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Chapter 7: winter of 1861-62.

The stationary condition of the armies during most of the winter gave the chaplains, and other pious laborers, fine opportunities for pressing religion on the attention of the soldiers.

Along the Potomac, where the Army of Northern Virginia lay for the autumn and early part of the winter, religious services were held with encouraging signs. Rev. Joseph Cross, D. D., chaplain of the Walker Legion from Tennessee, writing of his labors, says:

It is interesting to see how they flock to our nightly prayer-meetings, frequently in greater numbers than your Sabbath congregations in some of your city churches. I preach to them twice on the Lord's day, seated around me on the ground, officers and men, in the most primitive order you can imagine. But the most interesting, probably the most useful, part of my work is the visitation of the sick. Every morning I go to the hospital, visiting the several apartments successively; in each of which I talk privately with the men, then read a passage of Holy Scripture, make some remarks upon it, and finish with prayer. However wicked and thoughtless they are in camp, they are all glad to see the chaplain when they are sick; and I have yet to meet with the first instance of any other than the most respectful and reverent attention. I think I never occupied a field that afforded an equal opportunity for usefulness.

The soldiers eagerly read everything that was put in their hands in the camp; and often sent appeals like the following, accompanied with a donation taken out of their scanty pay: [121]

“The soldiers here (in Western Virginia) are starving for reading matter. They will read anything. I frequently see a piece of newspaper, no larger than my hand, going the rounds among them. If the bread of life were now offered them through the printed page, how readily they might be led to Christ.” From Culpeper Court-house a pious lady wrote of her labors among the sick and wounded: “The poor soldiers here are really begging for something to read. This is true especially of the wounded. Pray that the divine blessing may be bestowed on these afflicted ones, and that I may be a blessing to them. There is nothing I desire so much as by nursing to do good to those who have given up all for their country. There is great room for usefulness opened to pious friends now in ministering to the wants of our sick soldiers.” And never did Christian women more nobly discharge their duties to the suffering. Our war brought out from the sweet retirement of home, and into the midst of agony and death, not one, but a thousand Florence Nightingales.

“It is truly gratifying,” wrote a chaplain,

to see the eagerness manifested by the soldiers to get a Testament. While we are in camp, we are deprived, to a great degree, of the comforts of home and the advantages of the family library; and while we earnestly seek for a book to read, what a blessing that the Bible can be obtained, which is a library in itself!

May God bless all who aid in any way to send the Bible or other religious books to the soldiers. To one outside of the army there can be no proper estimate of the value placed upon the Word of God by the soldiers. In perusing it, his thoughts go back to the kind instruction received around the paternal hearth-stone. We had the pleasure of knowing that in one instance, at least, these books were instrumental of good. A young man of our regiment, when told that he must die, and who had carefully attended to the reading of his Testament, [122] said, “I had thought until this morning that I would again be permitted to see my dear mother, but I know I shall never see her in the flesh; tell her I cannot go to her, but she can come to me; I am dying in the arms of Jesus, my Redeemer, and will welcome her on the shores of a better land.”

Another chaplain wrote from Evansport on the Potomac:

I spent all Christmas with our men, and I am sure I never spent it more agreeably. Some of our men wished to visit their old friends in a neighboring regiment, but would not do so on account of the drunkenness and profanity going on in their midst. I know the mother of one of the young men, and I hope to return to Georgia when the war is over and tell her how Charlie looked as I met him returning to his camp, unwilling to risk himself among them. We are considered the most moral, best behaved regiment connected with this part of the army.

This, of course, speaks louder and longer than victories on the battle-field, and is owing greatly, I must add, to our regimental officers, who enjoin such conduct by precept and encourage it by example. No embargo is laid upon our religious operations. The soldiers are accessible, and the officers co-operate with the chaplain. It is not unusual for the chaplain to receive several visits during the day from men desirous of having religious services in their tents at night. How gratifying that the rose of Sharon blooms under the war-cloud that overhangs us and scatters its fragrance through our encampment!

