Discussion What did civilians do after Sherman's march?

MikeyB

Corporal
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
If you were a civilian in the path of Sherman's march. And he comes through your town, burns everything down and "living off the land" plucks every chicken and grain on your land. How did you survive the next few months until the war was over? Did these people just bury food and hope it didn't get found by the troops? Did they move north? Hunt deer, fish and eat peaches for the next few months?

Mike
 

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I have traveled the route of Sherman's March several times. My wife's relation General Sprague served on the March. He was awarded a Metal of Honor for his defeat of Wheeler's attack on Sherman's ammunition wagons. I am also very interested in Captain McClintock who was the signal officer assigned to Sherman's HQ. Many times on our trips, we have visited houses & buildings associated with both men. We even stayed in a B&B that had served as Sprague's HQ. Unlike the depictions of wanton destruction, scorched earth & assault on all that is holy that began almost with the first step on the March to the Sea, the destruction was actually very focused. Sherman ordered that enough food would be left for the families of farms that were raided. All the surplus that could be used to support Southern Armies was destroyed or hauled off. Testimony to that practice is the many antebellum homes still standing along the line of march. If nothing else, there simply was not enough time for his men to wipe out whole swaths of buildings. The many historic town centers advertised all along the line of march make that obvious.

The really vicious attacks on civilians & wanton destruction was inflicted by the gaggle of deserters from both armies & Confederate cavalry that followed in Sherman's wake. Time & again, Union officers restrained their men from gratuitous destruction. There are no reports of rape or sexual assault by Sherman's troops, something that reflects 19th Century cultural norms.

Sherman's March was focused, pitiless & massively destructive. That was the whole point of the exercise. It is remarkable how quickly life returned to normal in the wake of Sherman's passing. It wasn't an occupation that stays & sucks the life out, it was more like the passing of a tornado. The local newspapers that went back into print as early as the day after Sherman came through tell the tale. Civilian life got back to normal, or what passed for normal during the Civil War as soon as it was able.

As people who rever history, it is our responsibility to see events clearly, as they really were. There is no other way to really understand & learn the lessons of what happened in the past.
 
Joined
Jan 29, 2019
If you were a civilian in the path of Sherman's march. And he comes through your town, burns everything down and "living off the land" plucks every chicken and grain on your land. How did you survive the next few months until the war was over? Did these people just bury food and hope it didn't get found by the troops? Did they move north? Hunt deer, fish and eat peaches for the next few months?

Mike

Interesting question... which could also be asked of Sherman`s Great Mississippi Expedition (Meridian Campaign) that was conducted just 9 months previous to Sherman`s March from Atlanta to Savannah, to which you made reference. The Meridian Campaign was the Blue Print for Sherman`s March to the Sea, from which much was learned and then improved upon by the time that he marched across Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah. In both campaigns the local citizenry were often fore-warned by Confederate scouts that Sherman`s army would be marching through their towns, hamlets and communities with-in days and told that if there was anything that they wanted to keep safe they were to bury those things in the woods, which many did. They were specifically told to empty their cribs of corn, empty their smoke houses and pantries of food stores, carry off their animals of burden, foul and swine, to remove any silver, gold and china as well as anything else of value and take it all to the woods and bury what they could and hide everything else from sight, until Sherman came through and inflicted what damage his army would do.

Many followed the warnings and were able to save some of their things, others did not and lost everything to the foraging parties and stragglers. In some cases, regarding larger farms and plantations, slaves would tell the Federal soldiers where some of the items was buried and hidden, as they were the ones who were tasked to hide and bury them, other times they would remain silent. Both Mississippi as well as Georgia would compile a "List of Indigent Soldiers Families", from county to county, regarding people who were left destitute and homeless from Sherman`s scorched earth and hard-war strategies in both states. In Mississippi, just 6 weeks after Sherman came through on his way to Meridian, such a list was compiled by county. I had more than 18 of my direct ancestors recorded on that list as being left indigent and destitute as a direct result of Sherman`s march, which had just happened, resulting in them losing everything that they owned. Once the indigent and destitute residents were added to this list, they would be given money from the state, provided by the planter class, who had specifically created a fund for that purpose early on in the war. This was money that was paid by the state or county and the wealthy plantation land owners (planter elites) to stipend needy families of Confederate soldiers who were at the front fighting the War. Typically each dependent wife or mother who was dependent upon the soldiers service would receive $10 a month and each child would receive $1 a month. But with hyper inflation in both Mississippi and Georgia in 1864, the Confederate dollar was worth very little and what ever small stipend that the families recorded on those "List`s of Indigent Soldiers Families" received, would not purchase much.

