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Wednesday, July 4, 2018


Edwin Cole Bearss (Red cap), chief historian emeritus of the National Park Service, has been called a "living national treasure" by the Smithsonian and received virtually every award in the field of historical study.
Recently the newly reorganized American Battlefield Trust honored a legendary historian and storyteller Edwin C. Bearss.  Historian Emeritus for the National Park Service, author, and Marine veteran of World War II, Ed is a board member of the Civil War Trust, now a part of the American Battlefield Trust (ABT). He lives in Alexandria, VA.

Ed accepted ABT’s Lifetime Achievement Award during an emotional ceremony in historic Newport News, Virginia. Ed also became the first inductee in the group’s newly established Battlefield Preservation Hall of Fame. To represent his enduring contributions to history and preservation, the Trust will also be erecting a granite monument to Bearss on the Champion Hill battlefield in Mississippi.

“I guess you could say we at the Trust think highly of Ed!,” said Jim Lighthizer, ABT President. “Here are a few of his outstanding qualities that have led so many—myself included—to consider him a living national treasure:”

A keen and curious mind. From his dynamic and detail-rich tours to his recovery of the lost U.S.S. Cairo gunboat, Ed's phenomenal memory and tenacious curiosity have made him a powerhouse of knowledge and discovery.

Singular charisma. As Smithsonian Magazine put it, “In Civil War circles, Bearss is nothing short of a rock star.” Known for his booming voice and theatrical delivery, Ed inspires audiences to brave all kinds of weather to learn about history.

Humility. In the words of friend and colleague Bill Vodra, a “Bearss groupie” who frequently travels with Ed on his history tours, “He's not pedantic and not a showoff. If he gets something wrong, he'll say, ‘Thank you for correcting me.’”

Relevant experience. Growing up hearing personal accounts of the war from a veteran in his hometown of Billings, Montana, Ed was immersed in Civil War history from a young age. Later, he experienced the pain and camaraderie of war first hand while serving in the 3rd U.S. Marine Corps Raider Battalion during World War II. During the invasion of Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands. He was badly wounded in gunfire at "Suicide Creek," Cape Gloucester, New Britain, while serving with the 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division..

Respect. A common thread throughout Ed's career is his deep respect for people, land, and stories. This reverence has unified his diverse talents and interests, making him the exceptional historian and preservationist he is today.

Civil War buffs listen to a tour conducted by Ed Bearss on Pickett's Charge, Gettysburg

Edwin Cole Bearss was born in Billings, Montana, on June 26, 1923. He grew up on his grandfather's ranch near Hardin, Montana, in the shadow of the Rosebud Mountains within a bike ride of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. On the ranch, the E Bar S (E-S), he named the cattle for Civil War generals and battles. His favorite milk cow was Antietam.

He attended a one-room school at Sarpy, Montana, until he went to St. Johns Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, in 1937. He graduated from Hardin High School and immediately joined the Marine Corps. During World War II, he was with the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion and 1st Marine Division in the invasion of Guadalcanal and New Britain. Badly wounded by machine gun fire, he spent 26 months in various hospitals.

He studied at Georgetown University and received a B.S. degree in Foreign Service in 1949. He worked for 3 years in the Navy Hydrographic Offic in Suitland, Maryland. Later, at Indiana University, he received his M.A. in history, writing his thesis on Pat Cleburne.
Ed's National Park Service career began in 1955 at Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he was Park Historian. While he was there he did the research leading him and two friends to the long lost resting place of the Union gunboat Cairo. He located two forgotten forts at Grand Gulf, Mississippi. He helped get Grand Gulf made into a Mississippi State Military Monument. He was the founder of the Mississippi Civil War Round Table in 1956, which later consolidated with the Jackson Civil War  Round Table, a new group.

In 1966, Ed was transferred to Washington, DC. He became the Service's Chief Historian in November 1981, a position he held until July 1994. He served as the Director's Special Assistant for Military Sites until his retirement on October 1, 1995. Since his retirement, Ed, through lectures, television, writing, and as a renowned battlefield guide, has continued his 50-year association with our nation's military history.

He has been the recipient of a number of awards in the field of history and preservation: the T. Harry Williams Award; the Bruce Catton Award; the Alvin Calman Award; the Bell I. Wiley Award and others. He was chosen Man of the Year at Vicksburg in 1963. He received the Harry S Truman Award for Meritorious Service in the field of Civil War History.

In 1964 he was chosen to become a member of the Company of Military Historians and was voted a Fellow in that organization. In 1983 he won the Department of the Interior's Distinguished Service Award, the highest award given by the department. He received a commendation from the Secretary of the Army in 1985.

He is a veteran of 50 years of Government Service.
He has done detailed studies for the National Park Service for many areas: Vicksburg; Pea Ridge; Wilson's Creek; the Ray House; Fort Smith; Stones River; Fort Donelson; Battles around Richmond; Bighorn Canyon; Eisenhower Farm; the gold miners' route over Chilkoot Pass; LBJ Ranch; Fort Moultrie; Fort Point; Wiliam Howard Taft House; Fort Hancock; Boston Navy Yard; Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and others.

In 1990, he was featured as a commentator on the PBS program The Civil War, which as of this writing is the most popular program ever to be broadcast by that network. More recently, he has appeared on the Arts & Entertainment Channel's Civil War Journal.

Support Congressional Gold Medal for Historian Ed Bearss.
Thanks to a bill in Congress sponsored by Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Bearss may soon receive a new accolade to add to his lengthy resume: Congressional Gold Medal recipient. H.R. 1225  was reintroduced in February 2017 and referred to the House Financial Services Committee for consideration.

To aid in this process please use ABT’s simple online advocacy to sign your name as a “Citizen Co-Sponsor.” 

Please click the following links and sign your name as a “Citizen Co-Sponsor” on the bill to urge your elected representatives in Washington to support this fitting tribute to a living legend.


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