later, he was ordained by Bishop Michael O’Connor of Pittsburgh.
At first the young priest served the Pennsylvania parishes of Hollidaysburg and Johnstown, then in Butler and Warren.
In the fall of 1860, Bishop James Whalen of Tennessee issued a call for priests to help in the Diocese of Nashville. Father Bliemel obtained the permission of his Benedictine superior to answer the call and was subsequently appointed pastor of the small German parish of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Nashville.
Father Bliemel administered faithfully to the needs of the people of Nashville during the early years of the Civil War.
Father Bliemel was first elected as a chaplain shortly after reorganization of the 10th Tennessee in 1862, but he did not join the men until after the battle of Chickamauga, in 1863.
The men of the “Bloody Tenth” warmly received the priest, and he sought an official commission as chaplain. Colonel William Grace formally nominated Father Bliemel as chaplain in 1864.
In battle Father Bliemel reportedly always moved forward with the troops where his services to the wounded would be needed. The few historical accounts all note that he treated every man the same, regardless of religion or regiment.
The morning of Aug. 31, 1864, Union troops were posted on a ridge facing Jonesboro and preparing for attack. Close to 1,500 Confederates died, and many were Father Bliemel’s men. The priest went quickly to their aid with the stretcher-bearers.
The colonel of the 10th Tennessee, William Grace, was among those who went down in the attack. The stretcher-bearers and Father Bliemel found him, and the 32-year-old priest knelt beside the Colonel to hear his confession. While pronouncing the words of absolution, the priest was suddenly struck in the head and fell dead on top of Colonel Grace.
Father Bliemel is buried at St. Mary’s Benedictine cemetery in Tuscumbia, Alabama.
On March 12, 1983, Colonel Lindsey Henderson of the Sons of Confederate Veterans presented the posthumous “Medal of Honor” to the General Parrick R. Cleburne Camp 1361 SCV, in Father Bliemel’s honor.
A paid reservation of $10 per person is required for the Aug. 30 luncheon of the Knights of Columbus. For more information on the events honoring Father Emmeran Bliemel, call 770-478-0959.