Edwin Bearss: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War

Historians in the News

I don't think anyone knows who the first person was to earn a living as a guide to Civil War battlefields, but no member of that charmed profession has achieved the fame or longevity of Edwin C. Bearss (pronounced Barsssss), who captained his first lucky group of tourists around Vicksburg in 1955 and can still be found, from one weekend to the next, at one battlefield or another, leading a fanny-packed and be-visored platoon of customers into the pleasures of vicarious combat.

Over the last 50 years, like most enduring enterprises, Ed has diversified. This year alone he's taken several hundred people on tours of Anzio and Messina in Italy, the Oregon Trail in Idaho and Nez Perce encampments in Montana, scenes from the Mississippi floods of 1927 and from Abraham Lincoln's service in the Black Hawk War in the 1830s--on top of a schedule already filled with your basic Antietams, your Gettysburgs, your Shilohs and Chickamaugas and Spotsylvanias. He also found time to celebrate his 83rd birthday.

But Ed's first and last love is for the Civil War, and this, along with his standing in the trade, gives an air of inevitability to the publication of Fields of Honor. Somebody was going to have to put out this book sooner or later. For the last several years members of the self-named Bearss Brigades--a particularly tenacious species of the genus Civil War Buff--have armed themselves with tape recorders and gone chasing after Ed as he charges over the battlefields, hoping to preserve for the ages his incomparable observations and narrative spiel. Dozens of volunteers have transcribed the hundreds of hours of tape into thousands of pages of prose, and from these, culled and whittled, have come the 13 chapters of the book, offering definitive commentary on engagements from Fort Sumter to Appomattox. The literature of the Civil War is vast, of course, and nearly limitless in its variety of literary forms; but even so, I don't think there's another book quite like Fields of Honor.

And the reason is--forgive me if I sound like a Bearss Brigadier for a moment--there's never been a Civil War authority quite like Ed. Growing up on a ranch in Montana, he christened his favorite cows Antietam and Sharpsburg. His father was a Marine, and so was a cousin--"Hiking Hiram" Bearss, as the newspapers called him--who earned the Medal of Honor during the Philippines Insurrection and became, up to that time, the most decorated Marine in the history of the corps. Hearing their experiences led the boy to read every book he could get hold of about war. And when a real war made itself available, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ed enlisted and became a Marine Raider. He was sent to the Pacific theater, moving from the Russell Islands to the Solomon Islands to the assault on New Britain. His fellow Marines remember him for his almost empty backpack, containing only a few grenades, extra ammunition, and a copy of the World Book of Knowledge....

Read entire article at Andrew Ferguson in the Weekly Standard

comments powered by Disqus