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The Battle of Hampton Roads: The Monitor Meets The Merrimack (CSS Virginia)
Civil War Daily Gazette ^ | March 9, 2012 | Eric

Posted on 03/09/2012 8:36:56 AM PST by Upstate NY Guy

Washington was replete with panic as word of the previous day’s destruction reached its doorstep. The ravaging and ruin wrought by the ironclad CSS Virginia (once the USS Merrimack) at Hampton Roads was utterly astonishing. After nightfall, as the USS Congress smoldered, fixing its thick black smoke to the Hampton Roads horizon, and as several other ships were run aground, General Wool at Fortress Monroe reported the travesty to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

The note had to first travel to Baltimore before being telegraphed to Washington, leaving the citizens the entire night to be peacefully passed. But at 9:30am, the clacking of the wire reached Secretary Stanton in his office. With transcription in hand, he hurried to the White House and ruined Lincoln’s otherwise fine day with the news. Soon, Secretary of State Seward, Senator Orville Browning and General McClellan joined them.

During the meetings, Stanton paced the floor “like a caged lion,” and made brash, yet somehow believable, predictions of the terror to come. The fleet would be destroyed; Fortress Monroe laid under siege; McClellan’s Richmond Campaign delayed; the supply vessels traveling the Atlantic sunk; Washington and even New York bombarded sending the government officials running.

Stanton was frantic, running from room to room, looking out windows towards the Potomac, seemingly to see if the Virginia was steaming up the river.

(Excerpt) Read more at civilwardailygazette.com ...


TOPICS: History; Military/Veterans
KEYWORDS: civilwar; cssvirginia; monitor
It happened 150 years ago today.


1 posted on 03/09/2012 8:36:59 AM PST by Upstate NY Guy
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To: Upstate NY Guy

My favorite of all naval battles, since I was a kid.


2 posted on 03/09/2012 8:42:14 AM PST by Haiku Guy ("The problem with Internet Quotes is that you never know if they are real" -- Abraham Lincoln)
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To: Upstate NY Guy

There is going to be a Monitor-Merrimac weekend at the Mariners Museum in Newport News.


3 posted on 03/09/2012 8:44:16 AM PST by C19fan
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To: Upstate NY Guy
McClellan’s Richmond Campaign delayed

Yeah, it really took a Confederate superweapon to delay McClellan.

4 posted on 03/09/2012 8:46:10 AM PST by KarlInOhio (You only have three billion heartbeats in a lifetime.How many does the government claim as its own?)
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To: Haiku Guy
My favorite of all naval battles, since I was a kid.

Dittos. It sure changed naval warfare forever.

Here is another great Civil War website that really gets into the "historical significance of the first battle between ironclad naval vessels".

The Battle of Hampton Roads: Then & Now

5 posted on 03/09/2012 8:55:48 AM PST by Upstate NY Guy
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To: C19fan
There is going to be a Monitor-Merrimac weekend at the Mariners Museum in Newport News.

Cool. Wish I could make it.

6 posted on 03/09/2012 8:57:32 AM PST by Upstate NY Guy
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To: KarlInOhio

LOL!!!!


7 posted on 03/09/2012 9:00:12 AM PST by Hegewisch Dupa
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To: KarlInOhio

LOL. Exactly.


8 posted on 03/09/2012 9:00:51 AM PST by Upstate NY Guy
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To: C19fan

That’s a great museum, Pretty unknown , but very interesting.


9 posted on 03/09/2012 9:08:30 AM PST by Venturer
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To: Upstate NY Guy

Why do yankees insist on calling it the Merrimac?
It was the battle between USS Monitor ans CSS Virginia.


10 posted on 03/09/2012 9:16:18 AM PST by BuffaloJack (Defeat Obama. End Obama's War On Freedom.)
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To: BuffaloJack

They probably should have called it the Merrimac too. When the Royal Navy captured a ship, the practice was usually to retain the French, Spanish or Dutch name, to spite the enemy.


11 posted on 03/09/2012 9:29:01 AM PST by Parmenio
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To: Upstate NY Guy

Amazing technology from 150 years ago! Pre internet, pre electric light, pre powered flight.


12 posted on 03/09/2012 9:48:37 AM PST by 6SJ7 (Meh.)
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To: BuffaloJack

They do not want to admit that they lost it.


