A Rebel’s Book of Napoleon

Posted on
March 9, 2016

Napoleon and His Times (RB DC 203.c32 1838a)
Napoleon and His Times, front free end paper (RB DC 203.c32 1838a)

The origins of Napoleon and His Times were a mystery when it arrived in Special Collections in October, 2015. Clues on the front free end paper and title page helped to unravel the mystery, though, and revealed the serendipity of this book finding its way back to the Historic Triangle.

On the front free end paper of the book is the inscription: “Left by a Rebel in his tent at Yorktown VA 1862.” This book's owner also wrote “Corbin of Laneville” on the title page, which was the only way to identify the book as his.

Napoleon and His Times, title page
Napoleon and His Times, title page
The Confederate soldier was Private Richard Corbin, who enlisted in the 9th Virginia Cavalry of the Confederate States Army as part of the reinforcements for General Magruder’s Battle of Yorktown against the Union troops.[1] Corbin's family had been Virginians since the Colonial period, and had lived in Laneville on their plantation for generations. James Parke Corbin, Richard Corbin’s father, had built a new plantation in Caroline County, Virginia, and bequeathed it to Richard when he started to form a family. This home, Moss Neck Manor, is just outside of Fredericksburg and was the winter headquarters of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in 1862. Jackson refused to stay in the manor because he wanted to be with his soldiers in solidarity and so used a wood frame building as his office and slept in a tent on the plantation property. Richard Corbin’s wife Roberta hosted Jackson and his troops. Corbin's sister Katherine married Jackson’s Assistant General, Alexander “Sandie” Pendleton, whom she met while Jackson used Moss Neck Manor as his headquarters.[2]

Meanwhile, Corbin was fighting in the Peninsula Campaign under General Joseph E. Johnston and General John B. Magruder. After Johnston brought his troops for reinforcements, the Siege of Yorktown was supposed to culminate in a bombardment from the Union Army at dawn on May 4th, 1862. Instead, the Confederate forces snuck away towards Williamsburg the evening of May 3rd, and so Corbin may have left his book in the rush.[3] Corbin died a year later at the age of 30 in a battle near his home on September 7th.[4]

Napoleon and His Times has found its way back to Virginia and the Historic Triangle where Corbin once left it behind. It will not be forgotten here in Special Collections.

[1] "Soldier Details; Corbin, Richard." National Park Service. Accessed January 6, 2016. http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-soldiers-detail.htm?soldierId=0A0FB19....

[2] Bean, W.G. "Romance at Moss Neck." In Stonewall's Man: Sandie Pendleton, 93-103. UNC Press Books, 2000.

[3] "Battle Detail; Yorktown." National Park Service. Accessed January 6, 2016. http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battles-detail.htm?battleCode=VA009.

[4] "Pvt Richard Corbin." Ancestry.com. 2012. Accessed January 6, 2016. http://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?gss=angs-g&new=1&rank=....