You Callin’ My Gramma a Liar?

I’m sure most, if not all, of you have seen this story.  A barber in Pembroke, VA, Clate Dolinger, says the three men in the iconic Matthew Brady photograph of three confederate prisoners on Seminary Ridge, were relatives of his.

Mr. Dolinger claims, “The soldier on the right is Andrew Blevins, and he was my granddaddy’s  granddaddy.” and “The one on the left  is his son, Ephraim Blevins, and the one in the middle is my grandmother’s  great-uncle, John Baldwin.”

According to this story, ” ‘The first time I saw that picture, it was 1949,’ Dolinger said. He was only about 9 or 10 years old and his grandmother sat him down and pointed to the three rugged-looking men in the photograph, identifying each by name.

“She told him that on the far right was Dolinger’s great-great-grandfather, Andrew Blevins, who served with the North Carolina 30th Infantry Regiment. Next to him was John Baldwin, a distant relative on Dolinger’s grandmother’s side, who served with the Virginia 50th Infantry, and next to him was Andrew Blevin’s son, Ephraim, who served with North Carolina’s 37th Infantry.”

Mr. Dolinger has a family photo to back up his claim.


“Dolinger pulled out a copy of the famous Brady photograph and another of Andrew’s daughter, and laid them next to one another. The brooch that Andrew’s daughter was wearing in the picture was the same one that Andrew was wearing in the Civil War photograph.

” ‘These are my kin,’ Dolinger said.”

More information is given in this story.  “Union soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, captured  Dolinger’s great, great grandfather Andrew Blevins, of the North Carolina 30th  Infantry Regiment; his son, Ephraim, of North Carolina’s 37th Infantry Regiment;  and the Virginia 50th Infantry Regiment’s John Baldwin, a great, great uncle on  his grandmother’s side.”

According to this story, “As prisoners of war, the men were ordered to burial detail, and they collected items from the dead to prepare for their inevitable interment. These items can be seen in the photo.

“The three spent the remaining years of the Civil War in a POW camp in Delaware.”

However, there are still questions about the identities of the men in the photo, as we can see here.  In his book, Gettysburg:  A Journey in Time, on page 71, William A. Frassanito tells us, “The fact that these three prisoners were photographed by Brady on Seminary Ridge approximately two weeks after the battle indicates that they may have been stragglers, captured during Union mop-up operations somewhere along either the Chambersburg Pike or Hagerstown Road, Lee’s main routes of retreat.  Certainly it was just by chance that the prisoners happened to be on Seminary Ridge when Brady was working in the same area; as the exposure was made, Union guards undoubtedly stood only feet away.

“Quite conceivably this view was recorded on July 15, the same day Brady is believed to have photographed the nearby headquarters of General Lee.  If this is correct, then the soldiers pictured here were very likely among the twenty-five hundred Confederate prisoners transferred the following day, July 16, from Gettysburg toward Washington and thence to prison camps throughout the North.”

What do you think?  Is Mr. Dolinger’s family lore correct?  There are certainly plenty of facts available in the story that can be checked out.


According to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database operated by the National Park Service, the records for Andrew Blevins were originally filed under Andrew Blevens.  He was a private in Company G, 30th North Carolina Infantry.  Ephraim Blevins was a private in Company K, 37th North Carolina Infantry.  John Baldwin was a private who served in Companies B and H, 50th Virginia Infantry.

The Roster of North Carolina Troops confirms that Andrew Blevins died of the wounds he received at Chancellorsville.

If we look at the alternative spelling, “Blevens,” then Andrew Blevens is still a private in Company G, 30th North Carolina Infantry.  The Roster of North Carolina Troops shows no Andrew Blevens in Company G, so it appears Andrew Blevins is the correct soldier, and he was dead when the Battle of Gettysburg occurred.

The Roster of North Carolina Troops shows Ephraim Blevins enlisted August 15, 1862 from Ashe County.  This is different from what was shown for his alleged father, Andrew Blevins, who enlisted September 27, 1862 from Wilkes County.


