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House of Sandys

Now we visit the surname “Sands”.

From where does our Sands surname originate? This we cannot answer with good confidence. At least not until we can identify the family immigrant – a task with which I have not been successful, as explained further below.  The challenge is that we can find the surname “Sands” originating in all three of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Adding to the confusion, I have found at least two separate suggestions that our Sands family line originates in France – one from a person online stating this was in her “family tradition”, and my own discovery in the Williss family book with a notation that Grandma Mattie was “French Descent”, a fact that I have so far been able to verify only with her grandmothers’ maiden name, but not with Sands or any other ancestor.

Where would we even start?

One Sands family researcher, basing her research on records collected during the pre-Internet 20th century, assembled an elaborate family tree that she insisted traces our ancestor Alexander Sands back to a Sandys family of England. This family at some point had several noble connections, including a William Sandys, being a member of the Jamestown colony in the early 1600s, and then all the way back to Edwin Sands, who later became Archbishop of London and later Archbishop of York under Elizabeth I.

But, not a single shred of cross-verification evidence is provided to back up the claims of this lineage. At this point, we may as well allow our imaginations run wild.


Our purported ancestor, Edwin Sandys (1519-1588), Archbishop of York[1]

In the end, whoever is able to establish cross-verification for each generation dating our Sands back to England may win the game yet.

In the meantime, we can still find good information on our line of Sands dating back to  the American Revolution.

Israel Sands, a Most Dedicated Union Soldier

Grandma Mattie’s father was Israel Sands. That relationship is easily verifiable from the 1860 Census record for the Israel Sands household, as well as from a short biographical article about Frederick Williss (mentioning the names of Mattie’s parents).

Israel was born in 1831 in Dublin, which at the time was a small farming and mill town in Central Ohio (and today a suburb of Columbus). He appears to have been the oldest of what would be at least 7 children.

Israel married Hope Gilmore in 1851, and started having children soon thereafter. (I am not clear on Hope’s ancestry, but Gilmore sounds like an interesting surname to research.)

Some time in the 1850s, Israel and Hope decided to pick up their entire family and relocate to Hopedale, in Tazewell County, Illinois. Census and tax records show they were not alone: making the same mover were Israel’s parents, Thomas Sands and Jane Spruance, and others in the family including possibly Hope’s relatives. I am going to guess, without knowing more, than they probably got a good deal on some farmland.

For point of reference, the chain of descent here was: Israel Sands —> Grandma Mattie —> Frank Sands Williss —> Grandpa Warren.


Israel Sands and Sarah Stewart (2d wife)

Here was my/our third-great grandfather Israel Sands, as an elderly man in Kansas c. 1900, with his third wife Sarah Stewart. I am very happy to have found this photo on but would be most delighted if anyone happened to have access to a photo of a younger Israel in his Civil War uniform.


Israel worked on his Illinois farm until the 1860 deaths of his wife and infant son noted above. And then, the American Civil War broke out the following year.

Duty called, and in 1862, Israel went off to war. The record proves Israel bravely dedicated over three years of his life to the Union cause.

Challenging Times in the 108th Illinois Infantry

Israel enlisted with the Union Army August 14, 1862, and just two weeks later was mustered into the 108th Illinois Infantry, and was assigned to Company A. This regiment was made up of volunteers and called up out of Peoria, Illinois.  I have had no success so far finding a photo of the unit, but I did get very lucky and find a photo of a fully-in-uniform fellow soldier, one Hiram Warner, who, like Israel, was a private in Company A. Readers can find this photo of Hiram Warner on the website of the Peoria Historical Society, the volunteers of which have nicely shared details about the Regiment as well as some photos.

Over the next year, Israel would join his fellow soldiers in the courageous and personally taxing venture of service in the Civil War: committing themselves to 19th century military life in the American landscape. This included marching for days on end, dealing with endless discomfort, insects, cold mornings, hot days, rainstorms, endless mud, diseases, hard physical labor, and – last but not least – armed combat with the Rebels.

