April, 2006

18 Apr 2006, by

It’s Over

Warning: there is absolutely nothing about the Civil War or my historical work in this post. Instead, it’s about my hockey addiction, so please feel free to skip this post if it’s of no interest to you. I promise to get back to the usual rantings about history tomorrow.

Tonight is a sad night in our household. By now, it’s no secret that Susan and I are major NHL fans, although it’s probably fair to say that I’m a bigger fan. I’ve been a serious NHL fan since childhood. The Philadelphia Flyers won their first of two consecutive Stanley Cups in 1974, when I was 13 years old. They won it again the next year, and have never won another one since, although they’ve had some great runs at it since then. Philadelphia was desperate for a winner in those days–the Phillies and Eagles were mired in last place year after year, and the 1973 76’ers had set a record for futility that stands to this day: 9-73. So, when a Philadelphia team finally won a championship, we were all crazy for them. I’ve been a very serious hockey fan ever since, and I remain a loyal Flyers fan to this day.

In 1994 or so, Columbus got an East Coast Hockey League team, the Chill. The team sold out its first 83 consecutive home games before missing one. They were tremendously successful, a prototype for the successful marketing of a minor league sports franchise. We were season ticket holders and rarely missed a game. The success of the Chill led to our getting an NHL expansion team here in 1999.

One of my partners at the law firm and I split a pair of season tickets to the Blue Jackets. The team hasn’t been very good; this is the first time in five years they haven’t finished dead last in their division. This year, they finished third, but were still under .500. They are improving steadily. Going to the games is great fun, and it’s a highlight of my week.

Tonight was the end of the season for the Blue Jackets, who went out in style with an overtime goal by Sergei Fedorov to win the game. They finished 35-47-4, for 74 points. The prior franchise highs were 31 wins and 71 points, so this year was definitely a step in the right direction, and I think that if Rick Nash, the young superstar who had 54 points in 54 games after returning from injuries, had been healthy all year, they would have made the playoffs. It is a bittersweet night here. Hockey season is now over, although I will watch the playoffs and root for the Flyers. It’s going to be a long haul until the next home game, in October. I will be going through withdrawal.

Now it’s back to rooting for the Phillies. Talk about an eternal exercise in frustration…..

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It’s now been six weeks since Cleo had her stroke and we had to put her down. It’s been five weeks since little Miss Aurora came home, although it feels like MUCH longer, thanks to the sleep deprivation.

The thing about puppies is that they aren’t typically housebroken at the age of 8 weeks, which is how old Aurora was when we brought her home. We’re crate training her, but when we’re home in the evenings, and she’s out of the crate, we have to watch her like a hawk, and hustle her outside if she shows even the slightest inclination to pee, or else it’s on the floor. The whole watching like a hawk thing means one of us has to be watching her pretty much constantly, which is a huge disincentive to being productive. Consequently, I have been able to spend exactly two hours on my Dahlgren manuscript since Aurora came home. Needless to say, nothing is getting done and no progress is being made.

Fortunately, she’s getting a little bigger and a little older now, so she now is able to go longer between trips outside, and she’s learning to tell us that she needs to go outside. I think that this means that I will finally get a chance to resume being productive this week. It’s been a long time, and I’m getting anxious about not being productive. That pressure comes entirely from within; I have no publisher for the project as of now, so I have no deadline other than that which I impose upon myself. At the same time, loose ends drive me absolutely nuts, and this is a HUGE loose end. So, I am getting extremely anxious about getting this wrapped up.

I hate being unproductive.

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15 Apr 2006, by


The puppy got us up early this morning. She decided she had no interest in being in her crate this morning, and got us up early. I was flipping channels while contemplating showering, and came to the History Channel. To my great surprise, there I was on the screen. It was very strange.

In 1999, I was asked to be a talking head in an installment of an hour-long documentary on John Buford then being shot by Greystone for a new series called “The Unknown Civil War”. In March of that year, I went to Gettysburg and met the producer. It was early March, but it was uncommonly warm, nearly 70 degrees, although a violent cold front that would cause the temperature to drop about 40 degrees in no time flat was on its way. It arrived the next day.

