Military companies raised in southern and central Illinois in the fall of 1861 contributed to the Fifth Illinois Cavalry.  The men's varied cultural heritage gave the regiment its uniqueness, but it also created an environment for internal strife.  Led almost exclusively by Northern-born Republicans on organization, the majority of the soldiers remained strong Southern Democrats.  Politics, economics, education, social values, and racism separated the line officers from the common soldiers.  Initially held together by the shared goal of saving the Union, by 1862 the Fifth stood fractured by cultural disparities that divided its soldiers.  Defined by these cultural disparities, the regiment constantly battled the internal friction between Democratic and Republican war goals, which led to poor leadership, low morale, disciplinary problems, and rampant alcoholism.

Deplorable sanitation conditions in camps triggered endemic diseases that decimated the regiment, robbing the unit of quality men for command and further weakening its ability as a fighting unit.  Before the end of its first year of service, the  Fifth Illinois gained a reputation for hard fighting, stealing, alcoholism, and revenge warfare.  Despite the regiment's internal struggles, the regiment played pivotal roles in major campaigns in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, and Tennessee.

Blending a traditional narrative history with a quantitative approach, Kohl takes an in-depth look at the common Fifth Illinois soldier and his social, mental, economic, and political worlds.  Drawing on muster rolls, regimental and company correspondence, service and hospital records, family records, pension files, diaries and letters, the regiment's history unfolds around major events in the Western Theater from 1861 to 1865, including campaigns at Helena, Vicksburg, Jackson, Meridian, as well as little-known skirmishes with Confederate guerrillas.  Kohl also traces the evolution of the Federal cavalry as guards, guerrilla fighters, and participants in pitched battles and amends the often-misunderstood campaigns in Arkansas and Mississippi.  The book is available at at: , and at SIU press at:

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To view the roster of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry, listing all the men that served with the regiment from 1861-1865, click the following link: