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Local linked to battle at Gettysburg
Gensee County historian says Fifth Cavalry Atlas Township private participated in historic Civil War encounter

by David Fleet

July 17, 2013

Atlas Township resident Ezra Blakeley was born in 1843.

Some time later he moved to the Lapeer area and, like many young men of the time, was perhaps bored with life in rual Michigan or was maybe looking for adventure.So at 19 years old he traveled to Detroit where on Sept. 20, 1862 he enlisted in the Union Army as a soldier in Company F, Fifth Cavalry.

The Civil War experiences of Blakeley are sketchy until almost two years later when on June 11, 1864 he was taken prisoner at Trevillian Station, Va. by Confederate soldiers. He was a POW until he was paroled in December 1864. He left the Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., June 22, 1865 near the end of the Civil War.

However, at least one area Civil War historian is convinced that, township native Pvt. Blakeley service to the county included one of the most bloodiest battles of the war.

Earlier this month, July 1-3 marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the Civil War where the Union army confronted the Confederates in a small Pennsylvania town driving the rebels out of the North in battle that resulted in about 51,000 casualties.

"The last records of Blakeley show he was living in Bureau County, Ill. in 1870," said Len Thomas, Civil War Historian, from Swartz Creek.

"However, we do know that as a part of the Fifth Cavalry which means he must have fought at Gettysburg and, more than likely under the command of George Custer."

"There's a lot of chaos in such a major battle. Just consider, there's many soldiers buried right on the battlefield. There was no identification, that's why we have the grave of the Unknown Soldier," said Thomas.

"Consider too, that as a member of the cavalry they were on horseback and were typically scouts. They could move faster than a foot soldier and often would report to commanders what was going on in the battlefield."

According to data supplied by the National Park Service and the Michigan Historic Museum, the 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th Michigan Cavalry Brigades were part of the battle. The 5th brigade was posted east of Gettysburg along the Hanover Road on July 3 and fought in piecemeal fashion, serving as dismounted skirmishers near the John Rummel farm on the left of the battlefield.

Thomas, 73, is a retired Flint school administrator and with wife Sharon has published multiple volumes listing Civil War graves for Genesee, Lapeer and Shiawassee counties. The couple's effort to create the list of graves of area men that fought in the Civil War stems from a trip to a New Lothrop Cemetery located in Shiawassee County.

"Of 2,000 graves in the New Lothrop Elmwood Cemetery, there were 46 Civil War graves," he said. "Of that, only ten were marked as veterans. Just imagine how many are in other cemeteries across the country. In many cases, historical societies and townships have marked the graves with GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) bronze markers.

The Thomases visited the Goodrich Cemetery in 2003 and found 36 Civil War veterans buried there of those 19 were unidentified by the GAR marker.

Thomas also compiled a list of Civil War veterans that lived in the area and enlisted elsewhere, or moved somewhere else.

"After they were done fighting many were given land to farm and some settled in other parts of the United States," he said. "Perhaps Blakeley settled in North Central Illinois. We could find no record of him ever getting a pension from the war."