That evening, he and I had a couple of cold adult beverages at the Farnsworth House tavern, and then the next day, we went to shoot the film. I woke up REALLY sick that morning, with a very nasty sinus infection. I felt like hell all day, and we regularly had to interrupt shooting in order to blow my nose and try to clear my throat. I managed to struggle my way through the thing, and to my great amazement, I don’t sound as bad as I felt that day, although I certainly know just how sick I was. On top of all of it, it started snowing while I was sitting out on the eastern spur of McPherson’s Ridge, overlooking Iverson’s Pits, filming my portion of the documentary.

A massive cold front blew through that night, meaning that my flight went nowhere (they had flown me into Harrisburg), and I had no more clean clothing. Fortunately, they put us up in a hotel, but I was only supposed to be gone one night, and that’s all the clothing, etc., I had with me. It was really kind of gross having to put on the same clothing again the next day, but I didn’t have much in the way of choices.

I have, of course, seen the video before, and even own a copy of it. However, this series has not aired on the History Channel previously, and it was really a surrealistic surprise seeing a younger version of myself (without the gray hair) on TV this morning.

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Dimitri wrote the following in his blog post for today, quoting me in the process:

If that quote doesn’t grab you, if it strikes a “yeah, yeah, okay” note, you haven’t lately read any of the vast sea of Pulitzer Prize-winning history rooted in secondary sources. To paraphrase Tom Rowland (again), the deeper one goes into the material, the greater becomes the shock and personal fear at discovering how dependent one has been on other people’s previous surmises.

The risk of not going down Eric’s path, of trusting the previous treatments, is that you are made the fool by aggregating bad stuff. And that, in a nutshell, is the central problem in Civil War history today.

In an interview published on the Savas-Beatie website, I said, “Primary documents are always the foundation of my research. I am known for turning up obscure published and unpublished source materials, and that’s what I focused on for this book.” I thought I would follow up on this a bit and explain what I meant here.

By way of introduction, I absolutely agree with Dimitri on this subject. Allow me to share a special favorite myth that has been passed along ad nauseum because it has been repeated in so many secondary sources. According to legend, the reason why John Buford’s dismounted cavalrymen were able to hold off an entire division of Confederate infantry on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg was because his men had rapid-firing Spencer carbines that laid down such a severe fire that the Southerners flinched. Or so goes the urban legend. This myth has been repeated more times than I can count, and even by the likes of Ed Longacre in his award-winning book The Cavalry at Gettysburg (to Ed’s credit, he has since corrected this error in later works).

The truth: First, and foremost, on July 1, 1863, there were perhaps a dozen Spencer carbines in existence, all of which would have been prototypes. The weapon did not go into mass production until September 1863, so it’s a factual impossibility. That leads us to the question of whether Buford’s men might have carried Spencer repeating rifles, as elements of the the Michigan Cavalry Brigade did at Gettysburg. A review of the June 30, 1863 ordnance returns for the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac–THE primary source–indicates that of the 92% of Buford’s companies that reported on that date, not a single company was armed with a repeating weapon of any sort. Rather, the majority of them were armed with Sharps .56 caliber single-shot, breech-loading carbines. The rest were armed with other similar weapons: the Ballard, Starr, Merrill, Burnside, or Gallagher carbine.

This myth is easy to disprove by using the primary sources. However, it has become engrained in Gettysburg lore. Why? Because so many secondary sources repeat it. This is just one of many examples, but it’s an easy one to discuss.

Consequently, when I’m writing, I try to stick to primary sources wherever and whenever possible. I try to limit my use of secondary sources to things like background discussions (such as pertinent local history) or capsule biographies of leading players. When it comes to writing about the actual action, I try to limit myself to using primary sources at least 90% of the time. In some instances, it’s 100%. Most of the time, it’s about 95%. Every once in a while, it can’t be helped.

