One of the great privileges of living in Washington DC is access to cultural institutions. As part of the Smithsonian Resident Associates program, I get to take part in lectures and tours on art, politics, and history. As you can tell from my blog postings about my antique image collecting, I’m a big Civil War history fan. The Smithsonian Resident Associates program offers a wonderful series of lecture tours on the Civil War, the best of which are led by the inimitable Ed Bearss. Ed is a national treasure – he’s a combat-wounded WW II veteran, Chief Historian Emeritus of the US Park Service, responsible for raising and restoring the Union ironclad ship on display at Vicksburg, Mississippi (which he’ll say was a study in how NOT to raise a sunken ironclad), brilliant raconteur, and at 91, still leading tours 200+ days a year. And even at 91, he’s the first one off the bus and leading the charge across the field, the entire day. If you’re a Civil War fan, you probably know who Ed is – he’s one of the historians on-camera in Ken Burns’ The Civil War, and was a regular on History Channel’s “Civil War Diaries”.
This is a somewhat rare image of him on tour, as he’s got his eyes open. Often when he’s narrating the events of a battle, he’ll close his eyes. It’s not because of a vision problem – when asked, he explained that “it helps me picture the story in my head”. I feel so privileged to get to walk battlefields with Ed and listen to him tell the stories of the events as only he can, with his unique cadence and stentorian voice.