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Civil War reenactor remembered

Blissett brought history to life at Memorial Day observances

Oxford resident Raymond Blissett always wore his Civil War uniform to the town’s Memorial Day observances. Photo by CJC. (click for larger version)
May 08, 2013 - For years, Raymond Blissett was a familiar sight at Oxford's Memorial Day observances in Centennial Park as he stood silently in the background, dressed in a wool Civil War uniform, no matter how hot it was.

He always marched in the parade to the cemetery and fired his weapon into the air as part of the 21-gun salute to honor all those who took their last breath on a battlefield.

Sadly, Blissett, who was born and raised in Orion, will not be taking part in this year's ceremony as he passed away on Friday, April 26. He was 52 years old.

Blissett was found dead while still sitting atop his bulldozer in the American Aggregates/Levy Co. gravel pit operation located near the intersection of Ray and N. Oxford roads. It was later determined he died of natural causes and just passed away peacefully while at work.

"He always said he'd like to go back (in time) and meet Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson – maybe now he's got his chance," said Jim Parkhurst, a longtime member of Oxford American Legion Post 108 and curator of its military history museum.

Blissett participated in reenactments as both a Confederate and Union soldier for around 20 years. With his long hair, mustache and beard, he certainly looked the part.

"He just enjoyed it – the history and teaching people about it," said his daughter Raelynn (Blissett) Michalowicz, 26.

"He just liked history," said Rene, his wife of nearly 27 years. "He'd always watch the History Channel."

Blissett first took an interest in reliving history during a Civil War reenactment at Frontier Town in Romeo.

It was only after he started doing the reenactments that Blissett discovered he had ancestors on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line during the War Between the States.

Blissett and his daughter, who dressed in the period clothing of a civilian, went all over to help bring history to life. They've participated in reenactments in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Maryland.

"Between April and October, there was at least one to two a month," said Raelynn, who did it for 16 years, primarily because she "got to hang out" with her dad.

When the 135th anniversaries of the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg were celebrated in 1997 and 1998, respectively, Blissett and Raelynn were there to relive those historic events and pay tribute to both sides.

Blissett was planning to participate in Gettysburg's 150th anniversary next month.

"He'll still be there," Rene said.

Blissett preferred to dress as a Confederate soldier, so most of the time he wore the gray uniform of a southern rebel. Specifically, he was a first sergeant in 12th South Carolina Infantry Regiment.

"It just fit him better," Raelynn said.

Rene noted he was cremated with his Confederate cap.

However, for Memorial Day in Oxford, he always wore the blue Union uniform of a first sergeant in the 4th Regiment, Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Company I, which consisted of men from Macomb and Wayne counties.

"Ray wore that Civil War uniform with respect, just like I wear my army uniform from the Vietnam era," said Parkhurst, who noted Blissett was always happy to answer anyone's Civil War questions, particularly those from children.

"To me, it's very important to teach the young people and Ray had the same idea," Parkhurst said. "A lot of this stuff isn't taught in school."

A stickler for authenticity, Blissett never washed his uniforms. "(Civil War soldiers) didn't wash them when they were out in the field, so he never did, either," Rene said. "His mother-in-law washed his pants one time and he got so mad."

"You can't be that guy who shows up (to reenactments) with clean, sparkling clothes every time," Raelynn added.

Parkhurst was always impressed with how quickly Blissett could load and reload his Springfield rifle musket. "He could load about four rounds in a minute," he said.

Blissett, who was part of Lake Orion High School's Class of 1978, worked for Stante B&V Construction, an excavating contractor based in Wixom, for more than 20 years. He just happened to be doing a job at the American Aggregates site when he died.

"That was his joy," said Rene, who noted her husband was a "perfectionist" when it came to moving earth. "He lived to make things look good. By the time he left (a job site), it was 100 percent perfect."

Raelynn described her father as "down-to-earth, genuine and 'one of the good ones' as everybody keeps saying."

"He loved life," Rene said. "He always had a smile on his face. He never had a bad thing to say about work."

Rene indicated his co-workers plan to remember him by eating peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches every April 26.

"That's all he ever took to work for his lunch," she said.

When he wasn't pushing dirt or living the life of a 19th-century soldier, Blissett was passionate about trains (both real ones and model sets), air shows, drawing, motocross, NASCAR racing and his beloved Pembroke Welch Corgi dogs.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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