  1. The 30th North Carolina, the 37th North Carolina, and the 50th Virginia were all in different divisions, and the 37th North Carolina was in an entirely different corps. They were engaged in separate actions, on different parts of the battlefield, against different opposing Union forces. That alone would seem to make a post-capture reunion of these men on the battlefield somewhat problematic.

    1. Interesting, Andy, although being in different parts of the field at different times does not in and of itself preclude the three men from having been captured and meeting, and does not in and of itself refute Mr. Dolinger’s family lore.

  2. Update: Someone over at Civil War Talk did the knowledge on this one, which is confirmed by multiple entries in his CSR: Andrew Blevins was wounded at Chancellorsville and died at the Confederate Hospital at Howard’s Grove, Richmond, on June 18 or 19, 1863. This story looks to be busted.

    I don’t doubt that Mr. Dolinger was told, long ago as a child, that those men were his kinfolk, and believes it. But that in no way excuses the USPS from doing due diligence in trying to confirm it.

    1. It would appear to bust at least a part of the family lore, though I’d feel more comfortable with documentary evidence. I spent today out of state with family so obviously haven’t had a chance to search yet.

      1. I looked up Andrew Blevins’ CSR.

        1. Thanks, Andy. Are we sure there wasn’t more than one Andrew Blevins in the 30th NC?

          1. I only saw one, although there’s an alternate spelling of Blevins/Blevens.

          2. Thanks, Andy. I think we need to look at all the possibilities before we can say the family lore story is blown apart.

          3. Elements of the story may well be true. A lot of family lore is like that. But Dolinger’s account — now endorsed by the U.S. Postal Service — does seem to me to be directly contradicted by basic research.

          4. It seems that way to me as well, Andy, though I would feel much more comfortable with more facts nailed down.

          5. There are other concerns. Andrew Blevins’ CSR gives his age at the time of conscription in September 1862 as 21. The age of his “son,” Ephraim Blevins, is listed at the time of his conscription in August 1862 as 18.

            Ephraim’s residence is given as Smyth County, Virginia, and he appears there in the 1860 U.S. Census, but his father Andrew’s age is given as 49, which would make him in his early 50s at the time of Gettysburg. I personally don’t think the man claimed to be Andrew Blevins in that photo looks near that old. Determining Andrew’s correct age is important, because the Private Andrew Blevins of the 30th North Carolina was a conscript, which fits for a man in his early 20s, while men in their 50s were never subject to conscription, even late in the war.

            The young man at left in the photo who is claimed to be Ephraim could be 19, but in his 1911 pension application, Ephraim reported that he “was captured at Gettysburg July 4, [sic.] 1863, after being wounded by a gunshot.” (This would is not mentioned in his CSR.) The man in the photo has no obvious injuries, and if he were seriously wounded, it seems unlikely that he would be assigned to the hard labor of a burial detail.

            None of these factors is really definitive on its own — although I think the record of CSR record of Blevins’ death after Chancellorsville is very strong evidence against Mr. Dolinger’s story — but the more one digs into the historical record on this, the more inconsistencies and examples of that-doesn’t-sound-right turn up. There may be a nugget of reality in there somewhere, but I really do believe that there’s some misidentification/misunderstanding/lack of basic verification that badly undermines the whole thing.

          6. Thanks, Andy. As always, you do great detective work.

  3. Hey Al,

    Personally, I think some folks should have done a bit more historical research before inviting Mr. Dolinger to the stamp unveil. Hard to argue with the traceable history of those service records.

    1. Thanks, Steve. I agree they should have verified the story with documentary evidence before presenting him and his family lore.

  4. Please read the comments at the end of this article. They will shed a great deal of light on this issue. Hard to believe that the Postal Service and newspapers would be so irresponsible.

    1. Thanks, Bryant. I’ve seen the comments, though without documentary evidence they also are just assertions. Let me say I’m skeptical of the family lore in the story, but we can’t just declare it to be without credibility without some documentary evidence that knocks it down.

