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Yankees in Georgia

Yankees in Georgia

“I . . . reached Halifax, my sister’s place, in two and a half hours at 9AM. She unlocked the door, looked at me with a terrified air [and] all overwhelmed with distress for my danger, for they too believed the Yankees were still in the county.

Then followed the sad recital of their sufferings and losses at the hand of the Yankees. The evidences were on every side. Broken trunks, smashed bureaus, overturned wardrobes – everything topsy-turvy just as the Yankees had left them. No use to put things in order to be again disturbed. But worse, far worse than all the mental agony from fear of personal violence and insult.

The Yankees had entered the house every day for nearly two weeks. Every separate gang ransacked the house afresh, entering every room and taking whatever they desired. The mental suffering of these three ladies and of my child only fourteen-years-old during these two weeks can never be told.

As soon as I could get a word in edgewise, I told them my reasons for believing the Yankees had left the county, but at the same time my grave fears that they were returning or had already returned. If they desired to go out, they must do so immediately, [and] the wagons would be here tonight. Anything was preferable to a repetition of the dreadful suspense through which they had passed.

In the afternoon I walked over to my own place to see Calder, the overseer. I received from him a detailed and most doleful account of [my] losses and the behavior of the negroes. Every living thing taken or destroyed, all the horses, the mules, the hogs (of which there were 100 head), cattle, chickens, ducks, every wheeled vehicle, also much corn, but none of the rice and cotton.

The negroes throughout the country he represents as in a state of complete insubordination – no work of any kind done. The Yankees had not only stripped him, Calder, of everything but had personally maltreated him and his family. They have treated overseers everywhere, I hear, harshly, and the negroes too take the opportunity of showing their dislike. To me and Sister’s family the negroes are extremely kind and considerate, even affectionate. Sister and her family are served as usual, and even more kindly and faithfully than usual.”

(‘Ware Sherman: A Journal of Three Months Personal Experience in the Last Days of the Confederacy. Joseph LeConte. LSU Press, 1999. Original 1937. pp. 29-32)

Antebellum Race Relations

Antebellum Race Relations

Clifton Rodes Breckinridge (1846-1932) was the son of former US Congressman, Vice President and Major-General John C. Breckinridge (1821-1875). Clifton served in the war under his father and in the CS Navy; was elected to the House of Representatives from Arkansas and served as US Minister to Russia.

The following is excerpted from his early May 1900 address to the Southern Society for the Promotion of the Study of Race Conditions and Problems in the South,” held in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Take the period of slavery. For generations, and under conditions generally considered the most trying, the races lived together in peace. If we had reason to believe that, with the great and permanent racial differences which exist, the nature of the races, or the nature of either of them, were truculent, then, indeed, would the future be dark.

But during all that period the relations of the races were not only peaceful, but, in the main, they were most kindly. Side by side with the assured power of the law, there were the associations of childhood, the sports and domestic service of later life, the care of sickness and old age, uniform consideration for good character of old age, and the respect and fidelity which were fit reflections of the manly honor, womanly care and refined and elevated rule which generally marked the domestic authority of the times.

All had their influence. All were developed under and enlightened construction of the Christian religion, and the aggravated crimes of later days were absolutely unknown.”

(Published in the Negro Universities Press, 1969, pp. 171-172)

The Cornerstone of the Republican Party

By mid-1862, the advance of the northern invasion had accumulated thousands of “contrabands” left homeless from overrun and destroyed plantations. Lincoln and his cabinet were already in talks with the Danes, Dutch and Swedes to take the contrabands to their Caribbean colonies. By the end of that year and with northern enlistments at a virtual standstill without exorbitant financial incentives, Lincoln was advised to use contrabands against the South as soldiers. His Quartermaster-General Meigs, under the interesting impression that all Southern soldiers owned plantations, believed ‘colored labor allows the rebel to leave his plantation to fight, build fortifications, cook and aid him on picket by rare skill with the rifle.”  Secretary of War Stanton wrote in a rather Marxist vein that “By striking down this system of compulsory labor, which enables the leaders of the rebellion to control the resources of the people, the rebellion would die of itself.”

