Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 23, 2013

History told on stamp

Civil War image connected to Pembroke man’s ancestors

by BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PEMBROKE, Va. — The past few weeks have represented an amazing journey for the Dolinger family of Pembroke, Va., but it all came together on Saturday morning when the U.S. Post Office in Pembroke hosted an event to recognize the family that has been unexpectedly thrust into the national spotlight through the release of a Civil War commemorative stamp.

Two new Civil War stamps that depict images from skirmishes during the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg were released on May 24; and 73-year-old Clate Dolinger, the barber in the town of Pembroke, was invited to take part in the ceremony at Gettysburg — not because of the stamps — but rather because of an iconic Matthew Brady image taken in Gettysburg after the battle that the Postal Service used to promote the two new stamps. The photograph in question shows three captured Confederate soldiers who had been pressed into service as gravediggers to bury the dead at the battle.

During the ceremony, Dolinger emotionally recalled how his grandmother, Molly Baldwin Dolinger, showed him a copy of the photograph in the late 1940s when he was 9 or 10 years old and told him that the soldiers in the picture were his great uncle, Ephriam Blevins, her great uncle, John R. Baldwin and his great grandfather, Andrew G. Blevins. Some time later, but before 1951 when her home was destroyed by fire, she asked him to identify the three soldiers, and he remembered what he had been told.

“She reached over and gave me a hug,” Dolinger said as he struggled to control his emotions. “It’s a pleasure to be here. I wouldn’t be here without her,” he said, pointing to Pembroke Post Master, Elaine Cook.

Cook had known Dolinger most of her life and was aware of his interest in Civil War history. Dolinger brought an assortment of Civil War relics he has collected through the years including a rare Confederate foot officer’s sword found in the vicinity of nearby Mountain Lake. When the promotional poster came out introducing the stamp, Cook told Dolinger that she had something to show him, and showed him the poster with the iconic Brady post-battle image.

Word of the unique connection spread quickly and the U.S. Postal Service invited Dolinger to attend the May 23, first day of issue ceremony in Gettysburg. However, Cook said that when the stamp came out, “the folks in Gettysburg disputed Clate’s claim,” Cook said. “He was still at the program, but wasn’t allowed to tell his story. That’s what this ceremony was today — a chance for Clate to tell his story.”

Dolinger recounted a story that most history books don’t include. He said that he asked his grandmother if the family had slaves. When she said they did not, she asked why they fought in the war. “She said they were drafted,” he said. “I told her that I wouldn’t go even if I was drafted, and she said that I would because if I didn’t, the Home Guard would kill me.”

Dolinger shared a story of local man who deserted from the Confederate Army in 1864, but was tracked down 20 years later, brought back home and killed. “The Home Guard was worse than the enemy. The Home Guard would shoot you.”

The ceremony was filled with emotion. Members of two Sons of the Confederates groups — the 1st Stuart Horse Artillery and the Flat Top Copperheads, stood in formation as 7-year-old Cannon Tabor carried a new American flag to display at the post office. Steve Gonzales and Dennis Crawford, carefully ran the flag up the pole, and Crawford, turned to the audience and asked them to cover their hearts and join him in reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.”

The Copperheads fired a musket volley and Dolinger said, “In honor of Andrew Blevins.” The Stuart cannon crew fired a shot from their 12-pound field Howitzer, and while they cleared the gun barrel for another shot, the Copperheads fired again. “In honor of Ephriam Blevins,” Dolinger said. The cannon crew fired again, followed by another volley by the Copperheads. “In honor of John Baldwin,” Dolinger said. The 1st Stuart Horse Artillery loaded another shot and E4 Jesse Pennington of the U.S. Army, Clate Dolinger’s grandson, walked over and pulled the cord to fire the 12-pounder and to close out the program.

Lena Dolinger Hite of Pearisburg, Va., admitted that the articles circulating that attempt to refute their family’s connection to the historic photo have been hurtful. “My grandma was a kind, loving and caring person,” she said. Avery Dolinger produced a notebook containing images of a family heirloom that appears in both the Brady photo as well as a 1907 photo. “What are the odds that the same jewel would be missing from the same place in different photos?” he asked.

Hunter Crawford performed a guitar instrumental version of the Civil War era song, “Lorena” as part of the ceremony.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com