      1. Al, first, thanks for having constructed this site. Yes, I agree that the jury is still out on this. My reason for posting the link to the Post-Gazette story and the comments there was just to consolidate everyone’s attention to a lot of connected details that were cited there. I really wish that at least one of the men in that photo could be positively identified. I’ve been complaining since April 2011 that the media weren’t giving coverage to the sesqui, then this mess popped up. I’m hoping that somehow this will actually increase the public’s knowledge and interest.

        1. Thanks, Bryant. Personally, I have a low opinion of the historical competence of most of the news media, so I’m not surprised they would accept the story at face value. Their idea of checking out a story appears to be to get comments from two sides of a discussion.

  5. Frassanito wrote of this image,

    The fact that these three prisoners were photographed by Brady on Seminary Ridge approximately two weeks after the battle indicates that they may have been stragglers, captured during Union mop-up operations somewhere along either the Chambersburg Pike or Hagerstown Road, Lee’s main routes of retreat. Certainly it was just by chance that the prisoners happened to be on Seminary Ridge when Brady was working in the same area; as the exposure was made, Union guards undoubtedly stood only feet away.

    “Quite conceivably this view was recorded on July 15, the same day Brady is believed to have photographed the nearby headquarters of General Lee. If this is correct, then the soldiers pictured here were very likely among the twenty-five hundred Confederate prisoners transferred the following day, July 16, from Gettysburg toward Washington and thence to prison camps throughout the North.

    If, in fact, this image was taken in mid-July, that further undermines Dolinger’s identification of the men. Baldwin’s CSR has him at Fort McHenry by July 6, three days after his capture.

    1. More great work, Andy. Thanks.

  6. Christy Earp · · Reply

    There is also an Andrew Blevins enlisted in the 62rd Virginia, which pulled recruits from Smythe County, where Ephraim and his father were living in 1860. I would be interested to see that Andrew’s service record.

    1. Thanks very much for contributing.

    2. I think you’re referring to Private Andrew Blevins of Co. G, 63rd Virginia Infantry. He is listed as “deserted since last muster” on the rolls for July and August 1863, but evidently returned to duty later. He was captured May 15, 1864 at Resaca and sent to Rock Island, where he was released on October 13, after swearing into the U.S. Army.

      As near as I can tell, the 63rd Virginia was not engaged at Gettysburg at all.

  7. Christy Earp · · Reply

    The Andrew Blevins who served in the 30th North Carolina, was from Wilkes County, though he enlisted in Wake County. This Andrew died in 1863.

    1. Bryant Henderson · · Reply

      Has the US Postal Service had anything more to say about this? They really should.

    2. Christy Earp · · Reply

      And the Andrew from Virginia died in 1889.

  8. Christy Earp · · Reply

    Could Ephraim Blevins be one of the men? He is listed on the POW list as being taken at Gettysburg in July of 63.

  9. Nancy Dolinger · · Reply

    Thanks so much for posting this. I was unaware of this story until yesterday. My cousins started talking about this picture on Facebook and I did some googling to see if other people were talking about the picture and found the article about Clayton Dolinger (who I do not know but the names and story are matching what my deceased uncles told my older cousins in years past). I look forward to learning all I can about this picture and these men. The picture of the elderly couple that Mr. Dolinger is holding is of my great grandparents. Thanks for your research as it helps me a great deal!

    1. I’m very happy to have been of some service. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment.

  10. Nancy Dolinger · · Reply

    The Andrew and Ephraim related to Nancy Blevins Dolinger are found on this Blevins family tree. I need to do more checking to see if these dates are correct. (I am just starting my research)

  11. Nancy Dolinger · · Reply

    After reading this article and checking some obits I have figured out how this gentleman and I are related- our grandfathers were brothers. This article states his grandmother’s name and says the men in the picture were supposed to be POWs in Delaware… I have found quite a few other things today and need to sift through them all. Enjoy your day!

