Edwin Cole Bearss

June 26, 1923September 15, 2020

Edwin (Ed) Cole Bearss passed away on September 15, 2020, in Mississippi, where he had recently moved after living over 50 years in Arlington, Virginia. His wife Margie Riddle Bearss and his daughter Sara Beth Bearss predeceased him. He is survived by his brother Robert (Pat) Bearss, his son Edwin Cole Bearss, Jr. (Annika), and his daughter Mary Virginia (Ginny) Bearss, three grandsons, four great grandsons, and two nieces. Ed was born in Billings, Montana, on June 26, 1923, and grew up on his family’s ranch on Sarpy Creek. At age 18, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. On January 2, 1944, he was badly wounded in Cape Gloucester, New Britain. He spent two years convalescing in Navy hospitals. Using the GI Bill, Ed graduated from the foreign service program at Georgetown University in 1949 and obtained a master’s in history from the University of Indiana in 1955. Ed soon found his calling in the National Park Service. He was park historian at Vicksburg from 1955 to 1958 and then historian for the Southeast Region until 1966. In 1958, he married Margie Riddle, a schoolteacher whom Ed courted in an odd manner: on his second visit to Ms. Riddle, Ed brought her a cannonball! While at Vicksburg, Ed was central to the discovery and raising of the USS Cairo, a Civil War ironclad sunk in the Yazoo River in December 1862. To help finance the recovery effort, Ed was a victorious contestant on “The $64,000 Challenge.” The vessel now resides in the Vicksburg National Military Park. In 1966, Ed joined other research historians at the headquarters of the National Park Service, responsible for historical sites of the 19th and 20th centuries, including the homes of Presidents Carter and Johnson. By 1981, Ed was named Chief Historian of the NPS, a position he held until 1994. While with NPS, he testified many times before Congress. He also served on the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, established by Congress to guide it on priorities for battlefield preservation. In 1990, Ed achieved national and lasting fame as one of the commentators in Ken Burns’ movie The Civil War. By this time, too, Ed had established a new career as teacher, lecturer and tour guide, educating and leading literally thousands of people across battlefields of almost every American war. He continued leading tours until late 2019. Ed leaves two extraordinary legacies. As a public historian, he is the author, editor or contributor of more than 25 books, 100 scholarly papers, countless NPS monographs and oral histories. As a preservationist, he is responsible for the creation, expansion, and restoration of historic battlefields, houses, and other sites integral to American history. For his contributions to the field, Ed was recognized numerous times, including receiving honorary degrees from Lincoln College and Gettysburg College, the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of the Interior, the Wailes Award (the highest historical award from the State of Mississippi), and awards from various Civil War Round Tables. In 2005, the Smithsonian Institution named Ed as one of 35 people “who made a difference: to our world. The National Park Service Edwin C. Bearss Fellowship Award and the American Battlefield trust Edwin C. Bearss Lifetime Achievement Award were established in his honor. He is a Fellow of the Company of Military Historians and a lifetime Trustee of the American Battlefield Trust. At the time of his death, a bipartisan coalition of members of the U.S. Congress had been sponsoring a resolution to award Ed the Congressional Gold Medal. Private inurnment services will be held in the Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery, Brandon, Mississippi. Memorial services will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, his family requests that gifts be made to the American Battlefield Trust for preservation projects in Mississippi.


Edwin Cole Bearss

have a memory or condolence to add?

Pete Carnes

October 22, 2020

Sleep well, our battleworn and weary friend and comrade. We will continue to walk down many more paths though without our beloved guide. You were the best!

Timothy Duskin

October 9, 2020

I heard Ed Bearss speak before many organizations and lead battlefield tours many times. He was a real wealth of historical knowledge, so much so that he always spoke from memory. I learned a great deal from him and he will be greatly missed. My condolences go out to his family.

C. Lansdowne HUNT

October 9, 2020

It was a beautiful day to take an over-the-road motorcoach from Northern Virginia to Gettysburg roughly 20 years ago. I was one of the last to board, and Ed saw that I was failing to find a seat.

Without reservation he motioned for me to sit down next to him -- in the front seats reserved for the tour guide! In response to his interest as to why I was participating, I mentioned I was the great-great grandson of Gen H.J. Hunt, USA. His eyes lit up! and from then on he never failed to mention Gen Hunt's contribution at every stop on the tour.

