Neighborhood History: A Local Man on the Battlelines - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the September 2000 Juniper Berry Magazine

Neighborhood History: A Local Man on the Battlelines

Charles E. Brehm was born on December 28, 1840. In 1861, he lived at 140 Orchard Street in Manhattan. He was a 20 year-old store clerk when he enlisted to fight in the Civil War as a private with the Union Army. By all accounts, he was a handsome young man. He stood at 5'10", had hazel eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. He was young and full of energy, ready to fight for his country. But he had no idea what he was getting himself into.

After his enlistment, he became ill in Baltimore, and while he recovered, his regiment, the 5th New York Zouaves Volunteers, left to join the Army of the Potomac. Once he recovered and left the hospital, he joined his regiment in time to fight in the Siege of Monroe. After the battle, his regiment was sent to join Commander John Pope, where they fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run in Manassas, Virginia. He was wounded on August 30, 1862 and crawled into the Stone House, a landmark in Manassas. There, fearing he would die, he carved his name and the date into the floorboard. This is still visible today.

While laying on the floor in the Stone House, trying to recoup enough strength to get away, he was captured by the Confederates, and let go several days later on September 2, 1862. He was sent to Douglas Hospital in Washington, D.C. to recover, where he stayed for one month. He served

several more months, then left and returned home.

Home to Charles Brehm was Ridgewood, Queens. In July 1877 he married a woman named Katy Steele. Although the information on him is sketchy from this point on, it is known that he ran a bar locally, and subsequently succumbed to alcohol and died of sclerosis of the liver on February 16, 1909 in Fordham Hospital. His wife Katy died ten years later. It is not known if they had any children, but I am still researching this and hope to find out more about this man. He was one of thousands who fought for our country in the Civil War, and sometimes its difficult to see the human aspect of the losses suffered in that War. But Mr. Brehm was a man who lived in our community, ran a business here and contributed in some way to his neighborhood. He is buried in All Faiths Lutheran Cemetery. When you walk through the cemetery, you can see many Civil War stones, and perhaps that helps us remember that those men who fought and died for our country were all somebody's neighbor.

Special thanks to Mr. Brian C. Pohanka, who is a noted Civil War historian and author. He has written many books on the subject, including his involvement with the Time Life Series of books on the Civil War. He is also known for his work on the movie "Gettysburgh" and his appearances on A & E Civil War Journal. His help was immeasurable, and his kindness in speaking with me personally shall never be forgotten.

Dedication of Brehm Headstone in Lutheran All-Faiths Cemetery

The following is excerpts from a press release on the dedication.

On Saturday May 28th Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery was the scene of a moving and dignified service, dedicating a new monument to a Civil War Veteran.

Charles E. Brehm was the perfect everyman of the Civil War, local historian Tom Mohr said in his closing speech. Just a man who went out to defend his view of his adopted country against an enemy. A man so afraid that he would disappear into oblivion that after his wounding at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run he carved his name into the floor of the historic Stone House on the Bull Run Battlefield in Manassas, Virginia while waiting for treatment of his wound. That one moment of desperation set forth a series of events that culminated in the ceremony Saturday before a crowd of about 100 onlookers and with representatives of three of the Civil War's most famous New York Regiments.

Noted Civil War author and historian Brian C. Pohanka, known for his work on the Time-Life Series of Books on the Civil War and his work on the Turner movie Gettysburg as well 'as his Wednesday night appearances on A&E's Civil War Journal, told the story of Pvt. Brehm's life to the assembled crowd. Afterward in an interview, Mr. Pohanka explained that often we forget the role of the common soldier when we read of the great events of the period. The dedication of the new stone at the Brehm grave site should bring home to all of us the dedication and fear that the average soldier of the Civil War felt.

Mr. Pohanka explained that he contacted DownState Living History Association Regional Director, Tom Mohr, last year regarding the grave of Pvt. Brehm. As the commander of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry Association Duryee's Zouaves, Mr. Pohanka, has, over the years, compiled information on the grave sites of most of the famous Regiment's men. The National Park Service Historians at the Manassas Battlefield Historic Park were also interested in finding the location of the grave, as it wi11 complete the records on the two men who carved their names into the floor of the Stone House which is located on the Battlefield. With the cooperation of Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery, DownState had been compiling a registry of the graves of Civil War Veterans in the cemetery, and within several hours of the request, the location of the grave was known. In a visit to the cemetery several days later, the grave site was mapped and the condition of the tombstone recorded. At that time the stone was just barely legible and it was necessary to do a squeeze to read it. With the severity of this past winter, the stone had deteriorated past the point of salvaging, and in Apri1, the decision was made to replace the stone with a new one.

Tom Mohr said in an interview that, "in all his experience with researching and refurbishing grave sites, the Brehm grave has to stand out as what can happen when like-minded individuals work together for the common cause. From the time the decision was made to the time the stone was set was sixty one days, it has to be a record. The only way something like this happens so quickly is if you get phenomenal cooperation between the parties. Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery, particularly their staff was amazing. Aurrichio Monuments, particularly Pat Aurrichio, could not have been more cooperative. Sometimes these things can be a little hairy particularly when two organizations are involved. In this case when the principles were talking, it was with one voice even though they were separated by several states."

The program was opened by the Reverend John O'Halloran, the Chaplin of The Sons of Union Veterans – A short welcome was extended by Mr. Dan Austin the President of Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery. Then Mr. Pohanka told the touching story of Pvt. Brehm who chose to march into battle with his regiment, the famous 5th New York Zouaves.