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Book Is Returned to Washington and Lee University Library Nearly 145 Years Later

The returned book, the first volume of W.F.P. Napier's four-volume set, "History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France," was written in 1842.
The returned book, the first volume of W.F.P. Napier's four-volume set, "History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France," was written in 1842. (AP)

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By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 16, 2009

Soon after the end of the Civil War, a thousand or so books looted from Washington College library during a raid by Union soldiers were returned.

Another has shown up almost 145 years later, the school, now known as Washington and Lee University, announced yesterday, brought in by a book-loving college coach from Illinois, who inherited it from the soldier's descendants and tracked down the library where it belonged.

"We were astounded to get something back with the history that it has," said Laura Turner, technical services librarian at the Lexington, Va., school. "It's invaluable to us because of the historical connection to the university. We're just so grateful that he decided to return it."

The leather-bound book, Volume 1 of a four-volume history of a Napoleonic military campaign, probably was stashed in a saddlebag, perhaps to save it from the blaze Union soldiers set to destroy the neighboring Virginia Military Institute on June 12, 1864, according to a book dealer who helped the coach, Mike Dau, unravel its story.

It was handed down from generation to generation of the family of C.S. Gates, the soldier who apparently took it. When his last descendant, Isabel Gates, died in 1988, she left the book to Dau, 73, a close friend who said he loves reading as much as she did.

In February, after some detective work, Dau returned it to the Washington and Lee library, reuniting it with the almost-identical second volume of W.F.P. Napier's "History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France From the Year 1807 to the Year 1814," the school announced yesterday.

A note written in the book and signed by C.S. Gates 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."

According to historical records, Charles S. Gates was a soldier in the 54th Pennsylvania Regiment.

In June 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, Maj. Gen. David Hunter led troops assigned to cut the Virginia Central Railroad. On June 11, they swept into Lexington and occupied the town. They burned the Virginia Military Institute, which trained Confederate troops, and looted the neighboring Washington College campus.

"They burned VMI to the ground because of its connection to [Confederate Gen.] Stonewall Jackson, who was an instructor there," Dau said.

Turner believes that the Union soldier mistakenly thought he was taking the book from VMI. But the volume has "Washington College" written on its frontispiece and matches Volume 2, which the school's Leyburn Library still houses.

Myron Gates of Lake Forest, Ill., was Charles Gates's grandson. He and his wife befriended Dau when Dau was a student at Lake Forest College, and they hired him to do odd jobs such as cleaning gutters and washing windows.

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