I can remember going on a bus trip sponsored by Harrisburg Area Community College. The idea of the trip was to follow the route of John Wilkes Booth to its end. We were accompanied by Ed Bearss as special guest commentator.
The trip didn't quite make it as far as intended. We got as far as Dr. Mudd's house before it became very apparent that traffic conditions in southern Maryland and northern Virginia were so bad that day that the trip would have to be cut short in order for us to have dinner and get back to Harrisburg by a reasonable hour.
So they just handed the bus' microphone to Ed and let him regale us with Civil War stories all the way back.
At one time Ed reviewed articles for The Gettysburg Magazine, including some of my early attempts. Around that time I encountered him by chance in the Antietam visitor center while he was giving a tour, and introduced myself. He was so gracious in his comments that I felt humbled, and naturally I came away more impressed than ever with the man. Years later, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to hear one of his entertaining lectures. Truly a one-of-a-kind legend.
This is what I posted on Facebook this afternoon. I have a ton of Ed stories from having known him for 30 years and having done a bunch of tours with him, but the one below is probably my favorite.
I was saddened to learn of the death of Ed Bearss today at the age of 97. Ed was a unique character: part showman, part computer memory bank, and part Pied Piper. I had the good fortune of working about a dozen different events with Ed over the years, and when you did so, it was with the understanding that it was his show, and you were just along to provide some color commentary. That was fine--we all knew that Ed was the draw for the crowd and not the rest of us.
A number of years ago, we did a tour of the Trevilian Station battlefield for the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars, and Ed leaned over to me on the bus and said, "You know this battlefield better than I do, so you take the lead." That surprised me, but I said sure, no problem.On the battlefield is a reproduction of the Netherland Tavern, which was Wade Hampton's headquarters during the battle. Behind the building is a genuine, functional, operating outhouse--the building has no indoor plumbing. Ed spotted that outhouse and made a beeline for it. We found him sitting in there--it reminded him of his childhood in Montana, and he was smiling broadly, telling stories of his youth to anyone who wanted to hear him. Scott Anderson took a photo of him in there, which is below. That's how I choose to remember him.
At the end of that tour, he told me, "I now understand this battlefield for the first time. Thank you for that tour." It was the greatest compliment anyone has ever paid me.
Ed just kept on going and going until he hit 95, when Father Time finally caught up to him and he finally had to stop doing what he loved the most, which was leading battlefield tours.
With his passing today and the passing of Ted Alexander a few weeks ago, we've lost two irreplaceable giants in our little community of Civil War historians. Below is the last photo of them together, taken in Ed's house in Arlington, Virginia.
That's sad both him and Ed are gone. I never heard of Ted before. Here is a video by Antietam Battlefield Trust
It is our sad duty to announce the passing of beloved historian Ed Bearss, one of the legends of the battlefield preservation movement and a long-time member of the American Battlefield Trust board. Ed’s career is unmatched in the Civil War community – from his discovery of the USS Cairo to his role as chief historian emeritus of the National Park Service. For many of us, our love of history was nurtured through battlefield tours led by the indomitable Ed. Rain or shine, through muddy creeks and daunting climbs, the decorated World War II veteran always led the way. His ability to convey history in a relatable and entertaining way mesmerized his audiences for generations. Rest in peace Ed – we will not see your like again. This video is part of our commemoration series for the 158th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.