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Alexander Schimmelfennig
July 20, 1824(1824-07-20) – September 5, 1865 (aged 41)
Alexander Schimmelfennig.jpg
Place of birth Bromberg, Prussia
Place of death Wernersville, Pennsylvania
Place of burial Charles Evans Cemetery,
Reading, Pennsylvania
Allegiance United States of America
Years of service 1861–65 (U.S.)
Rank Brigadier General
Battles/wars American Civil War

Alexander Schimmelfennig (July 20, 1824 – September 5, 1865) was a German soldier and political revolutionary, and then an American Civil War general in the Union Army.


Early life and career

Schimmelfennig was born in Bromberg in the Prussian Province of Posen. He enrolled in the military and served in both the 29th Infantry Regiment (von Horn) and the 16th Infantry Regiment (Freiherr von Sparr), which was stationed in Cologne, Germany. There, he became acquainted with some of the more radical German political sources. He was very supportive of the 1848 revolution, but came disillusioned with the outcome of the peace treaty that ended the Schleswig-Holstein War of 1848.

He supported the opposition to Prussian attempts to put down unification efforts and was part of the Palatinate military commission that led the defense against the subsequent Prussian invasion. He was twice wounded in the Battle of Rinnthal, rescued, and eventually fled to Switzerland. For his involvement, he was tried in absentia and sentenced to death. He remained in exile in Switzerland, where he met fellow expatriate Carl Schurz, and ultimately these two fled to London via Paris. While in London, Schimmelfenning became a part of the German democratic movement that were in bitter opposition to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

In 1854, Schimmelfennig emigrated to the United States and worked in the War Department, where he maintained his association with the Forty-Eighters, a group of military officers in the failed revolution of 1848 who fled to the United States; many ended up serving in the United States Army. He was the author of The War between Russia and Turkey (Philadelphia, 1854).

Civil War

After his efforts with Carl Schurz to raise an all-German cavalry regiment failed (due to Schurz's appointment by President Abraham Lincoln to be his Minister to Spain), Schimmelfennig attempted to raise an all-German regiment in Philadelphia. When he fell ill, others strove to take over control of this new regiment, but they ultimately failed thanks to the efforts of Schimmelfennig's friends. The regiment, consisting of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Germans, was called the 1st German Regiment (of Pennsylvania) and would later be designated the 74th Pennsylvania Infantry[1]

At the time of the Civil War, there was strong nativist sentiment in the Union. This sentiment was especially directed on the German troops of the XI Corps, who engaged in a mass retreat after they were flanked by Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville. The mostly German XI Corps took the brunt of the scorn that poured forth from the press. Among the critics was the corps commander Oliver Otis Howard, who sought a scapegoat for his own mistakes. During the battle, Schimmelfennig commanded a brigade in the 3rd Division of the XI Corps.

At the subsequent Battle of Gettysburg, Schimmelfennig commanded a brigade in fellow Forty-Eighter-turned-major general Carl Schurz's 3rd Division of the XI Corps. For a short time, Schimmelfennig took command of the 3rd Division when Schurz briefly commanded the corps. His brigade suffered greatly, mostly due to a high prisoner rate as hundreds of men became confused in the narrow streets of Gettysburg and ended up being captured by oncoming Confederates. It and Colonel Charles Coster's brigade did their best to cover the retreat of the rest of the XI Corps, but they soon became disorganized and fled too. During the retreat through the town, Schimmelfennig briefly hid in a culvert on Baltimore Street, and then stayed for several days in a shed on the Anna Garlach property, avoiding capture. (There is a marker outside the Garlach house commemorating this event.) After the battle, he rejoined the corps, much to the pleasure of the troops who thought he was dead. However, Schimmelfennig's story was seized upon by the press and was promulgated as yet another example of German cowardice.

In the fall of 1863, the general was moved to command a brigade in 1st Division, XI Corps. He and his brigade were reassigned to the Carolinas, serving on Folly Island. He commanded the District of Charleston during Sherman's March to the Sea. After being sidelined for some time by a bout with malaria, Schimmelfennig had the honor of accepting Charleston's surrender on February 18, 1865. During his time of service in the swamps about Charleston, he contracted a virulent form of tuberculosis[2] that ultimately led to his death in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, where he had visited a mineral springs sanatorium in an effort to find a cure.

Schimmelfennig is buried in Reading, Pennsylvania, in the Charles Evans Cemetery, not far from fellow Union general David McMurtrie Gregg.

See also


  1. ^ 74th PA website.
  2. ^ Warner, p. 424; Eicher, p. 472.


  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964, ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.

Further reading

External links



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