Service at Vicksburg

Most fascinating to me is the 108th Regiment’s participation in the very important Vicksburg Campaign. This Campaign, which lasted for over 7 months, involved a large number of Union attacks on Confederate forces. Main Union commanders in the Vicksburg Campaign were Major General Ulysses S. Grant and General William Tecumseh Sherman.[2]

Ulysses S. Grant from Library of Congress

Major General (and later, US President) Ulysses S. Grant, roughly at time of Civil War. Source: Library of Congress[3]


_John_Clifford_Pemberton,_General_(Confederate)By Unknown - Missouri History Museum

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, Confederate States of America, commanded the forces that defended Vicksburg against the invading Northerners. Oddly enough, Pemberton himself was a native Pennsylvanian who had two brothers fighting on the Union side.  (Image in public domain but many thanks to the Missouri Historical Society for sharing it on its website. . )


The ultimate aim was to seize the City of Vicksburg, Mississippi. This would allow the Union to remove the last Confederate block and hold on Mississippi River traffic. This was, therefore, a crucial phase in the Civil War.

The number of literary sources on the Vicksburg Campaign is, not surprisingly, extensive. For the casual researcher, I recommend visiting the National Park Service’s website on the Vicksburg National Military Park, which has lots of information.  The NPS’s website is also proof that this is a beautiful, sprawling  park set in beautiful wooded and grassy area can now be a vacation-time spot for all of us to visit! The American Battlefields Trust website shares a lot of very helpful information as well. [4]

Specifically with respect to the 108th Illinois Infantry, several details of their service can be found in a report issued by the Illinois Adjutant General published in 1902, and based on years of research by multiple authors: the report Illinois Civil War Regiments and Units, published in 1902. The report recites in part the following history about the first siege against Vicksburg, commanded by General Sherman. This expedition involved Sherman directing Union forces to areas surrounding Vicksburg.


General WT Sherman with Staff

Photograph shows General William Tecumseh Sherman (in the front, second from the left).   with his staff, named as Oliver Otis Howard, John A. Logan, William B. Hazen, Jefferson C. Davis, Henry Warner Slocum, Joseph A. Mower and Francis P. Blair Jr. Photo was dated after 1873 but at least some of the persons listed as in the photograph were recorded at Vicksburg. Looks like the dude on the far left has lost at least one arm. (Library of Congress). [5]

In late December 1862, the Union attempted to advance to Vicksburg from the north and northwest. This particular phase of the expedition has had different names given to it over the years but at least part of it became known as the “Battle of Chickasaw Bayou”. [6] Union troops would need to charge the city from low-lying wetlands and tributaries of the Yazoo River. Apparently the idea was to run the troops in an uphill charge uphill and take the bluffs. This turned out to be not the most advantageous set of facts for the attacking troops.

Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, being for the most part contributions by Union and Confederate officers, based upon “the Century War Series.” Edited by R. U. J. and C. C. B., etc. [Illustrated.]

A view of the bluffs that were the site of the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, as seen from General M. L. Smith’s position (1887) from Wikimedia Commons (Original source:  ‘Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, being for the most part contributions by Union and Confederate officers, based upon “the Century War Series”‘, volume 3. Uploaded by the British Library)


This first assault ended up a failure. The Confederates held on strong to their position and Sherman was forced to conclude it was necessary to retreat. The Adjutant General report recites:

“[On] December 20th 1862, …. it [the 108th Regiment] embarked on board the steamer “City of Alton”, and proceeded with the expedition under General W. T. Sherman against Vicksburg. The expedition proceeded down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Yazoo River, and up the latter to a place called Johnson’s Landing, where it arrived on the evening of December 28th.

On the morning of the 29th, the Regiment disembarked and formed in line of battle; found the enemy strongly fortified on the bluffs running northeast from the City of Vicksburg. The One Hundred and Eighth occupied the extreme right of the Union line its right resting on the Mississippi River. The Regiment opened fire on the enemy’s pickets on the afternoon of the 29th, and sharp skirmishing was kept up until dark, when it received orders to fall back a distance of 300 yards and hold its position.

 It remained under arms during the night, and the rain came down in torrents. Early on the morning of the 30th, it received orders to advance, retake and hold its position of the previous day. In carrying out this order, there was some pretty lively skirmishing which continued for about a half hour and resulted in the enemy being driven back with a loss to him of 7 killed and 4 prisoners in front of the One Hundred and Eighth’s line. The orders were to retake and hold its position of the day before, and having done this, no attempt was made to do more, and about noon the Regiment was relieved and allowed to fall back to rest and refresh itself.