13 posted on 03/09/2012 10:00:14 AM PST by Ratman83
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To: BuffaloJack
Hey, come on. I added CSS Virginia to the title.
14 posted on 03/09/2012 10:03:11 AM PST by Upstate NY Guy
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To: BuffaloJack

I don’t know, Jack. Maybe it has to do with all the newspapers of the day reporting it that way?

I recall correcting my 5th grade teacher on this in class. He was a good teacher, and took it well. Pennsylvania, BTW.


15 posted on 03/09/2012 10:13:18 AM PST by Tallguy (It's all 'Fun and Games' until somebody loses an eye!)
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To: Haiku Guy
The thing that always facinated me was the fact that the USS Monitor happened to arrive the day AFTER the CSS Virginia attacked the Union blockade line. I often wonder if the duel between the two ironclads might have turned out the same if she had arrived the day before and prevented the sinking of the Union frigate? IOW's would the skipper of the Virginia have handled his vessel any differently had they not been "flush with victory" from the previous day's engagement?
16 posted on 03/09/2012 10:16:47 AM PST by Tallguy (It's all 'Fun and Games' until somebody loses an eye!)
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To: KarlInOhio

I will be honest in stating that my family history and sympathy lies with the Confederacy. However, with that said, McClellan was abolutely incompetent. He was the General Weasly Clark of the Civil War.


17 posted on 03/09/2012 10:23:29 AM PST by ohioman
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To: Haiku Guy

I see our Creators hand in this. The Monitor showed up just in the nick of time to save the Union. The creators hand was also deeply envolved in our Revolution. I can only pray that our Creator will reachout to guide us now.


18 posted on 03/09/2012 10:33:27 AM PST by fella ("As it was before Noah, so shall it be again.")
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To: ohioman

Neah.
McClellan just had the wrong job.
It today’s terms, he should have been in charge of training and doctrine. Grant fought a heck of a war with the army that McClellan built.
But McClellan just wasn’t capable of fighting such a war, with ANY army...


19 posted on 03/09/2012 10:37:05 AM PST by Little Ray (FOR the best Conservative in the Primary; AGAINST Obama in the General.)
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To: Upstate NY Guy
During the meetings, Stanton paced the floor “like a caged lion,” and made brash, yet somehow believable, predictions of the terror to come. The fleet would be destroyed; Fortress Monroe laid under siege; McClellan’s Richmond Campaign delayed; the supply vessels traveling the Atlantic sunk; Washington and even New York bombarded sending the government officials running.

And that likely would have happened had the C.S.S. Virginia's captain loaded solid shot.

20 posted on 03/09/2012 10:54:42 AM PST by fso301
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To: fella

I always thought these two ships were a wonderful representations of their respective regions. The Virginia was strong, but conventional in approach. It was a logical extension of existing technology, accomplished with skill and determination. The Monitor, on the other hand, was innovative and modern. It was something never seen before, thrown together in the nick of time, and was an expression of the builder’s burgeoning industrial might.


21 posted on 03/09/2012 10:56:34 AM PST by Haiku Guy ("The problem with Internet Quotes is that you never know if they are real" -- Abraham Lincoln)
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To: Upstate NY Guy

Shhhhh - whining about such things is a big-time hobby for some. Don’t take away their cheap thrills...


22 posted on 03/09/2012 11:03:32 AM PST by Hegewisch Dupa
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To: Haiku Guy

Mine is The Battle of Midway(June 4, 1942). I’m grateful not to be speaking Japanese.


23 posted on 03/09/2012 11:05:41 AM PST by jmacusa (Political correctness is cultural Marxism. I'm not a Marxist.)
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To: Hegewisch Dupa

; )


24 posted on 03/09/2012 11:08:48 AM PST by Upstate NY Guy
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To: Upstate NY Guy

After a short exchange, the Virginia should have ignored the little pest and gone about her business of wrecking the Northern Aggressors.


25 posted on 03/09/2012 11:16:49 AM PST by FreeAtlanta (Liberty and Justice for ALL)
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To: Little Ray
Grant fought a heck of a war with the army that McClellan built.

Grant was smart enough to realize that he couldn't defeat Robert E. Lee at his own game. So he simply refused to play the game of maneuver and decisive battle and instead fought an attrition war that the South could not sustain. Nobody in the Union would have accepted the kind of casualties that involved until the other alternatives had been tried. Grant was able to wage that kind of war only because it was obvious from the battles of 1862-1663 that against Robert E. Lee nothing else was going to work.

