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XVIII. breaking camp.--on the march.

And now comes “ boots and saddles! ” Oh! there's hurrying to and fro,
And saddling up in busy haste — for what, we do not know.
Sometimes 'twas but a false alarm, sometimes it meant a fight;
Sometimes it came in daytime, and sometimes it came at night.
The subject of this chapter is a very suggestive one to the old soldier. It covers a whole realm of experience which it would be nearly impossible to exhaust. But there is much in this as in other experiences which was common to all longterm veterans, and to this common experience more especially I shall address my attention.

From the descriptions which I have already given of the various kinds of shelter used by the soldiers it will be readily understood that they got the most comfortably settled in their winter-quarters, and that in a small way each hut became a miniature homestead, and for the time being possessed, to a certain extent, all the attractions of home. The bunk, the stools, and other furniture, the army bric-a-brac, whether captured or of home production, which adorned the rough tenement within and without, all came to have a value by association in the soldier's thought, a value which was not fully computed till campaigning impended — that usually direful day, when marching orders came and the boys folded their tents and marched away. This sketch [331] will relate something of army life as it was lived after marching orders were received.

When the general commanding an army had decided upon a plan of campaign, and the proper time came to put it in operation, he at once issued his orders to his subordinate commanders to have their commands ready to take their place in column at a given hour on a given day. These orders came down through the various corps, division, brigade, regimental, or battery headquarters to the rank and file, whose instructions given them on line would be to the effect that at the stated hour they were to be ready to start with three days rations in their haversacks (this was the usual quantity), the infantry to have forty rounds of ammunition in their cartridge-boxes. This latter quantity was very often exceeded. The Army of the Potomac went into the Wilderness having from eighty to a hundred rounds of ammunition to a man, stowed away in knapsacks, haversacks, or pockets, according to the space afforded, and six days rations similarly disposed of. When Hooker started on the Chancellorsville Campaign, eleven days rations were issued to the troops.

Sometimes marching orders came when least expected. I remember to have heard the long roll sounded one Saturday forenoon in the camp of the infantry that lay near us in the fall of ‘63; it was October 10. Our guns were unlimbered for action just outside of camp where we had been lying several days utterly unsuspicious of danger. It was quite a surprise to us; and such Lee intended it to be, he having set out to put himself between our army and Washington. We were not attacked, but started to the rear a few hours afterwards.

Before the opening of the spring campaign a reasonable notice was generally given. There was one orderly from each brigade headquarters who almost infallibly brought marching orders. The men knew the nature of the tidings which he cantered up to regimental headquarters with under [332] his belt. Very often they would good-naturedly rail at him as he rode into and out of camp, thus indicating their dislike of his errand; but the wise ones went directly to quarters and began to pack up.

When it was officially announced to the men on line at night that marching orders were received, and that at such an hour next morning tents would be struck and the men in packing up. place, equipped and provided as already stated, those men who had not already decided the question retired to their huts and took an account of stock in order to decide what to take and what to leave. As a soldier would lay out two articles on the bunk, of equally tender associations, one could seem to hear him murmur, with Gay, “How happy could I be with either Were t'other dear charmer away.” as he endeavored to choose between them, knowing too well that both could not be taken. The “survival of the fittest” [333] was the question, which received deeper and tenderer consideration here in one evening than Darwin has ever given it in the same time. Then, there was the overcoat and the woollen blanket which should be left? Perhaps he finally decided to try taking both along for a while. He will leave the dress-coat and wear the blouse. He has two changes of flannels. He will throw away those he has on, don a clean set and take a change with him. These flannels, by the way, if they were what he drew from the government stores, were often as rough to the skin as coarse sand-paper, which they somewhat resembled in color.

From the head of his bunk he takes a collection of old letters which have accumulated during the winter. These he looks over one by one and commits to the flames with a sigh. Many of them are letters from home; some are from acquaintances. Possibly he read the Waverly Magazine, and may have carried on a correspondence with one or more of the many young women who advertised in it for a “soldier correspondent, who must not be over twenty,” with all the virtues namable. There was no man in my company — from old Graylocks, of nearly sixty, down to the callow “chicken” of seventeen--but; what felt qualified to fill such a bill, “just for the fun of it, you know.” The young woman was generally “eighteen, of prepossessing appearance, good education, and would exchange photographs if desired.”

