On Wednesday, June 15, 2005, the Civil War battlefield preservation community -- and admirers of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain -- lost a great champion. Civil War historian/reenactor/writer Brian Pohanka died, after a long and courageous fight with cancer.

He was just 50 years old.

He leaves behind his beloved wife Marylynne (known as "Cricket"); his father John; brother Geoffrey and sister Susan - along with countless colleagues, friends and admirers.

Many Civil War-related Web sites have included their own tributes to his memory. For myself, I wanted to pay him special honor for his support of this Web site, and for his constant words of encouragement to me, to continue to make this site the best it can possibly be.

This is Brian, getting ready to speak at a Joshua Chamberlain symposium in Gettysburg, in June 1995.

Photo taken by, and graciously sent to me, by the Yankee Belle. Do not use without her express written permission.

 You can read his obituary at


This is the Web site Brian created to honor the men of the Fifth New York, Duryee's Zouaves -- both the actual Civil War unit, and the living-history organization that he spent most of his adult life in as a reenactor, rising from private all the way to Captain of Company A.

For me personally, I had the opportunity to meet and correspond with Brian for the last ten years or so. I first saw him on the History Channel's "Civil War Journal" program, and was very impressed with his knowledge, and his utter passion about the war, and those who fought in it. I was just beginning to learn all the great stories about the war, and Brian helped me tremendously in learning about all those who participated in the Civil War -- many of whose stories I knew little or nothing of, in my studies in elementary and high school. He made all those stories come so alive for me, and made them so fascinating!

We started a correspondence in 1995, when I wrote him to ask how to do my own research on the war. He gave me lots of encouragement via letter, and I even tried to invite him to speak at the newly-established Civil War Round Table in Syracuse, NY, during my tenure as president. I was not successful in that, but we wrote on and off until 1998, when I 'discovered' the Internet, and started writing him via email, and also discovered his 5th New York, Duryee's Zouaves, Web site.

In May 1997, my friend Margaret Marley and I visited Gettysburg over Memorial Day weekend. As we drove past the Civil War Wax Museum on Saturday, I noticed a small camp set up, by the 5th New York, on the front lawn. I suddenly recognized a tall man in red trousers and a blue officer's coat: it was Brian, in the flesh! I wanted to meet him, and couldn't stop shaking at the thought, all through breakfast! I ended up amazing myself, by walking right up to him in the museum gift shop, and introducing myself. And he remembered my name, from our 'snail-mail' correspondence! Boy, was I surprised....

Anyway: Margaret and I chatted with him outside, and I noticed how he warmed up to a person, when he was asked questions about the 5th New York. I was snapping pictures of him like some sort of crazy woman, until I heard him say half to himself: "I think you have enough pictures of me". I made some sort of idiotic comeback remark that I've forgotten. Turns out NONE of my pictures of him came out at all! Margaret, however, got some wonderful pictures of Brian (one of which is on the "An Historian Looks at Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain" page), which she graciously shared with me.

That first encounter was brief, but one I will remember forever.

When Margaret and I returned to Gettysburg the following year, on Memorial Day weekend, Brian and the Fifth New York were once again encamped in front of the Civil War Wax Museum. During that weekend, I encountered a young father and his son on East Cemetery Hill, where they were taking pictures. We fell into a conversation, and I ended up sharing a cookout with them near Devil's Den!

On the way over to the Round Tops, I noticed the Fifth New York was outside the wax museum. I then told the father that Brian was there, and he was very excited at the possibility of seeing him. So I took him and his son over, and introduced Brian to them. Brian immediately remembered me from the previous year's visit -- recognizing me by my Chamberlain t-shirt -- and warmly greeted me. The father took pictures of Brian with his son--and I watched how Brian took the time with this young boy, and I heard him tell him that he (Brian) was about that boy's very age, when he got interested in the Civil War. I never forgot that moment. It was like Brian was passing his own enthusiasm for Civil War history down to this young boy!

The last time I saw Brian in person was at the 140th anniversary reenactment of Antietam, outside Hagerstown, Maryland, in September 2002. I had followed the Union troops back to their camps after the very early Battle of the Cornfield, and managed to find where the Fifth New York was camped. I watched Brian line his men up in formation, and waited until they were dismissed, before approaching him. He recognized me, again, by my Joshua Chamberlain t-shirt, and he smiled as I drew closer, and took my hand warmly. We didn't chat long--as he seemed tired and a bit raspy in the voice. But his last words to me were: "Keep up the good work", in reference to my JLC Web site.

