The Mystery of the “Looted Civil War Book” – Solved.

About a month ago we posted on our Flickr site the following inscription found in Loyola’s copy of The Lives of the Popes by Leopold Von Ranke (to view all images from this book click here).

The inscription is transcribed below:

civil war(Special Collections, Loyola University Chicago, Call Number BX955.R33)

“Taken from the house of the rev’d Jas. A. Harrold
Falls Church Fairfax County
Late rector of St. Andrews Free Church
Now in the Rebel service

30th N.Y.S.V.
Upton Hill
October 5th, 1861″

What we couldn’t seem to figure out was the identity of the soldier who looted the book, his name being smudged out. All we could make out was the first letter, which looked to be a “J.” But, with the aid of a Flickr visitor, we were able to determine that “30th N.Y.S.V.” stood for “30th New York State Volunteers.” And, a search through civil war diaries from the 30th N.Y.S.V. unveiled this:

The Civil War Diary of John G. (Gordon) Morrison, 30th N.Y.S.V.


Friday, Oct. 4th, 1861: “The right wing of our regiment went on picket to and beyond the village of Falls Church. Visited the house of the late rector of the church, the Rev’d Jas. A. Harrold, and a precious rascal he was, too, pretending to be a union man. He has run clear since. The spy is after him. He left a splendid suite of household furniture behind him, including a piano, harp, besides a library of about 300 volumes. I took seven volumes of his books.”

Sunday, Oct. 6th, 1861: “No church today, for a wonder. Read some of the books which I took from the minister’s house (The lives of the Popes, by Professor Ranke, a Prussian, I presume). He appears not to be as much of a bigot as the generality of the writers of ecclesiastical history are.”

Thus, thanks to Flickr and the help of a scholar, we are now able to put a name and a photograph to the history of this book! In 1862, Morrison, now serving in the Union Navy, won the Congressional Medal of honor for his bravery and courage when his ship, the U.S.S. Carondelot, came under significant rebel enemy fire. He passed away in 1897 at the age of 58, and was buried in Brooklyn, New York.


Only one question remains; how did Morrison’s book make it to St. Ignatius College? According to the 1860 and 1880 U.S. Census, Morrison lived in New York, and we already know he was buried in Brooklyn in 1897. Additionally, neither his wife or his nine children ever made residence anywhere other than the northeastern United States (most stayed in New York).

According to Morrison’s diary, he was in almost weekly contact with his wife Margaret Anne McCabe (quite frequently for a soldier). There is evidence that she sent him packages on occasion. Could he have sent the looted volumes home to his wife? See the following passages:

Wednesday, Jan. 29th, 1862: Was detailed for guard. Had to stay in the guard house when off post, a cold, dirty, cheerless hole. Borrowed a book of Lieut. Campbell to while away the time whilst off duty.

Wednesday, Mar. 12th, 1862
Received also a letter and papers from my friend Tom Gillespie which were truly welcome, as I had nothing whatever to read.

The above diary passages may support two possible hypotheses:

1. Morrison might have already mailed the looted volumes home to his wife, but there is no evidence in his very detailed diary of doing such a thing.

2. Morrison might have lost the volumes. Once again, we have no evidence of this in his diary, but this could explain his name being “smudged” out of the book.

All we can discern at this point is that Morrison is no longer in possession of any of the looted books. Thus, while we have solved one mystery, another mystery remains…

(Citation Notes: Click here for a biographical essay on John G. Morrison, and visit this link for a full PDF version of his entire Civil War Diary – Courtesy of the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. The diary is currently held at The Naval Historical Center Library at the Washington Navy Yard)


6 thoughts on “The Mystery of the “Looted Civil War Book” – Solved.

  1. […] Title: The history of the popes, their church and state, and especially of their conflicts with Protestantism in the sixteenth & seventeenth centuries. Author: Ranke, Leopold Von Publication date: London, 1848 Library: Special Collections, Loyola University Chicago Call number: BX955.R33 Submitted by: Kyle Roberts, Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project Description: “Taken from the house of the rev’d Jas. A. Harrold / Falls Church Fairfax County / Virginia / Late rector of St. Andrews Free Church / Washington /Now in the Rebel service / 30th N.Y.S.V. / Upton Hill /October 5th, 1861″ A surprising inscription to find in a rather common mid-nineteenth-century book. For an image of the possible looter and entries from his diaries, check out the post on the Jesuit LIbraries Provenance Project blog:… […]

  2. […] The digital nature of the Provenance Project further complicates Benjamin’s public/private dichotomy. Benjamin was certainly keen on the effect that technology would have on collecting and art, but perhaps even he could not have imagined photographing a library and putting it on the Internet, giving billions of people access. By crowdsourcing parts of the project, we’re able to share what used to be held by only one individual at a time, with people all over the world. Already we’ve seen incredible results and stories. […]

    • I notice you used the photo of John G. Morrison in the summer uniform if the inland sailors in your article on Professor Ranke’s Lives of the Popes. If you would like I can provide a copy of a photo of John in his winter Army uniform.
      I suspect that the book was in Margaret Morrison’s possession until she emptied her house she and her siblings had many bookcases and I am certain I saw “Confessions of a Lotus Eater” there as a child. Margaret and her sister Anna functioned as my grandmothers because their sister Jennie, who was my grandmother, died when my father was three. I spent many days in their house.

      • That would be great, James, if you would be willing share a copy of the photo of Morrison’s winter Army uniform with us. If you can send a digital image of it to us at we will happily post it on the site.

        Thanks as well for the lead on Margaret Morrison’s possible ownership of the book. Did she by chance live in the Chicago area? Or was she back in New York?

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