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Civil War Symposium

Bearss will head list of speakers
to discuss the Atlanta Campaign

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

(April 2006) – Back in Montana on a ranch 2 1/2 miles from the nearest neighbor, Edwin C. Bearss grew up without many of the modern conveniences that children take for granted today. There were no video games, movies, cable television or the Internet. Instead, Bearss and his brother listened to their father read history books aloud, and they looked forward to their grandmother’s visits at Christmastime because she played history games with them.

Ed Bearss

Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine

Historian Ed Bearss will speak at the
Indiana Civil War Symposium at
Clifty Inn on April 21-22.

It was during that period of his life that Bearss developed a lifelong passion for history.
Bearss, a retired Chief Historian of the National Park Service and a well-known expert in American Civil War history, will be the keynote speaker at the Jefferson County Civil War Round Table’s fourth annual conference. This year’s conference, called “Indiana Civil War Symposium: A Fresh Look at the Atlanta Campaign,” will be held April 21-23 at the Clifty Inn, inside Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, Ind. The event is open to the public.
Bearss joined the U.S. Marine Corp right after high school and served proudly during World War II for four years before he was severely injured during a battle in England. Thanks to programs to help disabled American veterans, however, Bearss was able to go to college and earn a degree at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
After working at the U.S. Naval Hydrographic office for 3 1/2 years, in September 1953 Bearss went back to school at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he earned an advanced degree in history.
He began working for the National Parks Service on Sept. 28, 1955, and from 1981-1994 Bearss was the Chief Historian there. He was responsible for the quality of the National Parks Service’s historical program, which included its historic landmark programs. When called upon, Bearss testified before Congress about specific historic sites and their need to be preserved.
Throughout his impressive career, Bearss has had many important accomplishments. Early in his career, he said his most successful venture was his work in the discovery of the sunken Union gunboat, the Cairo. That project to raise the ironclad Civil War boat took about nine years to complete.
Another accomplishment that helped him achieve widespread fame was his appearance in 1990 on the Public Broadcasting Co.’s five-day series on the American Civil War. The series, “Ken Burn’s Civil War,” was so well-received that it even challenged the more popular “ABC Monday Night Football,” being shown on regular television.
Perhaps the largest accomplishment for Bearss, and the one with the longest-lasting implications, is his work in establishing the American Battlefield Protection Program. Started in 1990, the program, which made into public policy the preservation and protection of endangered American Battlefields, is ongoing today.
Although he retired from the National Parks Service in 1995, Bearss said he spends less than 100 nights a year in his own home because of his love of Civil War history.
Tirelessly driven by his passion, he spends the majority of the year on the road speaking and lecturing at various places around the country.
Bearss is scheduled to speak at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 22, as the keynote speaker for the Civil War Symposium. Kathy Ayers, president and committee chairperson of the Jefferson County Civil War Round Table, said “If there is something to know about the Civil War, Ed Bearss knows it.” He and several other experts will discuss various aspects about the Battle of Atlanta.
Ayers said this year’s symposium is dedicated to Gordon Whitney, the founder of the Jefferson County Civil War Round Table who died last November. He was the one who worked on putting together the rare mix of talent that will be heard at the conference.
Other well-known speakers include author Richard McMurray, who will provide insight on the psyche and leadership ability of Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston commanded the Army of Tennessee during the Atlanta Campaign.
Author and professor John F. Marszalek, National Park Service ranger Jim Lewis and National Park Service historians James Ogden III and Willie R. Johnson will round out the list of prominent speakers at the conference.
The cost for the conference is $140, which includes the lectures and meals at the Clifty Inn. For an extra $10, participants can take a trolley ride on Friday night to downtown Madison to tour local Civil War sites. There will also be Civil War storytelling around a campfire after the tour.
Membership in the Jefferson County Civil War Round Table is also open to the public. The organization, which includes doctors, lawyers, teachers, factory workers, homemakers and students, meets the second Tuesday of every month in the Brown Room at the Presbyterian Church on Broadway in Madison. The meetings feature a speaker every month discussing some aspect of the American Civil War.

• Anyone interested in attending the conference can contact Kathy Ayers at (812) 273-5551.

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