In all my encounters with Brian, I always took pains not to monopolize his time, as I knew he had many demands on it. But he was always patient and gracious to me, even after all my questions.

Here is Brian, with his Fifth New York, Duryee's Zouaves, during their annual Remembrance Day service on Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, in November 2004.

Photo sent courtesy of Mike Nugent. Do not use without his express written permission.

What really got me interested in the Civil War was the story of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain--and it was with great delight that I found that Brian had been an admirer of Chamberlain since he was a boy--way before interest in Chamberlain was considered 'cool'. In mid-1998, I started to consider creating a Web site about Chamberlain, and I asked Brian to contribute his thoughts about the man. It took some doing, but in the summer of 1998 (on my birthday, no less!), he emailed me a wonderful and heartfelt short essay, describing why Chamberlain has fascinated so many people. Needless to say, I was absolutely flabbergasted, and emailed him immediately to say thanks! And he replied graciously, and with great delight.

This essay can be seen at:


After the site went online in the summer of 1999, I always updated Brian when I posted a new page. He always took the time to compliment me on the site--even if it was only to say the new page was 'nice'.

Brian was, and always will be to me, a great champion for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. And I believe that now, he is meeting all those Civil War heroes--especially Chamberlain--that he wrote and spoke so passionately about, for so many years. And I'm sure he's got a lot of questions to ask these fellows. And they're all gathering around him, to say "Thank You" for keeping their memories alive for the rest of us.


A very dashing picture of Brian, taken at a Joshua Chamberlain symposium in Gettysburg, in June 1995.

Photo taken, and kindly sent to me, by the Yankee Belle. Do not use without her express written permission.


Captain Brian Pohanka leads the Fifth New York, Duryee's Zouaves, in the Remembrance Day parade at Gettysburg, PA, in November 2004.

It would be the last time Brian would lead them in this annual observance.

Photo taken by, and sent with gracious permission of Mindy Eckler. Do not use without her express written permission.


MARCH 20, 1955 - JUNE 15, 2005

I invite you to share your own memories of Brian. Whether you just saw him on TV, or heard him speak at your local Civil War Round Table, or encountered him at a reenactment -- I'd like to hear how he touched your life.

Email me your thoughts, and I will post them.

"People in life like Brian Pohanka come along so rarely that when you see them, they leave an imprint on your life like a leaf does in the ground--which somewhere in time becomes a beautiful fossil that stays forever in that form for all to see it.  That leaf does not know its significance but it represents a time in history for all to see. 

"Brian made an imprint on my life and the lives of thousands, if not millions ,much like that.  He embodied the essense and spirit of the Civil War soldier and his lifelong mission was to tell their stories and their history as completely as he could. He inspired me to read more, hear those who knew more, go to the fields more and walk them, read more and honor those who gave the last full measure of devotion.

"When Joshua Chamberlain last visited Gettysburg in the planning of the 50th anniversary of the battle, he wanted to be sure those who fought there were taken care of, and that people today would know those men who remained had the most meaningful time with each other, helping to complete the book of their lives once last time.  He never made it to the anniversary, due to his old wound that left him too ill to go.   Much like when Brian wanted to be at Gathland State Park ,but his illness kept him from attending, he could not gather with those for one last time. They had a lot to talk about when they met!   

"I too missed meeting him but some day I will.  Many who knew him so well and laughed and talked for hours upon hours and shared their lives with Brian Pohanka were blessed beyond compare, and each of them have their own 'imprints' in their souls ." Mindy Eckler, from Pennsylvania. NEW!

  "I am ashamed to say that I just found out Brian had passed away yesterday while doing an internet search. I am very touched and saddened to hear of such terrible news.He was in fact my hero when it came to Civil War history. Although I never had the opportunity to meet Brian in person, I first came across Brian while watching Civil War Journal and I was immediatly taken by his mustache and goatee ( I thought it was the coolest thing). I remember trying to imitate his look but I never could get the mustache right.I always enjoyed watching him on television and the last time I did was about two years ago or so on C-SPAN I believe.He and another historian were taking callers questions and again I was fascinated by Brian.Becuase I have the same passion for the civilwar as Brian did I will always feel a connection to him. 