However, my purpose in trying to limit myself to the primary sources is that when I do so, I have the pure material in front of me: the ACTUAL words of the participants, not someone else’s interpretation of those words. That way, when I do my own interpretation, it’s a first-generation interpretation, as opposed to going several generations deep on someone else’s interpretation of that primary source. Another technique that I try to follow is to allow the soldiers to tell their own stories in their own words wherever possible, and it’s absolutely mandatory that I use the primary sources when I do so, or else I run the risk of not accomplishing my goal.

Here’s an analogy from my professional life. Hearsay–defined as an out-of-court statement by a third party that is not subject to cross examination–is generally not admissable in evidence because it’s unreliable. Why? Because it’s someone else’s words being construed/interpreted by a third party. That’s the specific reason why hearsay is usually not admissable in evidence. The idea is sound, and it’s precisely the rule that I try to follow whenever possible in my historical work. A review of the endnotes of any of my books will bear this out.

Finally, I really enjoy uncovering these obscure and/or seldom-used primary sources. I think that they add a great deal to the work by adding insight/evidence that is different and fresh, and not the same old, tired sources used by everybody. For me, finding this stuff–the process of doing the detective work–is what I find most rewarding of all about what I do. I like to think that this is one of the things that sets my work apart from some of the other people writing Civil War history.

So, I very much share Dimitri’s concerns. There’s nothing like primary sources when trying to tell these stories. That’s the only way to get the raw material in an untainted fashion.

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12 Apr 2006, by


I got my author’s copies of my Monroe’s Crossroads book today. I finally got to see the finished book for the first time.

Ted Savas did a terrific job with the book. I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out. There are about 30 maps and about 50 illustrations, and it really came out every bit as well as I hoped it would. Let’s hope that it sells well. Books on the Carolinas Campaign seem to sell very well. The only question is whether a purely cavalry study will sell as well as the books on the larger battles seem to do.

In September 2001, I made my first trip to North Carolina. I was scheduled to speak to the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable, which meets in Aberdeen, NC. Aberdeen is the home of Bethesda Church, and it is also the location of the Malcolm Blue farm. Aberdeen is, as the crow files, about fourteen miles from the Monroe’s Crossroads battlefield site. My friend Teej Smith lives in Southern Pines, the next town over. She was the founder of the RBCWRT, and her group has sort of adopted the Monroe’s battlefield, at least so much as the Army will let them.

Teej arranged a battlefield visit for me. It was September 7, 2001, just a few days before events that changed our world forever. However, because it was BEFORE that tragic day, it was much easier to get access to the field. None of us had much working knowledge of what happened there, and there is very little in the way of interpretation there. We were left to our own devices, and it left me craving more information. All there was on the battle were a couple of chapters in books, and a not-very-good publication by the Army that really dumbed it down and was not very well researched. So, I decided to tackle the project myself. And the book was born that day.

I spent more than three years researching it, and made multiple visits to the battlefield, getting to know the terrain. I spent a long time writing it, piecing the story together, and putting it in a form that would give the reader an opportunity to understand what happened there. I gave a novice cartographer a shot at the big time by giving him this project. He did the maps, or so I thought. I’m not much on the technical side, so I didn’t realize that they would require a complete re-do, top to bottom, in order to be usable in the book. That process took nearly four months, which is why it took so long for it to be published, and not in October, as we originally hoped.

I wish I could describe the sense of satisfaction that I feel in finally seeing this thing finished and in actual book form. I can honestly say that I have felt a greater sense of satisfaction over seeing the final product previously, but I would not be telling the truth if I said that. I hope you will all forgive me if I crow just a little bit. This one was a LONG time coming.

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In a comment to yesterday’s post, Andy MacIsaac asked, “Could you provide some insight on your experience in using paid researchers. I have never done this so I am unfamiler with the process.” Sure, Andy. No problem.

Please let me set the stage for why I use paid researchers. Believe me, it’s not for laziness.

First, and foremost, I live in Central Ohio. On a good day, it’s a seven hour drive to Washington, DC. That means that for me to make a trip there, I spend two full days just driving. So, any trip has to have that time built in. Then, there are my professional responsibilities. My time is billed at an average rate of $200 per hour, as I am a partner in a law firm. Aside from the fact that my practice keeps me EXTREMELY busy, a day out of the office costs me $1000-1500 in billable time for which I do not get paid. Thus, I have to be careful about taking time away from the office, both for reasons of having a busy schedule, but also because of the need to maintain/control cash flow.

As I have a long history with the town of Carlisle–I went to college there–and I have long-standing relationships with some of the personnel there, I usually try to save work at USAMHI for myself, although for the last two projects, I found myself without time to do so. I also will handle the Ohio Historical Society myself, as their facility is about ten minutes from my office.

By contrast, the researchers that I use charge me $15.00 per hour. Thus, I can purchase 13 hours of their time for the cost of one hour of my time. Now, I’m no accountant, but even my feeble mind understands that it makes good economic sense for me to pay them to do the work for me while I remain here, plugging away at billing hours. Further, two of the three live in the Washington, DC area (one lives about a block from the Library of Congress), so there’s not much of a travel time issue involved.

Let me also be clear about the scope of what they do for me. I direct all activities. I give them very specific instructions as to what I’m searching for, and, in most cases, actually provide them with very specific lists of sources that I want them to review. At all times, I direct the process, although I’m always willing to accept suggestions from those who are familiar with the available resources. Basically, they’re doing my leg work for me.

I use two in Washington by necessity. One used to do all of the work. However, he was banned from the National Archives for allegedly damaging an original document (a muster roll he was examining at my behest while working on strengths and losses for the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads). It was originally intended to be a lifetime ban, but a lot of us–including Gordon Rhea and Andy Trudeau–use his services, and we put together a concerted effort to have him reinstated. He has been partially reinstated on a probationary basis. He can now go there, but he is restricted to the microfilm collection. If he has six months incident free, they will consider full reinstatement. However, the microfilm collection is only a very small portion of the collection, and not much of it is pertinent to my needs. So, that left a big hole in my line-up. This particular individual does my Library of Congress work. He’s thorough and he knows the collection. He’s especially good at newspaper research–I have no real ability or patience to go through endless rolls of microfilm, but he does.

That meant that I had to locate someone to access records for me at the National Archives. I had quite a few record groups that needed to be reviewed in depth in order to complete the research for my regimental history of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, so I have retained the services of another researcher whose specific task is to review those record groups for me and to obtain copies of anything pertinent to the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

The third researcher is an archivist at the Civil War Museum and Library in Philadelphia. I’ve been using his services for more than a decade, and I have absolute trust in his abilities. He does work for me in the Philadelphia area, and is the one who coordinates my efforts to obtain things from the various university archives that I often obtain. As this is his primary source of income, he’s also willing to travel for me, and regularly does so. He’s great, but I only get one package of material from him per month, so I have learned to be sure to give him plenty of lead time to get things done. Nothing is ever done quickly.

So, the issue is this. On one hand, I would prefer to do the work myself–it’s great fun, and I really enjoy the detective work. On the other hand, being self-employed, it just doesn’t make a great deal of economic sense for me to spend a lot of time traveling and doing the work myself. It is, therefore, a mixed bag for which I have intensely mixed feelings.

I hope that answers the question, Andy.

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10 Apr 2006, by

Five Days Away

In response to yesterday’s post, reader Dave Kelly wrote, in part, “You’ve been off for 5 days. Figured Savas had you electricity cut off and your house surrounded so he could go to press without another stop.” While Dave was obviously jesting when he wrote that, the point actually was well-taken, and I thought I would offer an explanation for the uncharacteristically long spell of silence.

Last week, I posted about the horrific nightmare that we faced in trying to fix bollixed-up notes for one of the chapters that happened when our researcher waited until the last possible second to get us new material, and we had to plug it into our manuscript when it was already in the page galley stage. Quite a bit of the especially useful new material went into the third chapter, which deals with Corbit’s Charge in Westminster, MD. It really fleshed out the chapter. Ted did his best to shoehorn the stuff in, but his efforts to do so meant that the notes to that chapter–85 of them–were completely and totally FUBAR’ed (for those not familiar with the acronym FUBAR, I suggest you look here for the definition). I had to spend the major part of day re-working those, and JD took another seven hours fixing this stuff, too.

