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The Shenandoah Valley in 1864, by George E. Pond—Campaigns of the civil war, XI.

A Review, by Colonel Wm. Allan.
This is one of the most interesting of the Scribner series and is valuable because of the clearness with which it is written, and of the amount of research it shows in bringing together information from widely scattered sources, concerning an exciting and important campaign. [271] As history, too, it is far better than General Doubleday's Gettysburg, though it is far behind the best numbers of the series. Mr. Rope's Army under Pope, and General Palfrey's Antietam, for instance. It is mainly a narrative of the Federal operations in the Valley in 1864, only describing and discussing the Confederate side, so far as is necessary to the comprehension of the achievements of the Union armies. While, too, Mr. Pond's language is temperate, and he aims at fairness, his bias is very evident, and often converts his pages into a defence of, or panegyric upon the Federal commanders. He is not careful to state the strength of the forces engaged in many of the battles (though he gives pretty full extracts from the returns in the appendix), and sometimes, perhaps unwittingly, gives a wrong impression. Nor has he a word of reprobation for any of the outrages and cruelties which marked the path of the Federal armies along the Shenandoah, though he is prompt to condemn the burning of Chambersburg, which was the outgrowth of some of these cruelties.

At the opening of the campaign of 1864, General Sigel commanded the Federal department of West Virginia. He had over 27,000 men present for duty under his command. These were scattered over his department, the two principal bodies being one of about 10,000 under Crook, in Southwest Virginia, and another of 8,500 under Sigel, in person, near Martinsburg. General Breckinridge commanded all the Confederate forces in this region. His forces amounted probably to over 8,000 men, scattered at different points. The Federal forces were ordered forward simultaneously with the advance of Grant on the Rapidan. Crook was to break the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, and destroy the lead mines and salt works in Southwest Virginia, while Sigel was to move up the Shenandoah Valley, and threaten Staunton and Charlottesville. Crook sent his cavalry under Averell against Wytheville and Saltville, while he led his infantry towards Dublin and New River bridge. Averell was defeated and driven back from Wytheville by Jno. Morgan; but Crook's larger force met with more success. Sigel having begun his movement up the Valley, General Lee had ordered Breckinridge with the mass of his forces, to go to meet him. This left an entirely inadequate force to oppose Crook, who defeated it, under W. E. Jones and Jenkins, at Cloyd's Mountain, and subsequently pushed on to Dublin and New River bridge. After burning the bridge and doing some slight damage to the railroad, Crook promptly returned to Meadow Bluff, where he re-united with Averell. [272]

Meantime Breckinridge had reached Staunton, and was moving rapidly down the Valley to meet Sigel, who was advancing. Learning on the 14th May that Sigel was near New Market, Breckinridge left his camp at Lacy Springs, nine miles south of that town, after midnight, and attacked Sigel early next morning. The advent of Breckinridge was probably unexpected by the Federal General. He accepted battle, however, and was entirely defeated and driven from the field, losing five or six pieces of artillery. He puts his force engaged at 5,500, though General Strother says in his report that Sigel's column numbered 8,500. Mr. Pond puts Breckinridge's numbers at from 4,600 to 5,000. Colonel Stoddard Johnston says that Breckinridge had 3,100 muskets in his infantry, and if so, his force was probably under 4,600, and not over it.

The curtain drops, and the principal actors now change. General Lee, pressed by Grant's overwhelming numbers, as soon as he learns that Sigel is disposed of, orders Breckinridge to Hanover Junction, and leaves the defence of the Valley to W. E. Jones, with some 5,000 or 6,000 men scraped together from every part of it. The result proved that the withdrawal of Breckinridge was unfortunate, but the necessity which prompted it was not less than that which forbade it. General Grant, when he learned of Sigel's defeat, had him removed promptly, and Hunter placed in command, and instructed the latter to renew the advance against Staunton, Charlottesville, and Lynchburg. Hunter ordered Crook to march on Staunton from the west, and moved towards the same point himself from the lower Shenandoah Valley. On June 5th Hunter, at the head of his column of 8,500 men, came up with W. E. Jones at Piedmont, some ten or twelve miles in advance of Staunton. Jones's mixed and not well-organized force of about 5,500 men was completely defeated, and Jones himself killed. Hunter next day entered Staunton, where Crook joined him with 10,000 men. The Federal army now had nothing that could oppose or seriously delay its progress, but Hunter, instead of moving on Charlottesville according to his instructions, marched to Lexington, (where he wasted some days in plundering the country), and thence (June 14) by Buchanan and the Peaks of Otter towards Lynchburg.

