Identification ring of Union soldier returned

Levi Schlegel ring

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.

Scene from the Battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865.

Scene from the Battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865.

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.)


13 thoughts on “Identification ring of Union soldier returned

    • I can’t imagine many have been found. The men who had them either kept them, I would imagine, or, if they were killed or died during the war, they were likely sent back to their families. I was unaware of an “identification ring” before I came across this story.

      Thanks for your note.

  1. From my place in Prince George, all of those battle sites are in Dinwiddie County, my neighboring county SW of me just beyond the city of Petersburg. Five Forks is the farthest at about 20 miles. Amazing that such an odd thing can happen. Interesting post!

      • I am not sure as I’m a novice but even right here on my property there are some possible redoubts. At least that is what I think they are. Of course, somewhere on this farm is the location of Colonel Wade Hampton’s “Beefsteak Raid.”

        My neighbor that lives in the old Ruffin home (one of many) loaned me a movie called “Alvarez Kelly,” which is a fictionalized account of the raid. The movie was made in 1966 and starred William Holden and Richard Widmark. Also in the flick was a Scottish blockade runner called Captain Angus Ferguson played by an actor named Roger C. Carmel. I kept looking at him trying my best to figure out where I had seen him before and Kristen suddenly yelled out “Harcourt Fenton Mudd.” Mudd will be meaningless to you unless you are an original Star Trek (TV series) fan. Carmel played a bit part in two episodes of Star Trek as a likable rogue, His role in “Alvarez Kelly” was of that same genre. This movie really blew me away as it was filmed mostly in Louisiana but they had a few shots showing the front of the Ruffin home and it was very well done (easily recognized as Ruffin’s home at Shellbank).

        For some reason unknown to me, it is very hard to find much info about “Shellbank” which I find rather baffling but I will be sending you an email soon of the info I have collected re Ruffin as soon as I get it into a readable order. I have to assume that his other properties were much more “Grand Southern Mansions” that this house here is but a shack.

      • I remember Harcourt Fenton Mudd well. Quite the character, indeed. I didn’t realize Ruffin had more than one place. I suppose someone who had the resources to venture south in early 1861 to see Fort Sumter shelled probably had plenty of cash.

  2. Another great post because the life of one person matters. Imagine fighting all those battles, then going home and having 11 children. How much stress would that be??? And on top of that to lose your identity! Yikes! I also enjoyed your WWII find on FB. Some people are so creative!

    • Yes, talk about a full life – survive the war, go home and rear 11 kids and live until 91. As much stress as 11 kids might be, it still was probably easier than getting shot at for six months and watching your comrades get killed and wounded.

      And, yes, the life of one person does indeed matter. We’re spending all this time celebrating the 150th anniversary of the war as though it were a famous football game. Too little recognition, in my opinion, is paid to the fact that millions of lives were torn apart, and likely every single American was touched in one way or another by loss during the conflict.

      • Well said, Cotton. I came to your fair state two summers ago to visit various battlefields and museums all along the coast. I often came away with tears for all the destruction of life, limbs and property, yet had there not been a need for freedom, it might have been avoided. Freedom is a battle that we all take for granted, except for those who fought for it, or have know life without it. Every single American is still touched by it, even if they don’t know it. 🙂

      • Well said, We are all products of our history, and we are impacted by our history. I’ve sometimes thought how different the South would have been – and the North, as well – had so many of its young men not died during the four years of the war. Who knows what future leaders were killed and were instead replaced by hatemongers such as Ben Tillman?

        And, of course, the same could be said in nearly every part of the world at some time. Opportunity costs, though, are hard measure. You can’t quantify what you never had.

      • How true. If you just imagine 20,000,000 Russians killed in WWII figure how many descendants, and add to that 6,000,000 Jews, and another 6,000,000 others that were killed, not mentioning soldiers, and their descendants. It boggles my mind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s