  12. Nancy Dolinger · · Reply

    If you will look at the Blevins family tree above you will see Andrew had a son named Andrew who was born about 1840 and died around 1860. Looking at an email between two Blevins researchers in 2001 I find that Andrew Blevins Jr. born in 1840 was in the 63rd VA INF. Other children were also in the 37th NC and 63rd VA. Hope this helps…

  13. Nancy Dolinger · · Reply

    Andrew had a son named Andrew. See above Blevins family tree. He died around 1860. Some more info about Andrew Jr is here in a conversation between to Blevins family researchers-

  14. Nancy Dolinger · · Reply

    This is the information on the copy of this picture that a few of my first cousins have. My cousin Susan typed this for me on Facebook after her husband read the info to me over the phone last night.- “This is the information on the copy of the picture I have of our great great grandfather that was captured at Gettysburg. LEFT: “Ephraim Blevins” Born 12-27-1842, Died 12-27-1919. Buried in Azen Cemetery. Pvt. Co. K 37th Regiment Infantry N,C. Captured at Gettysburg PA 7-3-1863 and confined at Fort Delaware until released 6-19-1865 after taking Oath of Allegiance. MIDDLE: “John R. Baldwin” Born 2-14-1835, Died 9-29-1913. Pvt. Co. D, 50th VA Regiment. Captured at Gettysburg 7-3-1863. POW Ft. McHenry 7-6-1863; POW Ft. Delaware 7-12-1863 to 10-26-1863; then POW at Ft. Lookout 10-27-1863 to 2-18-1865 until received for exchange of Boulware’s and Cox wharf of James River. 2-20-1865 to 2-21-1865 in Hospital of Richmond; then again 2-27-1865 to 2-28-1865 when furloughed a 30 day sick leave present Camp Lee in Richmond prior to joining 50th VA Regiment; served Co. F-22-NE Infantry Bd Ashe Co. NC RIGHT: “Andrew Z. Blevins” Father of Ephraim and Nancy Blevins. Grandad of F. Avery Dolinger. Captured at Gettysburg, PA. “

  15. Nancy Dolinger · · Reply

    I see Boulware’s Landing and Cox Warf on the James River appear in the Congressional Serial Set. I will be checking our copy soon for the date above… This is all quite fun!!

  16. Nancy Dolinger · · Reply

    Oops! That would be ‘Wharf” above… Sorry about my spelling and the repeat post above! I was able to find a picture of Ephraim’s grave online with “Pvt. Co. K 37th NC INF” on the stone but no graves and nothing about the war for the other two so far… I have found lots of other interesting things… I am waiting to hear back from some researchers and librarians. This may take a while… I am enjoying the journey.

  17. Nancy Dolinger · · Reply

    The Baldwin family info for John R. Baldwin on matches the above info my family has passed down. The typo “NE Infantry” that my family has for his company before joining the 50th is an “NC” in the info they provide. That makes more sense. I have noticed some websites confusing him with his brother Thomas. He is supposed to be buried at the Dickson Family Cemetery in Ashe County, NC.

  18. Doug Blevins · · Reply

    My Name is Douglas Wayne Blevins. I ordered and placed the stone on my Greatgrandda’s grave. I live abouut 12 miles from the Azen Cemetery.As a child I went to the White Top with my Grandda Estil and visited with his Sister’s Claire and Mamie. Their father is Ephraim. I have a reply from an inquiry that I sent to Fort Delaware that states my Great grandda was revied on July 6 at Fort Delaware with his brother in law Francis Marion. Francis Marion is also buried in Azen.
    I also have Ephraims Civil War application for a pension that states he was wounded in the foot at Gettersburg. No member of my family. Uncles, Aunts, Great Aunts or Cousins have heard this story. Ephraims brothe Andrew was killed at Chancellorsville acoring to my research. If this is causing an embarresment to the US Postal service, I feel sure that it would have brough a smile to my Great Granddas Face

    1. Thank you for your contribution.

  19. Bryant Henderson · · Reply

    Mr Blevins, thank you for this contribution to this discussion. Whether or not any of your ancestors are shown in this famous photograph, the members of your family have certainly added in a positive way to this research. As has been the case with so many controversies in American history, this situation is actually a positive one. Many of us are learning details that we never knew or considered before. Much good is coming from this, and your family’s open-minded willingness to participate in this forum is greatly appreciated.

