You’ll never know where a history degree can take you. For Eric Lowman, it landed him on the battlefields of the Civil War in the major motion picture, “Gods and Generals,” and continues to put him in various reenactment productions with a group called Historical Extras.
Eric, a 2000 Huntington University graduate, has been interested in history his entire life. He had the opportunity to use many of the skills he developed while a history major at Huntington when he stumbled upon a chance of a lifetime during the summer of 2001.
“I had been reenacting for about a year, starting with the 19th Indiana out of Indianapolis and Goshen before my wife and I moved out to Pennsylvania,” said Eric. “For years, there had been rumors that ‘Gods and Generals’ was going to be made as a prequel to ‘Gettysburg,’ which was filmed 11 years earlier. It just happened that I was in the right place at the right time.”
Using the confidence he gained while a student at Huntington, Eric took the initiative to respond to a volunteer request for the movie, and before he knew it, his initiative took him to a five-month paid stint with the production.
“They were looking for skinny, young guys as army volunteers, and I was chosen,” continues Eric, who says he looks three to five years younger than he actually is. “I was originally told to drive to Virginia for the volunteer shoot, but when I arrived I noticed only three cars in the parking lot.”
Suspecting something was out of the ordinary, Eric was eventually told that the beginning of production had been postponed for four days. He was given the option of driving all the way back home or pitching a tent and waiting.
Not liking either of the options, Eric approached a crew member who informed him that if he had arrived three hours earlier, he could have been hired as a cadet for a few scenes. Knowing that he had good friends who were hired as cadets, he pressed to acquire more details.
“I asked the man if there was any way he could get me in as a cadet for just a day or two, and he told me to drive 20 more miles to talk to one of the managers,” said Eric. “On my way, I began to think that if I didn’t get something out of this next visit, I was going to have to forget about all of it and go home.”
When he arrived, the first person Eric saw was one of his good friends. After meeting with the manager, one thing led to another and Eric was eventually hired for the full term.
“It was actually a fluke that I was hired, coming in as a volunteer. I had driven to Virginia with only the civilian clothes on my back and my Civil War clothes, thinking I was going to be there for two days. I ended up being one of 17 persons that was hired for the full term, from the beginning to the end of the movie,” Eric exclaims.
For five months, Eric traveled to Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia, playing approximately 16 different roles in which he fought for both the Confederate and the Union armies and served in roles from cadet to general.
“I learned so much about authenticity in reenactments from the movie and the men I worked with,” said Eric. “It really sharpened everything I did, including the drills. Things you normally don’t do at reenactments, we had to do every day, including getting up at four in the morning and being on the line by 5 a.m., with arms stacked and ready for the whole military drill.”
From the friendships and connections he formed in “Gods and Generals,” Eric became involved with a group of re-enactors called Historical Extras. This group provides skilled, well-trained re-enactors to various movie and television outlets, such as the History Channel and Discovery Channel.
Historical Extras, which is based in Maryland, has between 100 and 150 members with representatives in 35 states. Eric has been involved with the group in shows for the History Channel, the Fredericksburg National Parks Service, the Gettysburg National Parks Service and others. There’s a civilian unit in which his wife and daughter once played a role. Each year, he and his family take advantage of these opportunities with two or three big projects.
Through Historical Extras, Eric experienced his favorite role in a documentary called “Forensic History: Picket’s Charge at Gettysburg.” The production included live infantry with live rifle range and live artillery demonstration, and Eric was given the opportunity to fire a cannon.
Though artillery drills were not in the curriculum at Huntington, Eric gained from Huntington many skills to succeed. As a direct result of his studies at Huntington, Eric conducts research on Civil War history and was working on writing a few books on that era. He says his skills to do such work were properly developed during his time at Huntington University.
Eric says that his history classes taught him how to learn – what to look for and where to go to find that information.
“Before I went to Huntington, I didn’t know how to research,” admits Eric. “They don’t teach that in high school. But at Huntington, you learn to go all over the place to do your research.”
When choosing a college, Eric looked for a small Christian school. After a disappointing visit elsewhere, Eric came to Huntington and felt like it was the right fit.
“At Huntington, people tended to be friendlier. Making friends was easy, and since there were only around 14 people in my history classes, I got to know everyone,” said Eric. “Plus, students get to know their professors. When you get to the college, meet the students and get to know the professors, you really feel like you fit.”
Eric is grateful to the professors who opened their homes to the students. Some of his fondest memories were going to the history professors’ homes to play Trivial Pursuit. He also enjoyed participating in Dr. Michelson’s burning of the Kremlin when history students took boxes out in a snow storm, burned them and ate kabobs at the Michelson’s home.
“These were great opportunities to get to know the professors better,” Eric recalls. “They weren’t just high almighty professors, but they took interest in their students’ lives. When I talked with my friends at larger institutions, they were completely baffled that professors would do something like that.”
From Huntington University to the battlefields of the Civil War, Eric has met many close friends along his journey while developing the skills to succeed. A history degree can certainly land opportunities for unique adventures.
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