 January 1st, 1863, the One Hundred and Eighth was again ordered to the front, where it remained on the skirmish line until near midnight, when, in compliance with orders received early in the evening, it silently withdrew, and with a section of the Chicago Mercantile Battery, covered the retreat of the entire army; arrived at Johnson’s Landing about daylight on the morning of the 2d, and re-embarked on board the steamer “City of Alton”. The withdrawal of our forces was so well arranged and conducted that the enemy was not aware of our departure until they saw our fleet of transports steaming down the Yazoo River. The One Hundred and Eighth has highly complimented by the General commanding for its part in this affair.”


The report details various activities of the 108th Regiment over the following months. There appears to have been no rest for the weary. They spent the next several months engaged in general civil works to support the military, including hard labor of digging a canal. All of these activities, of course, the soldiers would have done come rain or shine. I am guessing that none would allow whiny, bitchy moods, depression, anxiety, loss of sleep to hold them up from completing their labor.

The Adjutant General report noted:

Owing to its long confinement on board of transports, the want of pure air and sanitary conveniences during this expedition, great mortality prevailed. First Lieutenant Philo W. Hill, Company A, and 134 enlisted men died of disease during the months of February and March 1863.”

Another significant event for Regiment was their contribution at the Battle of Port Gibson, located south of Vicksburg. This battle was a Union victory. The Adjutant General report describes what seems like it must have been a surreal day for members of the 108th Illinois Infantry Regiment:

“May 1, 1863, at 1 o’clock A.M., the Regiment was on the march, and after a rapid march, at about 8 o’clock A.M., reached the battlefield of Port Gibson, or, as it is sometimes called, Magnolia Ridge, Miss. Fighting had begun a little before the One Hundred and Eighth arrived on the field, and there was no time given for rest; the Regiment immediately moved into position. The maneuvering, marching and counter-marching over steep and rugged hills and across deep ravines, which continued during the entire day until nearly sunset, was very fatiguing, the day being excessively hot, but the result was a grand victory for the Union forces.”

Someone on the Civil War Talk website nicely posted photos from their trip to the Port Gibson battle site. :[7]

But the biggest event for the Regiment would come just two weeks later, at the Battle of Champion Hill, on May 16, 1863. This battle became the turning point in the months-long Vicksburg Campaign. It was a resounding Union Victory. And there are good sources of information on this battle, but I cannot stress how great of an experience it can be to visit the website There, you can find reams of very interesting personal accounts of the battle, stories, articles, photos, artwork and much more.[8]

As put by the American Battlefield Trust on its website, “The Battle of Champion Hill was the largest and bloodiest action of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.” Some 54,000 soldiers fought on that day: 32,000 Union, and 22,000 Confederate. The battle included extensive hand-to-hand combat – soldiers just ran into each other and fought with rifles, and rifles equipped with steel bayonets. At the end of the day, there were nearly 800 confirmed dead and thousands wounded, missing or taken prisoner.

This battle was a decisive Union victory because, as stated by the Battlefield Trust, it was “instrumental in forcing the Confederates out of the open field and into a doomed position inside the walls of Vicksburg.


Battle of Baker Creek aka Champiopn Hill

The Battle of Champion Hill, also known as the Battle of Baker Creek, as depicted in The_soldier_in_our_Civil_War_-   a pictorial history of the conflict, 1861-1865, illustrating the valor of the soldier as displayed on the battlefield, from sketches drawn by Forbes, Waud, Taylor (14576133090).}  [9]


The Adjutant General’s report states about the 108th Regiment, during this battle:

After a very circuitous march, the Regiment reached Champion Hills on the 16th of May, where the enemy were again met and beautifully whipped. The One Hundred and Eighth bore a conspicuous part in this bloody battle, and was highly praised for its valor by its commanders. Here the Regiment was detached for the duty of guarding our prisoners of war.”

Small World Story:   A widely known set of facts could occasionally arise, through the “Brother Against Brother” situation, causing members of the same family to find themselves on the same Civil War Battlefield opposite one another.[10]   Well, I would think statistical probability would mean there have to be many more cases where the children of opposing soldiers intermarried. We find such a situation at Champion Hill:  Uncle John T. Appler, covered in Chapter 3.1, also fought at the Battle of Champion Hill.


john t. appler wounded at Champion Hill

This official US index card record documents John Appler’s wounds at Champion Hill.   (From the National Archives: Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Missouri; Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Confederate Organizations , compiled 1903 – 1927, documenting the period 1861 – 1865.)

Bitterness raged on in the hearts of Southerners well into the 20th Century over their loss. I have to wonder if this ever came up in conversation between Grandma Lulu and her mother-in-law, Grandma Mattie. I am imagining it’s Thanksgiving time c. 1910 and the two ladies are engaging in some kitchen chat using informal chat language from today:

Lulu: “My Uncle John’s my bud and I am so proud of him. He was wounded at Champion Hill and left on the field for dead! Then he and rejoined the C.S.A. after he got better and continued to support them even after he got out of prison and got his job back. He sure owned the Northern Aggressors! And he still laughs about that today.”

Mattie: “Oh, really? Well I will have you know my father braved difficult circumstances and risked his life at that battle, he saw many of his friends fall ill or die, and all in great service to our United States of America. He gave everything to stop the traitors and secessionists. It would have been an honor for him to shoot down your uncle. Perhaps he was the one who did just that!”

Frank Sands Williss (calling out from the parlour): “Uh, honey? And Mom? The war was decades ago, right? When do we eat?”

Chicago War Prison and Street Patrols: with The Invalid Corps.

Following an action-packed year with the 108th, by September, 1863, Israel had himself been injured and also suffered illness severe enough to be determined not fit for field combat. He was thus transferred from the 108th into a division of the Army in what was initially called the Invalid Corps, but later known as the Veteran Reserve Corps (“VRC”). The division was made up of soldiers who had suffered injuries and ailments in the War that made them no longer fit for the battlefield.

So, what were Israel’s injuries? The only detail I can find on the extent of Israel’s injuries was set out in a government form he filled out in 1889, more than two decades after the war and after he remarried and moved to Kansas. (I am not sure what the purpose was of the form. Maybe a pension?)  On the form he stated  he was “injured and diseased”, with “lung disease” and “piles”.  Being shot or blown up was not the most common way for a Civil War solider to be injured or die. It was very common for soldiers to just get injured from too much heavy lifting. accidents or disease. Sanitation was not the best, and, very commonly, soldiers would contract debilitating and contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, and dysentery and much other things. And after many months of suffering continuous diarrhea, caused by those diseases, we can certainly make sense of poor Israel’s debilitating piles.

Israel ended up a member of Regiment 15 of the VRC, which was organized October 14, 1863.[11] If I understand the record correctly, the VRC 15th Regiment was made of soldiers signed under “Battalion One”, which was for soldiers who were amongst those capable of the most challenging jobs.

The VRC existed from 1862 until 1869 (which was a four years after the Civil War officially ended). Almost immediately after the outbreak of the war, the Union became starved of good, strong men. Soldiers commonly were injured or suffered disease in the war; some became partly disabled and were determined unfit to serve on battlefields, but were still good for some level of service including duty – such as at hospitals, in war prisons, or general Army wartime civic patrols. [12] Thus, the VRC made a very special contribution to the Civil War.

As noted, I would love to find a photo of Israel in uniform, but I would be happy also to see a photo of Israel’s unit. The Civil War Talk website has a great article that includes cool images of VRC members in uniform, and details about the uniforms themselves. [13] See article by Christopher Daley, “A study of Enlisted Invalid Corps jackets 1863-1866”, at  the page.

The VRC has spawned legends and legions of fans over the generations since the existence. It even merited its own contemporary song, “The Invalid Corps”. A video on YouTube includes lyrics – it’s very helpful for getting a taste of the real meaning behind the name, and the direct and dry humor of the soldier.

The VRC has also more recently merited its own documentary, which I cannot seem to find where or how to view, but which is apparently a nicely done history.[14] The film’s creators have excellent VRC regiment profiles on their website, including of Israel’s 15th Regiment. On that website, they authors cite to several sources and summarize the nature of the 15th Regiment’s service as:

Commenced the official year at Camp Douglas, Chicago, in conjunction with Eighth Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps and Twenty-fourth Ohio Battery. Guarded Government property and patrolled Chicago; guarded and escorted stragglers, conscripts, substitutes, and rebel prisoners.”[15]

Thus, Israel did his service on the streets of Chicago, and throughout that part of his career dealt with numerous men who were prisoners or conscripts and others at risk of flight. It turns out the Fifteenth Regiment were among some 500 enlisted men assigned to Camp Douglas in Chicago. This was a large prison. I don’t know how much time Israel spent at Camp Douglas, but that prison housed thousands of Confederate rebels who had been taken prisoner in battle (or just picked up along the way) and taken up north to Chicago to jail. I note that Israel would have had experience handling prisoners since his experience with the 108th at the end of end of the Battle of Champion Hill.


Camp_Douglas_(Chicago),_Harper's_Weekly_April_5,_1862 wikimedia commons

Camp Douglas (Chicago), Harper’s Weekly April 5, 1862 (Wikimedia Commons).


There were several commanders over the life of Camp Douglas.  There is also a lot of history to it I cannot spend time on here, but I note a good source is publication of the National Park Service, A History of Camp Douglas. Illinois, Union Prison, 1861-1865 by Dennis Kelly (August 1989).[16]

The InvalidCorpsMovie website notes that at one point Camp Douglas was under the command of one notorious Benjamin Sweet, and points to historical reports on horrible things reported to have occurred at the prison, including cruelty, torture and unkind acts.[17] Very interesting reading for the curious. I have to conclude that Corporal Israel Sands must have worked with or under Commander Sweet at some point. (Excuse me if I am ignorant of the chain of command.)  We just have to hope that Israel didn’t allow himself to become a horrible monster when managing the prisoners or patrolling the streets of Chicago.

After the war, Israel moved home to rejoin his family in Tazewell County. He remarried to a Lucy Bowser. Unfortunately, Lucy, died just 7 months later. Poor Isreal then re-married again to the Sarah Stewart in the above photo. They moved to Kansas, where he became a farmer. He became active in the local chapter of the Grand Army Republic, a fraternal association of Civil War Union veterans.

Grand Army Republic c. 1900 History of Cowley County KS Israel is No. 30 - Copy

Here is the only other photo I have found of Israel, this one from about 1900  (when he was about 70) and only in a crowd with other Union Veterans who were members of their local chapter of the Grand Army Republic. He is person marked with a “30” and standing in the center of the second to last row.[18]   }

Israel Sands lived to be 80 years old, dying in 1911. His obituary in the local Crowley, Kansas newspaper ends with the sentence:

On the certificate of discharge from the army were these words in red ink: “He was a good soldier.”


Thomas Sands During the Early 19th Century

Israel’s father was Thomas Sands, and his mother Jane Spruance. We know this from both interpretation of primary documents (via “location association” of the family members) and secondary sources and family trees. I admit I have done only limited primary-source research and checking on this family line myself, but what I have found does support the connection that others have made. Census and property records do establish a location association: Israel’s obituary says that he was born in Franklin County, Ohio in 1831, and that was where Thomas showed up in the 1840 and 1850 censuses, in the 1840 census with young boys in his household including one Israel’s age (names of household members were not included in census reports until 1850).  The records also show Israel marrying Hope Gilmore in 1851 in Ohio. However, in the 1860 census, both Thomas and Israel had both moved to Tazewell County, Illinois. The names and ages and birthplaces all check out for the men and their family members.  Additional support is found by reference to other relatives: in the 1830 census, Thomas appears in the census for Jefferson County, Ohio (meaning, he must have moved across the state before Israel was born); Thomas’s father, Alexander, and Thomas’s brothers Joshua, Richard and William all appear residing in an adjacent County, Monroe, in the 1820 and 1830 censuses. And all of them were listed as having been born in Maryland, which is where their father Alexander came from.

Anyway, I just explained all of that only to say that I can verify Israel’s father was Thomas, but I can’t find much at all about Thomas’s life, what kind of person he was, whether his life was exciting, etc.