Meantime Lee was taking as vigorous steps as his resources permitted, to checkmate this movement in his rear. As soon as the defeat of Jones was known, Breckinridge was sent back to Rockfish Gap to unite with Vaughan (who had succeeded Jones) in opposing Hunter. Hampton, at the same time, was sent to drive back Sheridan's [273] cavalry, which had been sent forward to meet Hunter at Charlottesville and coperate with him in the attempt on Lynchburg. A few days later, General Early, with the Second corps, was detached and ordered in the same direction to ensure the defeat of Hunter. Hampton performed his work admirably, barred Sheridan's progress at Louisa Courthouse, and forced him to return, baffled, from a fruitless expedition. Breckinridge transferred his troops to Lynchburg to hold it as long as he might against Hunter. It was the 13th June that Early left General Lee's lines at Richmond, and on this day Hunter threw forward his advance from Lexington to Buchanan. Early made a rapid march, reaching Charlottesville, 80 miles distant, in four days. During the night of the 16th June, and the day of the 17th, he hurried his troops, by railroad, to Lynchburg. On the evening of the, 17th the advance of his infantry was thrown into the works on the Bedford road to support the troops who were delaying Hunter's advance. By the next day (18th) most of Early's infantry were at Lynchburg, and when Hunter attacked he was repulsed. The Federal army, of 18,000 men, was much superior to Early in numbers, but Hunter was far from his base and (he says) his supply of ammunition was limited, This, with the repulse on the 18th, caused him to retreat during the night. Early followed next day, overhauling the rear-guard under Averell and driving it through Liberty in the afternoon. Hunter reached Salem on the 21st, and here adopted a line of retreat as injudicious as had been his line of advance on Lynchburg. Though at the head of superior numbers, he declined to return down the Valley from fear of flank attacks, and decided to retreat through the mountains into West Virginia, by the shortest route. This retreat was really a flight, McCausland dashed in and captured eight of his guns. The Federal army hurried on almost in panic.

Mr. Pond says: ‘The retreat was continued through New Castle with the same headlong speed, not through fear of the enemy, but through necessity of reaching supplies. During the week that elapsed before these were obtained, the troops had no hard bread, and only one issue of six ounces of flour per man. But there was beef on the hoof, the cattle being driven by day and eaten the same night. Many horses and mules died for want of fodder and rest, and not a few wagons were burned for lack of animals to draw them.’ Hunter reached Gauley Bridge, June 27, with his army in a state of demoralization and exhaustion.

Early reached Salem on the 22d. He had moved 209 miles in [274] nine days, had saved Lynchburg and driven Hunter headlong back to the Valley, and then across it and into the Alleghany mountains. His instructions were to destroy Hunter if possible, and to threaten Maryland and Washington city by an advance northward, if the way should be open. Hunter was now out of reach, and his flight left the road to the Potomac open. Early, determined to seize the opportunity and try to relieve the pressure on Lee by a rapid advance to the Potomac and demonstrations against Washington and Baltimore.

Leaving Salem on June 24, Early marched rapidly to the Potomac, a distance of 212 miles, by July 4th, driving Sigel's forces from Martinsburg and other points, to take refuge on the Maryland Heights. Mr. Pond praises Sigel for remaining there with 6,000 or 8,000 men when he should have joined Wallace's troops advancing from Baltimore. Early finding he could not get at Siegel, marched round him, and on July 9th, entered Frederick; on the same day he attacked Wallace, who, with some garrison troops and Rickett's division, of the Sixth corps, which Grant had sent up, was holding the line of the Monocacy. Wallace had about 6,000 men. He was completely defeated and driven in rout towards Baltimore, with the loss of one-third of his command.

