Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Prarie Boys Go to War

The Prairie Boys Go to War is the story of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry during the Civil War.  Author Rhonda M. Kohl has prepared a thoroughly researched study of this unit from southern Illinois.  The story follows the exploits of this unit from August 1861 to October 1865. 

Fifth Illinois Marker
at Vicksburg
The Fifth was organized at Camp Butler in November 1861 and was assigned to Gen. Curtis' Army at Helena. They were involved in campaigns at Helena, Vicksburg, Jackson, and Meridian. The book provides details of the battles aided by well-illustrated maps.  Kohl provides a detailed description of the difficulties at camps in Arkansas and Mississippi where the men faced flood waters, mosquitoes, poor sanitation, and disease.  

Over its four years of service, the Fifth Illinois constantly battled internal friction as well as the enemy.  Kohl highlights the political friction between the Republican party officers and their Northern Democratic soldiers.  She shows how the appointment of officers in these state units had little to do with ability and more with political affiliation.  These internal struggles led to poor leadership, low morale, disciplinary problems, and rampant alcoholism. 

Unlike some unit histories, Kohl is not afraid to reveal the unit's bad qualities as well good.  The unit was equally adept in battle as in scavenging for food.  The Fifth gained a reputation for drunken behavior, stealing, and vengeance warfare. 

The author has drawn on muster rolls, regimental and company correspondence, service and hospital records, family records, pension files, diaries, and letters to document the regiment's history in the Western Theater. 

My only reservation about the book was the lack of an appendix with the roster of the unit.  This information is available on the Southern Illinois University Press site.

Rhonda M. Kohl is a historian and writer in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  She earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology at Temple University and a master's in American history at Southern Illinois University.  Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Illinois State Historical Society, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Civil War History, and Illinois Historical Journal.  Ms. Kohl plans two additional books on the fifth on the post-war life of the soldiers and a study of  the wives and families at home.

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