Henry Heinmiller was born on June 11, 1842 in Columbus, Ohio. One of John Conrad and Elizabeth Battenfeld Heinmiller’s eight children, Henry attended Mound Street School at Mound and Third Streets until he was 13, when he went to work in a book bindery. When he was 20, Henry joined the Civil War, enlisting as a private in Company F of the 108th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was made a Sergeant in 1864 and was promoted to First Lieutenant on October 2, 1864.
While accompanying General William Tecumseh Sherman on his “March to the Sea,” Henry and his comrades in the 108th OVI pilfered unripe fruit from persimmon trees and suffered great abdominal distress. Many years later, Henry planted a persimmon tree in his yard to remind himself of his folly. The last time I checked, the persimmon tree was still there.
During the Civil War, Henry participated in the battles of Mission Ridge and Lookout Mountain. He was also captured by General John Morgan at Hartsville, Tennessee on December 7, 1862, but was traded four days later and was sent back to the Union army. During the battle at Bentonville, North Carolina on March 19, 1865, Henry was shot in the hip and wounded by a Confederate bullet, was discharged from the service on May 15, 1865, and returned home to Columbus.
Henry became chief engineer of the Columbus Fire Department on April 12, 1869 and served until 1880. He returned for a second stint as chief engineer in April 1890 and continued until 1909. Columbus citizens presented him with a solid gold badge, which is handed down to succeeding heads of the department. Once called the “Dean of Columbus Fire Fighters,” Henry was the only fire chief ever elected by the citizens of Columbus; while he was in office, the law governing election of the fire chief was repealed.
As a youngster, Henry had been a lantern and torch boy for Columbus’s volunteer fire department, driving to fires in the family buggy. The first large fire that he remembered was the fire at the Neil House hotel on November 6, 1860, the day Abraham Lincoln was elected president.
Henry was also in the grocery business from 1880 to 1906. His store was first at South High and Beck Streets, and later at South High and Willow Streets. When he retired, he sold out to the Columbus Grocery Company.
Standing 6 feet, 4 ¼ inches tall, Henry must have been hard to miss. However, Henry also achieved distinction in the Columbus community in other ways. A charter member of St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church, Henry belonged to the Scottish Rite, was a Shriner and a 32nd degree member of the Masonic Lodge, and was a member of the Knights of Pythias, serving as captain of its drill corps.
Despite all these accomplishments, Henry must have been especially proud that neighborhood children called him “Uncle Henry.” In 1907, Uncle Henry organized a 4th of July flag parade for 24 South Side children. It was held every year until his death; in later years, about 300 children participated. Youngsters who took part received the American flag they carried in the parade, a parade cap, and a bottle of soda. Sometimes Uncle Henry would lead the parade; in later years, he sat on his porch or sidewalk and watched the children go by. Family photographs document that both of my grandparents marched in Uncle Henry’s parade as children.
Henry was a lifelong South Sider. After their marriage, he and Adeline resided at 44 East Fulton Street. Later, the Heinmillers lived at 47 East Mithoff Street and 175 East Miller Avenue. Henry’s last address was at 1174 Franklin Avenue. Henry died from heart disease in January 1928 and is buried at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus.
Henry and Adeline had no children of their own, so they adopted their niece. Marion Heinmiller Peirano taught third grade phonetics at Columbus School for Girls from September 1927 through June 1931; later, she worked at the Bexley Public Library, where she became good friends with my grandmother. To thank “Janie” for her friendship and to applaud her accomplishments in genealogical research of the Heinmiller family, Mrs. Peirano gave her some special possessions of Uncle Henry’s. These include a shirt Henry wore as a baby; daguerreotypes and other historic photographs of Henry throughout his life; Henry’s Civil War mess kit, harmonica and knapsack; the underclothes Henry was wearing when he was shot, which still have the hole at the hip and the bloodstains to prove it; the Confederate bullet housed in a glass jar that once contained “Dr. Kilmer’s U & O Anointment” from Binghamton, New York; the large silk flag that Henry received during the 16th 4th of July parade; the lace-edged pocket handkerchief Adelaide made him for their wedding; six napkins on which Adelaide embroidered flowers in silk during her marriage to Henry; and a silver centerpiece that he and Adelaide received as a wedding present.
Whether or not you’re a Heinmiller, there’s plenty to appreciate and emulate in my great-great granduncle Henry’s contributions to Columbus history.