An occasional letter from such a quarter would provoke a smile as the soldier glanced at its source and contents before committing it to the yawn of his army fireplace. This rather unpleasant task completed, he continues his researches and work of destruction. He tucks his little collection of photographs, which perhaps he has encased in rubber or leather, into an inside pocket, and disposes other small keepsakes about his person. If he intends to take his effects in a knapsack, he will at the start have put by more to carry than if he simply takes his blankets (rubber and woollen) rolled and slung over his shoulder. Late in the war this latter was the [334] most common plan, as the same weight could be borne with less fatigue in that manner than in a knapsack, slung on the back.

I have assumed it to be evening or late afternoon when marching orders arrived, and have thus far related what the average soldier was wont to do immediately afterwards. There was a night ahead and the soldiers were wont to “make a night of it.” As a rule, there was little sleep to be had, the enforcement of the usual rules of camp being relaxed on such an occasion. Aside from the labor of personal packing and destroying, the rations were to be distributed, and each company had to fall into line, march to the cook-house, and receive their three or more days' allowance of hardtack, pork, coffee, and sugar, all of which they must stow away, as compactly as possible, in the haversack or elsewhere if they wanted them. In the artillery, besides securing the rations, sacks of grain — usually oats — must be taken from the grainpile and strapped on to the ammunition-chests for the horses; the axles must be greased, good spare horses selected to supply the vacancies in any teams where the horses were unfit for duty; the tents of regimental headquarters must be struck, likewise the cook-tents, and these, with officers' baggage, must be put into the wagons which are to join the trains;--in brief, everything must be prepared for the march of the morrow.

After this routine of preparation was completed, camp-fires were lighted, and about them would gather the happy-go-lucky boys of the rank and file, whose merry din would speedily stir the blood of the men who had hoped for a few hours' sleep before starting out on the morrow, to come out of their huts and join the jovial round; and soon they were as happy as the happiest, even if more reticent. As the fire died down and the soldiers drew closer about it, some comrade would go to his hut, and, with an armful of its furniture, the stools, closets, and tables I have spoken of, reillumine and enliven the scene and drive back the circle of bystanders again. [335] The conversation, which, with the going down of the fire, was likely to take on a somewhat sober aspect, would again assume a more cheerful strain. For a time conjectures on the plan of the coming compaign would be exchanged. Volumes of wisdom concerning what ought to be done changed hands at these camp-fires, mingled with much “I told you so” about the last battle. Alexanders simply swarmed, so waiting for marching Orders. numerous were those who could solve the Gordian knot of success at sight. It must interest those strategists now, as they read history, to see how little they really knew of what was taking place.

When this slight matter of the proper thing for the army to do was disposed of, some one would start a song, and then for an hour at least “John Brown's body,” “Marching along,” “Red, white, and blue,” “Rally ‘round the flag,” and other popular and familiar songs would ring out on the clear evening air, following along in quick succession, and sung with great earnestness and enthusiasm as the chorus was [336] increased by additions from neighboring camp-fires, until tired Nature began to assert herself, when one by one the company would withdraw, each going to his hut for two or three hours rest, if possible, to partially prepare him for the toils of the morrow. Ah! is not that an all-wise provision of Providence which keeps the future a sealed book, placing it before us leaf by leaf only, as the present? For some of these very men, it may have been, whose voices rang out so merrily at that camp-fire, would lie cold and pale ere the week should close, in the solemn stillness of death.

But morning dawned all too soon for those who gave up most of the night to hilarity, and all were summoned forth at the call of the bugle or the drum, and at a time agreed upon The General was sounded.

the General. Presto.

The above is the General of infantry. That of the artillery was less often used and entirely different.

At this signal, every tent in a regiment was struck. It was quite an interesting sight to see several acres of canvas disappear in a moment, where before it had been the prominent feature in the landscape. As a fact, I believe the General was little used in the latter part of the war. For about two years, when the troops were sheltered by the Sibley, Wedge, and Wall tents, it was necessary to have them struck at an early hour, in order that they might be packed away in the wagon-train. But after the Shelter tent [337] came into use, and each man was his own wagon, the General was seldom heard unless at the end of a long encampment; for, when marching orders came, each man understood that he must be ready at the hour appointed, even if his regiment waited another day before it left camp.

No more provoking incident of army life happened, I believe, than for a regiment to wait in camp long after the hour appointed to march. But such was the rule rather than the exception. Many a man's hearth-stone was then desolate, for if the hour of departure was set for the morning, when morning came and the stockade was vacated, it often suffered demolition to increase the heat of the campfires, as previously noted. But as hour after hour wore on, and men still found themselves in camp with nothing to do and plenty of help, they began to wish that they had not been so hasty in breaking up housekeeping and tearing down their shanties, else they might resort to them and make their wait a little more endurable. Especially did they repent if rain came on as they lingered, or if night again overtook them there with their huts untenable, for it would have been the work of only a moment to re-cover them with the Shelter tents. Such waits and their consequences were severe tests to the patience of the men, and sometimes seemed to work more injury to their morals than the average army chaplain could repair in days.

But there is an end to all things earthly, this being no exception. The colors of corps headquarters borne at the heels of the corps commander, and followed by his staff, are at last seen moving into the road. The bugler of the division having the lead sounds the call Attention.



This call is the Attention of infantry at which the men, already in column, take their places, officers mount, and all await the next call, which is


At this signal the regiments take “right shoulder shift,” and the march begins. Let the reader, in imagination, take post by the roadside as the column goes by. Take a look at corps headquarters. The commander is a major-general. His staff comprises an assistant adjutant-general, an assistant inspector-general, a topographical engineer, a commissary of musters, a commissary of subsistence, a judgeadvocate, several aides-de-camp — and perhaps other officers, of varying rank. Those mentioned usually ranked from colonel to captain. In the Union army, major-generals might command either a division, a corps, or an army, but in the Confederate service each army of importance was commanded by a lieutenant-general. Take a look at the corps headquarters flag. Feb. 7, 1863, General Hooker decreed the flags of corps headquarters to be a blue swallow-tail field bearing a white Maltese cross, having in the centre the number of the corps; but, so far as I can learn, this decree was never enforced in a single instance. Mr. James Beale, in his exceedingly valuable and unique volume, “The Union flags at Gettysburg,” shows a nondescript cross on some of the headquarters flags, which some quartermaster may have intended as a compliance with Hooker's order; but though true copies of originals they are monstrosities, which never could have had existence in a well ordered brain, and which have no warrant in heraldry or general [339] orders as far as can be ascertained. When the army entered upon the Wilderness Campaign, each corps headquarters floated a blue swallow-tailed flag bearing its own particular emblem in white, in the centre of which was the figure designating the corps, in red.

Here comes the First Division. At the head rides its general commanding and staff. Behind him is the colorbearer, carrying the division flag. If you are familiar with the corps badges, you will not need to ask what corps or division it is. The men's caps tell the story, but the flags are equally plain-spoken.

This flag is the first division color. It is rectangular in shape. The corps emblem is red in a white field; the second has the emblem white in a blue field; the third has the emblem blue in a white field. The divisions had the lead of the corps on the march by turns, changing each day.

But here comes another headquarters. The color-bearer carries a triangular flag. That is a brigade flag. May 12, 1863, General Hooker issued an order prescribing division flags of the pattern I have described, and also designated what the brigade flags should be. They were to be, first of all, triangular in shape; the brigades of the first division should bear the corps symbol in red in the centre of a white field, but, to distinguish them, the first brigade should have no other mark; the second should have a blue stripe next the staff, and the third a blue border four and one-half inches wide around the flag.

The brigades of the second division had the corps symbol in white in the centre of a blue field, with a red stripe next the staff to designate the second brigade, and a red border the third.

The third division had its brigades similarly designated, with the symbol blue, the field white, and the stripes red.

Whenever there was a fourth brigade, it was designated by a triangular block of color in each corner of the flag. [340]

The chief quartermaster of the corps and the chief of artillery had each his appropriate flag, as designated in the color-plate, but the arrangement of the colors in the flag of the chief quartermasters differed in different corps.

This scheme of Hooker's, for distinguishing corps, division, and brigade headquarters remained unchanged till the end of the war.

The brigades took turns in having the lead — or, as military men say, the right--of the division, and regiments had the right of brigades by turns.