Early now continued to press forward by forced marches and in spite of heat and dust arrived before the defences of Washington during the afternoon of the 11th, while Bradley Johnson with a portion of the cavalry was making a circuit about Baltimore and breaking the railroads from the north. Great panic and consternation was produced in Washington and at the North. President Lincoln called for hundred day volunteers, Hunter was ordered to hasten forward from West Virginia to Harper's Ferry. Grant sent up the other two divisions of the Sixth corps from Petersburg, and the Nineteenth corps arrived in Hampton Roads from the South was also ordered to Washington. Some 20,000 troops of one kind or other were in and about Washington, half of whom, at least, were available for holding the defences until the troops sent by Grant could arrive. Early's forces after their severe march of near 300 miles from Salem were greatly worn, and probably did not number 10,000 men in front of Washington. It was never possible for them to enter the city. The garrison was ample to hold them in check until the arrival of the Sixth corps, which took place a few hours after the Confederate advance had reached the Federal lines. Early had fully and successfully carried out the purpose of his expedition. He had produced a tremendous scare and had caused two corps to be [275] detached by Grant to oppose him. A much larger force than his own had thus been drawn away from Richmond. His position in front of Washington quickly became critical. Hunter was hastening to Harper's Ferry, in his rear, and had reached Martinsburg on the 11th, while overwhelming forces were gathering before him. After skirmishing vigorously on the 12th, Early fell back on that night, and on the 14th recrossed the Potomac at White's Ford, and camped at Leesburg. This retreat was managed most skillfully and successfully, the Confederates slipping, without loss, between the armies gathering for their destruction. As the two Federal armies united and advanced south of the Potomac, under Wright of the Sixth corps, Early crossed the Blue Ridge into the Valley about Berryville. Here he repulsed an attack on the 18th, with severe loss to the assailants, and the next day began to fall back to Strasburg, a more secure position, now that 30,000 men were pressing him. On the 20th, Averell defeated his rear guard under Ramseur, near Winchester, but the Federals did not push on.

General Grant expected that Early would be recalled to Richmond, and he had therefore ordered that the corps (Sixth and Nineteenth) he had sent up, should, if possible, anticipate him. They were now withdrawn, and Hunter's forces, under Crook, were left to hold the Valley. Early quickly discovered this, and promptly advancing from Strasburg, on July 24th, fell upon Crook, on the battlefield of Kernstown, where Shields had repulsed Jackson in 1862. Early's victory was thorough, Crook's forces being routed with heavy loss, and in two days Early once more held the Potomac. Mr. Pond does not give Crook's strength in this fight, but as the returns for August show some 22,000 men in the ‘Department of West Virginia,’ it is certain that Crook outnumbered Early, who, according to Mr. Pond, had in all about 15,000 under his command.

This victory caused an immediate change in the Federal programme. The troops that had been recalled to Richmond were ordered back from Washington and others in addition were sent up. Meantime Early again broke up railroad and canal and spread consternation by sending two brigades of cavalry to levy a contribution upon Chambersburg, and in case of refusal to burn it. Mc-Causland, in command of this expedition, burnt the town on July 30th, and as his men were improperly turned loose in it, there were no doubt many unjustifiable acts of plunder and wrong. But Mr. Pond gives an entirely unfair and one-sided account of this transaction. [276] Grant's instruction to Hunter as expressed in a letter about this time were that he should make ‘all the Valley south of the Baltimore and Ohio road a desert, as high up as possible. I do not mean that houses should be burned, but every particle of provisions and stock should be removed, and the people notified to move out.’ When it is remembered that this policy was to be applied to a fertile and populous country some one hundred and fifty by twenty-five miles in extent, we think it has no parallel among civilized nations in modern times. It was never in General Hunter's power to carry out this order, but his acts of brutality that provoked the burning of Chambersburg exceeded even Grant's barbarous order. When Hunter had returned to the lower Valley from the Kanawha he selected the homes of three prominent citizens of Virginia (Messrs. Edmund I. Lee, and Andrew Hunter, and Colonel A. R. Boteler) and sending an officer and party turned out the lady occupants and burned the houses, refusing them permission to save anything from the flames. It is not claimed that these gentlemen had done anything to put themselves beyond the protection of the ordinary usages of war. Two of them, indeed, were not in the military service of the Confederacy and one of these was a kinsman of General Hunter who had in happier years been his host. This act of Hunter's was not in obedience to Grant's instructions, but rather in contravention of them. Yet Mr. Pond would place this burning on the same footing as the accidental or unauthorized destruction of private property (such as the burning of Montgomery Blair's house), by stragglers or drunken soldiers. Great numbers of houses had been shamefully pillaged by Hunter's soldiers in his march through Virginia, and many of them burned, and though such sights naturally exasperated the Confederate soldiers and made it difficult to prevent similar acts on their part, yet it was not for this, nor yet for the destruction of supplies under Grant's order, that Early resorted to the lex talionis. It was for the official act of General Hunter, above described, and for similar deeds that Early ordered a levy to be made upon Chambersburg, and directed that in case of refusal to pay the town should be fired. The necessity for this order may be regretted, the manner in which it was executed may be open to criticism, but it will be difficult to prove that this was not a case that called for retaliation. Mr. Pond thinks the burning of Chambersburg ‘indefensible,’ while he has not a single word to say in adverse criticism of Grant's orders or of Hunter's cruelties!