   "To Brian, Next year I am going to Gettysburg and I will be thinking of you  " God speed brother ". Gil Powell, from Michigan.

"I was fortunate enough to be present at Brian's presentation at Little Round Top in November 2004. I was also fortunate enough to meet him there as well. I have studied Gettysburg and the Civil War since age 10, and have taken many groups of people to the Gettysburg battlefield. And I have also met and corresponded with many of the well-known Civil War historians and authors. I have never met anyone more articulate and gifted, nor anyone who has done more to save battleifields, nor anyone who humanized the stories better. This was indeed a gifted individual, who has also served a model for me personally, and the Civil War community and public at large. He will be sorely missed." Howard Blanck

"My sister and I and other family member's have been to Gettysburg to see the re-enactment of those served in the Civil War. My sister Diane had told me about him many times - his knowledge of history, as my sister has a love for history also. I have a photo of him and Diane video's. He was handsome and played the part with pride and an impecable knowledge of this great Nation's history of the Civil War.I won't forget him and I thank him posthumously." Michelle Ventura, Naples, FL

"When I received my newsletter from the St. Louis Civil War Roundtable today {Sept. 10, 2005} I was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Brian Pohanka. I only met him and heard him speak on one occasion, in about 1995 at our Roundtable meeting. He spoke on Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn. I could have stayed at that meeting and listened to him speak until the next morning. Brian had a way of taking you to the site of the places he spoke of. It is a tragedy indeed that followers of Civil War history will be deprived of twenty or thirty additional years of his presence." -  Nick Statler, St. Louis MO

"I never had the good fortune to meet Mr. Pohanka, but I certainly enjoyed his contributions to Civil War Journal and other documentaries. Also, his efforts as an adviser on such films as 'Gettysburg', 'Glory', and 'Cold Mountain; undoubtedly played an invaluable role in making them historically truthful works. Like Pat, I hope he is meeting with Chamberlain and other Civil War heroes in the hereafter and hearing their stories firsthand." - Trudy Ring, Burbank, CA

"Brian Pohanka had a profound influence on my interest in history, especially "living" history. Early in my career as an American Civil War reenactor (155th NYVI; Columbia Rifles), his text to "Don Troiani's Civil War" and "Distant Thunder: A Photographic Essay on the Civil War," brought those marvelous pictures to even greater life for me, and did much to improve my impression of the common soldier in that conflict. Like Bruce Catton before him, Brian's writings and commentary for "Civil War Journal" were remarkable in giving the reader/viewer an almost personal "feel" for the soldier's life and experiences in that War's great and small moments, its famous and obscure places.

"Brian's influence was even more telling because he was not a mere academic, not just a writer and lecturer, but the very personification of what it means to be a "living historian." He was "one of us," out there in the field as Captain of the 5th New York Zouaves--sweating, giving and taking commands,sleeping on the ground, laughing with the men around the campfire. Of course, that personal involvement helped make him "one of them" too--"them" being the citizen-soldiers to whose memory his life was dedicated. It also made him uncommonly approachable by us ordinary "grunts" and by anyone interested in the Civil War or history generally. No one was too "small" a personage to merit a smile, a warm handshake, an enlightening observation, or an encouraging word. I never had the privilege of meeting Brian personally--I almost did at 140th Antietam--but everyone who has relates both his modesty and his obvious pleasure in spreading to others his passionate enthusiasm for history.

"Another dimension of Brian's personal involvement was his work for the cause of battlefield preservation. What other historian has so successfully leveraged his "fame," and invested so much of his own time and money, to help preserve the very places he brought back to life for so many?

"Ultimately, the value of Brian's contribution will be measured as much by the departed men whose sacrifice is remembered once more by their countrymen, as by the untold thousands yet living who might never have gained such precious knowledge without him. As this country's future depends on the people's understanding of its past, the nation owes Brian a great debt. I suspect that the warm welcome of his pards in the Old Campground Beyond has already gone far to repay it." -- Thomas Fleming