Scarcely anything is more pleasing than to note the influence of religion on the hearts of our soldiers in prompting them to every good work. Though in the army toiling, fighting, suffering, their hearts were responsive to all the calls of the Church of God. How noble are the following words from one of them: [123]

“It has been many a day since I have had the pleasure of looking in upon my pleasant home, and seeing for myself the ‘first fruits of the harvest’ --nor have I heard whether the ingathering from my wheat, oats, and rye patches has been abundant or meager. But God has been good to me in the camp in shielding me against disease, and preserving my health unimpaired, and in taking care of my family, and I desire to make a thank-offering and contribute my mite towards paying the Missionary Debt and relieving the Treasury. The paymaster is now in camp, paying us the first installments for services rendered, Of these ‘first fruits,’ earned in the service of the Confederate States, I enclose $10 for the Missionary Debt, and the balance for the Advocate, which you will please forward to me here.”

Here are the genuine fruits of the Spirit; he sends his means to help give the gospel to the destitute, and calls for his pleasant home companion, the religious family paper, to follow him into the camp.

Another, sending a contribution for any charitable purpose to which it might be thought best to devote it, says: “I am afraid that in the army my feeling has been that a ‘poor private’ could hardly be expected, out of his scanty means, to contribute to the world's great needs. God forgive me, and make me more sensible of my accountability to him for the smallest talents entrusted to my care.”

As we advance in the narrative, we shall meet with repeated instances of the noblest self-denial and generosity on the part of our soldiers.

A little matter mid-winter this year, a series of disasters occurred to our arms, which chilled the hearts of the people, and cast a gloom over the fair prospects with which the first year of the war had just closed. First came the disaster at Fishing Creek, in Kentucky; then at Roanoke Island, in North Carolina; Fort Henry, and Fort Donelson, which guarded the Cumberland and [124] Tennessee rivers, fell in quick succession before the overwhelming forces of the Federals; Columbus, in Kentucky, was given up, Nashville was evacuated in the midst of dismay and confusion, and the remains of the Southern army retired southward.

In all these battles there were instances of that high Christian courage which became the leading characteristic of the Southern soldiers. The capture of Roanoke Island was made by General Burnside with an immense force compared with the handful of men that defended it. Here many valuable lives were lost. Among the killed was Captain 0. Jennings Wise, son of Hon. Henry A. Wise. He commanded the Richmond Virginia Blues, and fell in the thickest of the fight. Speaking of the battle and fall of his son, in reply to a letter of condolence from a friend, General Wise said:

Ah! the report of the military murders of Roanoke Island reached you!

The enemy came in mist and storm, and I sent my men, only seventeen companies of infantry, to meet 15,000 of the best appointed troops. I, prostrated by pleurisy the most excruciating. When I ordered the meanest man of my command, I was obliged to order that son, to be an example of devoted service and of sacrifice. 0, God! Thou gavest him and thou took him away. What a son, what a sacrifice! I parted from him saying, “My son, fight the enemy close.” He replied, “I think I will,” with a smile. He fought and watched and led, and led again, into action — was marked, fell with four balls piercing his precious form-cheered on to action as they bore him off, and died smiling, calm, composed, and grandly.

Captain Coles, of Charlottesville, Va., a noble young soldier, was also among the killed. In the midst of the fight, it is said that a gallant officer rode up to his superior and asked for reinforcements, who, in reply, assured him that it was madness to contend with a mere handful [125] of men against such numbers. On receiving this answer, he sat down for a moment and cried bitterly, then taking his sword, he broke it in pieces, mounted his horse, and rode off.

The struggle at Fort Donelson was one of the most terrific in the annals of war. “The snow,” says an eyewitness, “lay upon the ground to the depth of three inches-soon to be the pall of the bridegroom death to many a brave fellow-and a cold, blinding sleet came slanting down like a shower of lances. Four days in such weather our soldiers continued the fight, without time to eat or sleep-tired, hungry, and cold, and all the while fresh troops pouring against them, making another army greater than their own.”

A Northern account of the battle said: “Never, perhaps, on the American continent has a more bloody battle been fought. An officer, who participated and was wounded in the fight, says the scene beggars description. So thickly was the battle-field strewn with dead and wounded that he could have traversed acres of it, stepping at most every step upon a prostrate body. The rebels fought with desperation, their artillerists using their pieces with most fearful effect. On either side could be heard the voices of those in command cheering on the men.”

Among the many Christian soldiers who fought and fell on this bloody field, not one has a brighter record than the Rev. Dabney Carr Harrison, who was mortally wounded while bravely leading on his company amid a storm of bullets. The following notice of him was written when the memory of his deeds and his death was fresh in the hearts of his countrymen:

When the sun rose on the morning of that bloody Saturday, it saw him already in the thickest of the battle. Through seven hours of mortal peril he wrestled with the foe; with dauntless heart he cheered on his men; they loved him as a father, and eagerly followed [126] wherever he led. Their testimony is, that he never said “go on,” but “come on,” while ever before them flashed his waving sword. At length, they saw with fear and pain that his firm step faltered, that his erect form wavered and was sinking. They sprang forward and bore him from the field to die. He had “warred a good warfare, ever holding faith and a good conscience.”

With reverence I have taken in my hand the hat he wore in the battle — with tears and swelling heart have I gazed on it. It is pierced by four balls. Three whistled partly through and did no harm. The fourth, partly spent, marred that beautiful brow. But these were as nothing. He calmly fought on. A more fatal aim sent a ball into his left breast, above his heart, quite through his body. His men did not know it. He still cheered them on. Another deadly aim drove a ball through his right lung; just where, cannot be told. His face was to the foe and his step onward even when, from loss of blood and exhaustion, he began to sink. Yet he did not die till next day. Like his brother, seven months before; like his sister, seven days after; like the little one to whom he had given his name, he was to die on the Sabbath, with the calm of the eternal Sabbath filling his breast. He was carried to Nashville and tenderly nursed by faithful men. Only two incidents of his dying hours have reached us. Calling for one of his manuscript books, he took his pencil and, with a trembling hand, feebly wrote these words, “Feb. 16, 1862, Sunday. I die content and happy, trusting in the merits of my Saviour, Jesus, committing my wife and children to their Father and mine.-Dabney Carr Harrison.” Precious legacy of love and prayer! Precious testimony of faith and blessedness!

When he felt that death was just upon him, he gathered up his remaining strength for one more effort. Resting in the arms of one of his men, and speaking as if [127] the company, for which he had toiled, and suffered, and prayed, so much, was before him, he exclaimed, “ Company K, you have no Captain now;. but never give up; never surrender.”

Thus was his last breath for his country, for the young Confederacy, whose liberty, honor, and righteousness, were inexpressibly dear to him; for which he wept, and prayed, and made supplication in secret; for which he was content to endure hardness as a good soldier, and then cheerfully to die.

These dying words beautifully connect themselves with those of his brother Peyton on the field of Manassas, and, taken together, they have a special fitness to our country's present need.

When the second Virginia regiment, fighting on our left at Manassas, was broken by a sudden and destructive flank fire of the enemy, and by the unfortunate command of its Colonel, Peyton, and a few officers of like spirit, rallied a portion of the men and led them in a perilous but splendid and victorious charge. In the midst of it, however, he fell, shot like his brother, in the breast. Two of his men bore him from the field. His face was radiant with heavenly peace. He spent a few moments in dictating messages of love, and in prayer for himself, his family, and his country. “What more can we do for you?” asked the affectionate men who supported him. “ Lay me down,” was his answer, “I am ready to die; you can do no more for me; rally to the charge!”

These reverses, following each other so quickly, deeply affected the people, and produced a feeling of profound humiliation before God. The shortest month of the year carried the record of nearly all our disasters, and in the same month the Provisional Government expired, and the Permanent Government was established. The President deemed this a fitting occasion for us “again to present ourselves in humiliation, prayer, and thanksgiving [128] before God,” and accordingly issued a proclamation, in which he said:

A tone of earnest piety has pervaded our people, and the hundred victories which we have obtained over our enemies have been justly ascribed to Him who ruleth the universe.

We had hoped that the year would have closed upon a scene of continued prosperity, but it has pleased the Supreme Disposer of Events to order it otherwise. We are not permitted to furnish an exception to the rule in divine government which has prescribed affliction as the discipline of nations, as well as of individuals. Our faith and perseverance must be tested, and the chastening which seemeth grievous will. if rightfully received, bring forth its appropriate fruits.

