Posts Tagged ‘ed bearss’

What does Cairo have in common with the Mississippi River?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Civil War era image of USS Cairo

Civil War era image of USS Cairo

The answer is the USS Cairo, which is actually pronounced “kare-o”. It was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In January, 1862, during the Civil War, it was commissioned by the North as a way to gain control over the lower Mississippi – part of a plan to split the South in two. Unfortunately, the USS Cairo had a short life and was the first ship to be sunk by an electronically detonated torpedo on December 12, 1862. Two explosions ripped open the hull of the ship causing it to sink 35 feet into the river in only 12 minutes – amazingly with no loss of life.Time passed with no way of retrieving the USS Cairowhich remained at the bottom of the river. Over the years, the story was forgotten and locals weren’t really sure what happened—if members of the crew had died, or even of the gunboat’s exact location.

In 1956, Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader Ed Bearss, started analyzing contemporary documents and maps. As Historian at the Vicksburg National Military Park, he and his companions Don Jacks and Warren Grabau made it their goal to uncover the gunboat, which was now buried under almost one hundred years of silt and mud. While they believed they had found the site of the ship, it wasn’t until three years later that Cairo’s armored port covers were brought to the surface, confirming the find.

It took several additional years to gain public interest and funding, and then there was the issue of actually raising an ironclad gunboat from the bottom of a river. After securing funding, the decision was made to split the USS Cairo into three parts in order to lift them to the surface. The entire ship was finally raised on December 12, 1964—exactly 102 years after it sank. After a long preservation process, it is now on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

Which Civil War locations have you visited? Share Below.

Photo: Lincoln at Gettysburg

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009
Statue of Lincoln at Gettysburg National Park

Statue of Lincoln at Gettysburg National Park


When asked why it’s so important to walk the battlefields to understand our history, Ed Bearss, Civil War Historian and perennial favorite Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader, puts it this way:

To understand what happened, you must know the lay of the land. To know the configuration of the land, where the high ground and the low ground is, where there are woods and open fields, what type of cultural features existed (houses, orchards, roads, etc), and how this affected what the officers planned and what they saw. More important, the lay of the land influenced the rank and file, whether they lived or died, and for the Generals, whether they won or lost.

Click here for more of our interview with Ed, and here for more information on our Civil War tours.

Shiloh in Pictures

Friday, June 19th, 2009

To scroll through the images click the play button or place your cursor over the right hand side of the frame to make the photos move automatically. All photos were taken by Tour Manager Betsy Brand, Program Operations Assistant for Smithsonian Journeys, while out on Civil War: Shiloh and Brice’s Crossroads May 6-10, 2009.

The Battle of Shiloh was fought on April 6-7, 1862 between Confederate troops, led by Generals Johnston and Beauregard, and the Union forces, led by Maj. General Ulysses S. Grant just outside of Savannah, Tennessee. After the first day of battle, the Confederates gained considerable ground, making successive defensive stands at Shiloh Church, the Peach Orchard, Water Oaks Pond, and the now famous Hornets’ Nest (named for the sound of bullets flying through the air). Upon nightfall, the fighting ended with Grant’s troops strongly positioned at Pittsburg Landing along the Tennessee River with Maj. General Don Carlos Buell coming in for reinforcement.

After losing General Johnston to a leg injury the previous day, Beauregard planned to finish the Union front, unaware of the arrival of Buell. However, it was Grant who attacked at dawn with 54,500 men to the Confederates increasingly weakened 34,000 who, despite counterattack efforts, were forced to withdrawl south to Corinth, Mississippi. At the end of the two days of bloody battle both sides had combined losses of 23,746 men killed, wounded, or missing, more casualties than any previous American war.

Click here to learn more about our Civil War journeys, led by military historian Ed Bearss.

Video: In the Footsteps of Lincoln's Assassin

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

As we celebrate the life of Lincoln here at the Smithsonian Institution, Study Leader Ed Bearss follows in the footsteps of actor John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin.  Watch a clip of Stories from the Vaults host Tom Cavanaugh trying to keep up, courtesy of the Smithsonian Channel.

If you plan to be near Washington, D.C. anytime soon, click here to see a list of Lincoln-related events.

Video: Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel

Interview with Ed Bearss

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Smithsonian Journeys travelers have enjoyed exploring the past with Civil War historian Ed Bearss, walking the battlefields in real time, picnicking where Union soldiers did, and walking the trails of everyone from presidents to political prisoners. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ed on Smithsonian tours for many years, and, as the Smithsonian Institution prepares to celebrate Lincoln’s 200th birthday, I recently sat down with Ed to talk about Lincoln’s time in Washington. – Patrick Wagner

Patrick Wagner: Lincoln was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1846 when he was 39 years old. What was his experience as a freshman congressman in Washington, D.C.?

Photo: Robert C. Lautman and the Todd family photo album

Photo: Robert C. Lautman and the Todd family photo album

Ed Bearss: Lincoln spent two sessions in the 30th United States Congress. In the first session, he was accompanied by his wife Mary Todd and his son Robert. En route to Washington, they made a lengthy visit with Mary’s family in Lexington, Kentucky, where Lincoln got better acquainted with Mary’s father, stepmother, and other Lexington friends. But for his second session of Congress, Mary Todd did not come to Washington. For this trip, Lincoln lived in a modest rooming house with other members of Congress and took his meals at a common table in the establishment. (more…)