The Thirty-Sixth Illinois
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It was suggested to me that a regimental history might make a good topic, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed the ideal project. The regiment was involved in most of the major battles of the Western theatre of the war, and I saw this project as an opportunity to increase my knowledge of the Western campaigns, including such little-known battles as Pea Ridge and Perryville, which were crucial in determining the outcome of the war. I also felt that a regimental history offered an excellent opportunity for understanding the true nature of war. War as seen from the perspective of the commanding officers, although important to understanding a campaign or battle, is very different from war from a soldier's perspective, and studying the campaigns from the regimental level provides and excellent insight into the "reality" of war. Finally, I saw this work as an opportunity to apply the principles of "social history" to the study of war. This is a particularly good opportunity, for the organization of the regiment represents a community response to the challenge of the war. Civil war letters, diaries, and reminiscences are probably the single best source of mid-nineteenth century attitudes. As Joseph T. Glatthaar has said in his introduction to The March to the Sea and Beyond, lithe soldiers came from civilian life to participate in the war, and when it was over, they returned. Their attitudes toward blacks and Southern whites, and their fears, aspirations, and motivations all provide an insight into those same beliefs and sentiments throughout the North. II The study of the history of a regiment like the Thirty-Sixth Illinois, then, provides an opportunity to combine the methods of a number of different fields of history.