While McCausland was on the Chambersburg expedition Early made a demonstration across the Potomac to cover the movement [277] and kept the Federal troops in a constant state of excitement. Averell followed McCausland on his return and overhauled and defeated him at Moorfield, on August 7th, thus atoning to some extent for his remissness in having allowed McCausland, with a force not one-half as large as his own, to reach Chambersburg.

On this same August 7th, Hunter was relieved from command at his own request, made upon finding that Grant had determined practicably to supersede him. This officer whose achievements had been in inverse ratio to his barbarities, now sank from view, destined to add, afterwards, but one more to his claims for distinction, in presiding over the court that hung Mrs. Surat. The defeat of Crook, and the advance on Chambersburg had caused Grant to send up two divisions of cavalry, from Richmond. Now Sheridan was put in command of all the forces gathered to crush Early. Grant had come up himself to see the situation. He added to the Federal forces in the Valley until they numbered, by the returns for August, 56,618 present for duty, (of which some 5,000 or 6,000 were on garrison duty) and gave orders for a vigorous following up and attack upon Early. Early's strength at this time by the returns given by Mr. Pond, was not over 15,000 men. There is no ground for Mr. Pond's unfair statement—that Sheridan's strength was ‘far below the official returns’ while Early's was above them. The same causes affected both armies. In the above figures for Early's strength the cavalry under Ransom is put at 3,500. It probably never mustered more than the half of this at any one time ready for action. The truth is that Sheridan was sent forward with a movable column of about 50,000 men, to drive Early with a force of somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 men out of the Valley. The large detachments that Grant had made to Sheridan enabled Lee to order Kershaw's division of infantry, and Fitz. Lee's cavalry, under General Anderson, to Early's assistance. Sheridan began to move from Harper's Ferry promptly, and Early fell back before him to Fisher's Hill, to await the arrival of his reinforcements. By the 10th of August, Anderson came up, and Early was ready to resume the offensive, though his total strength now reached but 21,000 men. Early's boldness, and his aggressive attitude, deceived Sheridan, and convinced the latter that he was in a critical situation. Sheridan's over-estimate of Early's forces finds its only parallel in McClellan's estimates of the troops opposed to him in the Peninsula campaign. The Federal General, with his large army, fell back to Winchester, and the Confederate General, with his small army, followed close at [278] his heels. Sheridan availed himself, however, of the opportunity to plunder and ravage the country. He says, ‘I destroyed all the wheat, hay and provisions south of Winchester and Berryville, and drove off all the cattle.’ The Federal rear-guard, under Torbert, was overhauled at Winchester and severely handled, when Sheridan fell back behind the Opequan, and subsequently withdrew towards Charlestown. Here Early and Anderson made an attack upon him on August 21. After a sharp encounter Early drove his advance, and again Sheridan fell back, this time to Halltown. At last he had reached a position he deemed himself strong enough to hold against Early's 21,000 men. Early finding it impossible to get at the Federal army in its last position, moved on the 25th towards the Potomac, and ran against and severely defeated Sheridan's cavalry. Once more it seemed as if the North was to be invaded. Sheridan telegraphed that Early had marched with the intention of crossing the Potomac; that two of Longstreet's divisions were with him; that his own army might have to cross to the north side; that he hardly thought they would attempt to go to Washington. He hurried troops to hold the South Mountain gaps, near Boonsboro. But Early did not cross; he had already gone to the utmost verge of prudence in the presence of a foe, whose strength was between two and three times as great as his own, and he therefore fell back next day to Bunker Hill and Stephenson's.