Some families were able to hide things in the woods and not have their things taken where-as numerous others lost everything to Sherman`s army, foraging parties and stragglers. My 3rd Great Grandfather who served and fought with the 2nd Regiment Alabama Cavalry, as part of Brig. General Samuel Wragg Ferguson`s Cavalry Brigade, fought against and opposed both of Sherman`s scorched earth and hard war campaigns of 1864, which I referenced above (Meridian Campaign and the March from Atlanta to Savannah).
 
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Hoseman

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Joined
Oct 20, 2016
Location
Virginia
I would imagine that they intensely disliked the union men before they came and after they passed it galvanized their dislike into pure hatred. I can only imagine what it would be like to have everything you own taken or destroyed and your house burnt to the ground all at once.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
The main problem was the approach of winter. Those families who could find a place to live close to home probably did so -- those who could not would have to leave the burned out area to find shelter.

The war had taken the men and the slaves had left, so the remaining people (women, children and old men) had to leave the area on foot. This is always hard, but even more so without the strength of the men or animals.

In the spring, many returned to try to get a crop of corn planted and a garden started. The few horses and men who were able to work would help as many neighbors as possible, but food would be scarce until the summer of 1865 when outside assistance and the returned men made real progress possible.
 

MikeyB

Corporal
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
The main problem was the approach of winter. Those families who could find a place to live close to home probably did so -- those who could not would have to leave the burned out area to find shelter.

The war had taken the men and the slaves had left, so the remaining people (women, children and old men) had to leave the area on foot. This is always hard, but even more so without the strength of the men or animals.

In the spring, many returned to try to get a crop of corn planted and a garden started. The few horses and men who were able to work would help as many neighbors as possible, but food would be scarce until the summer of 1865 when outside assistance and the returned men made real progress possible.

Any idea if home guard activity died down? Was there resignation at this point, and it was all hands on deck just to survive, to hello with the cause? Or did these poor people have to fight off home guard trying to get men back into the ranks?
 
Joined
Jun 24, 2015
Location
Talladega, Alabama
From my studying the “March to the Sea”, I have found most got what they could and moved away to relatives or friends outside that area. We must remember that many of those people didn’t have too much to start with and the Union armies just march on by those type dwellings.
Of course you had those stragglers which took anything that fit into their hands or pockets but it wasn’t much. Those that were better off, those were the ones that packed up what they thought was valuable and left. It would be like those that are facing a category 5 hurricane, get what you can and get out.
Sherman did advise his generals to pass down the line that he would not tolerate unnecessary looting and destruction of non military buildings. Well.....that only work sometimes, the main course that was available to the troops in that time range would have been potatoes and pecans or any ground laying vegetable. I am sure not many troops went by after seeing a nice cow, lamb, rooster/hen or pig staring back at them. But really this type of table meat didn’t pass by many troops throughout the war on either side from 1861 to 1865.
Sherman took supply wagons with him and this did soften the raiding parties to some extent but you always had those that they needed more.
 

Goodpal

Private
Joined
Feb 27, 2014
If you were a civilian in the path of Sherman's march. And he comes through your town, burns everything down and "living off the land" plucks every chicken and grain on your land. How did you survive the next few months until the war was over? Did these people just bury food and hope it didn't get found by the troops? Did they move north? Hunt deer, fish and eat peaches for the next few months?

Mike
I bet a lot of them staved to death or died from exposure since they no longer had a house.
 
Joined
Jan 29, 2019
False, There is no record of that happening, of course there is a endless myths, but no mass graves to prove them.
If it were true if would be reflected in the 1870 census.