It must be remembered that in the Peninsula Campaign McClellan wasn't facing Lee, he was facing Joseph E. Johnston a commander very similar to McClellan in terms of temperament and tactics. McClellan's slow conservative tactics worked well against the unimaginative Johnston. It is likely that had Johnston not been wounded at Fair Oaks and replaced by Lee the South would have lost the war in 1862. One of the great "what if" moments of history.
26 posted on 03/09/2012 11:19:02 AM PST by GonzoGOP (There are millions of paranoid people in the world and they are all out to get me.)
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To: fso301
And that likely would have happened had the C.S.S. Virginia's captain loaded solid shot.

CSS Virginia was never going to New York. Her gun ports were only a foot or two above the water line. Any kind of a swell and she would have sunk just like the Monitor eventually did. With her low free board, under powered engines, sluggish helm and limited coal supply she was a harbor defense craft.

As for the what ifs, remember the Monitor was firing half charges from her 11" guns because they hadn't had time to properly test them. Even then she managed to crack the Virginia's armor plate and spall the oak backing. Had Monitor gone to full chargers she might have won a decisive battle.

This is why this battle makes such a great simulation. It was so closely matched and both sides made so many decisions that in later thought could have gone the other way. What if the Confederates had used AP shot? What if Virginia hadn't lost her ram? What if the monitor had doubled her charges? What if the monitor had gotten there a day earlier? What if the Confederate wooden gunboats hadn't pulled out of range and had instead charged in an boarded the monitor? What if the Union wooden ships had come up and provided additional firepower in the way that Farragut did at Mobile Bay?

The old Yaquinto board game Ironclads was one of my favorites. We tried out all of the above scenarios. It is very hard for Virgina to win once Monitor shows up. And if the union commander is more aggressive it is easy for her to lose, although usually at the expense of several more Union wooden ships. But if you bring in the frigates and with the Monitor to prevent ramming the Virginia just gets slowly pounded to bits.
27 posted on 03/09/2012 11:34:17 AM PST by GonzoGOP (There are millions of paranoid people in the world and they are all out to get me.)
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To: Upstate NY Guy

Just as a side note, looking stuff up about this fight, I learned today we had Monitor-like ships in use as recently as Vietnam. I learned my thing for the day...


28 posted on 03/09/2012 11:37:24 AM PST by Hegewisch Dupa
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To: FreeAtlanta
After a short exchange, the Virginia should have ignored the little pest and gone about her business of wrecking the Northern Aggressors.

Kinda hard to ignore a faster, considerably more maneuverable ship that can maneuver freely in shallow waters while you are restricted to a narrow channel. Besides with the exception of Minnesota and the tug assisting her all the other Union ships were under the guns of Fort Monroe. Those big Columbiads would have hammered Virginia just as hard as the 11" guns of Monitor, but they weren't restricted to half charges.

Virginia was not a very good ship. She was slow painfully slow, drew too much water. She had been in Norfolk because her engines had broken down and sitting on the bottom of the Elizabeth river hadn't helped them any. Her helm was slow to answer and her steering gear was unarmored. Virginia's coal supply was limited and she would have been helpless in any sort of a sea. And her much vaunted armor was actually thin by later war standards.

When you compare her to ships built only a year later like CSS Atlanta and CSS Tennessee II it is obvious that she and her crew did very well considering what they had to work with. And had the Northern Aggressors been just a bit more aggressive they might have had her that day.
29 posted on 03/09/2012 11:44:38 AM PST by GonzoGOP (There are millions of paranoid people in the world and they are all out to get me.)
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To: ohioman
...However, with that said, McClellan was absolutely incompetent....

Yeah, and if you ever did any horseback riding on one of his namesake saddles you'd really cuss him. :^)

30 posted on 03/09/2012 11:45:20 AM PST by Vinnie
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To: GonzoGOP
CSS Virginia was never going to New York.

Agreed. I just didn't want to edit the text. Had the Virginia won, at some point she likely would have attempted to sail up the Potomac and bombard Washington DC but had little chance of making an outside passage to Philadelphia or New York.

As for the what ifs, remember the Monitor was firing half charges from her 11" guns because they hadn't had time to properly test them. Even then she managed to crack the Virginia's armor plate and spall the oak backing. Had Monitor gone to full chargers she might have won a decisive battle.

