When a woman brought some Civil War memorabilia into P&J Coin and Gold Exchange in Brodheadsville two years ago, pawnbroker Paul Mastronardi bought the items with intentions to sell them for a higher price.
But then something happened.
Mastronardi began researching the materials, which included discharge papers, a blue forage cap and a medal.
He learned that they belonged to a Union soldier from Pennsylvania named Albert Clewell, whose regiment fought at Gettysburg, among other crucial battles.
Mastronardi also learned that a descendant of Clewell’s was a frequent poster on an online Civil War message board.
The descendant, a man who calls himself “PVT Clewell” on the message board, was seeking help in tracking down information about several members of his family who fought in the Civil War — among them, Albert Clewell.
The descendant, who does not know Mastronardi and does not know that Civil War items belonging to Albert Clewell still exist, simply wanted to know the most effective way to conduct ancestry research.
Something about PVT Clewell’s story struck a chord with Mastronardi.
And now Mastronardi says he wants to find this man and give him all his relative’s memorabilia — for free.
“You know, I thought about it “» and all this stuff “» it really doesn’t belong to me,” Mastronardi said.
According to what can be gleaned from the memorabilia, Albert Clewell was a member of the Union Army’s 153rd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, 11th Corps.
These men, all volunteers, were recruited from Northampton County and fought in two pivotal battles: Chancellorsville in Virginia, where they were pounded by and lost to the Confederate Army; and Gettysburg, where they suffered heavy casualties.
The Chancellorsville victory gave the Confederate Army such a boost that its commanders decided to make deeper forays into northern territory.
But doing so turned out to be a bad idea, because the Union Army repulsed the Confederates at Gettysburg, and the Battle of Gettysburg, of course, is considered a turning point of the Civil War.
PVT Clewell wrote in an online post that he was “humbled” to learn that his relatives fought in such difficult and bloody battles.
Value transcends money
The items that once belonged to Albert Clewell that Mastronardi has in his possession include: framed discharge papers; a dark navy forage cap, a gift from a fraternal order for Civil War veterans known as the Grand Army of The Republic, or GAR; and a gold medal, which was also a gift from GAR.
GAR gave the medal to Albert Clewell 50 years after the Civil War ended. The medal has a “50″ in the center of it.
The total value of all the items is about $2,000. But Mastronardi says it’s not about the money.
“I wouldn’t want to lose this stuff if this was in my family,” said Mastronardi.
Passionate about the past
Mastronardi said his son, Paul Mastronardi Jr., found PVT Clewell on an online message board, but that PVT Clewell has not posted there in seven months.
Whoever PVT Clewell is — he writes that he’s retired, lives in Lexington, N.C., and likes to play golf — he uses the message board as a way to pay homage to his ancestors.
He writes about checking ledgers and others documents and traveling to the Civil War Institute in Gettysburg to learn as much as he can about his veteran ancestors.
“He just seemed so passionate about the whole thing — that’s what got to me,” said Mastronardi, who thinks the woman who originally sold him the memorabilia might also be a member of the Clewell family but may not know PVT Clewell.
For now, Mastronardi says he’s going to keep the memorabilia in his personal safe.
“Oh yeah, it’ll be there,” he said. “Until I get in touch with this guy, it’ll be there.”
UPDATE: Read about the conclusion of this story here.