I've been in the company of a few celebrities in my life, but the memory that stands out is following the footsteps of Ed Bearss walking into the Visitors Center at Gettysburg on that day.

I witnessed minnows fawning before the Great White Shark as the entire NPS staff and gathered visitors revered him as though receiving the Pope in the Sistine Chapel -- such was the provenance, cachet & gravitas that was Ed Bearss.

I don't know know if I'll ever be in the company of such a figure again -- but on that day there was a halo upon his head.

R.I.P. Ed

C. Lansdowne Hunt
CDR, U.S. Navy(Ret.)

Susan Adams

October 5, 2020

Your family has lost a cherished member. I am so sorry.
Dr. Bearss came to speak at Ft. Donelson in Dover, Tennessee and I was spellbound by his delivery of the story of the battle and surrender. He stood holding the lectern, eyes closed, and spoke with the wonderful cadence--that was his alone.
Thank you for sharing him with us, who rever history of all eras.
Sincerely, Susie Adams

Gwen Wyttenbach

October 2, 2020

I always loved, and was "honored," that Ed called me a "friend and fellow Campaigner!" I always tried to "keep up with him" on battlefield trails and terrain walks; and even though I was much YOUNGER than him, I was always left behind "huffing and puffing" LOL. He was such a wealth of information about the Civil War and other wars, that I always like to say I went to "Ed Bearss University." Ed always took care of his "troops" he was always "first" off the bus to reconnoiter the situation, and "last" in the "chow line" as a good military leader should be. I was proud to be a member of his "Bearss Brigade!" Sincere condolences to Ginny and his other loved ones. I share in your heartbreak and loss. Gwen Wyttenbach (The Snake he always called me)

Thomas Ryan

September 28, 2020

I came to know Ed Bearss over the years through our joint association with Gettysburg Magazine (I wrote articles and Ed discussed the articles in his introduction to the magazine), and I met Ed at various functions related to the Civil War. I also was fortunate to receive the Edwin C. Bearss Scholarship Award in 2019 for a book I wrote about the Civil War, and Ed was kind enough to write the prologue to this book. Ed's contributions to the Civil War community are well known by most activists, and his example of leadership will long be remembered. Rest in peace, Ed, for a job well done! Thanks for the memories. [This photo was taken on the grounds of Letterman hospital near Gettysburg circa 2000.]

Scott Snell

September 26, 2020

My condolences to all of the Bearss family, and to everyone who loved and admired him.

My father, NPS historian Charles W. Snell, was a friend and colleague of his in Washington for many years. When my father passed away in 2007, Mr. Bearss delivered his eulogy, a high honor to him and our entire family.

A few years before, I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Bearss' "Booth's Escape Route" tour. I doubt there will ever be such a uniquely eloquent and heartfelt interpreter of history again. Fittingly, he was a man of history who will himself be a part of history. None of us will forget him.

I last saw him in June 2014 when the Smithsonian screened the documentary, "American Journey: The Life and Times of Ed Bearss." I've attached my photo of him with my mother, Julie Snell, who passed away last year.

Again, my condolences to all who feel our loss.

Chip Galloway

September 23, 2020

I had the privilege of walking the Second Manassas Battlefield with Mr Bearss during an annual symposium sponsored by the Civil War Trust (now the American Battlefield Association). Although Ed was in his late 80’s and I was 40+ years his junior, he wore me out with what seemed like a twelve mile march over the battlefield. His voice was distinctive and his knowledge was encyclopedic. He will be sorely missed. Rest In Peace and God speed, Mr Bearss. Enjoy your conversations with R.E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson.

John Hare

September 23, 2020

There are few people of whom it can be said "Now he belongs to the ages." Ed is one of them. He kept history alive and carried it forward.


September 23, 2020

I have had the honor to tour battlefields with Ed and hear him speak at the Kansas City Civil War Round Table several times. He was the only person that I knew that could do battlefield tours and Round Table speeches without notes. I had heard that he could do this for any battlefield that Americans fought at in any American War. He had a fantastic memory. He will be sorely missed.

May He Rest In Peace

Bob Macoubrie
Lenexa, Kansas