The Reconquista, Washington Irving, and the American Civil War: Coming Together through Special Collections

Posted on
October 22, 2019

Tyler Goldberger, SCRC Graduate Apprentice and Ph.D. student in History, explores how one book can tell several different histories. Read on to learn more about the journey of a book that was stolen and later returned to the William & Mary library.

How do the experiences of the Christian conquest of Muslim Spain in the 15th century, an acclaimed American writer by the name of Washington Irving, and a soldier fighting for the Union during the American Civil War come together?

The first page and title page of the 1860 copy of Conquest of Granada reads: “For value received I Mr. Hazlett do turn this Book into the hands of Mr. Fulton and he is now the lawfull owner of it.” Signed on January 17, 1863.
“For value received I Wm. Hazlett do turn this Book into the hands of Mr. Fulton and he is now the lawfull owner of it.” Signed by Hazlett on January 17, 1863.

Washington Irving, most known for his authorship of many American literary classics, also found a connection with the 1492 fall of Granada in the Iberian Peninsula through writing. In one of his books, Conquest of Granada, Irving chronicles the sights and sounds of this city during its final day under the Islamic empire and the turbulent transition to Christian rule. Irving had lived in the esteemed Alhambra, the Muslim fortress of Granada which greatly influenced his work, in 1829, the same year he first published Conquest of Granada.

An 1860 copy of Irving’s Conquest of Granada (UA 15) found in Special Collections also happened to be a makeshift diary for Union Sergeant William Hazlitt/Hazlett (listed both ways in various historical records) during the American Civil War. Hazlett is claimed to have stolen the book from the William & Mary Library in 1862, bringing it along with him and the rest of the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry through various battles up until renouncing ownership in January of 1863. Respecting the work of Irving, Hazlett decided to add journal entries on pages or areas that did not contain any text, layering the history of this 1860 edition with his 1862 and 1863 journal entries describing his experiences during the Civil War.

A handwritten note added to the end of the printed text on page 125 of the Conquest of Granada. Signed Rev. J.K. Tuner, Chaplain.
Reverend J.K. Turner added this note that explains Hazlett’s compromise of alcoholic consumption. This specific language demonstrates that Hazlett most likely confronted problems related to drinking excessive whiskey.

Most of the journal entries included by Hazlett do not depict the gruesome nature of war or the motivations for fighting; rather, this journal became an outlet for Hazlett to track his consumption of alcoholic drinks and attempts to manage his addiction. For example, the end of the Irving’s chapter on “Forebodings of the Moors” depicts a note from the Chaplain of the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry “certify[ing] that Mr. Hazlett has this day come before me and swore by all that was black that hereafter he would only use whiskey for medical purposes and then in small quantitys.”

Unfortunately, as told by an additional journal entry, it seems as though Hazlett was unable to control his alcohol. A handwritten note from January 18, 1863 suggests Hazlett be discharged from the army “on account of general debility caused by the over use of Whiskey Punch and Lager beer while in the service of the U.S."

This Reconquista book turned Civil War journal bares many questions to the daily life of soldiers on both sides from 1861 to 1865. How does this source shed light into the life of war during this era? How many soldiers faced a similar narrative to Hazlett? Does the robbery of this book from the William & Mary library suggest an importance to this particular subject? While perhaps provoking more questions than answers, Irving’s 1860 copy of Conquest of Granada allows the reader the unique ability to connect two histories and to attempt to understand why they both matter.

A handwritten note inside Conquest of Granda: "To all whom it may concern / Be it known that Wm. Hazlett of Co. G is this day discharged from the Service of the U.S on account of general debility caused by the over use of Whiskey Punch and Lager Beer while in the service of the U.S." Signed by James [Askins], Brigade Surgeon, and J.B. Hooker, Major General.
A discharge notice opposite the book's first chapter reiterates Hazlett's habit of excessive drinking during the war.

References and More to Explore:

Finding aid on the Special Collections database for this 1860 copy of the Conquest of Granada, part of the University Archives Bound Volumes Collection (UA 15). 

Access a digitized version of The Flat Hat, January 18, 1938, on the W&M Digital Archive. This issue mentions the book returning to William & Mary in 1938. See article on page two: "W&M Library Gets Old Book."

Learn more about the life and work of Washington Irving (1783-1859).