Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee, Jr.



ON my father’s return to Lexington the new house was ready. It adjoined the one he had been occupying, so the distance was not great and the transfer was easily accomplished. It was much larger and more comfortable than the one given up. My mother’s room was on the first floor and opened out on the veranda, extending three sides of the house, where she could she could be rolled in her chair. This she enjoyed intensely, for she was very fond of the open air, and one could see her there every bright day, with Mrs. “Ruffner,” a much petted cat, sitting on her shoulder or cradled in her lap. My father’s favourite seat was in a deep window of the dining-room, from which his eyes could rest on rolling fields of grass and grain, bounded by the ever-changing mountains. After his early and simple dinner, he usually took a nap of a few minutes, sitting upright in his chair, his hand held and rubbed by one of his daughters. There was a new stable, warm and sunny, for Traveller and his companion, “Lucy Long,” a cow-house, wood-shed, garden, and yard, all planned, laid out, and built by my father. The increased room enabled him to invite a greater number to visit him, and this summer the house was full.

In answer to a letter from me on business, which reached him during commencement week, he writes:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, June 19, 1869.

My Dear Son: I have just receive your letter of the 10th, and have only time for a word. . . . I hope all things are going well with you both. With the improvement of your farm, proceeds will increase, and, with experience, judgment, and economy, will augment greatly. You will have to get married if you wish to prosper, and must therefore make arrangements to build your house this fall. If I live through this coming week, I wish to pay you and F— a visit the week following, about July 1st. I am trying to persuade Custis to accompany me, but he has not yet responded. I am very much occupied with examinations, visitors, arrangements, etc.

All are well, and would send love if accessible. Mildred is full of housekeeping and dresses, and the house is full of young ladies—Misses Jones, Albert, Burwell, Fairfax, and Wickham; others in expectation. Good-bye, Affectionately your father,

R. E. LEE.


Ten days later, he writes to his son, Fitzhugh, giving up his proposed visit to him at this time, expressing his regrets at the necessity, and telling his reasons for so doing:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, June 30, 1869.

My Dear Fitzhugh: This is the day that I had proposed to visit you, but I find it impossible to get away. I find a great deal to do in closing up the past session and in preparing for the new. In addition, our college officers have all been changed—proctor, clerk, treasurer, librarian—and the new incumbents enter upon their duties to-morrow. I shall have to be with them some days to initiate and install them. That would only delay me, but then on the 15th proximo the Educational Association of Virginia will meet here, and I should not be able to return in time. As I have never attended any of their meetings when elsewhere, if I were to go away when appointed here it would look as if I wished to avoid them, which is not the case. After that is over, I must locate your poor mother at the Baths,[note 77] which she has made up her mind to visit, and prepare to go myself to the White Sulphur, the waters of which I want to drink for three or four weeks. So I do not see how I could get to the Pamunkey before fall. I want to get there very much to see you all, and, as far as my personal predilections are concerned, would rather go there than to the White; but the doctors think it would not be so beneficial to me, and I am obliged now to consider my health. I propose, therefore, that you bring Tabb and the baby up to the mountains and leave them either at the Baths with “the Mim” or with me, if you cannot remain. Tell Rob, if he can, he must also come and see us. If he were here, now, he would find very pleasant company, Misses Jones, Albert, Kirkland, Burwell, Fairfax, and Wickham, all in the house, with others out of it. They are so much engaged with the collegates that Custis and I see but little of them, but he could compete with the yearlings, which we cannot. Tell my daughter Tabb, her father is here, very well, and dined with us yesterday. Give my much love to grandson. He must not forget me. I have a puppy and a kitten for him to play with. All send love. Truly your father,

R. E. LEE.


In a letter dated Lexington, Virginia, July 9th, he gives a further account of his plans for the summer:

. . . I have delivered your letter to Mildred, who has just returned from a visit to the University of Virginia, where she saw a great many persons and met with a great deal of pleasure. She ought to be, and I believe is, satisfied with commencements for this year, having participated in three. I am sorry to tell you that I cannot go down to the Pamunkey this summer as I had intended; . . . I had hoped to be able, after the conclusion of the commencement exercises of Washington College, to visit the Pamunkey, and to return by the 15th inst. so as to be present at the Convention of the Teachers of Virginia, which assembles here on that day; but I was detained here so long that I found I would be unable to accomplish what I desired. Custis, who was to have accompanied me, will go down in a day or two. . . .