  20. Ruth E. · · Reply

    Reminder: In many old family lines, the same First Names are used in nearly every household in every branch through generation after generation. Competent researchers make absolutely sure it’s the right generation and the right branch they’re looking at before trying to discuss an issue. Study those old Family Group sheets folks. The Powers That Be are handling this stamp situation very poorly – with more than a little arrogance and disdain. Makes them look inept.

  21. I have been searching for information on men identified as being from Ashe County, NC, and who enlisted in Iredell County on 15 August 1862. My great great grandfather, John Calvin Tilley, was one of several Tilley’s who enlisted on that day. As I copied the names of the men who ended up in the 37th, I particularly noticed groups of men who had the same last name. Three were three with the last name Phillips, five with the last name Osborne, four DeBoards, and 12 with the last name Blevins: Ephraim -18, Alfred-29, Daniel-26, Eli -?, Frances-19, Granville-21, Hugh-30, Isham-31, Meredith-19, Robert-32, Wells-19, and Wesley-20. Just based on the ages, it became obvious that these men were either brothers or cousins of some sort. I might never have noticed their names or recorded them if there had not been so many. The Tilley boys were not all brothers either. In any case, I became curious about the Blevin families from Ashe and have located several in Ashe who appear on the 1860–1870 census in the Chestnut Hill Township where the Tilley family also appears. I really began to wonder about how well all of the men from Ashe whose records show they enlisted on that August date knew one another and exactly why so many men from Ashe and three other Western Counties all showed up together for that enlistment. When I started searching for any connection, I did come to this site. I have often looked at that picture of the men captured at Gettysburg as so was John Calvin Tilley. According to his records, he was wounded and ended up in the prison called Cold Harbor, NY. He was part of a prisoner exchange in Richmond, and was put back into service. Ultimately, he was wounded again and was “home with his foot shot off.” My grandmother used to tell a story about how frightening he was to her as a child. He had gone back to Ashe, but ultimately migrated north to what is now Wyoming County, WV. He was a heavily bearded man described by her as someone “whose foot came off with his shoe.” His wife was Sarah Jane Rutherford, also of Ashe. They migrated to WV at some point before 1900–perhaps as part of a wagon train that left Ashe for Wyoming County, as numerous people in that county list Ashe as a place of birth as does Sarah’s brother Fields Rutherford. I would love to find information about all of those days after Pickett’s Charge as to how these soldiers were treated–divided into different prison camps, etc. I hope all of these Blevin names might trigger a memory or produce a record of their enlistments and captures.

    1. Thanks for the comment. My understanding is that most of the confederate soldiers captured at Gettysburg wound up at Fort Delaware, located on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River.

  22. Anthony Weaver · · Reply

    I would certainly like to have this photograph and story validated. Ephraim Blevins was my Great-Grandfather Arthur Blevins father, I am told.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I don’t believe the story is true, but there’s been some good research done as a result of it.

  23. brandy cagle · · Reply

    i know this has nothing to do about this story but it seems anything that involves the blevins name becomes quite confusing. i have only been able to go as far back as my great great grandparents. i would love to chat with anyone thats a part of this line.

    soloman blevins m. louisa wyatt
    arthur blevins m. flossie levina moon culbertson
    helen midred blevins (my grandmother)

