Historical society to hold program on immigrants

Published 5:47 pm Wednesday, April 24, 2019

VALLEY — In the nineteenth century, immigration had a positive impact on the Chattahoochee Valley region. A father and two sons from Oldham, England, Tom, William and Ed Lang had successful careers in running the West Point Manufacturing Company textile mills in Langdale, River View and Lanett. Irishman Patrick Gibbons ran the very popular Shamrock Saloon in downtown West Point and not far away, Antonio “Tony” Palmisano had a fruit stand in the downtown area.

A number of Jewish families who immigrated to the U.S. to escape widespread antisemitism in continental Europe found a welcoming community in West Point. Their story will be the subject of Sunday afternoon’s quarterly meeting of the Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society, to be held at 3 p.m. EDT in Bradshaw-Chambers County Library’s Lanier Room.

Mother and son history educators Malinda and Charles Powers will be the presenters. While Mrs. Powers specializes in American and Alabama history, Charles is a university instructor with a concentration in European and American history.

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In his presentation, Charles will highlight the plight of 19th-century Jews living in Prussia and Bavaria, regions that would become part of Germany in 1871. He will examine their emigration to U.S. cities such as Philadelphia and their continuing journey to the Southeastern U.S. He will be illustrating his talk with a variety of old photographs via a PowerPoint presentation.

A highlight of Sunday’s program will be the opportunity to see the diary kept by Civil War veteran and Bavarian immigrant Louis Merz, who was killed on what’s been called the Bloodiest Day in U.S. history, the Battle of Antietam in 1862. The diary will be on public display for the first time in 60 years at Sunday’s program. For many years, the diary was kept by Mr. Merz’ business partner, Herman Heyman, and passed down through his family.

In 1959, contents of the diary were transcribed and published in a Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society bulletin. That same year, Heyman’s granddaughter, Fannie Herzberg, presented a paper she had written on the founding of Temple Beth El in the Bluffton community a century before. At the conclusion of the program, she stunned the gathering by gifting the diary to the CVHS. It has been in a security vault since that time.

“What a unique opportunity for those interested in local or Civil War history to view this important artifact!” said Malinda Powers.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Merz and his business partner Herman Heyman were doing very well in the thriving little boom town of West Point. Located on the corner of what’s now West 3rd Avenue and West 8th Street, Heyman & Merz was a very busy mercantile company. Two weeks after Fort Sumter was fired upon, Merz joined the West Point Guards, which was later assigned to Company D, 4th Georgia Regiment.

He had his first entry into his diary on June 1, 1862. Company D was hard hit at Malvern Hill in the Seven Days’ battles. Merz continued to write in his diary until July 9, documenting a visit he’d received from Herman Heyman.

That year Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee won a significant victory at Second Manassas, which opened the way to an invasion of the North. The 4th Georgia was part of that invasion, and it was along meandering Antietam Creek and its nearby cornfields and rock outcroppings that Bavarian immigrant Louis Merz lost his life. His diary, along with a poem he’d clipped from a Richmond newspaper, were recovered from his uniform. The poem was entitled “Prayer Before Battle” and had been written by famed German poet Theodore Korner.

Metz was later buried in a solider’s grave in Richmond.