In short, I spent most of those five days getting the bugs ironed out of the Stuart’s Ride manuscript, and also with work-related stuff. As a result of the intense frustration toward our researcher for putting us into that situation, being tired from concentrating, and the normal things of every day life that interfere with my hobbies, I simply didn’t have the motivation, time, or wherewithal to blog.

Thanks to Susan, I got to sleep in yesterday for the first time since the puppy came home, and I finally started feeling less sleep deprived and more alert yesterday for the first time in ages. We’ll see how long that lasts.

In the meantime, the Stuart’s Ride manuscript is now complete, and Ted’s proofreader is finishing up his work on it. Then, it goes to the History Book Club for consideration for a selection of the month. More on that as the process goes along.

Finally, Ted told me today that the copies of my Monroe’s Crossroads book had hit the warehouse, so it will be available for purchase in a day or two. Yahoo!!!!

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I would be remiss if I failed to mention the 141st anniversary of an event as important as the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. 141 years ago today, Lee surrendered his army to Ulysses S. Grant in Wilmer McLean’s parlor. The surrender was the culmination of a relentless pursuit of Lee’s retreating army by the Federals in what was clearly Phil Sheridan’s finest hour.

Lee’s surrender began the process of healing the national wounds rent before and during the Civil War. In large part, this was due to Grant’s realization that he had to offer his adversary generous terms of surrender so that the Confederates could give up their cause with dignity. Grant permitted officers to keep their side arms and the men were permitted to keep their own horses and personal baggage. These simple gestures–intended to permit the enemy to keep their dignity–began the process of healing the nation’s deep wounds.

Likewise, Robert E. Lee deserves a vast amount of credit for realizing that continuing the war effort would bring about a useless effusion of blood. Lee easily could have taken the low road. Instead of surrendering, he could have ordered his command to take to the hills and conduct a guerrilla war that might still be raging today. The men of his army might would have done pretty much anything he ordered, so it is no inconceivable that they might have headed for the hills and a lifetime of bushwhacking.

Jay Winik has written a much-acclaimed but, in my humble opinion, vastly overrated book called April 1865: The Month that Saved America. Winik’s thesis–overstated, in my opinion–is that the generous surrender terms granted to first Lee by Grant, and later to Johnston by Sherman, were critical to bringing about an actual end of the war, and not drag it on as an endless guerrilla conflict. While I think Winik wrote a good book, I don’t believe it is the masterpiece that many–including the present President of the United States–have declared it to be.

Abraham Lincoln had intended to let the South up easy, and had Lincoln not been assassinated, the face of Reconstruction would have been very different indeed. The fact that Lincoln was assassinated by a Confederate sympathizer gave the Radical Republicans an excuse to impose harsh terms upon the South instead of following Lincoln’s plan.

It is, therefore, not beyond the realm of reason to argue that with his assassin’s bullets, John Wilkes Booth nearly undid all of the good done by Robert E. Lee when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox on the generous terms offered by the Union commander. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed when Gen. Joseph E. Johnston realized that there was no reason to continue the war in North Carolina once Lee surrendered. Johnston had a nearly insurmountable lead on Sherman’s pursuing army, and Johnston might have continued running indefinitely. Instead, Johnston, a wise man, recognized that, in light of Lee’s surrender, the time had come to end the conflict. When Johnston learned that Lincoln had been assassinated, he was–and for very good reason, I might add–very concerned that Sherman might turn on him and take out the country’s anger and frustration on him and his men, but Sherman was a greater man than that. Sherman, in fact, wanted peace, and not just the surrender of Johnston’s army. Sherman gave Johnston peace terms, not just surrender terms, but an angry and bitter Washington ordered Sherman to revoke those terms and to offer the same terms that Grant had given Lee. Wisely, Johnston accepted those terms, and with that, the war east of the Mississippi River ended.