I even wonder if at close range if cannister shot might have gotten through gunports and been able to bounce around a bit inside?

Spall liners might have mitigated the effects of cannister that found it's way inside but at lower velocity, the shot might have just bounced off the liner. Get hit by a 2-3 pound round shot at even low velocity and your day is pretty much ruined.

31 posted on 03/09/2012 11:53:45 AM PST by fso301
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To: fso301
I even wonder if at close range if cannister shot might have gotten through gunports and been able to bounce around a bit inside?

Monitor had massive gun port shutters. this actually cause a problem as they hadn't bothered to cut vision slits for the turret commander. So he eventually resorted to turning the turret away from the Virginia, opening the ports the rotating the turret and firing on the fly as the Virginia passed in front of the guns. This was the first ironclad fight and both sides were very much making it up as they went along.

As for getting to Washington, I once argued that same view and my brother who lives on the Potomac near Point Lookout set be straight fast. She could only get over the bar at high tide. But that meant she has to almost immediately fight the current as the tide starts to run out. Remember CSS Virginia had a top speed of a whopping great three knots! When the tide is running the Potomac river at Point Lookout has a current of 2 knots. Where it joins the St. Mary's river the current is close to 3 knots. So the Virginia would have had to run at full speed to make 1 knot, and at some points would have been hard pressed not to go backwards. All the while presenting an essentially stationary target to Union guns on both shores. She would have run out of coal, ammo or her decrepit engines would have broken down long before she got to Washington DC.

Besides before it could do any of that it had to get past Fort Monroe. She probably could have run past the fort, the tide would have worked with her at that point. However none of her wooden support ships would have stood a chance. So she would have had to take on the Washington defenses all alone.

More importantly without support ships she would have no supply of coal. USS Merrimack had been intended as an auxiliary steamer. Her engines were to be used in battle and she relied on sails to get from place to place. When converted to the Virginia they took off the masts and sails, but didn't do much about the bunker space. Not a problem when being used as a harbor defense craft. A major issue when trying to use her as a cruiser.
32 posted on 03/09/2012 12:22:42 PM PST by GonzoGOP (There are millions of paranoid people in the world and they are all out to get me.)
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To: GonzoGOP

Man - FR is just so damn cool sometimes for the amazing wealth of knowledge it’s FReepers share - thanks for the fascinating info!!


33 posted on 03/09/2012 12:57:53 PM PST by Hegewisch Dupa
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To: ohioman
However, with that said, McClellan was abolutely incompetent. He was the General Weasly Clark of the Civil War.

You're giving Wesley Clark too much credit for competence. McClellan was at the very least a superb trainer & organizer. He probably would have made a great Chief of Staff had Halleck not held the job.

I'd compare McClellan to another "Gen. Clark"... General Mark Clark of WW2 'fame'. Another general who believed his press clippings.

34 posted on 03/09/2012 1:33:06 PM PST by Tallguy (It's all 'Fun and Games' until somebody loses an eye!)
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To: FreeAtlanta
After a short exchange, the Virginia should have ignored the little pest and gone about her business of wrecking the Northern Aggressors.

I think CSS Virginia briefly grounded during the duel with Monitor & overheated her boilers attempting to get enough power to back off. Not sure how much powder & shot had been expended at that point.

35 posted on 03/09/2012 1:38:23 PM PST by Tallguy (It's all 'Fun and Games' until somebody loses an eye!)
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To: GonzoGOP
It is likely that had Johnston not been wounded at Fair Oaks and replaced by Lee the South would have lost the war in 1862. One of the great "what if" moments of history.

At which point you would have had a guerilla war in the Appalachians & the Carolina's. It took basically 4 years of total war to convince the Confederates not to choose that option. Even then, some senior confederate officers were planning for it. And if Lee had given Sheridan the slip at Appomatox you might have had it as well.

36 posted on 03/09/2012 1:42:06 PM PST by Tallguy (It's all 'Fun and Games' until somebody loses an eye!)
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To: Tallguy
At which point you would have had a guerilla war in the Appalachians & the Carolina's. It took basically 4 years of total war to convince the Confederates not to choose that option.