About the 20th of this month I shall go to the Rockbridge Baths with Mrs. Lee, who wishes to try the waters again, and after seeing her comfortably located, if nothing prevents, I shall go with Mildred and Agnes to the White Sulphur for a few weeks. . . . It is delightfully quiet here now. Both institutions have closed, and all are off enjoying their holiday. I should like to remain, if I could. Colonels Shipp and Harding have gone to get married, report says. Colonel Lyle and Captain Henderson, it is said, will not return. Captain Preston having been appointed professor at William and Mary, we shall necessarily lose him, but Colonel Allen will be back, and all the rest. We are as well as you left us. The girls had several of their friends at commencement. All have departed except Miss Fairfax and Miss Wickham. The election is over and the town tranquil.

The quiet and rest which he so much desired, and which he was enjoying when he wrote, did not long remain his. He had just gotten my mother comfortably settled at the Baths, when he received the news of the sudden death of his brother Smith. He went at once to Alexandria, hoping to be in time for the burial. From there he writes my mother:

ALEXANDRIA, July 25, 1869.

My Dear Mary: I arrived here last evening, too late to attend the burial of my dear brother, an account of which I have clipped from the Alexandria Gazette and inclose to you. I wish you would preserve it. Fitz. and Mary went up to “Ravensworth” the evening of the funeral services, Friday, 23d, so that I have not seen them, but my nephew Smith is here, and from him I have learned all particulars. The attack of his father was short, and his death apparently unexpected until a short time before it occurred. Mary[note 78] was present, and I hope of some comfort to her uncle and assistance to her aunt. Fitz. came here the afternoon of his father’s death, Thursday, 22d, made all arrangements for the funeral, went out to “Ravensworth” to announce the intelligence to our aunt. He carried down, Friday morning, on the steamer, Mrs. Cooper and Jennie, to stay with his mother, and returned that afternoon with his father’s remains, which were committed to earth as you will see described.

John returned the next morning, yesterday, in the mail-boat, to his mother, with whom Dan stayed. Robert arrived this morning and has gone to “Ravensworth” to announce my arrival. I shall remain here until I see or hear from Fitz., for, as you will see by the Gazette’s account, the last resting-place of the body has not been determined upon. Fitz., I understand, wishes it interred at Hollywood, Richmond; Nannie at the cemetery here, where her father, mother, and daughter are buried; and Mrs. Fitzhugh at “Ravensworth.” I think Nannie’s wishes should be consulted. I shall probably leave to-day or to-morrow, and, after seeing all that remains to us of our dear brother deposited in its last earthly home, and mingling my sorrow for a brief season with that of his dear wife and children, I shall return to you. Please send this letter after perusal to Agnes and Mildred, as I shall be unable to write to them. I am staying at the Mansion House. Our Aunt Maria did not come down to the funeral services, prevented, I fear, by her rheumatic attack. May God bless us all and preserve us for the time when we, too, must part, the one from the other, which is now close at hand, and may we all meet again at the foot-stool of our merciful God, to be joined by His eternal love never more to separate. Most truly and affectionately,

R. E. LEE.


The loss of his brother was a great sorrow to him. They were devoted to each other, having always kept warm their boyish love. Smith’s admiration for and trust in my father were unbounded, and it was delightful to see them together and listen to the stories of the happy long ago they would tell about each other. No one could be near my Uncle Smith without feeling his joyful influence. My sister Mary, who knew him long and well, and who was much attached to him, thus writes:

No one who ever saw him can forget his beautiful face, charming personality, and grace of manner which, joined to a nobility of character and goodness of heart, attracted all who came in contact with him, and made him the most generally beloved and popular of men. This was especially so with women, to whom his conduct was that of a preux chevalier, the most chivalric and courteous; and, having no daughters of his own, he turned with the tenderest affection to the daughters of his brother Robert.

After all the arrangements connected with this sad event had been completed, my father went up to “Ravensworth” to see “Aunt Maria,” who had always been a second mother to his brother. There, amid the cool shades of this lovely old home, he rested for a day or two from the fatigues of travel and the intense heat. During this visit, as he passed the room in which his mother had died, he lingered near the door and said to one present:

Forty years ago, I stood in this room by my mother’s death-bed! It seems now but yesterday!