The Cornerstone of the Republican Party

When northern Negroes asked Free-Soilers what they thought should be done for them or what course they should follow, the recommendation was always the same: separatism, and usually colonization in some other country as well, though the Free-Soil politicians were careful to point out that they meant voluntary separatism or colonization and not forced measures.

When the newly formed Republican party created a truly northern political organization, there was pressure from those who wanted it to take an anti-slavery stance stronger than mere free-soil, and from those who feared it would do just that.

Many Republicans clung to the idea of colonization and for some, at least, it was basic to their policy. Colonization “is the key of the whole question,” commented one. “The exclusion of slavery from the territories is only an incidental part of a general policy of which colonization is the corner stone.”

The Republicans might hope to appeal to non-slaveholders in the South as well as to northern voters if they presented the question properly as a “question of the white man against the Ethiopian.” Though the anticipated support from Southern unionists did not materialize, the narrow issue of slavery exclusion remained the sole antislavery plank in the Republican political program. The combination of anti-slave power and anti-Negro sentiment was a powerful attraction in both the Free Soil and Republican programs.”

(Slavery and the Slave Power – A Crucial Distinction. Larry Gara. Civil War History – A Journal of the Middle Period, March 1969, Volume 15, No. 1. pp. 16-17)

Looking Back at Wilmington’s “1898”

Largely, if not totally ignored in today’s discussion regarding November 1898’s unfortunate “newspaper editorial confrontation turned-violent” is the lack of perspective regarding the long lead-up to it. The local government, media and university are all complicit in beating the drums of racial animosity which will lead to less racial harmony, not more. The most detailed and informed book regarding this sad event is not a book, but a hard-to-find 800-page doctoral dissertation found at the end. Unfortunately, there are only several poorly researched and outright fictional books which do nothing to enlighten the reader.

Looking Back at Wilmington’s “1898”

First, it is probable that had the war of 1861-1865 not occurred and the South was left on its own to solve the riddle of racial coexistence, no November 1898 violence would have occurred. This racial conundrum was imposed on the American South by African tribes enslaving their own people and selling them to English, and later New England traders. After the Civil War the Republican party, anxious to maintain political hegemony over the country, enfranchised black men. These, along with Union veterans bought with pension money, kept Republicans in power.

The Democratic party finally rid North Carolina of Republican/Carpetbag rule by 1872, but Wilmington remained a holdout of Republican power due to its majority black population. The Democratic party dominated State politics through the early 1890s.

After the Republican-Populist victory in State politics in 1896, the Republicans began a program common to political parties – they dismantle and rearrange legislation the opposition party had erected to establish their own barriers to their opponents ever returning to power. This political strategy continues today.

In the run-up to the 1896 elections, Populists realized their plight as described by Hal W. Ayer, chair of the New Hanover County Populist party: “If the Democrats won, they would continue to ignore the farmers; if Republicans won, independently of Populists, they would be forced by the large black constituency which constitutes the great body of the party into some of the [Reconstruction] recklessness of 1868; and this is something to be feared as much as Democratic rule.”

These Populists, many of them farmers who believe the Democrats should have been more politically-attentive to them in the past, and “who distrusted the large black element of the Republican party,” decided to cooperate with the Republicans in order to “defeat the arrogant and hypocritical Democrats, and at the same time secure by such cooperation a balance of power in the State Legislature that would effectually check any wild or reckless plan that might be advocated by the Republican party.” As with many partnerships, the Republicans would forget their Populist associates once in power.

Both the Wilmington Messenger and Wilmington Morning Star newspapers wrote of the specter of corrupt Reconstruction politics returning to bedevil white residents. The black-owned Wilmington Sentinel endorsed Daniel Russell for governor – who was nominally a Republican and ignored by party leadership – to ensure black unity within Republican ranks. To the dismay of white Democratic voters, Russell, who promised patronage positions to those lieutenants delivering the vote, was elected thanks to strong turnout in sixteen black-dominated counties, with 87 percent of eligible blacks voting. It is noteworthy that 20 percent of eligible black voters cast ballots for the Democratic candidate, and 8 percent voted for the Populist candidate.

An irony within white Republican ranks was though they preached racial equality publicly, “they resented black officeholding and activity in Republican party affairs.” While earlier a superior court judge, Russell himself stated that “Negroes are natural-born thieves. They will steal six days in the week and go to church on Sunday to shout and pray it off.” However, by the mid-1890s white Republicans were a minority in their party and only constituted those hungry for political employment.

