Destiny attended Emmeran Bliemel at his birth on the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel, patron saint of soldiers, in 1831 in Bavaria. From his early boyhood his burning desire was to be a missionary to German Catholics in far off America. Joining a Benedictine Abbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1851, he was ordained a priest in 1856.
In 1860 Father Bliemel was assigned to a German Catholic parish in Nashville, Tennessee. Six months after his arrival most of the adult men of his parish joined the Tenth Tennessee regiment to fight for the Confederacy. After Nashville was occupied by Union forces early in 1862, Father Bliemel dedicated himself to giving aid to wounded soldiers in Nashville, whether they were Confederate or Union.
Father Bliemel’s sympathies aligned with the Confederacy. He viewed the South as more tolerant of Catholics and decried anti-Catholic prejudice in America which he associated with the North. It should be remembered that when Father Bliemel arrived in Pennsylvania the aptly named Know-Nothing movement, an anti-Catholic nativist party attacked by Abraham Lincoln, was strong in many Northern states.
Smuggling medicine to Confederate forces, Father Bliemel was arrested twice by the Union occupation forces. Eventually Father Bliemel decided that he had to take a more active role. The Tenth Tennessee had elected him in absentia their chaplain. Seeking permission from his bishop, which was reluctantly given, Chaplain Bliemel joined the Tenth Tennessee.
On August 31, 1864, now a veteran of many battles, Chaplain Bliemel stood with the men of the Tenth Tennessee as they launched an assault on a Union position during the battle of Jonesboro, Georgia. In the course of the attack Father “Emery”, as the men fondly called him, performed his customary duty of rendering assistance to the wounded and the Last Rites to the dying. Colonel Grace, the commanding officer of the Tenth Tennessee, fell to the ground mortally wounded. Immediately Father Bliemel was at his side administering the Last Rites. In the midst of the sacrament, Father Bliemel was decapitated by a cannonball.
Father Bliemel was the first American Catholic Chaplain to die on the battlefield. The Knights of Columbus in Jonesboro keep Father Bliemel’s memory ever green.