Pohanka Chair Installation
The Brian C. Pohanka '77 Faculty Chair in American Civil War History
October 21, 2005 - 4 p.m.
The Rubendall Recital Hall in The Weiss Center for the Arts
Remarks by President William Durden '71
Welcome to this momentous occasion. We are here today to commemorate The Brian C. Pohanka '77 Chair in American Civil War History. We gather to honor the Dickinsonian for whom this chair is named; to thank his family members for the important and meaningful gift they have given to Brian's alma mater; and to celebrate the installation of the first incumbent of this chair.
It is my great pleasure to introduce to you the members of Brian's family who have joined us for this special occasion:
John J. Pohanka, Brian's father
Lynn Pohanka, John's wife
Bauer Pohanka, Brian's wife
Marylynne "Cricket" Bauer Pohanka, Brian's Widow
Geoffrey Pohanka, Brian's brother
Anne Pohanka, Geoffrey's wife
Susan Pohanka, Brian's sister
Others in attendance:
Neil Weissman, Provost and Dean of the College
Professor Matthew F. Pinsker , first incumbent of The Brian C. Pohanka '77 Faculty Chair in American Civil War History
Dr. Richard J. Sommers, Assistant Director FOR Patron Services, U.S. Army Military History Institute
The Brian C. Pohanka '77 Faculty Chair in American Civil War History has been endowed through a generous gift of members of Brian Pohanka's family-his father, John; his brother Geoffrey; and his sister, Susan. The Chair honors the distinguished career of Brian-a military historian, author, battlefield preservationist and Civil War expert.
This afternoon, the Pohanka Chair will be awarded to a distinguished member of the Dickinson faculty who is recognized for his teaching, scholarship and contributions to the intellectual life of the College-a scholar of true eminence and excellence in the field of American Civil War History.
Brian Caldwell Pohanka, for whom this chair is named, was born in 1955 to John and Jean Powers Pohanka, who passed away in 1987. In his brief five decades of life, Brian became an accomplished military historian; author; Civil War expert; re-enactor; consultant; and devoted preservationist. Fellow historians have described him as "fervent, insightful, uncompromising, passionate, committed, thorough, thoughtful, inspiring, a force, a true leader a true giant and a great American."
Brian attended Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C. and graduated from Dickinson in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in history. His passion for the Civil War began in childhood-something he never forgot. While fighting to preserve the Brandy Station, Virginia site, Brian said "Some kid a hundred years from now is going to get interested in the Civil War and want to see these places. . . . I'm fighting for that kid."
Indeed, Brian became involved in researching and preserving Civil War history in every imaginable way:
He was a senior researcher, writer and adviser on the 27-volume Civil War series by Time-Life Books.
He was a series consultant for the History Channel's "Civil War Journal" and Ken Burns' documentary, "The Civil War."
He was a historical adviser and consultant for major motion pictures, including " Cold Mountain ," "Glory," " Gettysburg ," and "Gods and Generals."
He was the author, co-author and editor of many books and articles, including Mapping the Civil War and Distant Thunder: A Photographic Essay on the Civil War. His regimental history of the 5 th New York Volunteer Infantry, which he worked on for more than 25 years, will be published posthumously, with his wife editing, organizing photographs and coordinating publication of the two-volume work.
Brian was a Civil War re-enactor for nearly three decades. Since 1989 he captained Company A of the 5 th New York Volunteer Infantry. Known as "Duryea's Zouaves," [der-eee-aize zoo-avs] the company was one of the most renowned fighting regiments of the American Civil War and now one of the oldest "living history" organizations in the country.
Brian was a member of The Company of Military Historians and The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. He was also an Honorary Companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
Brian served for five years as honorary chairman of the Irish Brigade Association's Grave Committee. Then-chairman, Jack Conway, praised Brian's commitment, noting that "His knowledge, his sincerity, his vocation as a champion of the common soldier of the American Civil War were an inspiration to the membership. His genuine interest in assisting us in remembering the immigrant Irish soldier was most appreciated and shall not be forgotten."
Brian was a founding member of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites-an organization that later evolved into The Civil War Preservation Trust, the largest non-profit battlefield preservation initiative in the country. In 2004, the organization named Brian "Battlefield Preservationist of the Year," noting that "he was a constant presence during some of the most contested-and successful-preservation struggles of our time, including Stuart's Hill at Manassas National Battlefield and Brandy Station, Virginia. Their survival today stands as part of his epitaph."
Brian gave quietly and generously to preservation groups for battlefield land acquisition. In addition to Brandy Station and Manassas , he was heavily involved in the efforts to protect Chantilly, Centerville , Chancellorsville, Cedar Creek and Gettysburg . He was especially concerned about the battlefields of Cold Harbor and Gaines Mill, two major engagements that took place in Hanover County , Virginia , a growing suburb of Richmond .
Brian's interest in military history extended beyond his interest in the Civil War. For example, he made several trips to South Africa to investigate the 19 th century Zulu wars. And he also developed a strong interest in the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, writing two books on the conflict including Miles Keogh [pronounced Key Oh]: An Irish Dragoon in the 7 th Cavalry, and Where Custer Fell: Photographs of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Then and Now, the latter of which will be published in the near future.
After the September 11 World Trade Center attacks, Brian demonstrated his extraordinary humanitarianism, linking past and present as he worked to aid the widows and children of deceased New York City firefighters. Correlating the thousands of firemen who served in New York's colorful Zouave [zoo av] regiments during the Civil War with the New York City firefighters, Brian helped his own Zouave unit raise money for the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows' and Childrens' Fund.
It is not surprising that Brian shared his passion for history with his wife, Cricket. Cricket is a costume historian, and holds a Bachelor's degree in costume design from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Arts degree in costume design from the University of Maryland . Brian and Cricket first met in 1991 during a reenactment at the New Market battlefield in Virginia . They married in 1999.
Brian Caldwell Pohanka died this past June at the age of 50. In the words of his wife, Cricket, "continuing Brian's work will be the best way to celebrate his life." We hope we are doing that today as we honor this extraordinary Dickinsonian by naming for him a faculty chair in American Civil War History.
Introduction of Richard J. Sommers, Ph.D.
It is now my pleasure to introduce Dr. Richard J. Sommers. Although Dr. Sommers is not listed in the program, we are delighted that a last minute schedule change allowed him to accept the Pohanka Family's invitation to speak on behalf of Brian whom he knew as a student at Dickinson .
Dr. Sommers is Assistant Director FOR Patron Services at the U.S. Army Military History Institute. He is the author of Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg which received the National Historical Society's " Bell I. Wiley Prize." The Civil War Roundtable of Gettysburg has referred to Dr. Sommers as "one of the nationally recognized authorities on the military campaigns of the American Civil War." It is, therefore, especially fitting that he is able to join us this afternoon.
Read Dr. Sommers' Remarks
Introduction of John J. Pohanka
It is now my privilege to introduce John J. Pohanka, who will speak on behalf of the Pohanka Family.