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Living Legend to Speak in Wheeling

History buffs will soon have the opportunity to meet and interact with one of the “stars” of Ken Burns’ 1990  PBS miniseries, “The Civil War,” when 93-year-old Edward Bearss visits Wheeling.

Burns revolutionized documentary filmmaking and inspired a new generation of Civil War amateur historians, enthusiasts and re-enactors. The unexpected popularity of the series transformed an unlikely group of academics, writers and historians, including Bearss, into veritable TV pop stars.

Bearrs is a big fan of Wheeling and particularly of West Virginia Independence Hall, having spoken there several years ago. The West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation has invited Bearss to visit Wheeling on Aug. 6 to speak at one of his favorite venues, the historic courtroom at the hall.

First on the agenda for Aug. 6 is a rare opportunity to have dinner with Bearss at the historic First State Capitol Building, 1413 Eoff St., Wheeling. Gov. Francis Pierpont, as portrayed by Travis Henline, also will be in attendance.

Tickets for this event are now on sale. Proceeds will benefit the campaign to return the Soldiers and Sailors Monument to downtown Wheeling.

Cocktails for the fundraiser will be served at 4:30 p.m. and dinner will begin at 5 p.m. To order tickets or for more information, call the hall at 304-238-1300 or send an email to lunchwith books@yahoo.com.

After dinner, Bearss will proceed to the courtroom at the hall to speak about key Civil War battles involving soldiers from Wheeling, the names of which are engraved on the side of the Soldiers and Sailors monument: Antietam, Appomattox, Gettysburg, Rich Mountain, Opequon, Cloyd Mountain and Vicksburg. This lecture, which begins at 6 p.m., is free and open to the public.

An auction. featuring a variety of items including original works of art, signed Civil War books and a maquette based on the statue of Pierpont that now stands outside the hall, will be conducted immediately after the lecture. All proceeds from the auction also will benefit the Soldiers and Sailors Monument campaign.

Visitors also will have the opportunity to see an exhibit of original historic documents on loan from collector Stanley Klos, courtesy of America’s Four United Republics. These will include a Declaration of the People of Virginia, a certified copy of the West Virginia Constitution, a Pierpont signed manuscript, Confederate Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Virginia and a presidential proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, among numerous other documents.

The events are sponsored and coordinated by the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation, in partnership with Wheeling Heritage.

Bearrs is a legendary independent scholar and historian who, while growing up on a Montana farm, named the cattle after Civil War generals and battles. After high school, he joined the Marines, seeing action in World War II at Guadalcanal. Machine-gun fire permanently disabled his left arm.

After the war, he received a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in history from Indiana University. His public career began at the National Park Service in 1955 in Vicksburg, Miss. In 1966, he transferred to Washington, D.C., and in 1981 he became the National Park Service chief historian for military sites. He retired from the NPS in 1995.

Bearss is a renowned authority on the American Civil War, its battles and personalities. He has written many books on Civil War subjects, and is a sought-after speaker and legendary battlefield tour guide. In addition to his role as a featured commentator for “The Civil War,” he has appeared on the Arts and Entertainment Channel’s “Civil War Journal” and other television productions.

He continues to participate in round-table discussions and leads groups on battlefield tours. A bill has been introduced to award Bearss a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his contributions to the preservation of American Civil War history.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, dedicated May 30, 1883, near what was then the state Capitol building at 16th and Chapline streets, is the largest and second oldest Civil War monument in the state of West Virginia. It was moved from its original location in 1956. After some time at the Leatherwood cloverleaf and on the grounds of Linsly Military Institute, it was placed atop a hill at Wheeling Park, where it has stood since 1958.

The campaign seeks to bring this grand 20-foot-tall, 25-ton tribute to the “Defenders of the Union” home to downtown Wheeling and place it beside West Virginia Independence Hall, where the state was born.

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