Ed Bearss has passed away at the age of 97

Booklady

Sergeant
Joined
Mar 19, 2017
Location
New England
As someone else noted, wow, what an amazing and fruitful life. To make such a meaningful and memorable contribution to your country, and influence innumerable lives, is awe inspiring. May his memory be eternal.
 
Last edited:

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
ED BEARSS
Living history volunteers at Stones River, Chickamauga & Kennesaw Battlefields refer to "our side of the rope." When we form on our cannon for a demonstration, the visitors are in a safety zone behind a real or imagined rope. Inside the rope, a very different set of rules applies. The saying also refers to the fact that volunteers get access to features of the parks & historic artifacts that visitors never do. I was fortunate to be on Ed Bearss side of the rope.

Ed called me "The Local Guy." I might be the only person whose name he did not know. He called me that at every encounter for years. When his last few bus tours came through on Stones River-Tullahoma Campaign, I would ride along because he wanted someone who was familiar with the recent road conditions. If you want to get some feel for an Ed Bearss bus tour, take the remnants of the historic road through Hoover's Gap with one lane bridges & rollercoaster grades. I had driven through there in a small pickup truck, I never dreamed of taking a humongous tour bus through there. Ed had a driver that he trusted & away we went. The look of absolute open mouthed astonishment on the faces of a family as we passed their house is unforgettable.

Many of us in the Civil War orbit would be surprised that Ed's great love was Western History. His knowledge of the Indian Wars was encyclopedic. During a leisurely breakfast on our screen porch, we had a rambling discussion about Custer's Black Hills Expedition. I had a South Dakota high school kids understanding of what had happened coupled with week long hiking trips that left me with an intimate knowledge of the terrain. It was great. He put all the bits & pieces, all the personal puzzle pieces together for me. It was so very different from his public persona that I had seen so many times.

Ed taught me something that has been very useful ever since. During a lecture that our local Civil War Round Table had sponsored on the 150th Anniversary of Forrest's July 1862 raid on Murfreesboro, he did something that I had noticed but never understood before. In the audience at the beautiful restored Rutherford County Courthouse, was a group of what a friend of mine called the Forrest worshipers. I know a couple of them & during the middle ages they would have been burnt at the stake for the sin of idol worship. To hear them tell it, Forrest was the Paul Bunion / Albert Einstein of the Civil War. One of them asked Ed a question that I know he didn't want to hear the answer to. That is when Ed did his thing.

He cocked his head to the side, raised his chin & closed his eyes. Instead of directly telling them what they did not want to hear, he began to list off a series of facts related to the subject. Ed's brain must have been something like a library card file cabinet. It was an astonishing performance. His litany left the audience awed... unless you happened to know a whole lot about Forrest's campaign in West Tennessee during the fall of 1864, there was no way to understand what he was getting at. He has finessed what would have been a very uncomfortable situation. The lesson is, when faced with someone who is wedded to counterfactual preconceptions, just stick to the facts. They speak for themselves.

After breakfast at out place, I drove Ed to Nashville following the route his next bus tour was going to take. Along the way I asked him what the real answer to the Forrest worshipers question was. He wanted to know which had the most impact, the destruction of part of the Johnsonville Depot or the capture of some riverboats at the same time. Ed's answer was that everything that Forrest did in West Tennessee was a complete waste of an invaluable resource. The War was down in Georgia, there was nothing in West Tennessee that couldn't be recouped if Hood won. If he lost, it wouldn't matter at all.

He went on to explain in detail how the Confederate Cavalry in the West had sucked up vital resources without a consummate return. He stated that the Battle of Milton in the spring of 1863 was the watershed, the tipping point, from that point on the cavalry was a net loss for the AotT. It was a way of looking at things that it took me years of research to fully understand what that meant.

In person, revisiting his old haunts around the Stones River Battlefield area where he began his career, Ed was funny & personable in a way that his public personal was not. Like all celebrities, Ed had a bubble that surrounded when he was on display. People loved to see him do his memory tricks. It was really something to stand next to him looking out at all those worshipful faces. It was eerily like the celebrities that I associated with in my work, he thrived on that contact with people. However, just like country music stars, he had a bright line (what we call our side of the rope) that separated the fans from the band & the roadies.

I was privileged to be one of Ed's roadies. His like will never come our way again.
Thanks for posting this. It's a great - and unique - insight into Ed. I think that most folks' appreciation of him is a little superficial, coming from the cameos on Burns or a tour here and there. That's not to denigrate what they think but - just as a lot can be gleaned from what he sacrificed for our common good in the Pacific which he never publicized or sought attention for - a story like this shows much more than just his encyclopedic knowledge. A model of selflessness in the country's best interests and of commitment to facts and the truth.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I'm carious was his hand a injury from when he was in the military?
He was a Marine who was wounded during WWII. He served in the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion. He participated in the battle for Guadalcanal & the Russell Islands. He was wounded by machine gun fire on January 2, 1944 at "Suicide Creek" on New Britain. He spent 26 months in hospital after evacuation to California. He was discharged on March 15, 1946.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Location
Hannover, Germany
Many of us in the Civil War orbit would be surprised that Ed's great love was Western History. His knowledge of the Indian Wars was encyclopedic. During a leisurely breakfast on our screen porch, we had a rambling discussion about Custer's Black Hills Expedition. I
I never knew that! How interesting - I wished I had been a fly on the wall then. If anyone, I guess Ed Bearss would be the one who could explain the unexplainable - Custer's actions in the West.