While here he determined to go back to Lexington via Richmond, and to run down thence to the “White House” to see his grandson. He arrived there on Friday, July 30th. On Sunday he wrote to my mother:

WHITE HOUSE, NEW KENT, August 1, 1869.

My Dear Mary: I arrived here on Friday last and found them all well. Our daughter Tabb has not been altogether well, and shows its effects. Her baby, I think, would also be improved by mountain air. I have therefore persuaded her to accompany me and join you at the Baths. We shall leave Richmond, if nothing prevents, on Tuesday morning, 3d inst., and hope to reach the Baths that evening in the stage from Goshen. I have written to Mr. Peyton, requesting him to prepare a good room for Tabb and her little family as near you as convenient, and trust we may reach there in health and comfort at the time appointed. I hope I shall find you well and comfortable, and Markie in the enjoyment of every good. How are the poor little children? My previous letters will have informed you of everything important. I will supply all omissions when I see you. Custis is here, much improved. I have not yet seen Rob. Farmers here are threshing out their wheat, which occupies them closely. Fitzhugh’s is turning out well, and he hopes to gather a fair crop. Robert came up last Wednesday with his friend Mr. Dallam, and went down Thursday. He was very well. Custis arrived Saturday week. Mr. Kepler is here and will preach at St. Peter’s this morning. I hope to attend. Mr. Kepler says his health is much improved. Fitzhugh doses him with cholagogue. Good-bye. Affectionately yours,

R. E. LEE.

St. Peter’s was the old Colonial church a few miles away, in which General Washington and Mrs. Custis were married about one hundred years prior to this time. Mr. Kepler, the pastor, preached there twice a month. He lived in Richmond, and, to keep him free from fever-and-ague, my brother dosed him freely with cholagogue whenever he came down into the malarial country. I came up from Romancoke Sunday morning, arriving in time to be present at the christening of my nephew, which ceremony was decided on rather hurriedly in order that the grandfather might stand as godfather. After returning from the morning service at St. Peter’s, where we all went, it was decided that the mother and child should go to the mountains with my father. As there were some preparations for the summer to be made, his daughter and her baby went to Petersburg that afternoon, agreeing to meet the General in Richmond Monday night and start for the Rockbridge Baths Tuesday morning. On Monday, he writes to a friend, with whom he had intended to stop for a day on his way back to Lexington:


.&160;. . I had promised myself the pleasure of seeing you on my way to Lexington, of spending with you one short day to cheer and refresh me; but I shall travel up in a capacity that I have not undertaken for many years—as escort to a young mother and her infant, and it will require the concentration of all my faculties to perform my duties even with tolerable comfort to my charge. . . . I go up with my daughter, I may say this time, too, my youngest daughter,[note 79] to place her with her mama at the Rockbridge Baths, the waters of which I hope will invigorate both mother and child, who have been wearied and weakened by the long attack of whooping-cough from which the latter has suffered. I came down from Richmond to spend Sunday and was fortunate enough to find here my three sons, but I am sorry to say but one daughter. . . . Most truly yours,

R. E. LEE.

Monday night was spent in Richmond. It was soon known that General Lee was at the Exchange Hotel, and great numbers came to call upon him, so that he was compelled to hold an informal reception in the large parlours. The next day, with his “new daughter” and her baby, he started for the Baths, where they arrived safely the same night. Then he proceeded to carry out his original plan for the summer, and went with his two daughters to the White Sulphur Springs. From there he writes to his wife:

GREENBRIER COUNTY, West Virginia, August 10, 1869.

My Dear Mary: I received this morning your addenda to Annie Wickham’s letter inclosing Custis’s. I also received by same mail a letter from Mr. Richardson, reiterating his request to insert my portrait in my father’s Memoirs, saying that it was by the desire “of many mutual friends” on the ground of its “giving additional interest to the work, and increasing its sale.” That may or may not be so; at any rate, I differ from them. Besides, there is no good portrait accessible to him, and the engraving in the “Lee Family” I think would be an injury to any book. His recent proposition of inserting my portrait where the family history is given takes from it a part of my obligation, and if it were believed that such an addition would add to the interest of the book, I should assent. I have so told him, and that I would write to you for your suggestions, and to ask whether you could send him a portrait worth inserting. What do you think?