There goes army headquarters yonder — the commanding general, with his numerous staff — making for the head of the column. His flag is the simple star-spangled banner. The stars and stripes were a common flag for army headquarters. It was General Meade's headquarters flag till Grant came to the Army of the Potomac, who also used it for that purpose. This made it necessary for Meade to change, which he did, finally adopting a lilac-colored swallow-tail flag, about the size of the corps headquarters flags, having in the field a wreath enclosing an eagle, in gold.

You can easily count the regiments in column by their United States colors. A few of them, you will notice, have a battle-flag, bearing the names of the engagements in which they have participated. Some regiments used the national colors for a battle-flag, some the state colors. I think the volunteers did not adopt the idea early in the war. Originally battles were only inscribed on flags by authority of the secretary of war, that is, in the regular army. But the volunteers seemed to be a law unto themselves, and, while many flags in existence to-day bear names of battles inscribed by order of the commanding general, there are some with inscriptions of battles which the troops were hardly in hearing of. The Rebel battle-flag was a blue spangled saltier in a red field, and originated with General Joe Johnston after the first Bull Run.

You will have little difficulty in deciding where a regiment [341] begins or ends. It begins with a field officer and ends with a mule. Originally it ended with several army wagons; but now that portion of regimental headquarters baggage which has not gone to the wagon-train is to be found stowed about the mule, that is led along by a contraband. Yes, the head, ears, and feet which you see are the only visible externals of a mule. He is “clothed upon” with the various materials necessary to prepare a “square meal” for the colonel and other headquarters officers. His trappings would, seemingly, fit out a small family in household goods of a kind. There is a mess-kettle, a fry-pan, messpans, tent-poles, a fly (canvas), a valise, a knapsack and haversack, a hamper on each side, a musket, and other matter which goes to make the burden at least twice the size of the animal. Four mules were regarded as having the carrying capacity of one army wagon. At the end of the brigade you will see two or three of these mules burdened with the belongings of brigade headquarters.

The mule had other company than the negro ofttimes. That man who seems to be flour and grease from head to heels, who needs no shelter nor rubber blanket because he is waterproof already, perhaps, inside and out, whose shabby, well-stuffed knapsack furnishes the complement to the mule's lading, who shuffles along with “no style about him,” is the cook, perhaps, for the regiment, probably for headquarters, certainly not for Delmonico. It is singular, but none the less true, that if a man made a slovenly, indifferent soldier he was fully as likely to get a berth in the cook-house as to have any other fate befall him. This remark applies to men who drifted into the business of “army caterer” after trying other service, and not those who entered at once upon it.

Here comes a light battery at the rear of the division. Possibly it is to remain with this part of the corps for the campaign. Such was sometimes the case, but later a battery was often used anywhere within the limits of a corps that [342] it could be of advantage. This battery has six brass Napoleons, 12-pounders. They are very destructive at short range. It is followed by a battery of steel guns. They are Parrots, three-inch rifles; best for long range, but good anywhere. Not so safe for close action, however, as the Napoleons.

Yonder you can see the Second Division moving across the fields, made up like the one just passed. It will close in upon the rear of this division farther up the road. What an interesting spectacle it presents, the bright sunlight glinting from the thousands of polished muskets, the moving masses of light and dark blue inching along over the uneven ground, the various flags streaming proudly in the air, marking off the separate brigades and regiments. The column is moving at a moderate pace. It takes some time for a corps to get under way. If we wait long enough, the Third Division, made up like the others, will pass by us, unless it has gone on a parallel road.

It is growing warmer. The column has now got straightened out, and for the last hour has moved forward quite rapidly. The road is evidently clear of all obstructions, but the heat and speed begin to tell on the men. Look at the ground which that brigade has just vacated after its brief halt for rest. It is strewn with blankets, overcoats, dresscoats, pantaloons, shirts — in fact, a little of everything from the outfit of the common soldier. As the Second Corps advanced into the Wilderness on the morning of May 4, 1864, I saw an area of an acre or more almost literally covered with the articles above named, many of them probably extras, but some of them the sole garment of their kind, left by the owners, who felt compelled, from the increasing weight of their load, to lighten it to the extent of parting with the blankets which they would need that very night for shelter. This lightening of the load began before the columns had been on the road an hour. A soldier who had been through the mill would not wait for a general [343] halt to occur before parting with a portion of his load, if it oppressed him; but a recruit would hang to his until he bent over at an angle of 45° from a vertical, with his eyes staring, his lower jaw hanging, and his face dripping with moisture. If you were to follow the column after, say, the first two miles, you would find various articles scattered along at intervals by the roadside, where a soldier quietly stepped out of the ranks, sat down, unslung his knapsack or his blanket-roll, took out what he had decided to throw away, again equipped himself, and, thus relieved, hastened on to overtake the regiment. It did not take an army long to get into light marching order after it was once fairly on the road.