Again, while I firmly believe that Winik’s book greatly overstates its case, Winik’s point is nevertheless well-taken. The surrender of Lee’s army on the generous terms offered by Grant began a healing process that ultimately led to this country being the great power that it is today.

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Dimitri Rotov had a very interesting post/rant on his blog today. He mentioned that I, along with several others, have been encouraging him to write a book about McClellan for some time now. I really think that Dimitri is the logical choice to write the definitive study of Mac’s life, and I can only reiterate the hope that he will do so.

Dimitri wrote:

I may write a book. I’m thinking about it. But I don’t feel obliged to do so.

Can this blog be a book substitute? I think it can. It requires a leap of faith, perhaps, over the bound book culture. It requires a dispensation: “He’s not being lazy or unfocused.”

Can pathbreaking research be published on the web? I think it must be. The least we can have from copyrighted work is summary and conclusions.

Given the painful transition out of print technology, the decline in the Civil War publishing model, and the accessibility of web publishing to everyman, it seems to me we can all fail better, much better, on the Internet.

Can that be my credo?

I thought I would kick in my two cents’ worth on this interesting issue. Let me begin by stating that I have a very real and very powerful bias/preference for real, honest-to-goodness books. I like the feel, sight, and smell of a book. I love the look of a full bookcase, brimming with volumes. Having said that, I am also a bit of a techno-nerd, and am married to a propeller head. So, I get the idea of making information generally available on the Internet.

Here’s my problem with Dimitri’s concept. I am, and remain, very concerned with protecting the integrity of copyright. The Internet makes it ridiculously easy to steal copyrighted material (it is, of course simple enough to xerox or scan a book, but you can’t copy/paste a book). My thoughts on this topic have been explored in depth on this blog with respect to Google’s massive copyright infringement scheme, and I won’t beat that poor dead horse here again. Having said that, the concern is legitimate and valid. How would you at least make an effort to protect the integrity of your intellectual property, Dimitri?

The other issue that I wanted to address is the question of how does one make any money from something that is entirely published on a blog? Let’s be clear about this: I am a realist. I don’t expect to get rich writing books on the Civil War. It’s not going to happen, and I understand that. At the same time, I spend a lot of money doing the research for my books, between buying books, paying researchers, traveling to battlefields, and paying cartographers. While I don’t expect to get rich, I would at least like to break even on these projects. Getting paid at least provides the basic funding for the next book project, so that I’m not having to dig deeply out of pocket each time that I commence another project (and I usually have several different research projects going on at any given time, all in different stages of the process). In other words, the royalties for the prior books provide the funding for future books. It is, frankly, about the only way that I can justify the expenditures to Susan. If she had her way, we’d be making John Grisham money from my writing, unrealistic as that might be. Heck, I’d settle for David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin money.

From my perspective, the only way that I could get behind the idea of “publishing” a book on a blog would be if there was some way to guarantee a flow of revenue coming from it. Writing a couple of hundred years ago, Dr. Ben Johnson wrote, and quite correctly: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote but for money.” I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Johnson’s observation, and I may be a lof of things, but I am not a blockhead, if this is the operative definition of blockhead.

Perhaps the ITunes model of paying for individual songs before downloading them might be a solution to this problem, but it would require some fairly sophisticated e-commerce capability on the web site. I won’t speak for Dimitri, but I can unquestionably say that I don’t have the technical skills to do so, meaning that Susan would have to do it. There’s also the question of how you would price the downloads, etc. I’m really not sure how Dimitri intends to address this issue, if at all, but for me, this one would be a real deal-breaker.

So, the upshot of it is that while I think that Dimitri’s got an extremely interesting idea here, I think that it requires some serious thought and serious planning in order for it to work. I wish him well with it, and I will be watching carefully to see how he tackles these issues.

And to reiterate what I’ve said before: write the damned book, Dimitri. Mac deserves as much.

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4 Apr 2006, by

Note to Dimitri

Dimitri, I tried to e-mail you earlier today, but your server bounced it with a message that you had exceeded your disk storage quota for e-mails. You might consider doing a little housecleaning. Sorry for posting this this way, but I have no other way to reach you if your e-mail is bouncing.

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