Lee Kelly or Kelley was born in 1835 in Gaines, Ontario County, New York, the son of William (1803-1876) and Jane (Perry).
Vermont native William married Jane and they settled in New York. William married his second wife, Hannah Chase (1812-1890) in 1843 in Wyoming County, New York. About that same time the family moved from New York and settled in the Grand Rapids area in 1843, and were among the first settlers in what would be called Gaines Township (named after their former home in New York) in Kent County. By 1850 Lee was attending school with eight of his younger siblings and living on the family farm in Gaines, kent County. By 1860 Lee was working as a farm laborer in Cuba, Gaines Township and living with his family in Gaines.
Lee stood 5’9” with blue eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion and was 30 years old and still living in Gaines when he enlisted in Company A on May 13, 1861. According to one of his tentmates, Kelly was wounded slightly, possibly in the left hand, at Fair Oaks, Virginia on May 31, 1862. Charles Wright of Company A wrote home to his sister on July 9, 1862, that “Lee Kelly and I tent together now he is well having got over his wounds.” Some years after the war Lee mentioned having been wounded in the left hand and subsequently hospitalized in Washington, DC, but apparently the wound had healed well and created no disability. Indeed Lee soon rejoined the Regiment and was present for duty through June of 1862, and by December was serving with the ammunition train, probably as a teamster.
On January 13, 1863, he was discharged at Camp Pitcher, Virginia, for “general debility with edema resulting from chronic diarrhea.” According to Dr. James F. Grove, Regimental surgeon, Kelly had suffered “from chronic diarrhea since the first of September last. He is much emaciated [?] and entirely unfit for duty. The prospect of recovering is distant and uncertain.”
Before he left Washington for Michigan, however, Lee applied for a pension on January 16, 1863, claiming to be suffering from consumption and dropsy and his legs were swollen and very stiff, although in later years he denied ever having lung problems. In fact, he claimed later that his major problem had been a hernia he suffered in December of 1862. At the battle of Fredericksburg, on December 13, 1862, he later declared, “he was obliged to carry forty rounds of ammunition and he had his cartridge belt strapped so tightly about him together with the exertion and strain endured produced hernia of both sides. He had been feeling poorly before said battle and after the battle was worse and was sent to hospital of the Regiment and after about four weeks was discharged.” Lee added that “He has never recovered from said hernia [and] has been obliged to wear a truss ever since.”
Lee soon returned to western Michigan and settled briefly in Caledonia, Kent County, eventually resettling in Gaines where he was working as a farm laborer and living in 1870 with a wealthy farmer named Foster Kelly (b. 1810); next door lived the father of George Blain who had also served in the Third Michigan. Lee was still living in Gaines in 1874.
By 1876 he was living in Grand Rapids, but was back in Gaines in 1879 and working for Foster Kelly in 1880, in Gaines in 1881, and 1882, in Hammond, Kent County in 1883 when he was drawing $12.00 per month in 1883 for an injury to his abdomen (pension no. 187,429, dated April of 1881).
He was residing in Grand Rapids in 1885, in Dutton, Kent County in 1888, and in Petoskey, Emmett County in 1889. He was back in Dutton the following year, and probably in 1891 when his pension was increased to $14.00 per month. He was still residing in Dutton in 1894 and 1896.
On July 11, 1906, Lee was admitted as a single man to the Michigan Soldiers’ Home (no. 4761). He was a Protestant, a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association and Grand Army of the Republic Custer Post No. 5 in Grand Rapids (until he was dropped on September 13, 1893). He became a member of the Old Settlers’ Association in January of 1880, was active in the Republican party and never married.
Lee died of senility at the Home at 3:30 p.m. on February 12, 1907, and was buried in the South Gaines cemetery.