Friday, August 3, 2007

In honor of two great ones

Here at "Throwing down the Gauntlet" I try my best to expose my readers to all kinds if facts, opinions and things that most Civil War blogs avoid. However, today I want to pay respect to two men that I respected as Civil War historians. I have to plead ignorance because I didn't know that these men died (in 2005) until last summer. Author Shelby Foote and historian Brian Pohanka were inspirations to me as solid leaders in Civil War authorship and information. History can be so ironic at times, everybody knows that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day (July 24, 1826). However, Pohanka and Foote passed within two days of one another (June 15th and the 17th 2005). Isn't that crazy?

Brian Pohanka (1955-2005), Civil War historian who advised filmmakers, preserved battlefields, reenacted troop movements and dressed the part, died of cancer June 15, 2005. Brian was just 50 years old but his work was very extensive. First, he worked as an adviser on Glory" (1989) and "Cold Mountain" (2003), Gettysburg (1993). His expertise stemmed, in part, from his work as the senior researcher, writer and adviser on the 27-volume Civil War series by Time-Life Books. I own the entire set and I have always cherished those books. They are a big reason why my interest in the Civil War began. I will have to write a blog on that some other time. He also was series consultant for the History Channel's "Civil War Journal." I love that show and I own the A&E Biography from that series which focuses on General Robert E. Lee. He worked tirelessly to save Civil War battlefields from extinction because he saw the value of eduction over commercial development. His insights, stories and quips have stuck with me throughout my years as a Civil War buff and researcher. My life and his parallel each other in one aspect, both of us began reading about and loving the Civil War from an early age. I started at age 8, Brian started at age 7. "I saw the battle lines in those books and took my toy soldiers and set them up the same way," he told a battlefield preservation group in 2004. Brian was a humble man who didn't take the credit for his expertise.

One of his best lines, from which I will recite from memory exemplified everything that Brian believed in as a Civil War historian. On an episode of "Civil War Journal" he said "Those men that served in that war must be remembered not as monuments of bronze or granite but people of flesh and blood who sacrificed everything. I think that if we forget those men and forget what they fought for, we really lose something as a people." In 1990 he said "Some kid a hundred years from now is going to get interested in the Civil War and want to see these places. He's going to go down there and be standing in a parking lot. I'm fighting for that kid." Bye Brian and thanks!

Shelby Foote (1917-2005) is another class act whose memory will never fade from my mind. Many remember him for his three volume work The Civil War: A Narrative. Foote was a lonely child, who grew up in Greenville, Mississippi. From an early age Foote began writing, enjoyed success and eventually wrote a book about the Battle of Shiloh. The book was so successful that his publisher asked him to write a history of the entire Civil War. Foote's success as a writer gave him the power to ask for a special favor from his publisher. He agreed to write a history but stated that a work of that magnitude required several texts instead of just one volume. The publishers agreed and Foote set out on a journey that took 20 years and Foote later claimed that he wrote 500 words a day before he was finished. The Civil War: A Narrative, published in three volumes between 1958 and 1974, was hailed by critics and historians as a unique masterpiece. In the nineteen-eighties, filmmaker Ken Burns asked Foote to appear in a series of interviews on his 11 hour documentary The Civil War. The program was one of television greatest successes and it made Foote a star. Shelby Foote said it best when he stated that the war is "central" to our lives as Americans. In the years following the release of the film, Foote would receive tons of fan mail and phone calls from fans and admirers. It was a celebrity that Foote never wanted. Foote was a big influence for me mainly because of his appearance in Ken Burns film but his work had always been a part of my Civil War library. One of the things I have in common with Foote is my love for this photograph:

During Ken Burns film, Foote talked about the photograph and its importance to him. Like Brian's quote I will quote this from memory. "There is a photograph that I'm very fond of." Foote states "It shows three Confederate soldiers who were captured at Gettysburg. They are posed along a snake rail fence and you see exactly how the Confederate soldier was dressed." As I watched this in 1989 I was shocked to see that Foote admired the man on the far right who has his hands in a position as if he is posing for the photograph. The defiance of these men really shows everything that the Southern army was about during the war. They were great fighters and even with Federal guards nearby the men stood erect in the face of the uncertainty as prisoners. Though a native Southerner, Foote did not favor South in his history or novels and was not counted among those Southern historians who regard the Civil War as the great Lost Cause. He also spoke out for the rights of minorities and his love for the Civil War continued until the end of his life. Foote passed away on June 27, 2005. I love that picture and we miss you Shelby!

Brian sources:

Shelby Foote sources:

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