My gut instinct was that what prevented a lot of the guerrilla warfare was the idea that you either had to surrender to Grant, or deal with Sherman and Sheridan. Like you said after four years of war there wasn't much doubt about how the latter two would have approached pacification of the South had guerrilla warfare become widespread.

While Southerners still hate Sherman you have to admit they did fear him. Sometimes it is nice to have a monster on your side. A lot of people pledge to fight to the last man. But that feeling ebbs quickly when it becomes obvious that they other guy is quite happy oblige you and simply kill everybody.

One of the reason we get pushed around in the Middle East today is because there are no Shermans or Sheridans left. A phalanx of M1A2s and Bradleys burning a 60 mile wide path of destruction from Basra to Baghdad while looting every portable object between would be something that can crack the ideology of any jihadi. It is the sort of thing that makes you open to negotiation with someone like Grant who can order the one doing the burning to stop.
37 posted on 03/09/2012 1:54:00 PM PST by GonzoGOP (There are millions of paranoid people in the world and they are all out to get me.)
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To: GonzoGOP
One of the reason we get pushed around in the Middle East today is because there are no Shermans or Sheridans left. A phalanx of M1A2s and Bradleys burning a 60 mile wide path of destruction from Basra to Baghdad while looting every portable object between would be something that can crack the ideology of any jihadi.

Which is one reason the US interlude in Iraq will be quickly forgotten & explained away, while the Mongol destruction of Baghdad will always be remembered by Muslims.

38 posted on 03/09/2012 2:47:05 PM PST by Tallguy (It's all 'Fun and Games' until somebody loses an eye!)
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To: GonzoGOP

To beat the Army of Northern Virginia by maneuver, you’d have to out-maneuver RE Lee. Good luck with that.

If is a fallacy that Grant never made any attempt to outflank or otherwise out-maneuver Lee. He tried repeatedly. It’s just that Lee was always able to counter in time, often just barely.

In particular, Grant stole a march on Lee when he shifted front to Petersburg. Had Grant’s subordinates on location charged into the city as he wanted them to, it would have been very difficult for Lee to retreive the situation, and Richmond might very well have fallen in June, 64 rather than April, 65.

To outmaneuver an enemy you need an ability to move faster, or you must outwit him. The two sides had essentially the same technology for movement, and the CSA usually operated on interior lines, so option 1 was out.

And outsmarting Lee was pretty difficult.

My point is that Grant’s earlier record gives no indication whatsoever of an aversion to maneuver. Quite the opposite. But he was perhaps the only general of the Union who when maneuver wouldn’t work was willing to do the grinding attrition that would.

BTW, there is a common perception that Grant was the Civil War general who got more of his men killed than any other, the “butcher.” This is incorrect.

The actual winner in this contest was ... RE Lee.


39 posted on 03/09/2012 4:37:07 PM PST by Sherman Logan
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To: GonzoGOP

General Grant did not worry what Lee was going to do.
He didnt have to. After July of 1863, the offensive power of the ANV had been destroyed. In the 1864 campaign, the ANV attacked the AOP at the Wilderness, after that the ANV could only put up a defensive resistance to Grant’s movements. Within a couple of months, the ANV was locked into Petersburg. By April of 1865, the feeble shell of the ANV succumbed to the power of the AOP.


40 posted on 03/09/2012 5:24:03 PM PST by X Fretensis
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To: GonzoGOP
Monitor had massive gun port shutters.

Ok. Thanks. this actually cause a problem as they hadn't bothered to cut vision slits for the turret commander. So he eventually resorted to turning the turret away from the Virginia, opening the ports the rotating the turret and firing on the fly as the Virginia passed in front of the guns.

Thank you for that operating detail.

As for getting to Washington, I once argued that same view and my brother who lives on the Potomac near Point Lookout set be straight fast. She could only get over the bar at high tide. But that meant she has to almost immediately fight the current as the tide starts to run out. Remember CSS Virginia had a top speed of a whopping great three knots! When the tide is running the Potomac river at Point Lookout has a current of 2 knots. Where it joins the St. Mary's river the current is close to 3 knots. So the Virginia would have had to run at full speed to make 1 knot, and at some points would have been hard pressed not to go backwards. All the while presenting an essentially stationary target to Union guns on both shores. She would have run out of coal, ammo or her decrepit engines would have broken down long before she got to Washington DC.

It's always been a good day when I learned something new.

41 posted on 03/09/2012 5:59:45 PM PST by fso301
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