- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Edwin C. Bearss has spent nearly 50 years shedding light on such legendary figures as Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. On Saturday night, however, it was the historian-guide’s turn to be in the spotlight at a dinner celebrating the release of his biography by fellow historian John Waugh.

“I had mixed feelings about it,” Mr. Bearss said of “Edwin Cole Bearss — History’s Pied Piper,” recently published by the Edwin C. Bearss Tribute Fund and History America Tours. “If it hadn’t been for such a wonderful cause as battlefield preservation, I probably would have been much more reluctant.”

Profits from the book will help preserve those hallowed grounds via the nonprofit Civil War Preservation Trust, the largest (45,000 members) battlefield preservation organization in the nation.

The biography features Mr. Bearss’ childhood in Montana, his World War II service in the Pacific, his lifelong job as a park historian and his authoring of several books, including “Hardluck Ironclad: The Sinking and Salvage of the Cairo.”

Hardly the stuff of which exposes are made, so why the reservations?

“My wife tells of a few things that are a terrible blow to my ego,” the chipper 79-year-old said with a smile — without specifying what. “It’s just a humbling experience to have a biography done in your lifetime.”

“He has a ‘golden touch,’ backed by encyclopedic knowledge,” Mr. Waugh wrote of his subject, adding to his accolades “a virtually photographic memory, a preternatural feeling for the drama of the past, and the gift of a master storyteller.

“History is great drama, and there’s nobody in the history community who can bring that back better than Ed Bearss,” Mr. Waugh noted.

The tribute dinner at the Hyatt Dulles Hotel in Herndon doubled as a kickoff for History America Tour’s weeklong visit to historic sites in and around Washington, with none other than Mr. Bearss as the guide.

Destinations included Ford’s Theatre, Arlington National Cemetery and the Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg and Chancellorsville battlefields.

About 50 people from the United States, Canada and Norway were scheduled to attend the sold-out $1,895-per-person tour (which ends tomorrow).

Erik Garassfrom Oslo, Norway, found out about it on the Internet. He has several books by Mr. Bearss and said he was curious to have the historian show him the battlefields he has read about.

“He’s an eminent storyteller,” Mr. Garass said. “He’s not just talking, he’s performing.”

A recurring theme during the evening was Mr. Bearss’ boundless energy. He walks faster than many younger people and often has to wait for tour participants to catch up.

Even when he’s “standing still,” he is swaying back and forth, gesturing animatedly, looking as if he’s about to take off any minute.

His presentation “has to be animated,” he pointed out, to get people “so immersed they feel as if they are walking in the steps of history.”

Although he retired from the National Park Service in 1996, Mr. Bearss continues to give tours. He travels about 300 days out of the year but has no plans to lay down his stick-pointer quite yet.

“I will do the tours until I die,” he said.

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