Helping a lost book find its way home: Tryon bookseller solves mystery

Published 1:44 pm Friday, April 24, 2009

Dau is a serious collector, with 1,300 volumes, including many rare books about football, and so he &dquo;appreciated the intrinsic value of the book from the outset,&dquo; Goodheart said. &dquo;He knew there was something about that book that merited investigation.&dquo;

After forgetting about the book, Dau had one day pulled it down from the shelves and then enlisted Goodheart&squo;s assistance.

It turns out that the book was one of a thousand or so books looted from the Washington College library 145 years ago during a raid by Union soldiers. It was handed down from generation to generation of the family of C.S. Gates, the soldier who apparently took it. His grandson, Myron Gates of Lake Forest, Ill., along with his wife Isabel, was Dau&squo;s neighbor and friend.

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Charles S. Gates, according to historical records, 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.

A note writted in the book and signed by C.S. Gates reads: &dquo;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.&dquo;

When he got hold of the book, Goodheart, a graduate of Washington and Lee himself, contacted Laura Turner, technical services librarian at the school.

They exchanged photocopies of the title pages of Dau&squo;s volume and the Volume II still remaining in the library collection. They matched exactly.

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 I, in Dau&squo;s possession, was 139. Volume 2, the copy in the library, was 140.

Turner believes the soldier mistakenly thought he was taking the book from VMI. But the volume has &dquo;Washington College&dquo; written on its frontispiece.

&dquo;We were astounded to get something back with the history that it has,&dquo; Turner said. &dquo;It&squo;s invaluable to us because of this historical connection to the university.

&dquo;Volumes three and four are still out there somewhere,&dquo; she said. &dquo;We&squo;d love to get them back.&dquo;

Be assured, at least one Tryon bookseller is now on the look out.