Mr. Pond attempts a defence of these operations of Sheridan's, and would shelter him under some instructions of Grant's, which ordered him to be cautious, and not ‘attack’ Early, while the latter's force amounted to 40,000 men. The facts above are the best reply. The cause of Sheridan's feeble policy at this time was his absurd over-estimate of the Confederate forces, which was itself a high tribute to the vigor and skill with which they were handled.

Grant now informed Sheridan that his own progress at Petersburg would compel the recall of the reinforcements Lee had sent to Early, and that he (Sheridan) must ‘watch closely,’ and ‘push with all vigor.’ He also reiterated his orders to convert the Valley into a ‘barren waste.’ Lee did order the return of Anderson, but the latter did not finally leave until the 14th September, and meantime Early held his position in front of Winchester, constantly breaking up the Baltimore and Ohio railroad at Martinsburg and threatening Maryland. Sheridan remained strictly on the defensive, and exhibited great caution in all his movements. The incessant and aggressive activity of the Confederates imposed upon him still, and it was not until [279] Kershaw's division had left Early that he thought it prudent to move out against him. Grant, impatient, no doubt, at the failure of the campaign so far and staggered by Sheridan's persistent hallucination in regard to the forces opposed to him, came up to the Valley, and finding Sheridan about to assume the offensive, had only to say, ‘Go in.’

Sheridan finally attacked on September 19th. Part of Early's force had gone two days before to Martinsburg, and Sheridan hoped to defeat the part near Winchester and seize that place before the absent troops could return. Early had tempted fortune too far; his campaign up to this time had been brilliantly successful, and the ease with which he had for six weeks baffled Sheridan, no doubt, made him over confident. The withdrawal of Kershaw, left him, even by Mr. Pond's account, but 17,000 men of all arms. His real strength was not over one-third of Sheridan's, and the boldness of his movements now was injudicious. They invited and led to attack in an open country. Had he fallen back to Strasburg after Kershaw left, it would have been far more difficult for the Federals to have attacked him. On September 19, Sheridan's troops were held at bay by Ramseur's division and the cavalry under Lomax and Fitz Lee, until the mass of Early's infantry could get up from Stephenson and Bunker Hill. Then ensued one of the longest and steadiest days of fighting that occurred during the war. Sheridan was repulsed with fearful slaughter in front, and at times it seemed as if his great army was about to yield to the fierce onsets of his antagonist, but the battle was finally decided in his favor by his large and well equipped cavalry, which, after driving in the Confederate horsemen on Early's left, dashed against and broke that wing of the Confederates. The heavy pressure of his numbers could no longer be borne, and late in the afternoon the Confederate lines gave way and their army was forced through Winchester. Early fell back to Fisher's Hill during the night. Sheridan suffered heavily but followed up, and on September 22, at Fisher's Hill, inflicted another defeat upon the Confederates. Here, he, under cover of the forest, outflanked Early's left and stampeded it. This quickly led to the abandonment of his whole line, and the loss of eleven guns. Though Early's loss here was nothing like so heavy as at Winchester, the injury done to the morale of the army was much greater. In both battles the Confederates lost valuable officers. At Winchester fell Rodes, Godwin, and Patton, at Fisher's Hill fell A. S. Pendleton, the Assistant Adjutant General of the army—a costly offering upon their country's altar. [280]