It is meet and right, therefore, that we should repair to the only Giver of all victory, and humbling ourselves before him, should pray that he may strengthen our confidence in his mighty power and righteous judgment. Then may we surely trust in him, that he will perform his promise, and encompass us as with a shield in this trust.

The day following, 22d of February, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated, and closed his address in the following words:

With confidence in the wisdom and virtue of those who will share with me the responsibility, and aid me in the conduct of public affairs, securely relying upon the patriotism and courage of the people, of which the present war has furnished so many examples, I deeply feel the weight of the responsibilities I now, with unaffected diffidence, am about to assume; and fully realizing the inadequacy of human power to guide and to sustain, my hope is reverently fixed on Him whose favor is ever vouchsafed to the cause which is just. With humble gratitude and adoration, acknowledging the Providence which has so visibly protected the Confederacy [129] during its brief but eventful career, to thee, oh God! I trustingly commit myself, and prayerfully invoke thy blessing on my country and its cause.

When the President “reached the concluding lines, the manuscript dropped upon the table, and raising his hands to heaven, he exclaimed:” “To thee, oh God! I trustingly commit myself, and prayerfully invoke thy blessing on my country and its cause.”

“The effect was thrilling. An electric flame ran through the multitude. The prayer of the President, thus made in open day before the people, found an echo in a thousand hearts.”

In response to the pious sentiments of the President, the people were urged by the pulpit, and by the religious, and, indeed, by the secular press, to give themselves to fasting, prayer, humiliation, and self-examination in earnest.

We call upon the ministry to stand up bravely in their place and to rebuke every form of sin. God, whose messengers they are, adds the solemn and terrible sanctions of his judgments to the word of his inspiration with which they are commissioned to arouse the dormant consciences of the people. When these thunders of the pulpit and of Providence combine, the deafest ear must hear, the most stupefied soul must arouse from its slumbers.

Tell the people of their sins. Lift up the voice and spare not. Let Jeremiah teach the prophet of the Most High how to denounce sin, and Isaiah how to promise good to the repentant sinner. Give no place to worldliness in the Church. Teach the profane swearer, the Sabbath-breaker, the licentious, the intemperate, that they are the real enemies of their country, because they have made God angry with us. Tell the same thing to the worldly-minded, luxurious, penurious professor of religion, who sees souls die by whole generations for want of that gospel which he might carry or send to them. [130]

But the work to be done must not stop here. Men's lives must be reformed. Those who are living in disregard of the laws of God are public enemies — more to be dreaded than our foe. The drunkard, the debauchee, the extortioner, the man who grows rich upon the vices of others, the profane swearer, the Sabbath-breaker, the adulterer, the liar, the brawler, the man-slayer, the thief, are all to be classed together as sinners against God, as those who help to make up this aggregate of national sin, of which our rulers call upon us to repent-and only the guilty sinners themselves can so repent as to make sure of the Divine favor.

Such were the truthful and stirring appeals that sounded from pulpit and press before and upon the day of fasting and prayer. We have taken the pains to record them in order to show that deep and earnest religious spirit which pervaded the South at every period of our struggle.

Among the cheering signs of good among the soldiers was their earnest desire to procure Bibles and Testaments, or any part, indeed, of the Word of God. In the close of the winter, Rev. E. A. Bolles, General Agent of the Bible Societies in South Carolina, said, in speaking of his work:

Three months ago I commenced the work of distribution among the soldiers on our coast under the auspices of the Executive Committee of the South Carolina Bible Convention.. During this time several thousand copies of the Scriptures have been given away to needy and grateful soldiers, and thousands of copies are yet needed to meet the demand. I may safely say that twenty thousand copies are needed for distribution among the soldiers on the coast. I therefore earnestly appeal to the benevolent for funds to procure the Scriptures, so that the good work so successfully begun may be continued until every destitute soldier is supplied with the Word of Life.


To this gentleman the chaplain of the 15th South Carolina regiment sent an encouraging report of the state of religion in his regiment:

The Testaments you sent to me were eagerly sought after by the men, many coming to me long after they were all distributed, and were much disappointed at not receiving one. Could you send us some more they would be thankfully received and faithfully distributed. As almost all the men lost their Bibles on Hilton Head, our regiment is perhaps the most destitute on the coast. I am happy to say there is much religious feeling pervading our regiment, and our nightly prayer-meetings are well attended, and I hope ere long the Lord will bless us with an outpouring of his Holy Spirit.

