By Paul Fattig
More than a century after he was laid to rest, Civil War veteran Ezekiel Colby finally will receive a proper gravestone.
With his descendants in attendance and members of the Cascade Civil War Society re-enactors saluting in his honor, a headstone for the Union soldier will be dedicated at 1 p.m. today in Pleasant Valley Cemetery near Merlin. The public is invited to attend the ceremony.
“Something like this helps connect you to the past,” said Ezekiel’s great-grandson Dave Colby, 73, of Medford.
“We didn’t know anything about him until we started looking into it,” he added. “Other than Dad mentioning a couple of horse thieves here and there, I didn’t know very much about my ancestors.”
In 1994, Dave and his wife of 51 years, Renee Colby, began digging into the Colby family roots and discovered that his great-grandfather was buried in the Merlin cemetery.
“But we couldn’t find a marker,” Renee said. “They were so poor they apparently couldn’t afford a headstone.”
There may have been a small metal marker at one point, but it has long since disappeared, she added.
They obtained a funeral record indicating that Ezekiel Colby was 73 when he died on Jan. 26, 1907. The cost of the funeral was $43.50.
“It took the family five months to pay for it,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is providing the headstone, which will include his name, date of birth and death, and the fact he served with the 20th Regiment Indiana Volunteers, she said.
“What is amazing to us is that he served throughout the war in a lot of battles but was never wounded or severely hurt,” she said. “He made it through without being wounded in a war in which more than 620,000 men were killed.”
His records indicate he joined in July of 1861, shortly after the war began, and wasn’t mustered out until July of 1865, a few months after the war ended. He began as a private but rose to sergeant by the time the fighting stopped, observed Dave, a Navy veteran.
Born in Erie County, N.Y., on July 29, 1833, Ezekiel was in his late 20s when he joined the regiment. Before the war ended, the unit saw 186 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded and another 113 died of illness.
By early November of 1861, they were based at Fort Monroe, Va. The unit’s first major battle was in March of 1862 at Newport News, which also involved the sea battle of the Merrimac, Cumberland and Congress. That battle was followed by combat at Yorktown, Rappahannock, Manassas Plains, Alexandria and Arlington Heights, Renee said.
“Because the division was so decimated after these battles, it was ordered to rest for a month,” she said.
Following a period of rest and recuperation, they would fight at Leesburg, Warrenton, Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Harpers Ferry, Manasses Gap, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and other major engagements, she said.
“He survived all those battles,” she said. “But he did come out of the war with rheumatism and chronic diarrhea, which plagued him the rest of his life.”
He eventually received a military pension of $8 a month, she added.
The soldier would marry, become a farmer and eventually end up in southwest Oregon, settling first on Coyote Creek near Wolf Creek, where Colby Gulch was named in the family’s honor. He was apparently a widower when he sold the Colby Gulch property in 1903 and moved to the Merlin area, Renee said.
“Unfortunately, when they were living in Merlin, their house burned down,” she said, adding that any of the family’s historic photographs were likely destroyed in the fire.
“I never heard anything about Ezekiel,” Dave reiterated. “He died in 1907, and my dad’s dad died in 1923. And my dad was born in 1917, so he didn’t really know anything about Ezekiel.”
Because of their research, the Colbys have now been able to connect the ancestral dots.
Joining them at the ceremony on Saturday will be their daughter and granddaughter, Kylie, age 3.
“Ezekiel would be her great-great-great-great-grandfather,” Renee said.
Established in the 1860s, Pleasant Valley Cemetery can be found by traveling north of Grants Pass on Interstate 5 to the Hugo exit, then southwest on Monument Drive for 2.2 miles. The cemetery is on the left just past School House Creek Road.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.