Some could have died of starvation or many could have just left to other areas not directly affected by Sherman`s March to Savannah. Either way the 1870 U.S. Federal Census would not reflect which was which, as all that it would show would be a decline or increase in population in a certain region over a ten year period, as it did not go into specifics regarding the cause for a decline, or increase if any. Nor did the 1870 U.S. Federal Census ask any specific questions regarding the Civil War; service, branch, deaths or other wise. The First U.S. Census to collect information on Civil War Veterans was the 1890 U.S. Federal Census ("Veteran`s Census") which was mostly destroyed by fire in January of 1921 at the Commerce Department Building where it was stored. The 1870 Mortality Schedule Index, which was part of the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, only covered July 1869 until the Census was taken in 1870, so that would not record any deaths which occurred in November and December of 1864 during Sherman`s March from Atlanta to Savannah.

As for Mass graves, communities did not typically bury their "loved ones" in Mass graves, they would have buried them individually with care and affection as each died at various times apart from one another. It takes weeks and some times months before someone starves to death, and if someone had been burned out of their home by Sherman`s army on his march from Atlanta to Savannah, he and his army would have been long gone by the time that those affected could have starved to death, if indeed any did, leaving their loved ones to bury them individually as each passed away. Mass graves are typically a crude means of burying numerous decaying bodies that died of disease or were massacred at once and created a health hazard on the local population of people remaining, such as after a large battle where thousands were killed in one or two days or during a Yellow Fever epidemic responsible for the deaths of numerous people with-in a very short period of time. Starving to death does not meet that criteria, as any one who starved to death would have died at varying times and not all together on the same hour and day. So as each would have passed they would have been buried by their loved ones soon there after.

Some people lost their homes and belongings during Sherman`s 300 mile march from Atlanta to the sea (Savannah), what personal belongings that may have escaped detection and remained was most likely taken by foraging parties and stragglers who were in the rear of Sherman`s 62,000 man army, after the main column made their way through and had left the area. Can we say with "absolute certainty" that anyone "died of starvation" as a direct consequence of this? No... However, we can not say that it did not happen either, for the very same lack of reliable sources to confirm or refute either position. Just my opinion...

A very smart man once said "War is Hell," of course he was right,

Sherman was correct when he stated this... other wise what`s the point in war if not to utterly break the will and spirit of the enemy and demoralize them to the extent that they will give up the fight and end the conflict? Which was one of the main objectives in Sherman`s hard-war and scorched-earth policy which he implemented very effectively, first during the Great Mississippi Expedition (Meridian Campaign) and second during his 1864 March through Georgia (Savannah Campaign). He knew that as soon as Confederate soldiers who were fighting at the front started to receive heart-wrenching letters from their loved ones, writing that they had lost everything and that they were struggling and in great need of even the most basic necessities with which to sustain life, that they would make the hard choice to leave the front and go home to provide for and take care of their families. Some did just that... others remained steadfast at the front to continue fighting for the southern cause, painfully aware that their families were suffering and in dire need back home.
 
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damYankee

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 12, 2011
Some could have died of starvation or many could have just left to other areas not directly affected by Sherman`s March to Savannah. Either way the 1870 U.S. Federal Census would not reflect which was which, as all that it would show would be a decline or increase in population in a certain region over a ten year period, as it did not go into specifics regarding the cause for a decline, or increase if any. Nor did the 1870 U.S. Federal Census ask any specific questions regarding the Civil War; service, branch, deaths or other wise. The First U.S. Census to collect information on Civil War Veterans was the 1890 U.S. Federal Census ("Veteran`s Census") which was mostly destroyed by fire in January of 1921 at the Commerce Department Building where it was stored. The 1870 Mortality Schedule Index, which was part of the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, only covered July 1869 until the Census was taken in 1870, so that would not record any deaths which occurred in November and December of 1864 during Sherman`s March from Atlanta to Savannah.

