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Ed Bearss

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Ed Bearss
A white man in a grey t-shirt and ballcap is facing and looking into the camera, smiling.
Bearss in 2020
Born(1923-06-26)26 June 1923
Died15 September 2020(2020-09-15) (aged 97)
Employer(s)National Park Service
  • Chief Historian
  • Historian Emeritus
Margie Riddle
(m. 1958; died 2006)
Military career
BranchUnited States Marine Corps
Unit3rd Battalion, 7th Marines

Edwin Cole Bearss (26 June 1923 – 15 September 2020) was a historian of the American Civil War, tour guide, and United States Marine Corps veteran of World War II.

Personal life[edit]

On 26 June 1923, Edwin Cole Bearss was born in Billings, Montana. He was raised working on his grandfather's ranch near Hardin, Montana, and attended a one-room school in Sarpy, Montana.[1]

On 30 July 1958, Bearss married author and teacher Margie Riddle of Mississippi (born 1925 or 1926), and the two had three children: Sara in 1960, Edwin Jr. in 1962, and Mary in 1965. In 2002, the couple lived in Arlington, Virginia.[2] Margie died c. 2006,[3] and Bearss died on 15 September 2020.[4]


Bearss was accepted to St. John's Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin in 1937, and graduated from Hardin High School in 1941. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University in 1949, and his Master of Arts from Indiana University in 1955 (with a thesis on Patrick Cleburne).[1] Bearss earned his degrees courtesy of the G.I. Bill.[4]

In February 2005, Bearss was awarded an honorary degree from Lincoln College in Lincoln, Illinois;[5] Gettysburg College did the same in 2010.[6]

Military service[edit]

Bearss enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1941. During World War II, he served in the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion; he fought in the Guadalcanal and New Britain campaigns with the 1st Marine Division.[1] In 1943, Bearss caught malaria in the South Pacific, and was sent to New Zealand to recover.[3] On 2 January 1944 with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines at the Battle of Cape Gloucester, Bearss was hit by Imperial Japanese Army machine-gun fire that broke both of his arms and injured his heel and buttocks;[7] after spending the next 26 months in hospital,[1] he left the Marines in March 1946[3] with the rank of corporal.[8]

History career[edit]

A white man wearing a t-shirt and ballcap is standing holding a staff and speaking.
Bearss leading a tour at Gettysburg National Military Park (July 2005)

In 1955, Bearss began working for the National Park Service (NPS) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He prepared historical studies for the Interior Department agency and founded the Mississippi Civil War Roundtable. For the NPS, he found the Civil War-era cannon Widow Blakely (also Whistling Dick) which had been used in the Vicksburg campaign,[1] as well as the wreck of USS Cairo.[2] He also found two lost forts in Grand Gulf, Mississippi, and was party to "the establishment of Grand Gulf as a state military monument."[1] Bearss was the NPS' chief historian from 1981–1994, and "special assistant to the director for military sites" until 1995;[9] in 1991, he was made the NPS' chief historian of military sites. Bearss was also a commentator featured in the Ken Burns series, The Civil War.[5]

Bearss retired from the NPS on 30 September 1995, though he continued to lead tours of ACW battlefields for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Civil War Roundtables.[1] The NPS awarded him the unique title of National Park Service Historian Emeritus.[9] Frances and Roger G. Kennedy endowed the Bearss Fellowship Award in his honor; it "supports NPS employees' graduate-level studies in American History or American Studies and is administered in partnership with the National Park Foundation".[10]


The Company of Military Historians made Bearss a fellow of that group in 1964, and he received the Nevins-Freeman Award in 1980 for his work on American Civil War (ACW) history. Three years later, the Department of the Interior awarded him the Distinguished Service Award, and it was followed by a commendation from the United States Secretary of the Army in 1985.[1] In 2011, Bearss received The Lincoln Forum's Richard Nelson Current Award of Achievement acknowledging his "contributions to the spirit of [Abraham] Lincoln in both word and deed."[11] On 23 April 2015, US Representative Gerry Connolly from Virginia introduced bill H.R.2059 to award Bearss the Congressional Gold Medal "in recognition of his contributions to preservation of American Civil War history and continued efforts to bring our nation's history alive for new generations through his interpretive storytelling."[12] In June 2018, the American Battlefield Trust awarded Bearss its first Lifetime Achievement Award "for his many decades dedicated to researching and relating the nation’s past to millions of people, as well as his advocacy for battlefield preservation."[13]