Prior to the elections of 1898, black newspaper editor Alex Manly penned an unfortunate editorial which insulted white women and predictably incurred the wrath of the area’s white menfolk. Many prominent men in Wilmington demanded that the city’s Republican mayor and aldermen close down the paper and force the editor to leave town. The Republicans did little or nothing which eventually led to a violent confrontation.

But lost in today’s rhetoric is the very basis of Manly’s editorial and what prompted it. Why is this ignored and not identified as the primary cause? Manly was commenting on an earlier speech of Rebecca Felton of Georgia, wife of a legislator, who addressed a group of Savannah women earlier and denounced the rape of white farm women by black men while their husbands were far off in the fields working. Mrs. Felton demanded that the Republican party, the political home of most black voters and which preached hatred toward Democrats, do something to end the heinous crimes of their constituents.

Manly’s later editorial claimed that the white women had somehow encouraged the advances of the black men attacking them in their homes. This predictably led an enraged group of white residents to march to Manly’s establishment to escort him to the rail station. Not finding Manly, on the march back to their homes these men were fired upon by black men concealed in houses being passed, and they returned fire. This entire episode was preventable.

The black New Hanover County Coroner, David Jacobs, summoned a Coroner’s Jury the following day to investigate the deaths of five black men from gunshot wounds. Three white men were wounded in the affair, one seriously. Though there are numerous unsubstantiated estimates of those killed or wounded, we have only the coroner’s investigation as an official source. On November 15th, black resident Thomas Lane was tried for firing a pistol into the group of men marching to Manly’s news office. Lane quickly ran out the back, but the return fire unfortunately caused the death of an occupant, Josh Halsey.

An important but marginalized voice in this 1898 affair is Collector of Customs John C. Dancy, a black Edgecombe County native appointed by Republican presidential patronage to his position, and the highest-paid person in North Carolina at the time. In this influential position he was considered the head of the Republican party and expected to foster and deliver the vote, and he surrounded himself with black employees at the Custom house who were expected to promote party interests. After the violence of November 1898, Dancy concluded that all blame be placed upon Manly’s editorial, which lit the flame.

A question to be put to rest is the often-heard claim that the conflict ended democratically elected government in Wilmington. The Republican-Populist legislature, once in power in 1895, altered municipal charters to benefit themselves. They amended Wilmington’s charter “so as to establish a partly elected and partly appointed Board of Aldermen.

The amended charter did not alter ward lines but allowed “qualified voters of each ward to elect one alderman and empowered the Governor to appoint one alderman from each of the five wards.” (McDuffie, pg. 460-461).  Under the guise of “preventing misrule by the propertyless and ignorant elements,” the Republicans strictly controlled Wilmington’s municipal government.

(Politics in Wilmington and New Hanover County, NC: 1865-1900. Jerome A. McDuffie, PhD dissertation, 1979, Kent State University, pp. 442-453; 738)

Britain, Slavery and Emancipation

As did George Washington before him, President Jefferson Davis in early 1865 agreed to the enlistment of 300,000 emancipated Africans into the army of the Confederate States. Recognizing that the Constitution he held office under limited federal authority and that he had no power regarding the institution, Davis correctly saw emancipation the purview of those who could – and did – free Africans for military service.

Britain, Slavery and Emancipation

“If the institution of African slavery gained first a foothold, then an entrenched position, the greed of the British crown was largely responsible. As early as 1726, the planters of Virginia became alarmed at the growth of the Negro population and imposed a tax on slave importations. Britain’s Royal African Company interfered and had the law repealed. South Carolina restricted slave imports in 1760 only to be rebuked by London. In 1712 the Pennsylvania legislature moved to curb the increase in Africans, but the law was annulled by the Crown.

Briain’s Queen Anne, who personally held a quarter of the stock of the Royal African Company, the chartered organization which monopolized the slave trade, ordered it to provide New York and New Jersey with Africans and directed the governors of these colonies to give it full support.