Thank you for your wonderful, personal recollection of Ed Bearss. You really painted a great image of a great man.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
He was a Marine who was wounded during WWII. He served in the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion. He participated in the battle for Guadalcanal & the Russell Islands. He was wounded by machine gun fire on January 2, 1944 at "Suicide Creek" on New Britain. He spent 26 months in hospital after evacuation to California. He was discharged on March 15, 1946.
Just to follow up, that fight was part of the bloody operation on New Guinea in December 1943 - January 1944 as part of MacArthur's campaign in the Southwest Pacific theater, targeting the important Japanese base at Rabaul. That campaign gets lost in the shadow of Guadalcanal/the Solomons, the campaign to retake the Philippines, the "island-hopping" across the Central Pacific command towards the Home Islands, etc but - as Ed's experience proved - it was just as bloody, dirty, and sacrificial as the rest of the Pacific war. In some respects the guys who fought on New Guinea are - like those who fought and died in the CBI theater - the forgotten heroes of that war.
 

JD Mayo

Retired User
Joined
Jun 12, 2020
Location
Greensboro NC
He was badly shot up by the Japanese on New Britain in the South Pacific in 1944. He nearly lost that arm to amputation, and while the doctors were able to save it, it was mostly useless for the rest of his life. His arm was much like Bob Dole's. Ed spent 8 months in the hospital after being shot up. He told me the story one day--it was spellbinding.

Okay thought it had to been during battle not a medical injury after his military career. Glad my granddad didn't have to get shot up like that during ww2 he mostly trained pilots.
 

Buckeye Bill

Captain
Forum Host
Annual Winner
Joined
Jul 29, 2013
He was badly shot up by the Japanese on New Britain in the South Pacific in 1944. He nearly lost that arm to amputation, and while the doctors were able to save it, it was mostly useless for the rest of his life. His arm was much like Bob Dole's. Ed spent 8 months in the hospital after being shot up. He told me the story one day--it was spellbinding.

He was the epitome of the word "Inspiration." One of my old Staff Sergeant's father fought with Ed in WWII. He will be missed....

Semper Fi,
Bill
 

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
Mar 31, 2012
Location
Central Ohio
It has been reported that Civil War Historian Ed Bearss has passed away at the age of 97.
Semper Fi Ed, you will be missed.View attachment 374580

I am so glad I got the chance to meet him and hear him speak in person-- about the Navy at Vicksburg, no less. We are all lessened by having lost him; but we have been enriched beyond measure for his having been with us.
 

SWMODave

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Thread Medic
Joined
Jul 23, 2017
Location
Southwest Missouri
ED BEARSS' ROADY
Living history volunteers at Stones River, Chickamauga & Kennesaw Battlefields refer to "our side of the rope." When we form on our cannon for a demonstration, the visitors are in a safety zone behind a real or imagined rope. Inside the rope, a very different set of rules applies. The saying also refers to the fact that volunteers get access to features of the parks & historic artifacts that visitors never do. I was fortunate to be on Ed Bearss side of the rope......
I was privileged to be one of Ed's roadies. His like will never come our way again.

Seems you might have learned more than one of his tricks John. Very well written and a fitting tribute to Mr Bearss. Thank you for sharing it with us.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
He came by it naturally. His uncle, "Hiking Hiram" Bearss, was a USMC brigadier general.
And, since you mention "Hiking Hiram", let it be noted that he got into and attended Notre Dame for one year but his propensity for pranks and altercations involving everybody - faculty, students, etc - got him "disinvited" back. Those same traits probably served him well when he saw action in WWI. Ed seemed to have inherited the "courage" element of those traits. :happy:
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
In answer to a private message, asking Ed a question was a lot like a google search. During a bus tour of the Hoover’s Gap battlefield, a trio of Virginia-centric individuals kept asking Ed questions about the Gettysburg Campaign. One of them asked him about a Lieutenant Joe Blow

In the nicest way possible, He opened the hopper & buried him in facts. Ed asked him if he was referring to the Lt Joe Blow of this regiment or that regiment or one of six or more Lt Joe Blows & their regiments he came up with. Perhaps you are referring to the Lt Joe Blow here at Hoover’s Gap & then he went on with a monologue about that Joe Blow & his regiment’s action. Back on track, Ed returned to the action at the RR tunnel through Monteagle Mountain leaving the Virginia-centric trio Chest deep in factoids.

Who else could come up with six or eight Lt Joe Blows & their regiments off the top of his head? Not me, I have a terrible time with names I am supposed to know on a daily basis. Ed had a remarkable mind.
 
Top