Growing up near Philadelphia, Charlie Crawford’s school trips took him to historic sites such as Valley Forge and Independence Hall. His fascination with the past blossomed into an almost full-time pastime to preserve it for future generations.
The Georgia Tech grad spent 24 years in the Air Force, and during a 1980s stint at the Pentagon, he was drawn to historic preservation. A drive to develop the battlefields around Manassas spurred him into action.
“There were no private preservation organizations,” he said. “The National Park historians formed their own nonprofit that’s now the American Battlefield Trust, and I got to know people involved.”
After leaving the Air Force and moving to Atlanta in 1996, Crawford jumped into the preservation scene, joining the Georgia Battlefields Association and eventually becoming its president, a position he held for almost 20 years. He frequently led tours of historic sites around the metro area and designed a walking tour just for downtown.
“I looked up every photo I could find of downtown, and I showed them,” he said of the tour he still leads.
His hobby eventually led to more than 100 presentations and more than 50 tours related to battlefield preservation. Last year, he wrapped up a six-year stint on the advisory board of the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association. He’s been a member of the American Battlefield Trust since 1991, and for the last 20 years, he’s been part of the Atlanta Civil War Roundtable.
His work has been recognized with the Civil War Trust Chairman’s Award for Excellence in 2011, the Georgia Historical Society’s Sarah Nichols Pinckney Volunteer award in 2018 and this year, the John Macpherson Berrien Lifetime Achievement Award, also from the Georgia Historical Society.
“I didn’t get into it for the awards,” said Crawford, 72, who lives in Brookhaven. “It’s a hobby for me, but it’s important. If you want to know what happened in a place, you know better from being in that place. From a tourism perspective, you can’t import battlefields, and they bring people here. Preserving battlefields also respects the service of those who sacrificed there. And I think it makes for better citizenry: You can learn to cope because these people did.”
But Crawford said he was shocked to be singled out for the latest lifetime award.
“It’s a bit disconcerting to get lifetime achievement awards – as if I’m near the end,” he said.
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