Charles Albert Earp Jr., 88, author of books on Civil War, genealogist

June 22, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Charles Albert Earp Jr., a Baltimore author and genealogist who wrote widely about the Civil War and spent 50 years researching distant cousin Wyatt Earp, a hero of the shootout at the OK Corral, died of a pulmonary embolism Thursday at St. Agnes HealthCare. He was 88.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Fulton Avenue, Mr. Earp was a graduate of Forest Park High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in American history in 1938 from the Johns Hopkins University and a master's degree in 1940. Halfway through his doctoral thesis on the Civil War, he had to leave Hopkins and go to work.

Mr. Earp worked in the human resources department of Glenn L. Martin Co. and successor company Martin Marietta Corp. until 1972, when he became manager of compensation and benefits at Franklin Square Hospital Center. He retired in 1982.

He was a member of the Civil War Roundtable and wrote more than 20 published articles. He also enjoyed lecturing on the war.

"He was just magnificent, and through his stories he made the Civil War come alive," said longtime friend Adele A. Smith of Anneslie.

In retirement, he had the time to research and write books - on a manual typewriter - that he had long postponed because of professional responsibilities.

His interest in the Civil War began early in life. His grandfather, William A. Chalk, fought with the 8th Maryland Infantry, U.S. Volunteers. Five other members of his family fought in the Union Army.

His grandmother, as an active member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic, took him to the organization's meetings, and he soaked up participants' memories of the war.

In 1938, at age 21, he traveled to Gettysburg, Pa., to attend the final reunion of Union and Confederate veterans who had fought in the historic battle 75 years earlier.

Mr. Earp spent several days wandering through the tent city that housed the 1,845 veterans who had converged at Gettysburg for the ceremonies, interviewing and photographing the participants.

Sixty-five years passed before Mr. Earp's account, The 75th Reunion at Gettysburg: My Interviews with the Veterans, was published by Toomey Press.

"The veterans were the main attraction," he wrote. "They were, on average, well into their nineties, some over one hundred years old. They were gray, if they still had hair to gray, bearded, feeble, garrulous and carefully tended by their relatives or escorts."

One of his favorite profiles was one of J.H. Paul, a former Confederate soldier who, at 105, was the oldest to attend the reunion.

The old warrior - who served for four years and fought in three major Virginia battles - was described by Mr. Earp as having "perfect sight and hearing" and speaking "clearly and coherently."

"It will always remain as one of the most significant events of my life," Mr. Earp wrote in the book's introduction. "Never again would this historic little army pitch its tents on the now famous battlefield."

Mr. Earp discovered and edited the handwritten journal of C. Marion Dodson, an Eastern Shore native, in the archives of the Maryland Historical Society. The book, Yellow Flag: The Civil War Journal of Surgeon's Steward C. Marion Dodson, was published by the historical society in 2002.

He was also the author of These Honored Dead: A Roster of Over 2,500 Maryland Union Soldiers Buried in National Cemeteries and co-author with Daniel Carroll Toomey of Marylanders in Blue: The Artillery and The Cavalry.

"Charlie was in his 80s when he began writing books," said Mr. Toomey. "He was very industrious, intelligent and a great researcher. He knew where to go and get what he wanted. His death is my last personal link with the Civil War. Through him I could touch it and hear the voices of the veterans."

Mr. Earp, who lived on Dunkirk Road in Anneslie for many years, moved to Timonium and since 2001 had been a resident of the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville.

Among his many other interests, Mr. Earp had been an amateur radio operator since 1934, when he received his license and operated with call letters W3DKT. He was a swing-era and Dixieland jazz buff and a genealogist.

In May, Mr. Earp told a Sun reporter that Wyatt Earp, who took on the Clanton gang with two of his brothers and Doc Holliday in the fabled 1881 gunfight in Tombstone, Ariz., had faded from the public imagination until he became famous again in recent years because of a weekly television show in the 1950s and movies of the 1990s.

"My name used to be hard to catch or to spell," Mr. Earp said, "but since Wyatt's name came to fame again due to the movies, the minute I say my name's Earp ... the standard question is, `Are you related to Wyatt?' and they're surprised when I say, yes."

Mr. Earp was a member of Christian Temple, 5820 Edmondson Ave., where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. today.

His marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by several cousins.

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