I have been dealing with the first day out of settled camp. On subsequent days, of course the same programme would not be enacted. And, again, if a man clung to his effects till noon, he was likely to do so for the day, as after noon the thought of shelter for the night nerved

A footsore straggler.

him to hold on. But men would drop out in the afternoon of the first day for another reason. They blistered or chafed their feet and sat; down at the first stream to bathe them, [344] after which, if the weather admitted, they could be seen plodding along barefooted, their pantaloons rolled up a few inches, and their shoes dangling at the end of their musketbarrel.

Then, this very crossing of a stream often furnished an interesting scene in the march of the column. A river broad and deep would be spanned by a pontoon bridge, but the common creeks of the South were crossed by fording. Once in a while (in warm weather) the men would take off most of their clothing and carry it with their equipments across on their heads. It was no uncommon experience for them to ford streams waist-deep, even in cool weather. If the bottom was a treacherous one, and the current rapid, a line of cavalry-men was placed across the river just below the column to pick up such men as should lose their footing. Many were the mishaps of such a crossing, and, unless the enemy was at hand, the first thing to be done after reaching shore was to strip and wring out such clothing as needed it. With those who had slipped and fallen this meant all they had on and what was in their knapsack besides, but with most it included only trousers, drawers, and socks.

After the halt which allowed the soldiers time to perform this bit of laundry work had ended, and the column moved along, it was not an uncommon sight to see muskets used as clothes-lines, from which depended socks, shoes, here and there a shirt, perhaps a towel or handkerchief. But if the weather was cool the wash did not hang out in this way. When it became necessary to cross a stream in the night, huge fires were built on its banks, with a picket at hand, whose duty it was to keep them burning until daylight, or until the army had crossed. A greater number of mishaps occurred in fording by night than by day even then. During Meade's retreat from Culpeper, in the fall of 1863, --it was the night of October 11,--my company forded the Rappahannock after dark, and went into camp a few rods [345] away from the ford; and I remember what a jolly night the troops made of it when they came to this ford. At short intervals I was awakened from slumber by the laughter or cheers of the waders, as they made merry at the expense of some of their number, who came out after immersion using language which plainly indicated their disbelief in that kind of baptism. Here was the field for the tired, overloaded “Headquarters” in trouble. headquarters mule to display his obstinacy to a large and changing audience, by getting midway of the stream and refusing to budge. I can see the frenzied Ethiopian in charge, now, waist-deep in water, wild with despair at the situation, alternating reasoning with pulling and beating, while the brute lies down in the stream all encumbered with the baggage, the passing column jeering poor Sambo, and making the adjacent woodland echo with their loud guffaws at his helpless yet laughable condition.

That was a noisy night, and it has always been a matter of wonder to me that we remained undisturbed, with the enemy less than three miles up the river, as General Birney, with whom we then were, has left on record. There was no stopping to wring out. But “close up!” was the order after [346] crossing, and the dull rattle made by the equipments, the striking of the coffee dipper on the canteen or buckles, as the column glided along in the darkness, or the whipping — up of belated mule-teams, was heard until the gray of morning appeared.

The army on the march in a rain-storm presented some aspects not seen in fair weather. As soon as it began to rain, or just before, each man would remove his rubber blanket from his roll or knapsack, and put it over his shoulders, tying it in front. Some men used their shelter tent instead — a very poor substitute, however. But there was no fun in the marching business during the rain. It might settle the dust. It certainly settled about everything else. An order to go into camp while the rain was in progress was not much of an improvement, for the ground was wet, fence-rails were wet, one's woollen blanket was likely also to be wet, hardtack in the haversack wet-in fact, nothing so abundant and out of place as water. I remember going into camp one night in particular, in Pleasant Valley, Md., on a side-hill during a drenching rain, such as mountain regions know, and lying down under a hastily pitched shelter, with the water coursing freely along beneath me. I was fresh as a soldier then, and this experience, seeming so dreadful then, made a strong impression. Such situations were too numerous afterwards to make note of even in memory.