  • Decision in Mississippi. Jackson, Mississippi: Commission on the War Between the States. 1962.[14]
  • Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War.[15]
  • Forrest at Brice's Cross Roads and in North Mississippi in 1864. Dayton, Ohio: Morningside Bookshop. 1979.[14]
  • Grant Strikes a Fatal Blow.[15]
  • Great Battles & Battlefields of the Civil War.[5]
  • Nine Months to Gettysburg.[5]
  • Suderow, Bryce. The Petersburg Campaign: The Eastern Battles and The Western Battles.[16]
  • Rebel Victory at Vicksburg.[1]
  • Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the Campaigns that Changed the Civil War. National Geographic Society. 2010.[17]
  • Sinking of an Ironclad.[1]
  • Steele's Retreat From Camden & The Battle of Jenkins Ferry.[1]
  • Un-vexed to the Sea.[15]
  • "Unconditional Surrender: The Fall of Fort Donelson". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 21 (1 & 2). June 1962.[14]
  • The Vicksburg Campaign.[1]
  • Vicksburg Is the Key.[15]
  • A War of the People.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "EDWIN COLE BEARSS: Biography". National Park Service. Archived from the original on 4 August 2020. Retrieved 16 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b McCombs, Phil (10 April 2002). "Historian Traces Path of a Violent Civil War General". Los Angeles Times. Washington. ISSN 2165-1736. OCLC 3638237. Archived from the original on 17 February 2021. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Thomas, Dale (November 2006). "Cleveland Civil War Roundtable: 1956–2006". Cleveland: Cleveland Civil War Roundtable. Archived from the original on 20 February 2020. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Ed Bearss, Past Chief Historian Of National Park Service, Dies At 97". National Parks Traveler. 16 September 2020. Archived from the original on 19 January 2021. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Lincoln College Celebrates 140th Anniversary with Charter Day Celebration". Lincoln College. 8 February 2005. Archived from the original on 15 January 2006. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  6. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients". Gettysburg College. Archived from the original on 11 March 2015. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  7. ^ Bearss, Edwin C. (21 August 2007). "Edwin C. Bearss, USMC". Americans at War. United States Naval Institute. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 16 February 2021.
  8. ^ "Noted historian Ed Bearss to speak at local event". Bonny Buyer South. Fort Madison, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Publishing. 10 March 2015. Archived from the original on 17 February 2021. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  9. ^ a b "Chief Historians of the National Park Service". National Park Service. Archived from the original on 22 March 2022. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  10. ^ "2020 Bearss Fellowship Award Recipient Announced". National Park Service. 26 February 2020. Archived from the original on 17 February 2021. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  11. ^ "The Richard Nelson Current Award of Achievement". The Lincoln Forum. Archived from the original on 22 November 2022. Retrieved 10 January 2023.
  12. ^ Connolly, Gerry (28 April 2015). "To award a Congressional Gold Medal to Edwin Cole "Ed" Bearss, in recognition of his contributions to preservation of American Civil War history and continued efforts to bring our nation's history alive for new generations through his interpretive storytelling". United States Congress. Archived from the original on 30 July 2020. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  13. ^ "Legendary Historian Edwin C. Bearss Recognized For Lifetime Achievements By American Battlefield Trust". Newport News, Virginia: American Battlefield Trust. 2 June 2018. Archived from the original on 26 September 2020. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  14. ^ a b c "Lionel Baxter Collection". University of Mississippi. Archived from the original on 18 February 2021. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  15. ^ a b c d "Civil War scholar visits Georgetown March 5". The People's Defender. 16 February 2016. Archived from the original on 6 August 2020. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  16. ^ "Confederate Waterloo". Casemate Publishers. Archived from the original on 21 September 2020. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  17. ^ "Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg". C-SPAN. 23 June 2010. Archived from the original on 8 June 2017. Retrieved 3 March 2021.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]