Tuesday, April 21, 2009

That Book is 53,000 Days Late

A library book a Civil War soldier stole found its way back to the Return Box after 145 years.

After the Civil War ended, most of the 1000 or so books pillaged from the Washington Library (now Washington & Lee University Library) were returned. But the first volume of W.F.P. Napier's History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France remained at-large.

One C.S. Gates saved it from burning in a fire Union soldiers set to the neighboring Virginia Military Institute on June 12th, 1864. He then passed the book down through his family. His last descendant, Isabel Gates, died in 1988 and bequeathed it to family friend and fellow bibliophile, Mike Dau.

As mentioned, Dau employed the help of a book dealer (Harry G. Goodheart III) to root-out the book's rightful owner and returned it to the Washington and Lee University Library in February. The library already had the copy of the (near identical) second volume. "Volumes three and four are out there somewhere," librarian, Laura Turner, told The Washington Post, "We’d love to have them back!"

The inscription in the front of the book is signed by C.S. Gates and reads:

This book was taken from the Military Institute at Lexington Virginia in June 1864 when General Hunter was on his Lynchburg raid. The Institution was burned by the order of Gen Hunter. The remains of Gen. Stonewall Jackson rest in the cemetery at this place.

Dau uncovered much of the history of the book: Gates was part of the 54th Pennsylvania Regiment which swept into Lexington, VA on June 11th, 1864 and burned the Virginia Military Institute before looting the Washington College nearby.

Charles Gate's grandson, Myron Gates, befriended Mike Dau when the latter was a student at Lake Forest College. Gates and his wife often hired Dau to do handyman work and oddjobs around their house. The couple had no children and when Isabel Gates died, she left half of her estate to Dau and his wife.

After serving in the military, Dau became the football coach at Lake Forest College and has been the athletic director there for most of his life. He was always interested in books and became a serious collector throughout the course of his life. His library contains some 1300+ rare and antique books, mostly on football. Dau said he kept meaning to learn more about the book, but never got around to it until the day he pulled it from the shelf to have it appraised. While visiting neighbors in North Carolina, they recommended Goodheart Books. Serendipitously, Harry Goodheart III is a Washington and Lee alumnus!

Goodheart contacted Turner and compared details of the two volumes. This was before the Dewey Decimal System was even invented (1876); books were numbered then. The first volume of
Napier's History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France is #139; the second volume (already at the University library) is #140.

While the book itself is worth nothing, the story behind it is priceless.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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