Thomas Jefferson charged the British crown with forcing African slavery on the colonies; James Madison asserted that England had checkmated every attempt by Virginia “to put a stop to this infernal traffic”; Bancroft taxed Britain with “steadily rejecting every colonial restriction on the slave trade and instructing the governors, on pain of removal, not to give even a temporary assent to such laws.” In the words of the rabidly anti-Southern historian and politician, Henry Wilson: “British avarice planted slavery in America; British legislation sanctioned and maintained it; British statesmen sustained and guarded it.”

Virginian George Washington, at first opposed permitting Africans, whether slave or free, to serve in the American armed forces. Later, expediency and Alexander Hamilton’s powers of persuasion made him change his mind.”

(The Negro in American Civilization. Nathaniel Weyl. Public Affairs Press, 1960; pp. 25-26)

 

 

Colorphobia at New Orleans

In early 1863 Gen. Nathaniel Banks commanded occupied New Orleans and had to deal with problems between his New England troops and colored soldiers of the former Louisiana Native Guards – reconstituted as “Gen. Butler’s Native Guards.” The original Louisiana Native Guards of the city, officers and men, were all free, and in May 1861 were mustered into State service. They became the first black unit in the Civil War, serving a Confederate State. After conquering New Orleans Butler worked to change this during his tenure with most free blacks leaving the unit and replaced by contrabands.

Butler’s replacement, Gen. Banks, was a Waltham, Massachusetts native who shared the deep prejudices of his fellow New Englanders.

Colorphobia at New Orleans

“British-born Colonel Leonard Currie of the 133rd New York Infantry told his men “to continue in the performance of their duty until such time as the regiment is brought in contact with [black soldiers] by guard duty, drills or otherwise.” If that happened, he promised to march them back to their camp so as not to cause “their self-confidence or manliness to be lowered by contact with an inferior race.” The colonel’s prejudices were shared by the post commander, Brigadier General Cuvier Grover, who refuse to recognize Butler’s Native Guards 3rd Regiment as part of the Union army and would not allow it to draw clothing, blankets, or pay.

The volatile situation exploded within days of the 3rd Regiment’s arrival when a black captain reported for duty as officer of the day. The guard was composed of white soldiers from the 13th Maine Regiment of Colonel George Foster Shepley, a Saco, Maine native and Harvard graduate. When the black captain arrived to inspect the guard, the soldiers refused to recognize his authority. The white soldiers were willing to “obey every order consistent with their manhood,” a news correspondent reported, “but as to acknowledging a [black man] their superior, by any virtue of the shoulder straps he might wear, they would not.” The situation quickly turned ugly. The black officer pressed his authority; the white soldiers grounded their rifles in protest and threatened to kill him should he attempt to coerce their obedience.” (National Anti-Slavery Standard, February 28, 1863).

Gen. Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts, the new department commander at New Orleans, soon heard of the episode but did not punish the mutinous white soldiers from the 13th Maine. Banks called the black officers for an interview, listened to their grievances, then instructed them that it was not the government’s policy to commission blacks as officers in the US Army. Banks then recommended they all resign to avoid the embarrassment of being kicked out. Uncertain of their future, the black officers agreed and all sixteen resigned and to their surprise soon found that their white replacements had already been named to take their place.”

(Louisiana Native Guards, James G. Hollandsworth, LSU Press, 1995, pp. 44-45)

Mar 11, 2023 - Black Soldiers, Freedmen and Liberty, Race and the South    Comments Off on Tale of Two Black Seamen

Tale of Two Black Seamen

Tale of Two Black Seamen

In early 1864 Brigadier-General Robert F. Hoke was tasked with liberating the enemy-occupied and fortified town of Plymouth on the Roanoke River in northeastern North Carolina. He began formulating his attack with the naval assistance of the still-incomplete ironclad ram CSS Albemarle, which was literally built in a cornfield well upriver from Plymouth.

The unfinished ship had its steam up at early dawn on April 18th and departed for Plymouth with final construction still ongoing. The Albemarle was instrumental in the enemy’s defeat as it bombarded forts with its 6.4-inch pivot-mounted Brooke guns while Hoke’s brave North Carolinians surrounded and rushed the enemy.