There is to be a grand concert her to-night for the benefit of our church in Lexington. It is gotten up by Miss Mary Jones and other kind people here, and the proposition is so favourably received that I hope a handsome sum will be realised.

The girls are well. I do not know how long they will continue so. They seem to be foot-free. A great many visitors were turned off last night—no room for them! A grand ball in honour of Mr. Peabody is to come off to-morrow, after which it is supposed there will be more breathing-space. I have seen Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ridgely of “Hampton” since I wrote, also numerous other acquaintances. I should prefer more quiet. How is my daughter Tabb? Mother and son are improving, I trust. I hope you and Markie are also doing well. No change in myself as yet. The girls would send love if I could find them. Affectionately yours,

R. E. LEE.


A few days later he writes:


My Dear Mary: I received last night your letter of the 13th—very prompt delivery—and am very glad to learn of the well-doing of all with you. I am particularly pleased to hear that our daughter and grandson are improving, and should you find them not benefiting I wish you would urge them to try some other springs, for I have it greatly to heart that they should receive all possible advantage from their summer trip. I hope Markie will be benefited by the Red Sweet. The water is considered a great tonic, but I fear none will be warm enough for her but the Hot. If I cannot get over to see her, I will notify her of our departure from here, which will be in about two weeks. I have received a letter from Fitz. Lee, saying that Mary would leave “Richlands” last Tuesday, 10th inst., for “Ravensworth,” which I presume she did, as his letter was postmarked that day at Acquia Creek, and was probably mailed by him, or one of the boys, on putting her aboard the mail-boat. You will be glad to learn that the proceeds of the concert for our church at Lexington netted $605, which has been subsequently increased to $805 by Messrs. Corcoran and Peabody with a donation of $100 from each. For all of this I am extremely grateful.

As regards the portrait for Mr. Richardson, you must do as you please. I shall not write to him any more on the subject. Unless the portrait is good and pleasing, I think it will be an injury to the book. I have had a visit since commencing this letter from a Mr. William Bath, of New Orleans, who showed me a wreath, made in part, she says, of my, your and Mildred’s hair, sent her by you more than two years ago. She says she sent you a similar one at the time, but of this I could tell her nothing, for I recollect nothing about it. She says her necessities now compel her to put her wreath up to raffle, and she desired to know whether I had any objection to her scheme, and whether I would head the list. All this, as you may imagine, is extremely agreeable to me, but I had to decline her offer of taking a chance in her raffle.

Miss Mary Jones has gone to the Sweet. Tell Miss Belle I wish she were coming here. I shall be glad to see Mrs. Caskie. Mildred has her picture. The girls are always busy at something, but never ready. The Stuarts have arrived. Mrs. Julia is improving perceptibly. Love to all.

R. E. LEE.

The “Markie” referred to in each of the above letters was Martha Custis Williams, a great-niece of my grandfather, Mr. Custis, who had for many years lived at Arlington with her uncle. The “little children” were her motherless nieces, whom she had brought that summer to the mountains for their health. General Lee had been engaged for some time in bringing out a third edition of his father’s “Memoirs of the War of ’76 in the Southern States.” It was now in the hands of his publisher, Mr. Richardson, of New York. To this edition he had added a sketch of the famous “Light Horse Harry,” written by himself. It was to his publisher’s proposition of placing his portrait in the “Introduction” to the new work that he at first objected, and then agreed, as stated in the two letters just given. The season of ’69 is still noted in the annals of the White Sulphur as having had in its unusually large company so many noted and distinguished men. Mr. George Peabody and Mr. W. W. Corcoran, the two great philanthropists, were among them and helped to enlarge the receipts of the concert for the benefit of the little Episcopal church in Lexington, of which General Lee was a member and a vestryman.

By the last of August he was back again in Lexington, making arrangements for the home-coming of his wife and her party from the Baths. Here is part of another letter written soon after his arrival home, some lines of which (apparently relating to the servants) have been partially obliterated by time:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, August 31, 1869.