Then, the horses! It made them ugly and vicious to stand in the pelting rain at the picket-rope. I think they preferred being in harness on the road. But they were likely to get subdued the next day, when sloughs and mire were the rule. If two corps took the same road after a storm, the worse for the hindermost, for it found deep ruts and mud-holes in abundance; and as it dragged forward it would come upon some piece of artillery or caisson in the mire to the hubs, doomed to stay, in spite of the shoutings and lashings of the drivers, the swearing of the officers, and [347] the lifting and straining of mud-bedraggled cannoneers, until six more horses were added to extricate it. Anon the corps would arrive at a place utterly impassable, when down would go the fence by the roadside, if there was one, and out would go the column into the field skirting the road, returning again beyond the mire. At another slough, a staff officer might be found posted to direct the artillery where to make a safe passage.

Such places by night were generally lighted by fires built for that purpose. I remember such a spot in particular — a

The flankers.

reminiscence of the Mine Run Campaign; I think it was the night of Dec. 4, 1863. My battery was then attached to the Third Division of the Third Corps. By the edge of the slough in question sat General J. B. Carr, the division commander, with a portion of his command near by, and, as a caisson went down in the mire, he called in his “Blue diamonds” to lift it out, which they did right manfully. There was no turning into fields that night, for, while the roads were soft, the fields were softer, and worse travelling I believe the Army of the Potomac never saw, unless on the “Mud march.”

When the army was expecting to run against the enemy [348] in its advance, flankers were thrown out on either side of the column. These flankers were a single file of soldiers, who marched along a few feet apart parallel to the column, and perhaps ten or twelve rods distant from it in open country, but not more than half that distance when it was marching through woods. In the event of an attack, the flankers on that side became the skirmish line in action.

It was an interesting sight to see a column break up when the order came to halt, whether for rest or other reason. It would melt in a moment, dividing to the right and left, and scattering to the sides of the road, where the men would sit down or lie down, lying back on their knapsacks if they had them, or stretching at full length on the ground. If the latter was wet or muddy, cannoneers sat on their carriages and limber-chests, while infantrymen would perhaps sit astride their muskets, if the halt was a short one. When the halt was expected to continue for some considerable time the troops

A halt.

of a corps or division were massed, that is, brought together in some large open tract of territory, when the muskets would be stacked, the equipments laid off, and each man rush for the “top rail” of the nearest fence, until not a rail remained. The coffee would soon begin to simmer, the pork to sputter in the flames, and, when the march was resumed, the men would start off refreshed with rest and rations. [349]

But if the halt was for a few minutes only, and the marching had not been relieved by the regular rests usually allowed, the men stiffened up so much that, with their equipments on, they could hardly arise without assistance, and, goaded by their stiffened cords and tired muscles and swollen or chafed feet, made wry faces for the first few rods after the column started. In this manner they plodded on until ordered into camp for the night, or perhaps doublequicked into line of battle.

During that dismal night retreat of the Army of the Potomac from Chancellorsville, a little event occurred which showed what a choleric man General Meade was on occasion, and to what an exhausted bodily condition the rigors of a campaign often reduced men. While the general was sitting with General Warren at one of those camp-fires always found along the line of march after nightfall, a poor jaded, mud-bedraggled infantrymen came straggling and stumbling along the roadside, scarcely able, in his wet and wearied condition, to bear up under his burden of musket and equipments. As he staggered past the camp-fire, the struck, by the merest accident, against General Meade, who jumped immediately to his feet, drew his sabre, and made a lunge at the innocent offender, which sent him staggering to the ground. There he lay motionless, as if dead. At once Meade began to upbraid himself for his hasty temper, and seemed filled with remorse for what he had done. Whereat General Warren made efforts to calm his fears by telling him it was probably not as serious as he supposed, and thereupon began to make investigation of the nature of the injury done the prostrate veteran. To General Meade's great gratification, it was found that while his sabre had cut through the man's clothing, it had only grazed his side without drawing blood, but so completely worn out had the soldier become through the exactions of the recent campaign that matter dominated mind, and he lay in a double sense as if dust had returned to dust.

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