"I attended the memorial to Brian at Manassas battlefield today [June 23, 2005].  It was lovely, and more uplifting than I had expected. I had feared I would break down and cry. The speakers had some wonderful insights and fascinating personal remembrances.  The weather could not have been more beautiful.  From one speaker, I learned that Brian was passionate about animal issues, loved his cats, and was concerned about the stray dog problem in Romania.  I wish I had known that.  I met Brian once, at a Civil War Preservation Trust luncheon.  I was struck by his unobtrusive demeanor, his modesty. Someone took our picture.  I wish I had that picture.  I knew him mainly from Civil War Journal, which I used to watch every Tuesday morning while getting ready for work.  I didn't even know he was ill. My ancestors fought on the side opposite of the regiment he so meticulously preserved through reenacting and his book. But thank God he was here to do so much to preserve the hallowed ground where my ancestors fought and died.  I am comforted somewhat by the knowledge that Brian lived such a full life and accomplished so much more in his relatively short time here than most of us could hope to.  I feel honored to have met him." -Leone Bollinger, Gaithersburg, MD


The following eyewitness description of Brian's funeral and memorial service was written by a good friend of Brian's, Mr. Clark B. Hall.

Please do not use without his express written permission.

I am deeply grateful to Mr. Hall, for allowing me to put this on this page.

"At 10:00, the small, church service took place at Episcopal Seminary, Ft. Ward, Alexandria--the same church wherein Brian and Cricket were married seven years ago. Brian's "Company A, 5th New York Zouaves," acted as honor guard and pall bearers. Hymns were sung, including "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Brian (right), with another Fifth New York, Duryee's Zouaves, member, at the 140th anniversary event at Spotsylvania, VA, in the spring of 2004.

Photo by Graham Salisbury. Do not use without his express written permission.

"Much of the service uttered by the Officiant was written by Brian, and these touching, personal comments began with the painful phrase, "I will miss this world..." (and we will surely miss him.)  Also, contained within the program, Brian penned, in part,

"Thus to each and all of these things, from that inspiration I've drawn, what I have endeavored, have accomplished, aspired to or become--I take solace, and satisfaction, and am at peace. I love you my dear ones, my true friends, forever and all through eternity."

"Then to [a quiet serene cemetery], where Brian was buried on a sloping hillside looking west (toward the LBH?). His traditional, Victorian tombstone reads, "Captain Brian Caldwell Pohanka, 5th New York Zouaves." Underneath his name: "God Bless the United States of America!" A Zouave honor guard fired off three musket volleys.

"Then to Stuart's Hill at Manassas where about 300 people gathered under a tent to hear tributes to Brain from his re-enactor and preservation colleagues. Dick Sommers was there, as was Jim Lighthizer, Ed Wenzel and almost the entire Bull Run Round Table, among many other figures you would recognize. Old friends manfully poured out their grief over Brian's tragic loss, and his father, John, concluded the ceremony with a heartfelt tribute to his son. Not a dry eye in the house.

"Then back to Brian and Cricket's house where we gathered in celebration of Brian's life--with the stories getting better as the wine glasses emptied and darkness descended.

"Cricket and Brian's family were all gathered together on the porch as their guests departed. There is no doubt Brian's legacy is safely ensconced in their hands. As well as in our memories...

From the funeral program:

"Let us strive in our hearts, with love, to meet again...

Your dear, loving friend, eternally,

Brian Caldwell Pohanka."

Here is a very detailed description of Brian's memorial service, from "The Wild Geese" Web site:


Here is a really AWESOME personal tribute to Brian, that I found very recently:


This is part of a more comprehensive Civil War Web site: '1st Dragoon's Civil War Site".

This is a picture of my friend Patrick Schroeder -- NPS historian at Appomattox, and Fifth New York, Duryee's Zouaves member, as he read the following remarks at Brian's memorial service at Stuart's Hill, Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA, on June 23, 2005.

I am grateful to Patrick for sending me both the above photo, and his eulogy. And to a special friend, Thomas Fleming, for reducing the photo's size!

Do not use either the photo or the remarks, without specific written permission of the author.

"We gather here to remember and pay tribute to our friend, comrade, and colleague.

"Brian endured his individual battle, solaced by the fact -- at least to Brian -- that many a Civil War veteran had endured much worse -- he drew strength from those soldiers, and emulated those strengths throughout his life. Brian was not just a talker, but a doer -- and at so many levels --- restoring his Tower House home, his gardens, writing and preservation. He was also a virtual encyclopedia. For every question I had, Brian had a ready answer.