My Dear Mary: I received this evening your note by Miss Mays. You had better come up whenever agreeable to your party . . . we can only try them and make the best of them. Alice, when she gets well, will return if wanted. If Cousin Julia[note 80] will return with you, you can see her here as well as there, and we can all have that pleasure. If she will not, you had better remain with her as long as she will stay. Mrs. Pratt died to-day at 12:30 P.M.

I received a letter to-day from Edward Childe saying that he and Blanche would leave Liverpool in the Java on September 4th, and after spending a few days in the North, would come to Lexington. He will probably reach Boston about September 15th, so that they may be expected here from the 20th to the 30th of September. I am anxious for them to see our daughter and grandson and all our sons. Give my best love to all with you. The girls would send love, but a “yearling” and a “leader of the herd”[note 81] occupy them. Affectionately yours,

R. E. LEE.


This session of Washington College opened with very favourable prospects. The number of students was larger than ever before, every southern, and some northern States being represented. The new chairs of instruction which had been instituted were now in good working order, their professors were comfortably established, and the entire machinery of the institution was running well and smoothly. The president commenced to see some of the results of his untiring energy and steady work. He had many plans which lack of funds prevented him from carrying out. One of them was a School of Commerce in which a student, while following the branches which would discipline and cultivate the mind, might also receive special instruction and systematic training in whatever pertained to business in the largest sense of the term. Another was a School of Medicine, the plan for which, with full details, was drawn up under his eye, and kept in readiness until the funds of the institution should permit of its being carried into effect.

His meeting with Mr. Peabody at the White Sulphur Springs attracted that gentleman’s attention to the college and to his work as its president. To a request for his photograph to be placed in the Peabody Institute among the friends of its founder, he sends with the likeness the following note:

September 25, 1869.

F. POOLE, Secretary Peabody Institute,
Peabody, Massachusetts.

Dear Sir: In compliance with your request, I send a photograph of myself, the last that has been taken, and shall fell honoured in its being placed among the “friends” of Mr. Peabody, for, though they can be numbered by millions, yet all can appreciate the man who was illustrated his age by his munificent charities during his life, and by his wise provisions for promoting the happiness of his fellow-creatures. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE.

My father’s family was now comfortably established in their new home, and had the usual number of friends visiting them this autumn. In due time Edward Childe, Blanche, and “Duckie,” their little dog, arrived and remained for a week or two. The last-named member of the party was of great interest. He was very minute, very helpless, and received more attention than the average baby. He had crossed the Atlantic in fear and trembling, and did not apparently enjoy the new world. His utter helplessness and the great care taken of him by his mistress, his ill-health and the unutterable woe of his countenance greatly excited my father’s pity. After he went away, he often spoke of him, and referred to him, I find, in one of his letters. During this trip to America, Edward and his wife, carrying the wretched “Duckie” with them, paid their visit to the “White House.”

This autumn the “little carriage” my father mentioned having purchased for my mother in Baltimore was put into use. He frequently drove out in it with my mother, his new daughter, and grandson. “Lucy Long,” under his guidance, carefully carried them over the beautiful hills around Lexington. One afternoon, while paying a visit with his daughter, Tabb, to Colonel William Preston Johnston, who lived two miles down the river, in pulling up a steep ascent to the front door, “Lucy” fell, choked into unconsciousness by too tight a collar. My father jumped out, hastily got off the harness, and on perceiving the cause of the accident reproached himself vehemently for his carelessness and thoughtlessness. He was very much distressed at this accident, petted his mare, saying to her in soothing tones that he was ashamed of himself for having caused her all this pain after she had been so faithful to him.

His rides on Traveller in which he delighted so much were not so frequent now. He was not so strong as he had been through the spring and summer, and, indeed, during November he had a very severe attack of cold, from which he did not recover for several weeks. However, during the beautiful days of October he was often seen out in the afternoons on his old gray. His favourite route was the road leading to the Rockbridge Baths. A year previous to this time, he would sometimes go as far as the Baths and return in an afternoon, a trip of twenty miles. A part of this road led through a dense forest. One afternoon, as he told the story himself, he met a plain old soldier in the midst of these woods, who, recognising the General, reined in his horse and said:

General Lee, I am powerful glad to see you, and I feel like cheering you.

The General replied that this would not do, as they were all alone, only two of them, and there would be no object whatever in cheering. But the old soldier insisted that he must, and, waving his hat about his head, cried out:

“Hurrah for General Lee!” and kept repeating it. As the General rode away he continued to hear the cheers until he was out of sight.