As for Mass graves, communities did not typically bury their "loved ones" in Mass graves, they would have buried them individually with care and affection as each died at various times apart from one another. It takes weeks and some times months before someone starves to death, and if someone had been burned out of their home by Sherman`s army on his march from Atlanta to Savannah, he and his army would have been long gone by the time that those affected could have starved to death, if indeed any did, leaving their loved ones to bury them individually as each passed away. Mass graves are typically a crude means of burying numerous decaying bodies that died of disease or were massacred at once and created a health hazard on the local population of people remaining, such as after a large battle where thousands were killed in one or two days or during a Yellow Fever epidemic responsible for the deaths of numerous people with-in a very short period of time. Starving to death does not meet that criteria, as any one who starved to death would have died at varying times and not all together on the same hour and day. So as each would have passed they would have been buried by their loved ones soon there after.

Some people lost their homes and belongings during Sherman`s 300 mile march from Atlanta to the sea (Savannah), what personal belongings that may have escaped detection and remained was most likely taken by foraging parties and stragglers who were in the rear of Sherman`s 62,000 man army, after the main column made their way through and had left the area. Can we say with "absolute certainty" that anyone "died of starvation" as a direct consequence of this? No... However, we can not say that it did not happen either, for the very same lack of reliable sources to confirm or refute either position. Just my opinion...



Sherman was correct when he stated this... other wise what`s the point in war if not to utterly break the will and spirit of the enemy and demoralize them to the extent that they will give up the fight and end the conflict? Which was one of the main objectives in Sherman`s hard-war and scorched-earth policy which he implemented very effectively, first during the Great Mississippi Expedition (Meridian Campaign) and second during his 1864 March through Georgia (Savannah Campaign). He knew that as soon as Confederate soldiers who were fighting at the front started to receive heart-wrenching letters from their loved ones, writing that they had lost everything and that they were struggling and in great need of even the most basic necessities with which to sustain life, that they would make the hard choice to leave the front and go home to provide for and take care of their families. Some did just that... others remained steadfast at the front to continue fighting for the southern cause, painfully aware that their families were suffering and in dire need back home.

I believe that if large numbers of civilians died the cemeteries would reflect that.
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
If it were true if would be reflected in the 1870 census.

It would be interesting to compare the 1860 vs 1870 population of the counties Sherman passed through vs those off to either side.

However, one of the challenges is that the 1870 census was very poorly conducted in some areas resulting in an undercount. So the results could be misleading.
 

Eric Calistri

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 31, 2012
Location
Austin Texas
This topic has been discussed many times on CivilWarTalk, a lot of very detailed and specific information is available using the search function. Many firsthand eyewitness accounts are available, both civilian and military. This is much better information than the mythologized "salting of the earth" and "destruction visible from space" hyperbole that pervades various corners of the internet.

Some existing threads:





 

Eric Calistri

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 31, 2012
Location
Austin Texas
Being directly on this topic, I will repost this from an above thread.
____________________________


One book I've read that is directly on this topic is:

When Sherman Came: Southern Women and the “Great March” edited by Katharine M Jones Bobbs-Merrill Co 1964.

Jones has selected a series accounts by women who were in the Path of Sherman’s GA anc Carolina campaigns. Exactly what her selection process was I don’t know. Some accounts are from diaries, some from letters and some from recollections written after or possibly long after, we are given no indication.

The book is divided into the following sections with the number of accounts in ().

Atlanta to Milledgeville (7)

Sandersville to Chatham Co (11)

Savannah (8)

Savannah River to Lexington SC (9)

Columbia SC (16)

More Columbia SC (11)

Ridgeway to Cheraw SC (13)

Pee Dee River to Fayetteville NC (7)

Goldsboro to Chapel Hill NC (15)

Jones does not do much fact-checking or provide much background information on either the writer or the persons appearing in their account. At the least, some identification of Lt so and so or MR such and such is called for. Also, though the OR appears on the list of General Bibliography, Jones has not made much use of it determining which units or officers were in which towns on which days to compare with the account.

The accounts follow a general pattern. There is consternation at the approach of the Yanks, valuables are hidden, livestock moved out to the swamp in the care of a kinsman or trusted slave. The confederates retreat, of course stopping in for a hearty meal or two. The yanks arrive suddenly, rushing about always moving quickly entering the house, to search for weapons or rebs, looking through everything, breaking stuff, taking property. The women search out an officer to place a guard, which is generally given. The out buildings are often burnt, the smokehouse, larder, pantry, all sources of food and forage are cleaned out. The contents destroyed if not taken. At some point, the writer defies the yanks in some way, telling them off and saying they will never surrender. Very few accounts contain any first hand information about either assaults or the burning of houses (Columbia is an exception here.)