At least one of the black crewmembers on the ironclad was free-black teenager Benjamin H. Gray of Bertie County who was first assigned to the Wilmington Squadron warships and detached in the Spring of 1864 to the Albemarle. His position aboard was carrying bags of gunpowder to the two Brooke guns from the lower magazine. This was not unusual as free-black crewmen were common on Southern vessels; the CSS Chicora at least three black men serving aboard as well as the raider Alabama.

Ship’s carpenter Edward Walsh served on a long string of blockade runners operating between Wilmington and Bermuda. He was captured on the runner Elsie and sent to prison at Baltimore, and after his release made his way to Halifax where he signed aboard the runner Constance, then back to Wilmington where he joined the crew of the runner Annie. By the end of the war, he had run the blockade 16 times, had two ships sunk under him, and was aboard two captured by the enemy.

Dr. Edward Smith of American University has estimated that by February 1865, 1150 free-black seamen served aboard Southern warships, which amounted to about 20 percent of total naval personnel. A postwar resident of Bertie County, Gray was a Confederate pensioner; after his death in 1917 his widow Margaret received it.

Sources:

(Bermuda and the Civil War, C. Diechmann, Bermuda National Trust, 2003; NCDNR)

Lincoln’s Caribbean Colonization Plan

The passage below records Lincoln’s narrow, sectional view of the reason war came in 1861. The war came not because the black man was in America, but due to Lincoln raising an unconstitutional army with troops from equally guilty Republican governors and invading Virginia. Three months lapsed before Congress met to review what the new president had done without authority, with the latter approving his actions under threat of arrest and confinement by Lincoln’s private military.

Lincoln’s colonization scheme for black “contrabands” who were not wanted in the north, revealed his true feeling toward the black race. This naïve plan ran into difficulty as speculators overextended themselves and as the existing countries of the region threatened war against what they saw as a clever scheme of Yankee imperialism. This scheme of colonization is well-covered in the recent book “Key West’s Civil War: Rather Unsafe for a Southern Man to Live Here” (Thuersam) from Shotwell Publishing.

Lincoln’s Caribbean Colonization Plan

“In August 1862, a committee of free blacks headed by Edward M. Thomas, president of the Anglo-African Institution for the Encouragement of Industry and Art, was invited to the White House. Introduced to Lincoln by the Reverend James Mitchell, the federal Commissioner of Emigration, the committee was there to hear the president’s arguments for black colonization.

Waiving the question of right or wrong, and implying that blacks were as much at fault as whites, Lincoln pointed to the long-standing and apparently permanent antipathy between the races.  Each race, in his opinion, suffered from the presence of the other. Not only were the vast majority of blacks held as slaves, but even free blacks were not treated as equals by white men, not could they ever expect to be. “The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours.”

Overlooking the inability of his own race to confront the reciprocal problems of slavery and equality, Lincoln then blamed the blacks for the fact that whites were “cutting one another’s throats” in a civil war. “But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or another.”

Physical removal seemed the best solution. Urging blacks to emulate George Washington’s sacrifices during the Revolution and asking for colonization leaders “capable of thinking as white men,” Lincoln painted a glowing picture of the attractions of founding a colony in Central America. The region Lincoln had in mind, a site on the Isthmus of Chiriqui in the Caribbean, was far closer to the United States than the original black colony of Liberia in Africa.

The site was thought to contain rich coal deposits to provide jobs for black settlers and profits for the Northern speculators who had an interest in these mines. In what he hoped would clinch his case, Lincoln told his black audience that there would be no color prejudice in racially-mixed Central America and that the climate would be beneficial to what Northerners assumed was the peculiar adaptability of blacks to the tropics.”

(Flawed Victory – A New Perspective on the Civil War. William L. Barney. University Press of America, 1980, pp. 60-62)

The Americans of 1860

An honest appraisal of events leading up to the national convulsion of 1860-1865 begins with understanding the American mind of that era. The literature is clear that Northerners rid themselves of slaves in their midst by selling them southward and did not want the black man among them – but restricted to the South. Northern workingmen too feared black freedmen coming northward seeking employment at wages less than that which white men would accept. But war came and the black man solved Lincoln’s dwindling enlistment problem as refugee freedmen were put in the ranks; white veterans were showered with generous bounties after 1863 to reenlist and eventually muster out – if they lived – rather wealthy men.