Sheridan now marched forward with little opposition. Early fell back before him to Brown's Gap, while the Federals pushed on to Staunton and Waynesboroa. Kershaw's infantry and Rosser's cavalry were sent to Early's aid, and in a short time he was ready for fight again. The Confederate cavalry was so active that Sheridan found it difficult to protect his supply trains, and considered it impracticable to cross the mountains and move on Charlottesville, as Grant desired. He therefore retired down the Valley, plundering or burning everything in his pathway that he deemed might be of service to the Confederates. He supposed the campaign over, and advised that a large part of his force be taken elsewhere. Early followed as he retired, and though the Confederate cavalry was badly beaten on October 9th, Early continued to advance to Fisher's Hill, while Sheridan halted at Cedar Creek, and prepared to send some of his troops to Grant. Early now planned and executed one of the most daring exploits of the war. With a force of about 12,000 men he determined to attack the immensely superior and victorious forces of the enemy, relying on the very boldness and unexpectedness of the movement for success. Early properly disposed his troops, and at daybreak on October 19th Sheridan's camp was attacked. The Federals were taken completely by surprise, and in a short time two of Sheridan's corps were overwhelmed and dispersed, and their camps and artillery captured, and the third one was forced from the field. The force of Early's attack had now spent itself, his cavalry had not been able to drive the masses of Federal cavalry on the flanks, the country in front was open, and the Confederates halted for some hours. Meantime the Federals recovered from their surprise; their broken ranks were reformed upon the Sixth corps, which had preserved its organization; General Sheridan, who had been absent, came hurriedly up from Winchester, and exerted all his influence to allay the panic and reform his troops. When this was done, perceiving Early's small force and exposed situation, he attacked him in the afternoon, pierced his line, and soon had the Confederates in full retreat for Cedar Creek. Pressing them with his cavalry, he converted the retreat into a rout. The trains and artillery were jammed in the road, and fell into the hands of the Federals, and only the 1,500 prisoners he had taken was Early able to get off. Sheridan recaptured all the artillery he had lost, and a great deal more. The brilliant victory, which at mid-day had been Early's, was at nightfall Sheridan's. This was one of the most remarkable days in history, and the interest in it and discussion about it will grow with [281] time. The achievements of both Generals upon this day entitle them to high praise, Early for the audacity of his plan, and the skill with which it was carried out, Sheridan for the cool judgment with which he took in the situation, and the readiness of resource he displayed in converting a disastrous defeat into a great victory.

Sheridan was satisfied with the results of this day, and did not push Early up the Valley again. The latter rested and recruited at New Market, and on November 12th was again able to confront Sheridan at Middletown. The Confederate cavalry having again been worsted on the flanks, Early retired on the night of that day, no engagement of the infantry having taken place. For some weeks after this the Confederates remained at New Market, when it being manifest that important operations in the Valley were at an end for the season, the mass of Early's troops were withdrawn by General Lee to Petersburg. About the same time General Grant withdrew a large part of Sheridan's infantry to the same place. Early removed his headquarters to Staunton, and kept his cavalry busy during the winter in making dashes at exposed posts and at the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. He also checked effectually the cavalry expeditions sent out by Sheridan.

Matters were now rapidly hastening to an end. Late in February Sheridan set out from Winchester with ‘10,000 sabres,’ and moved up the Valley. Early attempted, with the 1,200 or 1,300 men he had, to stop him at Rockfish Gap. The Federals attacked the Confederates, however, at Waynesboroa before they had fallen back into the gap, and quickly routed, rode down and captured the greater part of this handful of troops.

Sheridan's command in the Valley was marked by excessive barbarity. Not only was Grant's order for the wholesale destruction of private property carried out, but, like Hunter, Sheridan took occasion to improve upon his superior. On one occasion a young Lieutenant (Meigs) upon his staff, having been shot while on a reconnoissance, by a Confederate scout, he ordered all the houses within five miles of the spot to be burned. This illustration is by no means an isolated one of the savage mode in which he carried on the war.

Early has been severely criticised, and naturally so, for in war success is with the mass the sole test of merit, and many disasters marked the latter part of his campaign. As time goes on, however, and the truth becomes more clearly seen, history will do justice to the vigor which drove Hunter almost in panic out of the Valley, to the [282] audacity and celerity—only comparable with that of Stonewall Jackson—which carried 15,000 men, in less than three weeks, from Salem to the suburbs of Washington and spread consternation in the North; to the skill which extricated his army in safety from the multitude of foes which quickly gathered about it; to the hard blows which demolished Wallace and Crook; to the splendid game of bluff, which for six weeks kept 50,000 men cooped up in a corner of the Valley; to the indomitable courage and tenacity which would never accept defeat but struggled on against overwhelming numbers and resources, almost snatching victory from Fate itself, until his cause and country sank exhausted in the unequal strife. That Early was bold to rashness, and that he often took fearful risks is true. Had he been cautious he would never have undertaken the campaign at all.

Mr. Pond's book, though marked by serious defects, is a valuable contribution towards getting at the truth.

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