Gov Brown released the convicts from the State Penitentiary in Milledgeville:

page 29 Anna Maria Green “... and on another train quite late the cadets passed and 150 convicts pardoned by the governor.” In other accounts the convicts were armed and put in the militia.

I read this book because I was told that it would "educate" me about the death and destruction brought down by Shermans men. The actual effect was rather the opposite.

A few examples of the more lurid events:

page 229 account of Julia Frances Gott

"I must tell you some of the outrages the Yankees have committed around here. An old man by the name of Brice lived in Fairfield district...The Yankees hung him because he would not tell where he had hid his money and silver."

page 297 account of Georgia Hicks

"My courageous mother saw her husband, Doctor James Hicks, carried away in the night by the soldiers on the pretext of attending a sick man. She pled with him not to go but his one thought was to relieve suffering. He was carried far away and when he was brought back later, he had the appearance of a man that had almost seen death. These ruffians hung him by the neck twice, in their endeavor to secure information as to hidden valuables. They finally released their victim who refused to divulge his secrets. He never recovered from this terrible shock."

I was told these two accounts would "prove" Sherman killed civilians. Neither is a first hand account (ie neither Gott nor Hicks claims to have herself seen the incident), and Jones has included no additional information that would allow a discerning reader to determine the accuracy of the statements. But if we are to include these hearsay accounts as sufficient evidence to call a man a killer, Ms Jones book clearly gives the Confederate side the edge in murders committed:

page 38 account of Ella Mitchell

"Later in the evening, a skirmish occurred in which thirteen Federal soldiers were made prisoners. Captain Deason, one of the prisoners, was severely wounded, and was cared for at the home of Brother Anthony. The prisoners were brought into town and a barracks improvised in a store. During the night the sentries placed by General Wheeler's order were overpowered and rendered senseless before they could make an outcry....The eleven prisoners of war were silently stolen away to a field on the Flournay place and shot."

I was also told these accounts would "prove" widespread starvation and and diease in the wake of Sherman's March:

page 246 is Mary Elinor Bouknight Poppenheim's diary entry for March 1st 1865:

"We are starving here; nothing left to eat but sorghum molasses and black shortbread."

page 256 the account of Esther Alden for March 12,1865. "Mama is greatly distressed and says famine is inevitable."

A large number of the accounts reveal that the confederate army was using the food of the civilians to feed its men. Therefore, destroying or confiscating food, hard as it may have been, was clearly within the bounds of the rules of war of the day. Ms Jones book contains no accounts of widespread starvation, though I have no doubt many citizens ate less than they were accustomed to eating for some time. Her accounts typically end with the departure of Sherman's army and do not address what may have happened in the following weeks and months, so they can in no way be considered definitive on this topic.

I wish to make a point regarding Ms Jones as an editor. In her lead-in to the account of Anna Maria Green [pg 28] she quotes the Savannah Daily News of 11/23/1864 as reporting the Federal Capture of Milledgeville and stating "The State House, Governor's Mansion, and penitentiary were burned." Having read at least four eyewitnesses accounts which contradict this statement, including Anna Maria Green's, I decided to check it out.

According to:

http://www.milledgevillega.com/index4.html

The State House burned in 1941

. The Governor's Mansion "a National Historic Landmark....the home of 10 Georgia governors.....is open for tours 10:00am - 4:00pm"

Penitentiary Square. Selected as the location for the state prison in 1808, this square served its intended purpose for more than 50 years. The previously mentioned eyewitnesses stated the penitentiary was destroyed by Sherman.

Now why would Ms Jones, writing in 1964, use a Newspaper account from 1864 instead of merely checking the information herself? I would guess a Savannah paper from 1864 would be harder to obtain than the phone number of Milledgeville's Chamber of Commerce. The only reasons I can think of are incompetence or a desire to mislead. Ms Jones is hardly the only editor I've experienced engaged in this type of chicanery, but finding such an egregious instance, one contradicted by eyewitness accounts in her own book, makes me wonder about her competence, not to mention her widespread use of ellipsis in accounts that are 7,8 or even 10 pages long.

page 30 Anna Maria Green

“Papa then went in at once to see him [Gen Slocum]. He treated him very gentlemanly and volunteered a guard for the institution [State Asylum in Milledgeville]. All day Wednesday they were in crowds and the asylum would have suffered much loss of property but for the efficiency of one of our guards, a Mr Evelyn.

