Edwin Cole Bearss was born in Billings, Montana, on June 26, 1923. He grew up on his grandfather's ranch near Hardin, Montana, in the shadow of the Rosebud Mountains within a bike ride of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. On the ranch, the E Bar S (E-S), he named the cattle for Civil War generals and battles. His favorite milk cow was Antietam.
He attended a one-room school at Sarpy, Montana, until he went to St. Johns Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, in 1937. He graduated from Hardin High School and immediately joined the Marine Corps. During World War II, he was with the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion and 1st Marine Division in the invasion of Guadalcanal and New Britain. Badly wounded by machine gun fire, he spent 26 months in various hospitals.
He studied at Georgetown University and received a B.S. degree in Foreign Service in 1949. He worked for 3 years in the Navy Hydrographic Offic in Suitland, Maryland. Later, at Indiana University, he received his M.A. in history, writing his thesis on Pat Cleburne.
Ed's National Park Service career began in 1955 at Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he was Park Historian. While he was there he did the research leading him and two friends to the long lost resting place of the Union gunboat Cairo. He located two forgotten forts at Grand Gulf, Mississippi. He helped get Grand Gulf made into a Mississippi State Military Monument. He was the founder of the Mississippi Civil War Round Table in 1956, which later consolidated with the Jackson Civil War Round Table, a new group.
In 1966, Ed was transferred to Washington, DC. He became the Service's Chief Historian in November 1981, a position he held until July 1994. He served as the Director's Special Assistant for Military Sites until his retirement on October 1, 1995. Since his retirement, Ed, through lectures, television, writing, and as a renowned battlefield guide, has continued his 50-year association with our nation's military history.
He has been the recipient of a number of awards in the field of history and preservation: the T. Harry Williams Award; the Bruce Catton Award; the Alvin Calman Award; the Bell I. Wiley Award and others. He was chosen Man of the Year at Vicksburg in 1963. He received the Harry S Truman Award for Meritorious Service in the field of Civil War History. In 1964 he was chosen to become a member of the Company of Military Historians and was voted a Fellow in that organization. In 1983 he won the Department of the Interior's Distinguished Service Award, the highest award given by the department. He received a commendation from the Secretary of the Army in 1985. He is a veteran of 50 years of Government Service.
He has done detailed studies for the National Park Service for many areas: Vicksburg; Pea Ridge; Wilson's Creek; the Ray House; Fort Smith; Stones River; Fort Donelson; Battles around Richmond; Bighorn Canyon; Eisenhower Farm; the gold miners' route over Chilkoot Pass; LBJ Ranch; Fort Moultrie; Fort Point; Wiliam Howard Taft House; Fort Hancock; Boston Navy Yard; Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and others.
In 1990, he was featured as a commentator on the PBS program The Civil War, which as of this writing is the most popular program ever to be broadcast by that network. More recently, he has appeared on the Arts & Entertainment Channel's Civil War Journal.