Washington and Lee University has a missing library book back on its shelves — nearly 145 years after it was stolen by a Union soldier during the Civil War.
The 1842 book, the first volume of W.F.P. Napier's four-volume “History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France From the Year 1807 to the Year 1814,” was returned recently by a friend of one of the soldier's descendants to the Lexington school's Leyburn Library.
Mistakenly thinking he was at adjoining Virginia Military Institute, soldier C.S. Gates pilfered the book on June 11, 1864, from the library of what was then Washington College, university officials said this week. The theft took place when Army of West Virginia Gen. David Hunter's troops raided the area and looted the college's buildings. No other details about Gates were available from the university.
A note Gates inscribed in the book 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.”
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee became Washington College's president after the war ended in 1865. The school was renamed Washington and Lee University after his death in 1870.
The book, which covers the early stages of the war between Spain and its allies against France over control over the Iberian Peninsula, was passed down through C.S. Gates's descendants.
It eventually came into the possession of Mike Dau, of the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Ill., who inherited it more than 20 years ago from the estate of Myron and Isabel Gates, a couple he befriended during college. Dau said Tuesday he isn't sure how exactly Gates the soldier was related to Myron Gates.
“I had been meaning to take it back for years,” Dau said in a telephone interview. “I got tired of talking about it and decided it belonged in the hands of the rightful owner.”
Dau and his wife traveled to Lexington in February to return the book, which he said is in good condition except for a loose binding. He said he was glad he wasn't responsible for any fines.