Thursday we had another guard, but before they reached us some of them had taken two of the mules, we think at the instigation of Tom who had gone to them.....The worst of their acts was committed to poor Mrs. N.—violence done an atrocity committed that ought to make her husband an enemy unto death. Poor woman. I fear she has been driven crazy.”


page 58 Nora N. Canning

quoting “One of the Negro Women”:

Marster...what kind of folks dese her yankees? Dey wont even let de dead rest in de grave....You know my chile I bury last week? Dey take em up and left em on top of the ground for de hog to root. What you tink of dat, sir?”

“Her story was true. WE found that the Vandals had gone to the graveyard and, seeing a new made grave, had dug down into it and taken up the little coffin containing a dead baby, no doubt supposing treasure had been buried there. When they discovered their mistake, they left it above ground...”


page 220 Nancy Armstrong Furmann

“Our Negroes behaved very well. Only one went off—old John who used to belong to your father.....There has been a good deal of insubordination among some in the neighborhood and district. A Company from Chilsom’s cavalry, of Cheatham’s Division, stopped on this side of the river and restored order in a good degree. Several have been shot and a great many severely whipped. Eight of Chisolm’s cavalry took dinner here about a week ago, and they told me that in the fork in Richland, the Negroes had taken possession. Had divided the land among them and gone to work for themselves.”

page 230 Account of Julia Frances Gott

I tell you it was amusing to see the men from Chester skedaddling when the Yanks were coming, every one went to the woods. Wheeler’s men killed sixteen yanks I hear in retaliation for whipping Mrs. R. Oh Ann, I do think the idea of a lady being stripped and whipped by those villians is outrageous, the most awful thing I have heard of....”

page 263 Ester Alden

Alden’s family had left their plantation for about two weeks or so to avoid the Yanks. Upon her return she writes:

“Never was a man more astonished than Mr. Thad was when he came this morning and found us here. He never imagined ladies would attempt the journey up here at this time. Soon after he came the country people began to drop in, and after staying a long time in their fashion one said, ‘Well I would like to know when the auction is to begin.’ Mamma said very quietly, ‘there will be no auction her to-day,’ upon which they all left. It seems Mr Thad had announced that he would sell at 12 to-day all the things remaining on the place, and the country people had assembled for that purpose. When mamma asked Mr. Thad the meaning of his conduct, he replied that he had done what he thought best in ordering the Negroes to leave the place, that ‘no one in the country had provisions for themselves, and to have a lot of starving ******s among them wouldn’t help matters.’ Mamma told him she had arranged about their provisions and would see that they were not in any danger of starving, that she had no intention of allowing them to be driven off the palce, adn that in future she would dispense with his services.”

page 298 Cornelia Phillips Spencer

When within a mile of the capital they saw the flames rising to a great height above the station house, which had been first plundered, then set on fire by stragglers from the retreating forces of General Wheeler”

page 317

“Guards were placed at every house immediately, and with a promptness that was needful; for one residence, standing a little apart, was entered by a squad of bummers in advance of the guard, and in less than ten minutes the lower rooms, store rooms, and bed-rooms were over-hauled and plundered with a swift and business-like thoroughness only attainable by long and extensive practice. A guard arriving, they left, but their plunder was not restored. The village guards, belonging to the Ninth Michigan Cavalry, deserve special mention as being a decent set of men, who, while they were here, behaved with civility and propriety...”

page 320 Lucy Phillips Russell

There were many queer hiding places sought for jewelry and silver, in view of the stories of looting that had preceded the entrance of the troops to the village. Mattresses and feather beds had becomes too obvious. Dr WP Mallett, the village physician, put his treasures into a bag and lowered it into his deep well. Judge William H Battle buried his silver service under a maple tree in the woods back of his home, then forgot which tree guarded the secret...”

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