To the same the Lieutenant-Colonel of the 10th South Carolina regiment wrote:

I would be glad if you will supply the regiment to which I am attached with the Scriptures, as I see by the papers that you are engaged in the work of distribution among the soldiers. We prefer Testaments, as they would be much easier for soldiers to carry in their knapsacks. I have made this application to you because of finding that all our men have not Bibles or Testaments, and I consider a soldier poorly equipped without one or the other.

While it is a pleasing task to mark the progress of religion among the soldiers comprising the main armies of the Confederacy, it is scarcely less interesting to look at its influence upon the native Indians, thousands of whom espoused the cause of the South. The following statement of the religious condition of our Indian soldiers appears in the report on Missions made to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the spring of 1862:

It is well known that all the Indians in the Southwest, with the exception of a portion of the Creeks and a few straggling bands of Cherokees and Seminoles, espoused [132] the cause of the South with much heartiness from the very commencement of our troubles, and not a few of them have given proof of their sincerity on more than one battle-field. The first call for volunteers aroused much of the old war spirit among them. War songs, scalp dances, painted faces, and feathered heads-sights and scenes that were scarcely known to the present generation — were revived in many parts of the country, and, for a time, it looked as if the people were about to relapse into their former savage condition. But these things had but a short and transient existence, and in the course of a few months no traces of them whatever could be found. Many have entered the army, no doubt, from mere excitement and the love of warfare, but the great body of them, and especially the members of the Church, it is believed, have been actuated purely by motives of duty and patriotism. Mr. Stark visited the Choctaw regiments at their encampments in the Cherokee country the latter part of January, and gives a good account of their general deportment, especially of that of the members of the Church. He supposes there were 1,600 Choctaws in the encampment — about one-sixth of these were professing Christians, some of whom were the best and most prominent men of the nation. He writes: ‘Prayer and praise went up every evening from around many of the camp-fires.’ And he adds that the captain of the company with whom he lodged allowed no drinking, swearing, gambling, or Sabbath-breaking among his men; and indeed he had seen and heard of very little of these vices among any of the soldiers.

Thus it will be seen that among all classes in the armies of the South the element of true piety was found. The white man and the red man felt alike, that the cause in which they struggled was just and right, and that upon it they could invoke the blessing of God without doing violence to their conscience or their faith.

The early part of the war, without the blessing of [133] deep and general revivals, was not barren of the fruits of righteousness in the lives, and the peace and glory of religion in the deaths of our soldiers. The scenes often witnessed by the humble cot of the dying patriot were abundant in proof that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.

The Rev. Dr. James A. Duncan thus describes a soldier's death:

During the first year of the war we were called up at midnight to visit a dying soldier. He was at the Columbian hotel, in Richmond. As we entered the room, we saw the sufferer lying upon his bed, pale and emaciated: the signs of death in his face. At the foot of his bed stood the Adjutant of his regiment; on one side sat a kind old lady, a nurse from one of the hospitals, and who, from the familiar and tender way in which she spoke to him, had evidently known the young soldier well at his own home in Savannah, Ga. We sat down on the edge of the bed and began a conversation with the three.

Whitfield Stevens belonged to Bartow's regiment; had fought through several battles, and was now dying from fever occasioned by the exposure and hardships incident to the soldier's life. He was the son of Methodist parents, but was himself not a member of the Church. He had, however, spoken in a way that greatly encouraged the attendants around his bed to cherish the hope that he was truly concerned about his spiritual condition, and had asked that a minister of the gospel might be sent for to converse and pray with him. Such was the information we obtained in the course of conversation. He was a tall, manly fellow, and in spite of the ravages of disease his fine face, clear, bright eye, and expressive mouth, revealed at a glance that he was a young man of decided character.

“I sent for you, sir, to talk with and pray for me,” with a calmness and directness that interested, and at [134] the same time made us feel that we could approach him freely upon the subject of religion.

