After McCleary was mustered out of the Union Army, he returned home--to upstate New York, to a small town called Watervliet Centre (now Colonie). While his life carried on as many do-- he married, had children, cared for his aging parents, and worked to support his family-- the Civil War continued to play a role in his life. The friendships he made in his Regiment and on the battlefields did not dissolve with the Army--though distance may have separated them, their shared sacrifice bonded them for life.
Piecing together what happened to McCleary after 1865 is difficult. He was no longer writing letters to his home explaining what was happening to him and how he felt. However, he attended the 20-year reunion for his Regiment--the New York State Volunteer Heavy Artillery, Seventh Regiment, where he received the honorary medal below. This reunion was held in 1885.
In July 1895, McCleary wrote a long letter to an old friend of his. He noted that his father lived with him for nine months out of the year and there was "no need to inquire about his health he is past-88 and a Dynamite Bomb would take no effect on him." He also noted that he had "two girls married nearby each one has a little granddaughter for me to buy Christmas presents for. My third girl taught school last winter--about 3 miles from home--so you know I have got to be one of the old fellows now. And to tell the truth I am about done up the Malaria and Grip together have flattened me out so completely that I am of no earthly use except as an ornament."
McClearly recovered fully from his health problems, and the next incredible episode in his life involved a nagging pain he noticed around 1901 that caused great discomfort in his thigh. He went to a doctor who recommended that x-rays be taken. The x-rays revealed that a bullet remained in McCleary's body--38 years after he was originally shot. Apparently, the doctors at Libby Prison had believed that the bullet that had entered McCleary's thigh had somehow traveled through his body and exited it. However, the x-rays taken in 1902 proved otherwise.
McCleary's wife was away when a surgery was scheduled to remove the bullet. Around the time of his surgery, one of his old Civil War buddies--Jacob Wiggins--died, and McCleary wrote to his wife that Wiggins had specifically chosen "4 old soldiers" to be his pall bearers before he passed on. When McCleary arrived at his home after Wiggins's funeral, an old war friend of McCleary's--whose nickname was "Mali"--had showed up on McCleary's doorstep and he volunteered to go with McCleary to the hospital for his surgery. McCleary told his wife that Mali "wants to go down and see the bullet cut out and see it by the x-rays," and would "nurse me up" afterwards. McCleary added: "wish you were here to go with him." (One theme apparent from all of the letters written to McCleary's wife is that he loved her dearly. In fact, in one letter sent to her he noted "we thought we loved in 1863--we know more than love in 1900.").
The removal of the bullet from McCleary's body was important enough to make it into the newspaper. (The hospital where the bullet was removed happens to be the same hospital where I was born.) Here's the article telling the story: