THE FIRST MISSISSIPPI
PARTISAN RANGERS, C.S.A.
By Andrew Brown


 


On April 21, 1862, five days after it had enacted the first conscription law to be passed on the American continent, the Congress of the Confederate states authorized the enlistment of partisan rangers. The law did not define "partisan rangers", because such organizations were a part of most armies at the time and their function was well understood. Their purpose was to operate more or less independently against small bodies of the enemy, to disrupt his communications, and to damage him in every way possible without being drawn into a fixed battle. Usually they were mounted; while subject to the same regulations and drawing the same pay as regular troops, partisan rangers were distinguished from them by a provision that for any munitions of war captured from the enemy they were to be paid in cash in such manner as the Secretary of War might prescribe. This feature, which to modern eyes placed the rangers in much the same dubious category on land as privateers on the high seas, disturbed the Congress not at all; in 1861 ranger warfare and privateering were recognized as integral parts of military and naval strategy.

The law gave to the President authority to commission "such officers as he might see fit" to recruit ranger units in company, battalion, or regimental strength. General Orders No. 30 of the Inspector and Adjutant General's office, issued April 28, 1862, stipulated that application to the President for authority to recruit must be made through the commanding general of the Department in which the rangers were to operate. In practice, the recommendation of the commanding general appears to have been considered sufficient authority for the "suitable officers" to proceed with recruiting. It is clear that the generals were far more liberal in granting recommendations than the Congress or the War Department had anticipated, and before the law was six months old ranger organizations mushroomed to such an extent that they were detrimental to recruiting for the regular army and to the operation of the Conscription Law. This situation particularly was prevalent in such border regions as north Mississippi and west Tennessee, which after the summer of 1862 were overrun by both the Union and Confederate armies but controlled by neither. To add to the confused situation, the Secretary of War did not issue regulations under which rangers were to be paid for captured munitions until the spring of 1863. In Mississippi, the ironic result was that the rangers, many of whom had enlisted because of the prospect of what might be called legitimate plunder, gained little or no profit from their activities.

By far the best known ranger organization in Mississippi was the First Mississippi Partisan Rangers, usually referred to as Falkner's Regiment. In at least two respects it was unique among ranger units. First, it was the only such organization in the state recruited as a regiment; other such regiments were formed by combining independent companies. Second, despite its name, it was not designed primarily for guerrilla warfare, but to operate within and as a part of the regular Confederate cavalry forces. The overriding ambition of its commander was a general's commission - and he was clever enough to know that the general's wreath did not come easily to leaders of guerrilla bands. He enlisted his men as rangers only because he knew that he could recruit a regiment for ranger service more easily than he could raise a battalion of regular cavalry or a company of infantry.

The recruiter and first Colonel of the regiment was William C. Falkner of Ripley, Mississippi. In 1862 Falkner was 37 years old, a man of less than average height and of slight build, but a man whose life up to that time had been eventful enough to justify a brief review. Falkner's first military experience was during the War with Mexico, when he was First Lieutenant of Company E, Second Mississippi Infantry. His regiment was sent to Mexico but never engaged in combat. Falkner, however, on April 14, 1847, was shot in the left foot and also lost the ends of three fingers on his left in an affray that was sufficiently controversial to prevent his obtaining a disability pension. He resigned from the army on October 31, 1847, and returned to Ripley, where he earned a reputation as a firebrand by killing one man on the streets of Ripley in 1849 and another in 1851. Though he was acquitted of charges of murder in both cases, feeling against him after the second affair was so bitter that he spent a considerable time in Cincinnati where he published two small books "The Siege of Monterey" in poetry, and "The Spanish Heroine" in prose. Late in 1851 he returned to Ripley and became active and successful in farming, business, and the legal profession. He dabbled in politics without much success, but in 1858 was appointed Brigadier General of Militia. At the beginning of the War between the States he was instrumental in organizing a volunteer company of infantry, the Magnolia Guards, at Ripley. He was elected captain of the company, and when it was incorporated into the Second Mississippi Infantry at Corinth in May 1861 was elected colonel of the regiment. The Second went almost at once to Virginia, and after being stationed in the Shenandoah Valley for a time, served effectively at the first battle of Manassas in July. Falkner was one of eleven colonels specifically commended by General Joseph E. Johnston after the battles and the regiment was praised highly by Colonel J. E. B. Stuart. In later years, when the Falkner legend was expanded into heroic proportions, a number of close to fantastic - but easily disprovable stories were published about Falkner's prowess at Manassas; but the great gulf between verifiable truth and these legends does not alter the fact that his part in the battle was highly creditable.

In April, 1862, the Second Mississippi, a twelve-months regiment, re-enlisted for the war and were authorized to hold a new election of officers. Anticipating that he might fail of re-election, Falkner attempted to forestall possible defeat by obtaining an appointment as brigadier general and made a trip to Mississippi in an unsuccessful pursuit of that objective. As he had feared, he lost the colonelcy to John M. Stone of Iuka, who commanded the regiment throughout the rest of the war and later was for twelve years Governor of Mississippi.

Bitter over his defeat by Stone, Falkner returned to his home at Ripley to find himself very much the hero and something of a martyr. Despite his rebuff in Virginia, his dream of military glory still flamed; when on June 30, 1862, the first Union troops to be seen in Ripley entered the town and he narrowly escaped capture at their hands, he seized instantly the opportunity offered by the invasion. The presence of the Yankees brought the war, hitherto an unpleasant but distant thing to the people of north Mississippi, to their very doorsteps. Falkner's talent as a spellbinder fanned the already blazing martial ardor, and before the month of July was well under way he had enlisted 115 men, and more were joining him daily. The requisite recommendation to the President was obtained from General Sterling Price; as Price was not Department Commander, Falkner's choice of a sponsor was to cause him some trouble later on.

