Born in Lithauen, Prussia, on July 20, 1824, Schimmelfenning was one of many Germans who fought in the Civil War, and one who held a command position, and who had the distinction of the longest last name of any general. Before coming to America, he served in the Prussian army as an officer of engineers. As a result of the 1848 revolution in Prussia, he fled his country, settling in America in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Here he wrote a book that predicted the Crimean War, as well as worked as an engineer and draftsman. In 1860, he also used these skills working for the War Department.
On September 30, 1861, he joined the U.S. Army, receiving a commission as a colonel of the 74th Pennsylvania. Soon thereafter he suffered an injury from a fall from his horse, as well as came down with smallpox. After he recovered, his first action was at the Battle of Second Bull Run. Here he was placed in command of a division under another Prussian, Brigadier General Carl Schurz. Promoted to brigadier general on November 29, 1862, he now commanded the XI Corps, made up of predominantly German soldiers.
At the Battle of Chancellorsville, Confederate forces under the command of "Stonewall" Jackson inflicted heavy losses on Schimmelfenning corps. Serving at Gettysburg on July 1, his corps was again repulsed and Schimmelfenning was injured when struck by a gun. Initially knocked unconscious, he awoke to find himself behind the Confederate lines. Looking for a place to hide out, he hid in a shanty until July 4 when the Rebels retreated. Returning to his lines, he requested a transfer, however before it could be approved, he fell victim to a bout of malaria.
Schimmelfenning recovered and served once again in 1865 in the operations against Charleston, South Carolina. On April 8, 1865, he again fell sick, a victim of tuberculosis and requested leave, which was granted. While awaiting medical treatment outside Warrenton, Pennsylvania, Alexander Schimmelfenning died from complications of tuberculosis on September 5, 1865.
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