A Postal Service event in Gettysburg features descendant of rebels in stamp photo
May 23, 2013 4:00 AM
AP Photo/U.S. Postal Service
The Postal Service's Battle of Vicksburg Forever stamp
AP Photo/U.S. Postal Service
The Postal Service's Civil War 1863 Battle of Gettysburg Forever stamp.
Confederate soldiers, from left, Ephraim Blevins, John Baldwin and Ephraim's father, Andrew Blevins, stand for a portrait by Mathew Brady during the Civil War.
By Tom Barnes Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ever since 1949 -- when he was only 10 years old -- Clate Dolinger of southwestern Virginia has known that the three Confederate soldiers in a famous Civil War photo taken in July 1863 were his ancestors.
"The soldier on the right is Andrew Blevins, and he was my granddaddy's granddaddy," he said in a cell phone interview Wednesday. "The one on the left is his son, Ephraim Blevins, and the one in the middle is my grandmother's great-uncle, John Baldwin."
Mr. Dolinger spoke to a reporter while making a six-hour drive from his home in Pembroke, Va., to Gettysburg, Pa., where today he will speak at a news conference held by the U.S. Postal Service as it unveils a new postage stamp honoring the battle of Gettysburg and, in particular, a part of it called Pickett's Charge, fought July 3, 1863.
The stamp shows Southern forces under Gen. George Pickett trying unsuccessfully to dislodge Union forces from a hilltop stronghold.
On the back of each sheet of Gettysburg stamps will be the photo taken by famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, showing the three Confederate soldiers related to Mr. Dolinger. They were taken prisoner on the battle's last day. The photo shows them carrying extra bedrolls but without weapons. They shuttled to various prison camps and often were put on burial detail.
"Humiliated and knowing they would be transferred to a POW camp, they collected extra clothing and blankets from the dead, to prepare for their internment," Gettysburg officials said in a news release. The three Southerners weren't released by Northern officials until after the war ended in April 1865.
Mr. Dolinger said he stopped into his local post office a couple weeks ago and saw a sheet of the new Pickett's Charge stamps, with the photo of his family members on the back.
"I told the postal clerk that I wanted five sheets of these stamps," he said. "She said why, and I said, 'Because that's my kin.' She said, 'The men in the photo are your people?' and I said yes. They were drafted into the [Confederate] army and they had to go."
The Virginia postal official called Washington, D.C., and told them about Mr. Dolinger, and he was invited to speak at today's stamp ceremony.
Mr. Dolinger, now a 73-year-old barber, is still cutting hair every day for only $4 a head.
"I don't want to be greedy," he said.
His grandmother, in 1949, showed him an album of family photos, and the one with the three Confederate soldiers was in it.
"It was raining one day and she said let's look at the family pictures," he said. "She'd tell me stories also, about how they were captured and sent off to prison for the rest of the war. [Northern officials] turned them loose in Richmond, Va., after the war ended and they had to walk hundreds of miles back to Pembroke. Sometimes they would catch a ride in a wagon, my grandmother told me, and at night they bedded down by the side of the road. Sometimes they were lucky enough to catch a rabbit or possum to eat."
At a family reunion in 1999, he was given a copy of the Brady photograph. He said he wants the five copies of the new sheet of Gettysburg stamps, with his three ancestors on the back, "for my children and grandchildren."
He said he's also taking a sword that his "granddaddy's granddaddy" used in the war, as well as a canteen.
According to officials at the Gettysburg Foundation, a nonprofit that helps run the Gettysburg National Park and is sponsoring today's stamp ceremony, Andrew Blevins served in the 30th Infantry Regiment from North Carolina; John Baldwin served with the Virginia 50th Infantry; and Ephraim Blevins was with the North Carolina 37th Infantry.
Since 2011, the Postal Service has been issuing stamps honoring Civil War battles. The sheet of stamps marking the Battle of Vicksburg, Miss., won by the Union on July 4, 1863, will also have the Dolinger ancestors on the back.