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Harpers Ferry historian wins prestigious award

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Dennis Frye’s name has been added to the stellar list of Civil War historians who have been previous recipients of the highly regarded Nevins-Freeman Award, such as Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote, Stephen B. Oates, James M. McPherson and Ed Bearss.

“I admit that receiving the award was a surreal experience,” Frye said Monday in a telephone interview. “It’s so huge to be recognized and acknowledged with the incredibly famous people that are now on that list.”

Frye is the chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, author of award-winning books on the Civil War and has frequently appeared on PBS, The History Channel, The Discovery Channel and A&E as a guest commentator for Civil War documentaries.

The Nevins-Freeman Award is presented by the Civil War Round Table of Chicago, the first and oldest Civil War roundtable. It has been the template for Civil War roundtables around the world.

Established in 1974, it is one of the most prestigious Civil War history awards in the nation. It is presented to those who have spent a lifetime advancing Civil War scholarship and preservation. It is named for Allan Nevins and Douglas Southall Freeman, both of whom authored several scholarly works on the Civil War.

“First, I am deeply humbled, and I am incredibly blessed to have been able to contribute to the scholarship and preservation of the Civil War,” Frye said. “It is the greatest tribute I’ve received.”

In his opinion, there is no higher acclaim that an individual associated with the scholarship and preservation of the Civil War can receive, Frye said.

“I was familiar with the award when I was a teenager,” he said. “I have had the occasion to present lectures to the Civil War Round Table of Chicago four times. My first presentation was in 1983, at 24 years old. At the time, I was the round table’s youngest persenter.”

At his award presentation, Frye’s lecture was John Brown: The Spark that Ignited the Civil War.

He also has been a guide for the round table’s annual Civil War tours five times, assisting Bearss, who served as chief historian of the National Park Service from 1981 to 1994.

Originally from the Sharpsburg, Maryland, area, Frye grew up within a few miles of Antietam National Battlefield and Harpers Ferry.

“I attended Shepherd College because I could study the Civil War in my own backyard,” he said.

He was president of the Hagerstown Civil War Round Table when he was 18 years old. He also was co-founder and first president of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation as well as co-founder and former president of today’s Civil War Trust. He is a past recipient of the Civil War Trust’s highest honor, the Shelby Foote Award.

The Civil War Round Table of Chicago also contributes financially to the preservation of Civil War battlefields and sites, generously donating to the Save Historic Antietam Foundation and the Civil War Trust, Frye said.

The recipient of the Nevins-Freeman Award is nominated by one of the round table’s board members, who are all past presidents of the round table. The board then selects the annual winner of the award.

“Due to Dennis’ many accomplishments as a writer, lecturer, guide and preservationist, it was my pleasure to present him with this year’s Nevins-Freeman Award on behalf of the Civil War Round Table of Chicago,” Cindy Heckler, president of the round table, said in a news release.

– Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or twitter.com/jmcveyJN.

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