Book Taken During Civil War Returned To Library

A book stolen by a Union soldier during the Civil War has been returned to Washington and Lee University in Virginia, 145 years after it was removed. A friend of one of the soldier's descendants gave it back.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

There are many tales about overdue library books, but for sheer length of absence from the rightful shelf, this one ranks pretty high. A leather-bound copy of Napier's "History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France Volume 1," has been returned to Washington and Lee University after being gone from the library for almost 145 years.

Mike Dau, the retired football coach and athletic director at Lake Forest College in Illinois, figured out where it belonged and sent it home. And joining us to explain how this history of the Napoleonic Wars got from Lexington, Virginia to Lake Forest, Illinois is Laura Turner, a librarian at Washington and Lee.

Hi, welcome to the program.

LAURA TURNER: Hi. It's great to be on.

SIEGEL: And let's start with a key confusion here, which is that in Lexington, Virginia, there are two old Virginia colleges, Washington and Lee University, which used to be just Washington College back in 1864, and Virginia Military Institute or VMI.

TURNER: Yes, that's correct. We're next door neighbors.

SIEGEL: And back in 1864, you were next door neighbors under fire.

TURNER: We were. Both of us under attack with VMI being maybe a little more of an interest to the Union Army.

SIEGEL: VMI, which they identified with the Confederate General, Stonewall Jackson.

TURNER: Yes. Stonewall Jackson actually was a VMI professor.

SIEGEL: And Washington College enjoyed a little bit of immunity with the Union Army.

TURNER: Well, our benefactor is George Washington. And the Union soldiers anecdotally saw a statue of George Washington on campus, and they understood him to be our benefactor, and so they did preserve some of the campus and didn't burn it to the ground like they did VMI.

SIEGEL: So, here are these Union soldiers who at least don't burn all of Washington College to the ground, but why did somebody take a copy of this history of the Peninsular Campaign of Napoleon?

TURNER: It's really pretty fascinating at the time that this was taken because it would have been similar, I guess, to studying, you know, World War II nowadays. And so, at the time, if the soldier had any idea what kind of military history he was taking, he was probably familiar with this particular author.

And the looting was on a grand scale with lab equipment, library materials, rocks from the geology department. These were the kind of things that were taken by the soldiers. And for some reason, Volume 2 of the library's copy of that did not get taken.

SIEGEL: Well, how did Volume 1 then - where did Volume 1 go to from the library at Washington College, as it was then?

TURNER: Well, the fascinating thing about Volume 1 is that it has an inscription from the Union soldier that took it penciled in front of the title page, and it essentially talks about being taken from a military institute. I think in the chaos of the day, maybe the Union soldier wasn't sure where he was. And so, Mr. Dau wasn't exactly certain where it belonged, although on the title page, we clearly have our Washington College property inscribed in handwritten style.

SIEGEL: You mean the Union Army soldier who relieved Washington College of this history book, based on what was found inside, seemed to think he was taking it from VMI.

TURNER: Yes.

SIEGEL: Was it handed down by the soldier to his descendants over the years?

TURNER: It did actually pass through the hands of the family until the grandson, who did not have any heirs, gave it to Mr. Dau upon his death as a family friend, and he had already shown the book to Mr. Dau and described the history of it.

SIEGEL: And Mr. Dau, I gather, was a fairly serious book man.

TURNER: Yes. He was excited to bring it down here. He didn't want to put it in the mail. So he hand delivered it and did it with the request that he not be fined for it being overdue.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: And certainly not with compounded interest, I guess.

TURNER: That's right.

SIEGEL: Ms. Turner, thank you very much for talking with us.

TURNER: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's librarian Laura Turner at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, which now has the book back, Volume 1 of "The History of the War in the Peninsula and the South of France." It's been missing since the Civil War.

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