The Americans of 1860

“There is no evidence to show that the American people of 1860, not only those living in slaveholding States, but also the vast majority of Americans living in the former slaveholding States of the north and others, thought the Negro capable of skipping over the tendencies which the white man had derived from thousands of years of his well-developed civilization, and passing with or without a few years training, from the mental condition and inheritance of barbarians and slaves into full equality with the free citizens of a self-governing republic, whose laws, traditions, habits and customs were totally alien, far more alien than those of the Japanese and Chinese.

The Americans of that day did not feel that a mere statute law permitting the Negro to equal the white man in autonomous government could enable him to do so. The slave system was considered fundamentally not as a matter of morals, of right and wrong, but merely as an economic arrangement which was essentially the outgrowth of an inequality and difference in inheritance between the average white and black man.

It is safe to say that all of the Southerners and most of the Northerners knew that the Negroes were not a race resembling angels in ability, to pass from one extreme to the other without passing through the middle.

Therefore, it cannot be said that there was a basic antagonism between the Northern and Southern people in regard to the slavery question in the Southern States. If there was any real vital difference between the North and South, it was on what constituted a sectional control of the federal government. And Northerners in 1860 failed to realize that the Republican party of 1860 answered perfectly to Washington’s definition of a geographical party against the formation of which he solemnly warned his fellow-countrymen in his Farewell Address.”

(The Peaceable Americans of 1860-1861: A Study in Public Opinion. Mary Scrugham, Columbia University, 1921, pp. 57-60)

Black Recruits Unwelcome in Philadelphia

The North’s use of generous bounties for paid volunteers and resorting to the of black slaves as troops was an unmistakable admission that popular support for the war against the American South was nearly extinct by 1863.  Once Lincoln allowed dislocated and captured slaves to be counted against States troop quotas, Northern State agents swarmed into the occupied South in search of (and arguing over) black recruits who would leave white Northern men safe from Lincoln’s threat of conscription.

It is ironic that a Pennsylvania training camp for black recruits was named “Camp William Penn,” a slaveholder who founded the colony which bears his name.

Black Recruits Unwelcome in Philadelphia

“In spite of announcements assuring blacks of pay equal to that of the white soldier, actual practice belied this promise. White enlisted men received thirteen dollars a month with a clothing allowance of an additional three dollars and fifty cents. Black soldiers, however, were paid only ten dollars per month, three dollars of which might be deducted for clothing.

Blacks were also generally denied bounties. Bounties were cash bonuses paid to volunteers by federal, State, or local authorities as an incentive to enlist. These bounties often totaled more than five hundred dollars or more, a generous amount exceeding the average annual wages for a Northern worker.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania eventually contributed a token bounty of ten dollars to each black recruit.

The War Department had also refused to commission black officers. A manyfold rationale stood behind this decision. First, the concept of black troops would be more acceptable [in the North] if white men exclusively were permitted to become officers in such units. Organizing “colored” regiments would create thousands of new positions for regimental officers. The awarding of these commissions to whites could create more support for the program and could reward those who had already shown support.

The [black recruits] of Camp William Penn constantly experienced another reminder of their inferior status through the discriminatory policy of the streetcars of Philadelphia. Of the nineteen streetcar and suburban railroad companies that operated in and around Philadelphia, eleven outright refused to permit blacks to ride.  The other eight tolerated black riders but required them to stand on the front platform with the driver.”

The “Grand Review” and battalion drills had all been executed in the friendly confines of the training camp itself. Colonel Wagner and the other [white] commanders recognized the risks they would face when their units left their camp. Earlier in the year, on September 18, the 3rd Regiment of US Colored Infantry marched through Philadelphia on its way to war. At that time the mayor and concerned officials compelled them to march unarmed and in civilian clothes.

[An] underlying tension still simmered because of the many residents who harbored deep prejudices.  This threatening situation had caused the mayor to delay an earlier planned parade of the 3rd US Colored Troops even after it had been publicly advertised.  During the 6th’s [US Colored Regiment] parade the fear of violence prompted marching officers to carry loaded revolvers to be used in an emergency. The enlisted [black] men, carrying musket and bayonet, “were not trusted with any ammunition.”

(Strike the Blow for Freedom, The 6th US Colored Infantry in the Civil War, James M. Paradis, White Mane Books, 1998, pp. 17-29)

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