Military Wiki
Alexander Schimmelfennig
Born (1824-07-20)July 20, 1824
Died September 5, 1865(1865-09-05) (aged 41)
Place of birth Bromberg, Prussia
Place of death Wernersville, Pennsylvania
Place of burial Charles Evans Cemetery,
Reading, Pennsylvania
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch U.S. Army
Years of service 1861–65 (U.S.)
Rank Union army brig gen rank insignia.jpg Brigadier General

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 (Now Bydgoszcz in Poland) 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.[1] He was twice wounded in the Battle of Rinnthal, rescued, and eventually fled to Switzerland.[2] For his involvement, he was tried in absentia and sentenced to death by the Prussian authorities. 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, a sectarian group within the Communist League led by Karl Schapper and August Willich that was in opposition to main body of the Communist League led by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.[3]

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[4]

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.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, from mid-July until early August 1863, Schimmelfennig was moved to command a brigade in 1st Division, XI Corps. He and his brigade were reassigned to the Southern District of the Department of the South, in the Carolinas, serving on Folly Island.[5] He commanded the District of Charleston, then part of the X Corps 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. His headquarters was the Miles Brewton House. During his time of service in the swamps about Charleston, he contracted a virulent form of tuberculosis[6] 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. "Campaign for the Imperial German Constitution" contained in the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 10 (International Publishers: New York, 1978) pp. 210-213.
  2. Biographical note contained in the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 10, p. 733,
  3. Biographical note contained in the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 10, p. 733.
  4. 74th PA website.
  5. Eicher, p. 472.
  6. Warner, p. 424; Eicher, p. 472.


  • Bostick, Douglas W., Charleston Under Siege: the Impregnable City, Charleston: History Press, 2010.
  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: 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

  • Carl Schurz. New York: The McClure Company. 1907. Schurz knew Schimmelfennig (or Schimmelpfennig — it is spelled both ways in his Reminiscences) in Germany and in the United States and places in between. In Chapter VIII of Volume One, Schurz reflects on the irony of commanding Schimmelfennig in the United States who was Schurz's military instructor in Germany. They were also both members of the Brüning Salon in England (see Chapter XIV of Volume One).
  • Abraham Jacobi relates an encounter in Germany with Schimmelfennig in his speech (Banquet to the Honorable Carl Schurz. March 2, 1899)
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Schimmelpfennig, Alexander" Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography 1900 

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).