Civil War Soldier's Ring Returned to Family 148 Years Later

PHOTO: The ring, which is engraved with "Levi Schlegel, Co. G., 198th P.V.," once belonged to Levi Schlegel of Reading, Pa., a Union Army soldier who served under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.PlayCourtesy Ernie Schlegel
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A Civil War soldier's ring found outside of Fredericksburg, Va., has made its way back home to Pennsylvania, 148 years later.

The ring once belonged to Levi Schlegel of Reading, Pa., a Union Army soldier, who served two tours of duty under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and fought at the Battle of Appomattox Court House, where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865.

It is believed the ring was lost while Union troops were marching back to Washington, D.C., after the war was over.

John Blue of Manassas, Va., a Civil War relics hunter, found the ring in 2005 at a construction site using a metal detector, and noticed that it bore the inscription, "Levi Schlegel, Co. G., 198th P.V.," meaning Company G, 198th Pennsylvania Volunteers Regiment.

Blue worked with a genealogist, who called the Reading Public Library in Berks County, where Company G soldiers were recruited in the Civil War, and asked if there were any living Schlegel relatives in the area.

Turns out, Ernie Schlegel, a 49-year-old retired businessman from Reading, Pa., is a distant cousin of Levi Schlegel and sits on the library's board of trustees.

"It's been quite a journey," he said.

When Blue told him about the ring, Schlegel said he was skeptical at first. But when he saw a picture of it and started looking into his lineage, he discovered that Levi Schlegel was his sixth cousin, four times removed. The Schlegels have lived in the Reading area since the 1730s, and Levi Schlegel is buried in the town's Charles Evans Cemetery.

"Levi's grandfather is Heimlich and he would have been a brother to my fourth great grandfather," Schlegel said.

On Tuesday, the 148th anniversary of the Appomattox, Schlegel held a ceremony at Levi's grave site and invited Blue to come and present the ring. Calls to Blue were not immediately returned.

When he held the ring for the first time, Schlegel said, "The hair stood up on the back of my neck."

"To know what this guy went through and to know that ring was in every march with him and the casualties it has seen with his eyes, its just really chilling," he said.

Levi Schlegel was first drafted into the K Company of the 167th Pennsylvania Infantry in November 1862 and mustered out of unit in August 1863. Then he volunteered for 198th Pennsylvania Regiment in Philadelphia, and marched with the G company out of the city towards Petersburg, Va. on Sept. 19, 1864. The 198th Regiment was part of Grant's Army of the Potomac, which defeated General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

Schlegel said the ring was thought to be made around the time the company left for Petersburg.

"To know that my family relative went through all of those very harsh things... and he made it home and had 11 kids, had a successful life as a carpenter, to know he did all that, that's really amazing," Schlegel said. "He lived a nice full life, and died at 91 years old. That's a heck of a life."

After Lee surrendered, victorious Union troops started back towards Washington, marching through Fredericksburg, only to find out that President Lincoln had been assassinated. Schlegel speculated that Levi didn't lose the ring, but was so upset by the news of Lincoln's death that he took it off.

"I can't help but wonder that he was so disgusted that he just threw that ring on the ground," he said.

Although Schlegel said he didn't know for surewhat the ring is made of and has no plans to have it appraised, he said Blue speculated it was made of silver and could be worth up to $1,500.

When asked what he plans to do with the ring, Schlegel said he thought he would not donate it to a museum or historical society, but keep it for his family.

"They say when you have things and there is a story that can be told about it, that brings more value to any subject that you have, or any thing that you have," he said.