However, records have been found by others that establish Thomas’s older brothers Richard, Joshua and William fought in the War of 1812 under one Captain Basil Dorsey. Apparently they defended Baltimore and Annapolis, but I have not done research on that. Richard Sands collected a pension for his War of 1812 service.


 Alexander Sands, Defender of Baltimore During the American Revolution

Thomas’s father was Alexander, as deduced from the locational correction noted above under Thomas’s bio. Other researchers have made the same connection.

Alexander is ripe as a subject for additional research. Get ready, as it will take a lot more hard work.

Fortunately for us, Alexander supplied lots of important details about his life in a declaration he submitted to the Federal Government in 1835 to support an application for a Revolutionary Soldier pension. The declaration was dated September 28, 1835, and in it Alexander answers several interrogatories to justify his request. He first stated that he was born in Baltimore in 1760. He also declared that on January 1, 1777, he volunteered for service under the Company of Henry Butler, and served for six months. The next summer, in 1778, he was drafted for six months into service under a Captain Dorsey. Then, in 1781 at the time of taking of Cornwallis, he was again drafted, into Captain Black’s Company. Also, in his declaration he stated “principal service was in Baltimore where he was stationed to guard the City”. Alexander had two character witnesses support his application.

The actual details of Alexander’s service needs to be identified. His petition listed names of his commanders, but the petition does not state what regiments they were in. This matters, since names like Butler, Dorsey and Black were as common then as now, and there were several commanders with those surnames. However, I note that several “Dorsey” surnames had commanding positions in the Maryland Militia during the Revolution. That would be a start for a researcher.

But without more research and confirmation, it will be a challenge to try to identify specific events or battles Alexander might have experienced. No doubt his claims of service were true, since they were backed up with affidavits from three persons who were neighbors of his. However, I must note that 100% of his service record we find only in his own declaration, and none of his affiants stated they actually knew him during the Revolution. But for the curious researcher, there is hope. If, as the declaration says, his principal service was in Baltimore, then that should help us narrow down choices. Whatever research reveals, it should be fun digging into it.

Now, who were Alexander’s parents? Secondary sources – i.e., family trees by others — list a “Frances” as the father of Alexander, and a birth year of 1725 and a birth location of Baltimore. I have never been able to find any other records that can back up this claim. And from there the trail goes cold. It gets further confusing when we find a record of an immigrant arriving in 1775 from Scotland by the name of “Alexander Sands”, close in age to our Alexander. This record prompted me to wonder if our Revolutionary Patriot hero could have just fibbed to everyone about his birthplace. Or if it was just a different Alexander Sands.

In any event, I wish good luck to the person who takes up the research of Alexander Sands’ roots.




[1]          By Unknown –, Public Domain,

[2]    For those of you who, like me, are unschooled in the terminology of military titles, especially from the Civil War, check out the helpful rundown at:…-223984.html

[3]      Prints and Photographs Division, “Brady-Handy photograph collection, ; Call Number: LC-BH82- 4066 A [P&P]

[4]   The official Vicksburg National Military Park website is excellent, and strongly invites visitors:

As is the excellent American Battlefield Trust webpage on the subject:

And of course you can check out the generic sources: Battles_in_the_operations_against_Vicksburg,_December_1862_%E2%80%93_January_1863

Further regarding the 108th Regiment:

[5]     Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

[6]  Wikipedia is a good source for the quick casual researcher, but the really seriously curious should NEVER stop there.

Regarding Chickasaw Bayou:


Further Regarding Port Gibson: The National Park Service’s website:

And on a pop-history website:

And of course, never miss the Battlefield Trust coverage:

[8]  On Champion Hill:

[9]     By Internet Archive Book Images – book page:,

No restrictions, }

[10]    Lots to find here. For those too lazy to pursue books written on the subject, you can safely start with the cites in the Wikipedia page:


[12]       There is a very informative and easy-read piece on the VRC on the webpage of the National Museum of American History:

A website for CURE Catheter sponsors a fun general article about the VRC:

See also:






[18]         Page from the Winfield Courier History of Cowley County by D.A. Millington and E.P. Greer, 1901, available on






















Me (on the phone): "That's "C-r-e-s-a-p".

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