On another afternoon, as Professors White and Nelson, taking a horseback ride, approached the summit of a long hill, they heard behind them the sound of a horse’s feet running rapidly. In a few moments General Lee appeared on Traveller at full speed. On joining his friends he reined up and said:

I thought a little run would be good for Traveller.

He often gave his horse a “breather,” as he called it. The animal was so strong and powerful that he chafed at restraint, and, unless ridden regularly and hard, had a very disagreeable, fretful trot. After a good gallop up one of the long Rockbridge hills he would proceed at a quiet walk.

The tenderness in my father’s heart for children I have already often remarked upon. One afternoon two little girls, the daughters of two of his professors, were riding on a gentle old horse up and down one of the back streets of the town, fearing to go too far from home. The General, starting out on his afternoon ride, came up with them, and knowing them well, said gaily:

Come with me, little girls, and I will show you a beautiful ride.

Only too delighted, they consented to go. He took them out beyond the fair-grounds, from which point there is one of the grandest stretches of mountain scenery in the world. One of the little maidens had her face tied up, as she was just recovering from the mumps. He pretended that he was much alarmed lest his horse should catch them from her, and kept saying:

“I hope you won’t give Traveller the mumps!” and “What shall I do if Traveller gets the mumps?”

An hour later, this party was seen returning, the two little girls in sun-bonnets on the one old, sleepy horse, and General Lee by their side on Traveller, who was stepping very proudly, as if in scorn of his lowly companion. My father took the children to their homes, helped them dismount, took a kiss from each, and, waving a parting salute, rode away. It was such simple acts of kindness and consideration that made all children confide in him and love him.

Soon after the attack of cold mentioned above, he writes to his son Fitzhugh, then at the “White House” with his family:

LEXINGTON, Virginia, December 2, 1869.

My Dear Fitzhugh: . . . Your letters to Custis told us of your well-doing. I want to see you all very much, and think the sight of my daughter and grandson would do me good. I have had a wretched cold, the effects of which have not left me, but I am better. The doctors still have me in hand, but I fear can do no good. The present mild weather I hope will be beneficial, enabling me to ride and be in the open air. But Traveller’s trot is harder to me than it used to be and fatigues me. We are all as usual—the women of the family very fierce and the men very mild. Custis has been a little unwell, but is well regulated by his sisters. Neither gaiety nor extravagance prevails amongst us, and the town is quiet. Our community has been greatly grieved at the death of Mr. Frank Preston, to whom I was much attached and for whom I had a high esteem. Give my love to Bertus. Tell him I hope Mrs. Taylor will retain one of her little daughters for him. She always reserves the youngest of the flock from Custis, as he is not particular as to an early date. Your affectionate father,

R. E. LEE.


Frank Preston, at the time of his death, was professor of Greek at William and Mary College. He had been, prior to his appointment to that position, an assistant professor at Washington College. He was a native of Lexington, a son of Colonel Thomas L. Preston, who was for so long a time professor at the Virginia Military Institute. A brilliant scholar, trained in the best German universities, and a gentleman in the highest sense of the word, Frank had served his State in the late war, and had left an arm on the heights of Winchester. On hearing of his death, President Lee issued the following announcement:

WASHINGTON COLLEGE, November 23, 1869.

The death of Professor Frank Preston, a distinguished graduate, and late Associate Professor of Greek in this college, has caused the deepest sorrow in the hearts of the institution.

Endowed with a mind of rare capacity, which had been enriched by diligent study and careful cultivation, he stood among the first in the State in his pursuit in life.

We who so long and so intimately possessed his acquaintance, and so fully enjoyed the privilege of his companionship, feel especially his loss, and grieve profoundly at his death; and we heartily sympathise with his parents and relations in their great affliction, and truly participate in the deep sorrow that has befallen them.

With the view of testifying the esteem felt for his character and the respect due to his memory, all academic exercises will be suspended for the day, and the faculty and students are requested to attend in their respective bodies his funeral services at the Presbyterian church, at eleven o’clock, to pay the last sad tribute of respect to his earthly remains, while cherishing in their hearts his many virtues.

R. E. LEE, President.

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