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.
"They were very, very dear people," Dau said. "They really were a second family for me. I miss 'em both."
The couple had no children. When Isabel Gates died 21 years ago, she left half her estate, including the book, to Dau and his wife.
After a stint in the Marine Corps, Dau spent most of his life at Lake Forest College near Chicago, as football coach and athletic director. He married his college sweetheart, also a Lake Forest alum, and still coaches there.
"He's a wonderful guy, just full of great wisdom. . . . He's highly revered by his students, and I can see why," said book dealer Harry G. Goodheart III, who helped Dau track down the book's rightful owner.
Dau is a big reader and a serious collector, with 1,300 volumes, many of them old or rare books about football. "He's somebody that did appreciate the intrinsic value of that book from the outset. He knew there was something about that book that merited some investigation," Goodheart said.
But over the years, Dau said, he forgot about it. Then one day he saw it on the shelf and pulled it out.
Dau had never had the book appraised. Goodheart said it's not valuable -- it's the story behind it, the history wrapped around it that matter.
Dau was visiting relatives in North Carolina who recommended Goodheart Books. "They know I love a good hunt," Goodheart said. Coincidentally, he is a Washington and Lee alumnus, so he knew the name Washington College and some of the history of the battles.
Goodheart contacted Turner, and they exchanged photocopies of the title pages of the two volumes. "They matched exactly," Turner said. There was also a small label, added by the library in the 1800s, when books were numbered instead of catalogued to keep track of them. Volume 1, in Dau's possession, was 139. Volume 2, the copy in the library, was 140.
"Volumes three and four are out there somewhere," Turner said with a laugh. "We'd love to have them back!"
In February, Dau and his wife traveled to Virginia to visit family and return the book, which was 52,858 days overdue. He saw its companion volume, went to Lee's tomb on campus and thought about history.
The book, he said, is back where it belongs. "It's not an empty spot in my library."
Staff researchers Rob E. Thomason and Terissa Schor contributed to this report.