03 October 2005 by Published in: Civil War books and authors No comments yet

Although I have said some of this publicly on a prior occasion, I really believe that it is appropriate for me to pay tribute to someone whose loss I still feel keenly, and whose friendship, support, and guidance meant a lot to me. I’m not one for public outpourings of emotion, but I think it’s appropriate to pass on my thoughts and to share some information.

Brian Caldwell Pohanka was very much a mentor to me. In many ways, if I am a successful historian today, I owe that to Brian. He was always unfailingly generous, sharing knowledge, resources, and time. There was a time, early in my historical work, when I didn’t write anything that wasn’t read, commented upon, and blessed by, Brian. He unfailingly encouraged me in my work, and he always shared his immense knowledge willingly. In my case, as recently as sixty days before his untimely death in June, I asked him for recommendations on some reading on Ranald MacKenzie, and his lovely wife Cricket answered me within hours with his suggestions.

I had a chance to tell Brian the things that I needed to say to him directly this winter. He told me then that he has made certain that his legacy will continue on by donating his massive library–which makes mine look small–and papers so that they will be accessible to all, and he made a cryptic comment about once he was gone, we’d learn more about steps that he took to ensure that his legacy as a preservationist lived on. As Dimitri Rotov points out, Brian donated half a million dollars to the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, half a million dollars to the Richmond Battlefields Foundation, and another $100,000 to another preservation group. For those who don’t know this, Brian was one of the three original founders of APCWS, which is today the CWPT. He was also one of its largest annual contributors, but always anonymously, as he never wanted to draw attention to himself. That was very characteristic of Brian–he wanted no attention for the things that he did.

Professor Greg Urwin once paid Brian the ultimate compliment. One day while we were having lunch, Greg told me that if the definitive account of the Battle of the Little Big Horn could be written, there was only one person who could do it–Brian. I told Brian this, and he characteristically pooh-poohed it. But I am pleased to be able to tell you that he got to do just that. In August, a new book on the Little Big Horn–a Frassanito-style then and now–was published by the University of Oklahoma Press, and Brian finally got to tell the story of the Little Big Horn his way in it. I understand that he also finished his magnum opus, his regimental history of the 5th New York Infantry, aka Duryee’s Zouaves. Brian spent more than twenty years working on it, and it was a mammoth undertaking.

Rest in peace, Brian. I, and the rest of the Civil War community, miss you. It’s just not the same knowing that you won’t be there to read and comment on my work–it was always a safety net for me. And thank you, for being my friend and mentor. Most importantly, thank you for everything you did for our Civil War community.

And at last, you will be able to look George Custer in the eye and ask him just what the hell he was doing that warm June day in 1876……

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