"The sheer number of people whose lives Brian significantly touched is simply amazing, as is attested to here today. He was so giving of his time and was always willing to give someone a hand with their project to make it better. Brian was my mentor, as he was for many. He instilled upon me to be diligent and thorough with research. He was meticulous in his research -- and this is one of the reasons it took so long for him to finish his Fifth New York Regimental History. He didn't want to leave any stone unturned.

"Other things that were important to Brian were honor, tradition and respect -- respect for people, sacrifice and history. My first event with the Fifth New York was when I was a naive, but eager, 14-year-old here at Manassas, honoring the heroic stand and sacrifice of the Fifth New York, in August 1862. Too young to carry a musket, and not knowing the drill, I was given the colors to hold while the unit demonstrated the bayonet exercise -- and in a short movement of the company, the flag clipped a tree branch and I received a scowl from this bearded, and at the time, menacing-looking fellow. This was my introduction to Brian Pohanka. I soon understood that that scowl was out of respect for the flag, and for what was not correct --and a 14-year-old carrying the National colors was not.

"Undoubtedly, the veterans of the "Old Fifth" and the Army of the Potomac were ready to welcome Brian with open arms, as a brother and comrade. He has finally got to meet the Duryees, the Winslows, Warren, Hancock, McClellan, Miles, Custer and Chamberlain .... as well as the men in the ranks of the "Old Fifth", like Thomas Southwick, George Mitchell, Alfred Davenport, and Butch Sapher.

"And to the modern-day Fifth, I know one of the things he wanted to do more than anything else, was to attend the unit event at Gathland State Park, on South Mountain, at the end of April. Despite his condition, he felt it his duty to be there! But alas, he was too weak. However, we all know, he will always be at our events in spirit.

Here's Brian (second from left, front row), marching front and center with fellow officers at the 140th anniversary event at Spotsylvania, VA, spring 2004.

His Fifth New York, Duryee's Zouaves, stand behind him.

Photo by Graham Salisbury. Do not use without his express written permission.

"Brian's plight and situation reminded me so much of the battle with cancer that U.S. Grant went through--both enduring constant pain, yet diligently working on their books: Grant finishing his memoirs to support his family, and Brian finishing his regimental--an everlasting tribute to the soldiers of the Fifth New York, Duryee's Zouaves.

"Even in his last days, Brian would smile upon a humorous recollection or an episode of "The Little Rascals". And who will forget his personification of the German World War II ace Adolf Galland, or some Romanian Guards from the filming of "Cold Mountain", or a German or Irish Civil War soldier?

"Brian always appreciated a good joke, and played along with them. After the release of the film "Glory", a favorite of mine was, while in the ranks after receiving stern orders from Captain Pohanka, I'd call out as he walked away: "Dat dat dat Captain Pohanka, he's a harrrrd man". There are many incidents from our numerous road trips. On our ill-fated trip to the 125th Anniversary Reenactment at Shiloh, we had ten reenactors stuffed into a mobile home that became dubbed "The Jitney to Shiloh". A little jingle evolved as that trip progressed; Brian spontaneously sang it for a few of us at his 50th birthday party this past March. It went like this:

"Roll that Jitney down, got to get down to Shiloh town. It's snowing like hell, I don't feel well, and I don't want to sleep on the ground".

Brian believed that the best way to preserve the memory of the Civil War Soldier was to preserve the land that they fought on. He would give an annual address on Remembrance Day at Little Round Top, before the statue of G.K. Warren, the Fifth New York, and a gathering of descendants, admirers and park visitors. Joshua Chamberlain was among his favorites to quote. Chamberlain once addressed veterans at the Gettysburg battlefield with this, and it is fitting to all battlefields, and remembering Brian today -- I know he cherished these words:

"No chemistry of frost or rain, no overlaying mold of the season's recurrent life and death can ever separate from the soil of these consecrated fields the life blood so deeply commingled and incorporate here. Ever henceforth under the rolling suns, when these hills are touched to splendor with the morning light, or smile farewell to the lingering day. The flush that broods upon them shall be rich with the strange and crimson tone, not of the earth, nor yet the sky, but mediator and hostage between the two.

"In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass, bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not, and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream.

"And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls."

-- Patrick A Schroeder

In Loving Memory of My Dear Friend & Colleague,

Brian C. Pohanka

June 23, 2005

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