  24. To Andy Hall:
    There has been a mistake in the identity of “Andrew Blevins” in the Brady photograph. This is not Ephraim Blevins’ father; it is his UNCLE, Andrew Franklin Blevins (b. 1827). Andrew Z. Blevins (b. 1805) would have been too old to serve in the CSA. However, Andrew F. Blevins did in fact serve in Co. G of the 30th NC. These men ALL came from the same area in Ashe/Wilkes and Grayson/Washington Counties Virginia. Ephraim is my Uncle (3x removed); Baldwin is a distant cousin (most of my relatives were actually in the 51st VA infantry); and Andrew F. is a 1st cousin 5x. They would have very likely known each other after this fight, whether they straggled or were captured on the 3rd is simply not known. Two of the units were in Pickett’s charge (37th, 30th NC); The 50th VA infantry was engaged at Culp’s Hill. Finally, if you look at the photo of Andrew F blevins, you see he looks like he’s in his mid 30s; he was born in 1827; Ephraim was only 21 at the time. I have a photo of Andrew F. Blevins later in life and it looks uncannily like the Andrew F. Blevins in the Gettysburg photo. Btw, All 3 of the men became POWs, correctly stated, and survived the war.

    1. Regarding “Two of the units were in Pickett’s charge (37th, 30th NC);…” The 30th NC was in Ramseur’s Brigade, Rodes’ Division, Ewell’s Corps. They fought very hard on Oak Hill on the first day (July 1), but did not fight at Gettysburg after that. At the time of Pickett’s Charge (The Pickett, Petttigrew, Trimble Assault) Ramseur’s Brigade were positioned in the Long Lane west of Cemetery Hill.

  25. Joe Fritts · · Reply

    Francis Marion Blevins was a Grandfather to my own Grandfather, who liked to tell me stories about him in my childhood. I know Ephraim’s grave is located about 100 feet below Francis’. I think all of the Blevinses listed on the 37th roster with the same enlistment date were conscripted , and related in various ways. Francis was also listed as captured at Gettysburg. His records list both July 3rd and July 4th for his capture. These old incomplete records should not be used to either prove or disprove this story. Old tales passed down to us may be just as reliable. A combination of the two may come closer to true facts.——I proudly ordered and placed the service stone for Francis Marion Blevins years ago.——–Joe Fritts

    1. As part of a genealogy project, I have FM Blevins service records. I don’t know if it’s all of them or not but quite a few as well as citation on a brief biography I have of him. If anyone would like copies because it seems like there are quite a few people on here of relations or interested, feel free to email me brandysummerlin (at) gmail (dot) com. Interesting photograph. I don’t know anything about it’s origin but perhaps the records can give a timeline of where FM Blevins was and if it’s a possibility. I believe he’s my 4x great grandfather FM Blevins> Solomon Blevins>Victor Blevins>Mae (nee Blevins) Boone > Victor Boone> Timothy Boone> Me – Brandy (nee Boone) Summerlin @Joe Fritts, evidently you’re my cousin, small world.

  26. Here is the bio and citation that I have. I also have documents that I can scan.
    Francis M. Blevins Private
    Resided in Ashe County and enlisted in Iredell County at age 19 August 15, 1862 for the war. Wounded at Chancellorsville ( shot in foot and I also have additional documentation), VA May 1-3, 1863. Returned to duty prior to July 3-5, 1863, when captured at or near Gettysburg, PA confined at Fort Delaware on or about July 7, 1863, transferred to Point Lookout, Maryland October 15-18, 1863. Paroled at Point Lookout, Maryland on February 18, 1865 and then transferred to Boulware’s Wharf, James River, Virginia, where he was received on or about February 20, 1865 for exchange.

    Ref. North Carolina Troops 1861-1865 (Jordan)
    Vol. IX Infantry ( No. Gr. 973.7 Nor)
    Company K. 37th Regiment North Carolina

  27. Tom Pliuras · · Reply

    Mr. Mackey:

    Where were things left in resolving the Dolinger claims….did anyone come to any solid conclusions?

    1. Check the comments for the post. It seems to me much of the claim has been debunked.

  28. Iris Phelps · · Reply

    Pvt. Lilburne H. Blevins from Ashville
    Was married to Rebecca Dolinger
    Her father owned a saw mill.
    He was my husband’s great great grandpa. He was in Co. C 63rd VA.

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