In Memoriam of Brian Pohanka
by Jeff Hendershott
Sadly, I've opted to write a serious piece for my little obscure niche on "JonahWorld." Of course I'm referring to the passing of Civil War reenactor Brian Pohanka on June 15, 2005.
Those of you familiar with Brian know that he was not your average reenactor.
Brian served as an editor of the neat "Time Life" Civil War series of books that began in the late 1980's and if memory serves correctly, there were something like over 30 volumes to this set. He advised and appeared in cameo roles for Civil War movies. I don't know all that he did to promote the cause of preserving the Civil War history and promoting education of the Civil War, but he did quite a lot.
I only saw him once. That was in the base camp of the set of the movie "Gettysburg" during the filming in August of 1992. We had a meeting of sorts the first night we were there to listen to some of the people who were "in charge," so to speak. One of them was Brian Pohanka. When he was speaking, we all cheered with glee when he said something to the effect that "This WILL NOT be an (expletive) love story movie!" Huzza to that!
A couple years later, the captain of the reenactment group I was with, and with whom I got my masters degree in history with, contacted Brian to get his views on living history for the thesis my captain was writing. "Captain E" quoted Brian often in his thesis.
Brian Pohanka and I had some communications via mail about that time also because I was curious as to why he left the set of the filming of "Andersonville" (yes, again, my favorite Civil War movie of all time). He shared his views that I disagreed with, but he was a gentleman about it and I respected his opinions.
I guess what I'm saying is that I had respect for the man for the many things he had done.
What's interesting is that with all of his credentials in terms of contributing to movie production, appearing on televised Civil War specials (and I believe one that the History Channel did back when they were actually talking about history), contributing to books, what have you, the man was "only" college educated. I say "only" because when you watch something on television about history, you usually see "So and So, Professor of History at Whatever University" in the banner below the face talking. Brian seemed to have respect from the world of academic history without the doctorate. Not that Brian knew "more" and they know "less." But it was refreshing. Sort of like a spokesman for "us," the living historian.
Someone once called him a "professional expert," and in a not-too-complementary tone. I suppose that's what he was. And I admit that I was a little jealous of him - you know - "Hey, how did a simple reenactor get to be a technical advisor for movies? I got more education than him!" (Indeed, what pride lurks in the heart of man!).
But all that aside, I think we should pay our respects to Brian Pohanka because from what I know in my limited encounters with him, he tried to promote the hobby in a positive way and lend his knowledge in many ways to help people ENJOY as well as learn about the Civil War.