Whitefield, are you a member of the Church, or professor of religion?” “No,” he replied, “but I'll tell you how far I have committed myself to religion. After the battle of Manassas-and you know that Bartow's regiment suffered a great deal — I felt that the Almighty had been very merciful to protect my unworthy life; and late in the evening, just a little after sunset, I went off by myself amid some pines, kneeled down upon the green grass and thanked God for sparing me to my mother, and I gave him my word that I would try and serve him as long as I lived.” Pausing a moment to gather strength, he continued slowly, distinctly, and with an emphasis that we rarely ever hear except from the lips of the dying: “Father came on soon after that battle to see me. When he was about to return, and had said good-bye, I noticed that he still lingered, looked anxious, came back, and seemed loath to leave. I said to him, ” Father, I know what is the matter with you; you think I am not a Christian, and you don't like to leave me in my present perilous position without being able to think of me as ready to die. “ He said that was exactly what made him linger and hesitate. I told him then about my praying on the evening of the Manassas fight. He seemed greatly comforted by it, and said he could return home with a more cheerful heart.”

We said: “Then, Whitefield, you are not afraid to die-?” “No, sir,” he answered, “I shall go up and make my report to the Almighty as the Commander-in-Chief of all things. I'll tell him I have been a faithful soldier and a dutiful son-” Here the nurse interrupted him, and seeming to think he was trusting to his own goodness, said: “Whitefield, my son, you know all that won't save you-” “ Stop! stop! wait till I get through,” said he; “I'll tell him I've been a faithful soldier and a dutiful [135] son, but an unfaithful servant of God; nevertheless, my trust is in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of men.” As he finished the sentence, he turned and looked upon the kind nurse, as though to ask, “Is my faith right?” The good old lady burst into tears. We all kneeled down in prayer around his bed; fervently we commended the dying soldier to his Saviour, and arose feeling that, truly, God was in that place.

“Sing to me,” said he, “some of those good old hymns I used to hear at home.” We sang-

Father, I stretch my hands to thee, &c.,

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, &c.

He seemed to appreciate the sentiments of the hymn, and tried, now and then, to join in the singing. Finding that he enjoyed these hymns so much, we commenced and sung the beautiful words-

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly, &c.

He became very happy. It was an impressive scene-between midnight and daybreak-every sound hushed on the street-silence reigned in that crowded hotel — the light in the room threw fitful flashes upon the quiet, pale face of the young hero — the Adjutant leaned upon the foot of the bed, weeping — the generous Christian nurse, amid her tears, joined in the hymn-we felt,

Angels now are hovering round us.

As we sang the lines--

Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of thy wing,

Whitefield exclaimed, “Adjutant! Adjutant! Is not that grand?” “Ah! you don't know what that means! I will tell you what it means. At Manassas, when the bullets were whistling around us like hail, and our boys were dropping in the ranks, and poor Bartow fell, then the Almighty covered my defenceless head with the [136] shadow of his wing!” With a deeper emphasis than we had employed, he repeated-

Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of thy wing.

It was the crowning triumph. The noble boy, weaker, sank back on his pillow. We said, “You had better now rest.” “No,” said he, “let me talk. I have but a little while to live; let me talk. I wish one thing could be.” “What,” asked we, “do you wish?” “I would like,” he replied, “that my dear mother could come and sit down right here on the bed by me, and I could kiss her once; then I would lie down and die, and they would carry me away to Georgia, and bury me by the side of my sweet little sister-nurse, you knew my sister; she was a good child-and then-ah! then I would go up to heaven, and wait till the rest all came. Oh! would not that be grand! I hoped to live long enough to see father. He will be here to-morrow morning. But never mind, God knows best — it is all right. Adjutant, you know --, of my company? Well, give my love to him. In the battle, as he was marching by my side, “Whitetield,” said he, “I'll stand by you to the death.” Noble fellow! Tell him I'll think of him in eternity.”

The dying soldier grew weaker, his bright eyes closed, and the morning sun threw his golden splendors upon the brow of the sleeping hero. His father arrived by the early train, but too late to see his son alive. We told him the story of his son's death, and recounted more fully than in these pages the touching scene of that memorable night. The old man smiled through his tears, and grew happy with hope in the midst of his grief. “I am satisfied,” said he. “Whitefield died as I would have him die-died for his country; died honorably; and, above all, died in the faith of the gospel. It will comfort his mother. I shall return to my home and praise God for his goodness in the midst of our sorrows.”

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