By July 28th, the regiment numbered about 600 men and Falkner planned to muster it into Confederate service at Ripley on that date. Even this early in the war, however, the Federal commanders in north Mississippi had an uncanny knowledge of what was going on in the region; Brigadier General Philip H. Sheridan, commanding the Union outpost at Rienzi, sent the Seventh Kansas Cavalry, Colonel A. L. Lee, and the Second Iowa Cavalry, Colonel Edward Hatch, to break up Falkner's organization. The two regiments surrounded Ripley about 8:00 A. M. on the 28th and Hatch went immediately to Ellis' Farm, about four miles west of town, where the Rangers' camp was said to have been.    The Seventh Kansas remained in town, to learn later that the regiment had been warned about an hour before the Yankees arrived and had made its escape toward Salem, a now extinct town about three miles; west of Ashland.     Falkner kept his men intact and mustered them into service on August 1st at Orizaba, some six miles south of Ripley on the New Albany road. A large majority of the officers and men of the regiment were residents of Tippah County. Willis N. Stansell, second captain of Company E and later major, was an exception in that he was from Bolivar County, and all of the officers and most of the men of Company K were from the vicinity of Kossuth in western

Tishomingo (now Alcorn) County. Even after allowances are made for the favorable conditions under which he recruited his men, Falkner's achievement in raising nearly a complete regiment from a county with a white population of about 16,000 - a county which had already furnished about 1,350 men to the Confederate forces - was no mean accomplishment.

The captains of the various companies at organization were: Co. A, Wm. L. Davis (Thos. Ford after Sept. 2, 1862); Co. B, Lawson B. Hovis

(H. T. Counseille after Sept. 2, 1862); Co. C, Forney Green; Co. D, Philip Holcombe; Co. E. J. E. Rogers (Willis N. Stansell after Sept. 2, 1862); Co. F, W. M. Garrett; Co. G, John Garrett; Co. H. J. M. Park; Co. I, Larkin T. McKinza; Co. K, William C. Gambill. The changes in captaincies after September 2nd were due to promotions to regimental offices on that date. These officers were: William C. Falkner, Colonel; Lawson B. Hovis, Lieutenant Colonel; Wm. L. Davis, Major; W. W. Bailey, Adjutant; J. E. Rogers, Quartermaster; J. J. Guyton, Commissary; W. D. Carter, Surgeon;

W. G. McGill, Assistant Surgeon; W. T. Boswell, Sergeant-Major; and Wm. R. Buchanan, Quartermaster Sergeant. The first muster roll, dated September 23, 1862, shows 368 present for duty and 397 aggregate present in seven companies; one company was in Tupelo and two companies were absent on a scout. The total regimental enrollment was 713; aggregate present 596, present for duty 570.

During the first year of the regiment's life a number of additional changes were made at the officer level. Forney Green, Captain of Co. C, was wounded in action prior to November 29, 1862 and died January 1, 1863; he was succeeded by B. W. Dickson. Captain Holcombe of Company D was relieved by Colonel Falkner on January 1, 1863, and was succeeded by Absalom White, later by P. M. Marmon, and on July 1, 1863, by Michael Mauney; the dates of White's and Marmon's tenures are not known. J.K. Guyton is listed as captain of Co. E, but again no dates are known; and Captain Garrett of Company F was succeeded about July l, 1863, by H. L. Duncan. Captain McKinza resigned November 15, 1862, and was succeeded on March 17, 1863, by William Young.

On August 7th Falkner wrote to Adjutant-General Snead of Mississippi for instructions. It is possible to detect a figurative gleam in the Colonel's eye as he remarked, in a question regarding the treatment he should give the not insignificant number of Union sympathizers in the northern part of his county, that certain men of that persuasion near the Tennessee line had "some mighty fine horses." Snead answered that he was to conciliate all Union men except those actually helping the enemy; these men were to be arrested and placed under guard. Private property, however (referring doubtless to the "mighty fine horses"), was not to be impressed, but all men selling cotton to the enemy were to be arrested.

On August 24th Falkner led his regiment into action for the first time. He moved north, travelling mostly at night and away from the main roads, to the vicinity of Chewalla, Tennessee, about 12 miles west of Corinth on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Swinging east toward Corinth, he captured seven Federal stragglers before returning to his base at Ripley. Then he decided on a move that illustrates both his selfconfidence and his rashness; Falkner, with his one green, inexperienced regiment, armed mostly with shotguns, attacked the Federal outpost at Rienzi which was garrisoned by three veteran regiments under the command of hard-bitten Sheridan. Falkner knew that part of Sheridan's force was absent; in north Mississippi at this time both sides usually knew pretty well what the other was doing. But the controlling reason for the attack may well have been the Colonel's burning desire to become a general officer. On June 1st, at Booneville, Brigadier General James R. Chalmers with a force estimated by Sheridan at 5,000 men had made an unsuccessful attack on the same three regiments, and the repulse of Chalmers was responsible for Sheridan's promotion from colonel to brigadier general. Chalmers, several years younger than Falkner, was a long-time personal and legal acquaintance. Both men were made colonels in the Confederate army at about the same time; when Falkner was defeated for re-election in Virginia, however, Chalmers had been a general for two months. To add fuel to the smoldering Falkner resentment, Chalmers' recommendation of Falkner (when the latter was attempting to get a general's commission) had been polite enough but considerably less than enthusiastic. If, Falkner doubtless reasoned, he with an inferior force could succeed where Chalmers with superior numbers had failed, might not the coveted general's wreath be his?

Whatever the demerits of Falkner's decision to attack Rienzi, once the decision was made the plan of attack was excellent. Knowing that the Federals picketed the Hatchie Turnpike on the Ripley-Rienzi road, he sent three companies under Lieutenant Colonel Hovis on the morning of August 28th to ford the Hatchie north of the Turnpike; Falkner, with the seven other companies, crossed to the south and entered the road behind the Union pickets. Hovis led his battalion by side roads to within three miles of Rienzi, where he surprised and drove back a strong Federal picket into the town. A little later Falkner led his seven companies in a thundering charge down the main road into the town. For a short time there was much confusion, but Sheridan managed to form four battalions in line of battle, keeping one company in reserve. Just as they formed, a supply train came in from the north on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and the Confederates, most likely with some assistance from the embattled Federals, thought that reinforcements were arriving and broke with a Union counter-attack. The bluecoats took up the chase along the Ripley road and Falkner, after making a brief stand about three miles out, fell back to Nowland's store (on the present site of Antioch church), about eight miles west of Rienzi. There the rangers formed line and Captain McKinza of Company I livened the proceedings by holding his pistol over his head and threatening to shoot the first man to run. His efforts were futile, however; the rangers took to the woods and crossed the Hatchie above and below the turnpike, and the Federals rode on to within five miles of Ripley.

The truly amazing fact of the affair at Rienzi is that not a man was killed on either side, indicating that except for the brief flurry in the town, when the Confederates were in too close to use their guns and the Federals could not bring their sabers into play, the whole encounter was more of a chase than a battle. Sheridan reported his losses as two badly and four slightly wounded, and four or five missing. Falkner put his loss at only one man captured, and though descriptions of the affair make his retreat a rout, his regiment was almost intact at Ripley a day or so later.

At the time of the attack on Rienzi, Federal policy was to refuse rangers the rights of soldiers, and Major General Gordon Granger, commanding Grant's cavalry, had issued orders that no prisoners were to be taken; this attitute was changed quickly because of Confederate threats of retaliation if any of the rangers were harmed after being captured. The Union policy explains Sheridan's report that "unfortunately" eleven prisoners were brought in after the Rienzi chase. His statement does not necessarily refute Bailey's claim that only one man was captured, for as the uniforms of Falkner's men were of the most nondescript sort, it is entirely possible that the ten extra captives may have been citizens without connection with the regiment.

On August 30th Falkner reported to Brigadier General Little of Price's army and accompanied Little and Price to Iuka; the town was occupied without resistance on September 14th. Grant, divining that Price intended to use Iuka as a springboard for a junction with Bragg's army in Tennessee, attempted to crush him in a pincers movement between the armies of Major General W. S. Rosecrans, who was to advance northeast from Jacinto, and Major General E. O. C. Ord, moving southeast from Burnsville. On the morning of September 19th Rosecrans moved east to Barnett's Corners, the intersection of the Jacinto-Tuscumbia and Iuka-Fulton roads, and then turned north toward Iuka. As flankers he sent out Colonel Hatch's Second Iowa, which swung south to Peyton's Mill, where the Iuka-Fulton road crossed Mackey's Creek about a mile south of the present town of Paden. Price had sent Falkner to watch the road at this point, and about noon Hatch encountered Ranger pickets some two miles west of the mill. They retired on the main body, which was drawn up on the east side of the creek, while Hatch deployed his men as skirmishers and attacked. After about half an hour of fighting, the Confederates charged and drove Hatch back across the creek, where the Federals reformed in a strong position that Falkner decided not to attack. Falkner retired toward Iuka, reporting that he lost one lieutenant, one sergeant, and three men killed, and ten men wounded; he saved all his baggage, and with few exceptions his men behaved well. Hatch claimed that he "routed" the Rangers, but the facts seem to be that Falkner, after making contact, retired on his base as any unit on such a mission would have done under the circumstances.

At 4:00 P. M. on the 19th Rosecrans attacked Price at Iuka, without waiting for the northern arm of the pincers to arrive. Price held his position throughout a bloody struggle; as Price had been ordered by General Van Dorn to join him at Ripley for an attack on Corinth, he retired the next day south to Bay Springs, and then west through Baldwin to Ripley. Though there is no record of the part played by the First Partisan Rangers in the retreat, it is logical to assume that they were a part of the cavalry screen that covered the retreat, covering it so effectively that for several days the Union commanders had no idea of Price's location.

While Van Dorn and Price were making their unsuccessful attack on Corinth on October 2nd, Falkner's regiment was detailed to cut the Mobile and Ohio Railroad north of the town to prevent Grant from sending reinforcements from Jackson, Tennessee. The only report concerning the Rangers' role in this operation is a Federal one to the effect that a body of Confederate cavalry, said by one of the natives to be Falkner's men commanded by Falkner himself, removed a rail at Ramer's Crossing north of Corinth before being driven off. It is clear, however, that the Rangers were among the cavalrymen who did so much damage to the railroad that McPherson's reinforcing division from Jackson had to leave the cars at Bethel, fifteen miles north of Corinth, and march the rest of the way to the battlefield on a very hot day. The late arrival of these reinforcements was probably a decisive factor in the failure of Rosecrans' pursuit of the defeated Van Dorn.

The affair at Ramer was the last recorded contact of the First Mississippi Partisan Rangers with Union troops in 1862, although they retired with Van Dorn to Holly Springs and doubtless assisted in covering his retreat. They were soon, however, to come to blows with a foe that did them far more damage than the bluecoats had been able to inflict.

Their new adversary was to be the Confederate Conscription Bureau.

While Falkner was recruiting his regiment there was no regulation preventing men subject to conscription from enlisting in Ranger units; but on July 31 - fatefully enough, one day before Falkner's regiment was mustered into service - the War Department through General Orders No. 53 specified that all men in such organizations were subject to conscription. The reason for the order was that Ranger recruiting was completely out of hand, and most of the units - unlike Falkner's regiment which already had a fair combat record were providing little service. Feeling against Rangers through Mississippi was becoming more and more bitter and the Conscription Bureau, whose operations were being greatly hindered by the multiplicity of ranger groups, took drastic action. On October 29th the Bureau asked for and obtained a positive order directing it to take all men subject to conscription from the ranger companies in the state. The Bureau pounced on the fact that General Price lacked authority to give Falkner permission to recruit. Acting on this excuse, the conscription officers swooped down on the Rangers at Ripley on November 15th and attempted to arrest all non-exempt men, which meant most of the regiment. The Ranger unit disintegrated, the men fleeing in all directions. Falkner was able to take only about 100 men with him in a precipitate flight to Holly Springs.

The action of the Conscription Bureau in breaking up Falkner's regiment may be described charitably as extremely foolish. The Bureau's action probably resulted from a desire to make an example of some unit, and the First Partisan Rangers were the most likely and easily reached victims. The men were concentrated and easy to catch, whereas most ranger units were small and scattered, and little more than paper organizations. There have been hints, although no available records substantiate the suggestion, that antipathy in certain quarters toward Col. Falkner may have had something to do with the decision. But whatever the Bureau's reasoning, it won a Pyrrhic victory. It disbanded a regiment that had good potentialities, and blasted the career of an officer who had not been doing too badly; having done these things, the Bureau did not obtain the conscripts it sought. The Hatchie Hills of east Tippah County abound in good hiding places, and there, instead of in the army, most of the Rangers spent the winter of 1862-63.

Throughout a stormy career Falkner had been knocked down often, but had always cone up fighting; his better qualifies were never shown to greater advantage than in the three months after his regiment had been smashed by the Conscription Bureau. He wasted no time in vain recriminations similar to those in which he had indulged after his defeat for re-election in Virginia, but instead went to work to rebuild his command. Through his Congressman, J. W. Clapp of Holly Springs like Chalmers, another legal acquaintance - he obtained from the Secretary of War authority to reorganize the regiment, with the right to include such conscripts as had belonged to it unless in the meantime they had enrolled with some other Confederate unit. The only stipulation was that the regiment should be organized as a regular Confederate cavalry unit and not as independent rangers. To this stipulation Falkner had no objection; it was, in fact, what he preferred.    The designation Seventh Mississippi Cavalry probably was given the regiment informally at this time, for in reporting the capture of Lieutenant Colonel Hovis at Ripley on January 29, 1863, the Federals listed their prisoner as "Col. Hovis of the Seventh Mississippi regiment. The First Mississippi Partisan Rangers did not become the Seventh Mississippi Cavalry officially, however, until the summer of 1864.

Adverse sentiment towards the Conscription Bureau for its action in disbanding Falkner's men may well have had something to do with an agreement reached March 17, 1863, between Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, Commander of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, and Governor John J. Pettus of Mississippi, although the compelling factor was probably the fact that the Confederates were unable to exercise any real control, civil or military, over north Mississippi. The agreement, which was ratified by President Davis, provided that the Conscription Bureau would not attempt to operate in the ten northern counties of Mississippi - the northern 60 miles of the state - and authorized the Governor to recruit men in that area for state service. These state troops, men inaccurately referred to by both sides as rangers, with some notable exceptions saw little fighting and did much to bring the ranger name into disrepute.

Early in March, 1863, Falkner called his regiment to assemble at Pontotoc because Tippah, his home county, was so overrun by Union Cavalrymen that a rendezvous there was out of the question. On the 5th he wrote Clapp that he had 400 men with him, that he was acting under written orders from and reporting directly to General Pemberton, and - here the recurring dream of a generalship appears - he was confident that he could recruit a brigade "within the enemy lines" and asked for authority to do so. Clapp took up the matter, but the request died somewhere between the offices of Secretary Seddon and President Davis.

Before the middle of March Falkner found that the task of reassembling his regiment was a harder job than he had anticipated, and began to send out some of his men to arrest others. He was, in effect, his own conscription officer. As the prohibition against taking men enlisted in other organizations applied only to Confederate units, he recovered a number of men from the state cavalry which had been recruited under the direction of Governor Pettus. Among these were eight men whom he "claimed" from Sol Street's Company A, Second Mississippi State Cavalry. Reorganization of the regiment was still not complete when, on March 17th, its commander received a yet harder blow. He was ordered to report to and serve under Brigadier General Chalmers, whose newly created Fifth Military District of Mississippi comprised the ten northern counties of the state. Falkner, on March 18th, poured out his woes to Clapp:

I have received orders from Gen. Pemberton to report to Gen. Chalmers at Panola .... I cannot help but feel that great injustice has been done me. The sting of mortification is not owing to the fact that I am to be commanded by Gen. C. He is a brave and efficient officer, but is my junior in age and not my seignor (sic) in service.

He has been brig. gen. 12 months while I have been neglected and ignored by the govt. . . . Now, Mr. Clapp, I appeal to you as a tried and true patriot to urge the Hon. Secretary to do me justice.

Once more Clapp did his best, but to no effect. In the meantime Falkner reported to Chalmers at his headquarters at Panola, about a mile from the present town of Batesville, and was immediately given a difficult assignment. He was ordered to place pickets on the Memphis and Hernando road near Horn Lake Creek, about halfway between Hernando and Memphis; to send out scouting parties every day to arrest all persons carrying on illicit trade with the enemy; and to seize all horses and mules coming out of Memphis and bring them to Chalmers' Headquarters. General Chalmers placated as best he could his unhappy colonel by placing him in command of the First Brigade, Fifth Military District. This brigade was a small one, but at least it was larger than one regiment!

Falkner set up brigade headquarters at Coldwater, about 25 miles north of Chalmers' headquarters at Panola and ten miles south of Hernando, while his regiment, probably under the immediate command of Major John Park, patrolled its exposed beat north of Hernando. On April 8th the Union commander at Memphis sent out a detachment to find out what was going on in an area which had formerly been Federally controlled. Falkner sent a battalion from Coldwater to feel them out, but later in the day crossed the Coldwater himself and with his brigade chased the Federals to Nonconnah Creek, some five miles from Memphis. The reincarnated First Mississippi Partisan Rangers and their compatriots thus won their first brush with the enemy; but within a week after the Nonconnah chase some members of the regiment found homesickness, or their proximity to the fleshpots of Memphis, too much for them. So many men were not accounted for that on April 15th Chalmers detached Company I, Captain William Young, with orders to arrest and bring back all deserters and men absent without leave wherever found. Meanwhile, the Rangers maintained their pickets on Horn Lake Creek and accumulated a considerable amount of sorely needed supplies. On April 18th, however, the day the Union Colonel Grierson began his famous raid from Lagrange to Baton Rouge (and partly as a diversion to screen his movements), the Twelfth Wisconsin Cavalry under Colonel George E. Bryant attacked the Rangers and after a short, bloody fight, drove them south with a loss of 42 men killed and 72, including seven officers, captured. About 70 stand of arms were lost. Two companies, D and H, were practically wiped out, and all supplies, and the wagons and ambulances carrying them were captured. Union casualties were 20 killed and 40 or 50 wounded, seeming to prove that the Rangers made a desperate resistance before being overpowered. The Confederates retreated to the Coldwater River and with help from Chalmers at Panola held the Crossing against Bryant's efforts to pursue farther.

The degree to which Falkner was justly responsible for the defeat - generally called the battle of Hernando - is difficult to evaluate. The defections from the regiment before the fight indicate that Falkner probably was not in direct command, since up to this time he had kept his men in line as well as did most Confederate commanders. Major Park, second-in-command while Lieutenant Colonel Hovis was in a northern prison camp, was distinguished by extreme personal courage, but was never known as a good disciplinarian. It appears that Falkner's failure was as a brigade commander rather than as a Colonel of Partisan Rangers. He made no report on the affair, and Chalmers' report was confined to a terse statement of losses. But whether or not he was at fault, the defeat crushed Falkner militarily so completely that he never recovered. Soon afterward he reported sick, and except for short periods, was never again in active charge of the regiment though he retained titular command for some six months. On April 27th Lieutenant Colonel H. C. Young reported for temporary assignment and was in command on May 30. On that same day Chalmers filled Falkner's already bitter cup to overflowing, replacing him as commander of the First Brigade in favor of Colonel Robert McCulloch.

Some time prior to the Hernando fight Companies E and G were combined as Company E, Captain W. N. Stansell. A company of Tennesseans commanded by Captain R. R. White joined the company as Company G, and gave the regimental commander and Chalmers considerable trouble in matters of discipline, until the late summer of 1863, when they were transferred to the Twelfth Tennessee. Captain White's company served under Major Sol Street throughout that noted guerrilla's raids behind the Federal lines in west Tennessee in the winter of 1863-64.

After the Hernando fight the First Mississippi Partisan Rangers broke up into small units. On May 25th, three companies were stationed on the Coldwater River; one company was on a scout near Hernando; four companies were in Tippah County, most of them on furlough to gather the wheat crop. The other two companies had been lost at Hernando, but were later reorganized. On June 3rd the four companies in Tippah County were ordered to assemble south of the Tallahatchie River near Rocky Ford to defend the crossing against an anticipated Union Cavalry raid. Falkner, or some of his officers, somehow rounded up about 200 men and complied with the order, although on June 7th Falkner wrote Chalmers asking permission to return to Tippah and Marshall Counties to recruit men and horses. The General agreed but asked that the move be delayed until after June 12th. On June 8th Chalmers wrote Falkner to watch the impending Federal move closely and if the Union cavalry swung east of the New Albany-Ripley road to notify General Daniel Ruggles, the officer responsible for the defense of northeast Mississippi; the road was the line dividing Ruggles' and Chalmers' jurisdictions. Apparently Falkner sent the message, for Ruggles moved promptly to Pontotoc. On June 13th the Union raiders, under command of Colonel Jesse L. Phillips of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry, reached New Albany and burned most of the town; about midnight Ruggles started in pursuit. Before reaching New Albany he learned that Phillips had only 500 men and two guns and was retiring northward; Ruggles sent Colonel Wm. Boyles with 400 men and Falkner's 200 Rangers, in pursuit. The two detachments took different roads to Ripley, and Boyles reached the town first about 2:00 P. M. on the 14th. He continued after Phillips without stopping, but left word that he would wait for the Rangers at a feeding place about 12 miles north of the town. He waited there until ll:O0 P. M., when he learned that "Colonel Falkner could not for some reason proceed beyond Ripley" and thus was forced to call off the pursuit and retire to the south. In reporting the affair Ruggles concluded bitterly, "It is believed that with the cooperation of Colonel Falkner the expedition would have resulted most successfully."

Although Ruggles (who was not present) thought that Falkner took part in the abortive chase of Phillips, the best evidence is that he was not with the regiment. His last report to Chalmers (other than numerous letters which have little bearing on actual military activities) was dated May 15th and reported the movements of a Union raiding party. Chalmers later wrote that Falkner had not been in command of his regiment after May 14th - a statement that can, however, be interpreted in more than one way. It is impossible to say who was in active command of the detachment which refused to go beyond Ripley.

After their inglorious part in the Phillips affair, the First Mississippi Partisan Rangers are not heard of for about a month.

Apparently all too many of them returned to the haven of the Hatchie Hills while their colonel, living now at Pontotoc because Ripley was too close to the Union lines for safety, endeavored to recover his command and his health. His state of mind, as well as the condition of his command, is shown in a letter to Chalmers, dated July 20th, in which he asked that the regiment be detached for guerrilla service - in itself a sharp and most revealing reversal of his former attitude. He wrote in part, "I do not complain of my Government at the bad treatment I have received but I do think I am entitled to a better position than to command one hundred and fifty men. . . . My health is yet feeble but is improving slowly. Chalmers could not grant Falkner's request because of the adamant attitude of the Confederate authorities towards detaching troops for "special" service; Chalmers was, however, able to assign the regiment to recruiting service - by that time actually conscription duty - for an indefinite period.

At the time Falkner asked to be detached for guerrilla service, most of the regiment was between Pontotoc and Grenada under the field command of Lieuteuant Colonel Hovis. Hovis had been exchanged about the first of June. At least two companies - E and F - and possibly more were in Tippah County on July 31st, when Falkner wrote his last known orders as a Confederate officer. These orders were directed to the regiment's quartermaster, ordering him to furnish sufficient funds to the captains of the companies to buy forage for their horses for eight days, at 40 cents per day, while on detached service.

After the fall of Vicksburg on July 4th, 1863, the Confederate authorities were able to devote more attention to the deplorable situation in north Mississippi than had before been possible, and to strengthen the defenses placed Major General Stephen D. Lee in command of the cavalry in that area. Lee immediately ordered the bedeviled Chalmers, who for five months had been fighting almost single-handed against tremendous odds, to recall all of his troops from "special" service. Accordingly, Chalmers, on August 14th, ordered Falkner and his regiment to report to Colonel John McGuirk of the Third Mississippi Cavalry. To the rank-conscious Falkner this must have been a galling order, for McGurk's commission as a colonel was hardly a month old; if he ever received the order, he ignored it. In the meantime Lee continued to insist that Chalmers assemble the large number of men who were absent from his command. There is no record of another demand being made on Falkner at this time, but the Colonel could not fail to see the handwriting on the wall, and must have realized that he was caught between Lee's and Chalmers' demands that he return his regiment to the front, and his own inability to assemble more than a fraction of his command. Faced with that dilemma he sent in his resignation on the grounds of ill health, to be effective August 31.

Though the tragedy of Colonel Falkner's military career was nearing its end, there was to be one more moment of suspense before the final curtain fell. On August 30th Falkner wrote Chalmers that on the day before a petition had been drawn up and signed by all the officers of his command expressing their unwillingness to part with him as their commander, and asking that he withdraw his resignation and ask for 60 days sick leave. He added that he had been informed Chalmers had "cheerfully approved" the suggestion, and was therefore withdrawing the resignation. He was unable, however, to accomplish more in September and October than in the previous months, and when the sick leave expired, sent in his resignation to be effective October 31st, 1863 - seventeen years to the day after he had resigned his commission during the War with Mexico. Chalmers' endorsement on the resignation was bluntness itself: "Respectfully forwarded and recommended. Col. Falkner has not been in command of his regt. since 14th last May."

After Falkner resigned, he dropped out of sight, and so far as the records show, took no further part in the activities of either Confederate or state armies. The often repeated legends that he "rode with Forrest" have no foundation in fact, but may be due in part to a most remarkable similarity in names. In July, 1863, just as W. C. Falkner was fading out of the picture, W. W. Faulkner of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, came to Ripley and served for a time in north Mississippi in various capacities. W. W. Faulkner, an interesting and salty individual, had been a successful officer of partisan rangers in Tennessee and Kentucky in 1862 and early 1863, and later was to serve brilliantly under Forrest as Colonel of the Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry. Another basis for the legends is undoubtedly the Confederate custom of referring to a regiment by the name of its first colonel, rather than by its number. It is true that "Falkner's Regiment", as the First Partisan Rangers and later as the Seventh Mississippi Cavalry, did fight with the "Wizard of the Saddle", but the colonel who "rode with Forrest" was not the Mississippian W. C. Falkner, but the Kentuckian W. W. Faulkner.

So ended, on a note of bitter frustration, the career of a colonel who started brilliantly but was unable to live up to his early promise. As a recruiter he had few equals in the Confederate service, but except at First Manassas he never attained distinction as a combat officer. Probably the best explanation is that he was a man whose reach always exceeded his grasp; his self-assurance and almost Napoleonic ambition led him into undertakings that he lacked the means to carry to fruition. In spite of his pride, his hypersensitiveness, and his somewhat arrogant manner, he was idolized by many of his soldiers, but with the notable exception of Joe Johnston in Virginia he apparently never was in the confidence of his superior officers. In all fairness, it cannot be denied that he did a good job under most difficult conditions until the fateful day of the fight at Hernando; with that debacle his usefulness to the army was at an end.

During May and June, 1863, the First Mississippi Partisan

Rangers were for all practical purposes leaderless and were of little service to the army. After the middle of July, however, when the exchanged Lieutenant Colonel Lawson B. Hovis returned to the front, conditions began to improve. Hovis, a native of North Carolina, had served in the War with Mexico and had joined briefly in the California gold rush before moving to Ripley about 1852. There he opened a carriage shop which he operated successfully until the outbreak of the Civil War, winning a number of prizes for the excellence of his workmanship. In 1862 he was 36 years old, a blue-eyed, sandy-haired man about 5 feet 11 inches tall. He had an excellent record in the Confederate army, having served capably in Virginia as Adjutant of the Second Mississippi Infantry until he, like Colonel Falkner, was displaced by the elections of April, 1862. After his return to Mississippi he assisted Falkner in recruiting the First Mississippi Partisan Rangers and was made captain of Company B. and on September 2nd, Lieutenant Colonel. He served with the regiment throughout the first phase of his career; as Falkner's few battle reports never singled out individuals for praise or blame, the earliest known tribute to his ability as an officer is a Federal one. The tough Sheridan, in his report of Falkner's attack on Rienzi wrote of the Rangers, "All but three companies were raw levies". The context makes it plain that the three excepted companies were those commanded by Hovis.

The exact date on which Hovis returned to duty after his exchange is not known. The earliest written record is a receipt signed at Grenada on July 19th which shows that he was in active command of the regiment at that time. It is unlikely that all ten companies were with him since three or four were probably in Tippah County on "detached service." On July 31st - the same day Falkner gave his orders for subsistence money to Captains Duncan and Stansell - Hovis was at Houlka, a few miles south of Pontotoc, where he obtained a considerable quantity of clothing for his men.

During the Federal raid on Grenada, resulting in the capture of that important supply depot on August 17th, the Rangers were between Pontotoc and Grenada "arresting deserters" and failed to receive the order to move to Grenada until after the town had been evacuated, though the order left Chalmers' headquarters on October 14th. The probably reason is that the order was directed to Falkner who was not in the area. The Rangers did reach Grenada on the 27th, however, and remained for about two weeks while Hovis outfitted his men as well as Confederate resources would permit. Here apparently he gave them some long-needed training and drill, for when he reported to Chalmers at Abbeville about September 17th, the First Partisan Rangers were no longer an undisciplined mob but a reliable force of some 300 to 350 men present for duty (this was about the average size of a Confederate regiment for the time and place). On October 10th, they reported to Colonel McGuirk near Holly Springs and on the next day were among the troops that made the first Confederate offensive movement in north Mississippi since the Battle of Corinth a year before. Chalmers moved north to Salem, where he met and drove back a Union raiding party under Colonel Edward Hatch. In the skirmish at Salem the Rangers were heavily engaged but held their ground until reinforcements arrived, and then joined in the pursuit of the Union cavalry. After repulsing Hatch, Chalmers moved north to Saulsbury and then west along the railroad, breaking the tract in four places between Saulsbury and Collierville. He then attacked Collierville, where Company F of the Rangers, as part of the advance guard, captured 15 Union pickets in the outskirts of the town. The Confederates then pushed through the town and attacked the stockade at its western edge, the Rangers in the first line. When they were about 75 yards from the fortifications they were fired on and a little confusion ensued but Hovis, dismounting his men, led a charge that drove the Federal troops out of the stockade. The Confederates destroyed the works, forcing Union prisoners to help in the work, and brought off twenty wagons, five colors and 105 prisoners, and burned a large quantity of stores that could not be carried away. The prisoners were taken seven or eight miles into Mississippi and paroled. Chalmers' entire loss was 13 men killed and 115 wounded.

McGuirk's report of the skirmish at Collierville complimented Hovis highly and added a touch of human interest all too rare in official reports: "Lieutenant-Colonel Hovis became very hoarse from his exertions on rallying his men". Although Hovis could hardly have known it while he was hoarsely exhorting his Rangers, the Confederate victory was gained under the eyes of no less a personage than General Sherman, for Sherman happened to be passing through Collierville with his escort when the Southerners struck.

On October 20th, Hovis was sent with those of his command who had arms and ammunition to Oxford, while the unarmed men repaired the Mississippi Central Railroad under Hovis' direction. On October 30th, the regiment was ordered to report to Colonel Robert McCulloch's Brigade, and with it took part in Chalmers' second attack on Collierville on November 3rd. McCulloch's brigade was heavily engaged in this unsuccessful attack, and on the retreat the Rangers, fighting dismounted, held the ford of the Coldwater River against the enemy until dark, with a loss of 13 men wounded, among whom was Captain Duncan of Company F.

On November 15th, 1863, Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest was placed in command of the Confederate forces in west Tennessee. As his new "department" was entirely within enemy lines, he set up headquarters at Okolona while assembling an army to enter the region which he nominally controlled. In his recruiting activities, as well as in his plans for the invasion, Forrest had the whole-hearted cooperation of General Lee, who kept the Union forces occupied by repeated forays against the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, while spreading the rumor that Forrest's destination was Memphis. To meet this threat, General Stephen A. Hurlbut, commanding the Union garrison at Memphis, advanced the brigade of Colonel Hatch from Collierville to Moscow, and at the same time sent Colonel J. K. Mizner with three regiments of cavalry from Corinth to Ellistown, Molino, and Orizaba, to watch developments. While Mizner scouted, Forrest was gathering his men in the Pontotoc-Tupelo-New Albany area, eventually concentrating near New Albany. When Mizner at Orizaba was told that Forrest had 6,000 men - an exaggerated estimate - and was cooking six days' rations, he decided that a fight was in prospect and withdrew north to the relatively strong position at Ripley, which he reached on December 1st. At 2:00 P. M. on that day Lee's cavalry, commanded by General Ferguson, charged up the New Albany road through the town of Ripley, broke the Federal line at its northern edge, and chased Mizner as far as Ruckersville. Then they fanned out west of Ripley, in case the Union troops returned; return they did, but too late to do any harm. Meanwhile, Forrest and his "invasion" army marched directly from New Albany to Salem, passing Ripley on their right, while the bewildered Mizner retraced his steps to Pocahontas and Corinth. While Mizner was being misled on the eastern side of the invasion route, Chalmers moved north from Salem to the railroad, destroyed two miles of track near Saulsbury and a 100-year trestle near Moscow, and attacked Hatch's brigade at Moscow on December 3rd. Lee had made a wide path for Forrest to take into Tennessee; that great cavalryman crossed the state line and set up headquarters in Jackson before the Union commanders fully realized what was happening.

During the advance on Moscow, McCulloch's brigade met the enemy at the State Line Road crossing of the Wolf River and drove two Federal regiments into the river with a loss, according to Lee, of 175 men killed, drowned or wounded and 40 captured, and 100 horses killed and 40 captured. The fighting was bitter, and as usual Lieutenant Colonel Hovis of the Rangers was in the thick of it, as was his old-time antagonist, Colonel Hatch. Both men were seriously wounded; Hatch recovered after a long period of invalidism, but Hovis did not survive. After the battle he was taken to Rocky Ford, where he died on March 26, 1864.

It is not too much to say that the death of Hovis was the greatest loss that First Mississippi Partisan Rangers suffered during its checkered career. In contrast to the colorful Falkner, Hovis was unassuming, and partly for that reason has never received his just reward at the hands of history. But it is a fact, and one that cannot be attributed to mere coincidence, that when Hovis was with the Rangers, they were an efficient fighting unit; when he was absent, they were always somewhat disorganized. His achievement in reassembling the regiment after the rout at Hernando and the resignation of Falkner, and welding it into a reliable combat organization, was truly outstanding. It is regrettable that he did not live long enough to serve under Forrest, for his record shows clearly that he was Forrest's type of officer. Colonel Hovis was a brave man, a trusted leader, and an outstanding combat officer.

After Hovis was disabled, the command of the Rangers devolved upon Major Park, and the regiment was assigned again to the unpopular task of arresting deserters. The courageous Park demonstrated, as he had at Hernando in April, that he could not hold the individualistic Rangers in line. The regiment speedily became so weakened by absences without leave and desertion that on January 8, 1864, General Chalmers consolidated what was left of it with the first and fourth companies of the Eighteenth Partisan Rangers. He named Hovis as Colonel, A. H. Chalmers as Lieutenant Colonel, and Park as Major.

As Hovis was at that time incapacitated from his wound, this arrangement placed Chalmers, the General's brother, in active command; the First Partisans showed their disapproval in typical ranger fashion by going home en masse. On the day the reorganization was to become effective, Chalmers wrote to Lee:

On last night one hundred and thirty, being most of the effective men present in the First Mississippi Partisan Rangers, deserted . . . The Major could not or would not control the men but permitted them to straggle off until he had but seventy-six men for duty when he reached this place. I had applied for a Col. to command them and Genl. Lee sent me Col. Stith of the provisional army but he declined . . . because he had been requested by the officers of the regt. to do so. I then made a temporary consolidation of the regt. with 18th Miss. Battalion and placed Lt. Col. Chalmers in command. He had collected about one hundred seventy-five of them when the desertion took place . . ."  Chalmers reported that he had taken steps to have the deserters arrested and asked authority to dismount the regiment and "get about four good companies to mount on their horses". As the average strength of a cavalry company in Mississippi at this time was about 70 men, the inference is that the regiment was less than 300 strong.

The record does not show what success Chalmers had in arresting the absentees. Shortly after this episode, Forrest's Cavalry Command in north Mississippi and west Tennessee was organized, and Chalmers was placed in divisional command under Forrest, where he served, except for one brief but stormy period early in 1864, as that officer's second-in-command through the war. Even the First Mississippi Partisan Rangers soon learned that "Old Bedford" was not a man to trifle with and became "good hands", though they never became the front-line soldiers they had been under the command of Hovis. The "temporary consolidation" with the Eighteenth was allowed to lapse and the regiment thus regained its identity.

When Major General William Sooy Smith, in February 1864, made the first of the five attempts ordered by Sherman to "get Forrest's hair", the First Partisan Rangers went as far south as Greenwood, where they engaged in a skirmish on February 14th. They then moved east to participate in the stand at Sakatonchee Creek south of West Point, the stand which brought Smith's advance to a halt, forcing him to retire to Memphis. On March 12th, Forrest sent the regiment by rail to Corinth (which had been evacuated by Union troops in January) with orders to "breast the country" from Corinth to Holly Springs and Oxford, to arrest all stragglers, conscripts, deserters, and men absent without leave, and if possible to collect the numerous unattached squads and companies of cavalry in the area, and to arrest the men who were stealing and impressing horses without authority.

The Rangers, with the rest of McCulloch's brigade, were left in Mississippi when Forrest and Chalmers returned to Tennessee and fought the campaign that resulted in the capture of Fort Pillow on April 13th. At this time Captain Duncan performed a minor miracle by obtaining 43 pairs of shoes for his command. The requisition duly endorsed "Approved, Jas. R. Chalmers, Brig. Genl." in that officer's flowing hand, contained the simple justification, "my men are almost barefoot." During Forrest's Tennessee campaign, part of the regiment was at Panola and part at Abbeville, all engaged in guarding bridges and rounding up deserters; both units reported to Colonel McGuirk at Como about the 8th, and joined his men in a four-day series of demonstrations against Memphis while Forrest approached Fort Pillow from the east. After this affair, the Rangers were detached again for what might be called Military Police duty, but in May they rejoined McCulloch's brigade and were sent to Okolona. There, on May 19th, Major Park was succeeded as commanding officer by Lieutenant Colonel S. M. Hyams, Jr., of the Second Missouri Cavalry. Three days before, on May 16th, Captain W. N. Stansell of Company E. had been appointed Major, and it may be inferred that Park was not actually commanding at the time.

In May, when Sherman began to push all before him in northern Georgia, the Confederate infantry in Mississippi was sent to Joe Johnston's army. Later in the month, Confederate authorities decided to send Forrest into Tennesse against Sherman's lifeline, the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. It was a task for which Forrest was pre-eminently fitted, and one which he had wished to undertake before, but from which he had been restrained by the blindness of President Davis and General Bragg. Now that Richmond - too late - had seen the light, Forrest sent on May 22nd Chalmers' Division, including McCulloch's Brigade, to Montevallo, Alabama. They travelled with no train; even cooking utensils were to be sent them from Selma after they reached Montevallo. On May 31st, McCulloch's Brigade was detached to set up a picket and courier line front Elyton (now in the southwestern part of Birmingham) to Blountsville, Alabama, about forty miles to the north. Meanwhile, Forrest moved toward the Tennessee River in north Alabama and had gone as far east as Russellville and Moulton, when he was recalled because of the advance of General S. D. Sturgis, commander of the third of Sherman's expeditions designed to capture or kill him; the second expedition, also under Sturgis, had gone only as far as Ripley before returning to Memphis and had never engaged the Confederates. On June 10th, Forrest met Sturgis at Brice's Cross Roads, in the northeast corner of Pontotoc County (the place is now in Lee County) and inflicted upon him a resounding defeat. Chalmers too was recalled by Sturgis' advance, but had gone only as far as Columbus on the day the battle was fought.

Even though he had won a brilliant victory over Sturgis, Forrest realized that it was only a question of time before another Federal expedition, and a bigger one, would come out of Memphis after him. Accordingly, he kept his troops concentrated in the vicinity of Okolona and Tupelo until he could tell what direction the next attack would take. He had not long to wait. On June 22nd, General A. J. Smith with 9,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry, and four batteries, moved to Lafayette by rail and began to repair the track ahead of him, reaching Lagrange on the 27th. While Smith waited at Saulsbury, Forrest sent his brother, Colonel Jesse Forrest, into Tippah County with 400 men to watch the Union movements. Typical of the desolation in that area is the general's statement that he preferred to send a larger force but could not do so because of the difficulty of supplying it with forage. On July 2nd, Jesse Forrest's regiment was augmented by the First Mississippi Partisan Rangers, most of whom were residents of the county and were familiar with the ground. Forrest's order to the regiment is typical of the thorough planning that characterized his every move. The men were to carry three days' cooked rations, two days' rations of corn on their horses, and 40 rounds of ammunition in the cartridge boxes. Three days' rations, four days' corn, and 40 additional rounds of ammunition were to be sent to Ripley in wagons, stored in the town, and all but one wagon and one anbulance were to return to Okolona. All movements of men and supplies were to be made at night.

After reaching Ripley, the Rangers were placed on picket on the Salem road west of town. On July 5th, Smith finally decided to go south instead of east after Forrest, and took up the march, his infantry moving by way of Davis Mills (near the present village of Spring Hill) and Salem towards Ripley, while the cavalry moved down the Ripley-Saulsbury road to screen the infantry from attack from the east. Both groups moved slowly and cautiously, keeping skirmishers ahead and on both flanks at all times. They joined forces on the 6th near the present Antioch Church, about six miles northwest of Ripley.

Jesse Forrest's regiment and the Rangers watched the Federal movements closely. A vidette of the Rangers commanded by Lieutenant V. A. Grace went as far west as the present site of Ashland and remained within sight and sound of the Union forces throughout the night of thc 6th. On the morning of the 7th, they fell back slowly before the Federal advance towards their main body, which was stationed about three miles west of Ripley on the east side of a tributary of Tippah Creek (then known as Whitten Branch but shown on later maps as Medlock Branch). Their position was on thc crest of a high, steep, clay ridge, from which they commanded not only the stream but the intersection of the Holly Springs and Salem roads. When the head of the Union column crossed the stream the Rangers poured in a volley that sent the enemy to the rear in confusion. They rallied, however, when out of range and formed a skirmish line that after two hours of fighting drove the Rangers back into Ripley. The Confederate loss was one man killed and two wounded; two Union soldiers were killed and the next day were buried in the yard of Rev. C. P. Miller in Ripley. Rev. Miller, who was destined within a month to lose the last of his three sons in the fighting around Atlanta, read the burial service.

Smith's army camped the night of the 7th west of Ripley, some of them on the hill the Rangers had defended, and on the morning of the 8th entered the town and turned south toward New Albany. During their daylong passage they burned the courthouse, the Female Academy, all of the business houses, and the Methodist Church - the Church apparently because it contained a large amount of hay. They did not deliberately fire any residences, but a high wind was blowing at the time and was responsible for the loss of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and three homes. One of the homes destroyed was that of Colonel Falkner. It was just west of the Methodist Church and took fire from that structure.

The Confederates retired down the New Albany road before Smith's advance, first to New Albany, then to Pontotoc, and finally to the village of Harrisburg, about two miles west of Tupelo. There, on July 14th, the battle of Harrisburg was fought. Though the result was a Federal victory, the outcome was not satisfactory to either side; the nominal victor Smith, after waiting until the 15th to see if Forrest would attack, made the usual retirement back to Memphis. Though he did not bring back "Forrest's hair" which Sherman had ordered him to get at all costs, he made much of the fact that unlike his predecessor Sturgis, he at least took back all of the equipment which he had brought out with him.
 


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