It’s been nearly 150 years, but an identification ring lost by a Union soldier, likely in 1865, has been returned to a distant relative.
The finger ring bearing the name of Pvt. Levi Schlegel, along with his company and regiment – a War Between the States version of a dog tag – was found near Fredericksburg, Va., a locale the Reading, Pa., native had only passed through on his way home a month after the war ended.
It was found by relic hunter John Blue at a construction site in 2005. Though it was engraved with Schlegel’s name and unit – “Co. G., 198th P.V.,” for the 198th Pennsylvania Volunteers – Blue wasn’t sure how to locate Schlegel’s descendants, and kept the ring in a box.
In the end, a genealogist helped him track down Schlegel’s family.
This past Tuesday, Blue presented the ring to family members during a ceremony at the grave in Reading where Schlegel was laid to rest in 1932 at age 91.
Schlegel initially joined the 167th Pennsylvania in 1862, according to Ernest Schlegel, a distant cousin. This was a nine-month unit that disbanded in August 1863 without seeing too much action, according to a Washington Post story.
Schlegel then spent a year out of the service before re-enlisting, this time with the 198th Pennsylvania. He signed on in September 1864 with Company G, which was recruited in Berks County, Pa., where Reading is located.
Blue said identity rings like that worn by Schlegel were a means by which soldiers could make certain their bodies would be identified if they were killed in battle. The soldier’s name, company and regiment were etched on the outside of the ring.
This was a more secure method than that used by many soldiers, including those who were about to charge to near-certain death at Cold Harbor, Va., in June 1864, which consisted of simply writing their names on pieces of paper and pinning it to their uniforms.
The ring, which appears to be silver, was likely purchased by Schlegel, Blue said. Soldiers also could buy identity discs, which looked more like dog tags, according to the Post.
While the war had barely six months to go by the time Schlegel joined up with the 198th Pennsylvania, it was anything but easy duty.
The regiment was involved in the slog that took place as the main Union and Confederate armies slugged it out in trench warfare around Petersburg, Va.
The 198th was involved in half a dozen savage battles, including Hatcher’s Run, Quaker Road, White Oak Road and Five Forks, all in the last two months of the war.
The last clash alone saw more than 4,000 casualties between both sides, mostly Confederate.
The unit also endured dreadful weather and saw comrades who had been stripped of their clothes and had their throats cut by partisans, according to a history of the regiment, the Post reported.
After the Army of Northern Virginia’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, Schlegel’s regiment started home, reaching Richmond and then marching through Fredericksburg on May 9.
“Probably, it was there that Levi Schlegel, no longer facing oblivion, parted with his ring,” the Post speculated. “He may just have lost it. But he had seen so many wartime horrors. Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. And he had lost 117 comrades in the regiment to combat and disease.”
Of the regiment’s men, six officers and 67 enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded, and another 44 succumbed to disease, according to the work “History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65,” written shortly after the war’s end.
The 198th proceeded on to Washington, took the train to Philadelphia and was mustered out of service on June 12, 1865.
Levi Schlegel returned to Reading, got married and had 11 children.
He is buried beside his wife Mary in Reading’s Charles Evans cemetery.
(Top: John Blue, Manassas, Va., and Ernie Schlegel, hold a ring that belonged to Union soldier Levi Schlegel during a ceremony at Charles Evan Cemetery in Reading, Pa. Photo Credit: Reading Eagle.)