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42nd Georgia


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The Forgotten Confederate Soldier


      Private Barry Wilson




Modern Historians and students of history often reject the claims that African Americans actually fought for the Confederate States of America.  We find it difficult to believe or even understand why black slaves or free would possibly fight in defense for this system and its country.

This Subject has been neglected and long overdue lacking the attention to the finer details of the American Civil War. Often times certain subject matters are often pushed a sided, forgotten or even covered over because of Racism or “not being politically correct”. So many Times in history, it is written by the Victors of these battles and often rewritten by one-sided opinions, not by the views of the losers, who may possibly give the complete story, no matter how controversial or factually true it may be. 

May the Unfinished Chapter of the Forgotten Soldier ‘s Story be told ~

The Forgotten Confederate Soldier – Our Unsung Heroes of the South…… I am referring to the Black Southern Man – both Slave & Free.

A professor from Southern University said, "When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you've eliminated the history of the South."

Over the past hundred years, we have erected many Monuments for Union Soldiers throughout this Great country but have showed little regard to the Southern Veterans of their equally important sacrifice for freedom and liberty. Maybe, a Traitor’s name is stills very much part of its heritage and shame it still carries.

The First of Many Monuments to honor Union Soldiers was built for the 2,111 Civil War Unknowns were buried in a memorial just outside of Arlington House in 1866. A small amphitheater was dedicated in 1874, to accommodate the large crowds that attended Memorial Day ceremonies to honor Civil War-era dead;

However, The first military monument in the US Capitol that honors an African-American soldier is the Confederate monument, which was built in 1914 at Arlington National cemetery. (A black Confederate soldier is depicted marching in step with white Confederate soldiers).

When you hear the term "Johnny Reb" it stirs the imagination of a white soldier, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant and from an antebellum Aristocratic upbringing. But so many Southern soldiers did not fit this stereotype. They were common folks who did not own slaves but owned and worked small farms. A number of various ethnic backgrounds were also represented during the War were the Irish, German, Scots, French, Jews, Mexicans and American Indians from 5 different nations. Not to mention, women who actually fought and boys from as young as 10 years old who joined the ranks as couriers and fife/drummers.

The Confederate Negro is a casualty of History due to a complete massive blackout by various groups suppressing the facts of Negro support for the south. Yes, Slaves were part of the economy machinery, which sustained the southern armies. The Confederacy could not have withstood four long years of union onslaught without black labor in various areas of support. And Yes, Let it be known that the South did use the blacks first in a greater number with a more than 300,000 blacks, which served the Confederacy in some manner of production or support such as building fortifications in a strategic location, to support the southern Cause.

Consequently, Some modern Historians just didn’t believe that any blacks actually fought in combat but only served in support roles. Having the opinion that this dismisses their participation of service.  Ironically, in today’s military standards – A support role does entitle a serviceman to full benefits as well as the respect and title of a REAL SOLDIER but now with further research from such sources like the Retirement Pension records changes that opinion that there was an estimate of over 65,000 southern blacks that were in confederate ranks and over 13,000 actually “saw the Elephant” ( a term used to describe combat) & fought in heavy combat situations in Major battles like Bull Run & the Battle of Antietam.

In recent years the Black Confederate heritage is beginning to receive the attention and recognition it deserves. For instance, Terri Williams, a black journalist for the Suffolk “Virginia Pilot” newspaper,” it started when I read a newspaper article about an elderly black man whose ancestor worked with the Confederate forces. The man spoke with pride about his family member’s contribution to the cause, was photographed with the [Confederate] flag draped over his lap…that’s why I now have no definite stand on just what the flag symbolizes, because it no longer is their history, or my history, but our history.”

The Confederate Flag has been condemned as symbols of slavery, bigotry and oppression. ( I am not deny the Terrible Truths of injustice  in the South in past years; however, I am trying to distinguish between the heritage from the hatred. Even though it may appear to be closely interwoven and mingled, confusing

these realities.)

 In recent years, The Flag is being ordered to be removed from our schools, State houses and public places. Consequently, It was at the advent of the war that the battle flag was created and the issue was not over slavery but the right of sovereign states to constitutionally withdraw from the Union, which the South believed, was their constitutional right and strongly believed they were the true benefactors of Our Colonial Forefathers.

Fighting for the ‘Glorious Cause of Liberty’ was why so many volunteers from 1861 and 1862 enlisted and was one reason for such high casualty rates among the armies. However, the kind of Liberty that most Americans today associate with the Civil War was the liberation of 4.5 million slaves but that was not the Liberty that most Civil War soldiers initially fought for.

Reading from so many Union Soldier’s diaries and letters being sent home, indicated sediments of anger and betrayal of why they volunteered in the first place, “to Restore the Union not to free black slaves!” They felt Lincoln and his Radical Republicans had turned this war into a “NEGROS WAR” and “would not Die for no black man”. There were many officers that had resigned their commissions and throughout the army, the moral was at an all time low with many desertions among the ranks, much heated arguments among the soldiers about issues surrounding the notification and implications of the Emancipation.

Yes, Discrimination did exist in both armies but the Confederates did haveBlack soldiers within its white ranks and did not segregated into separate regiments as did the union army.  In the Second year of the War, General Ulysses S. Grant said, “ if I thought this War was to Abolish Slavery I would resign my commission and offer my sword to the other side.”

 General Grant also noted that after the War with pride “our armies were composed of men who were able to read, men who knew why they were fighting for.”

Later on in the War by 1864, most Northern soldiers had broaden their concept of liberty to include black slaves too. They also felt “if a Black man could pickup a rifle and shoot, maybe this war might end sooner and it would be better if they took it in the head then us”. (They were now willing to let them fight on the front lines to earn their freedom).

But these Union Soldier had also became awfully aware of the casualties of war with the notorieties of slavery even hating slavery at its very core, were soon becoming abolitionist themselves giving a new moral reason to fight and end this War. 



How Did Black Southerners Respond When War Was Declared?


The typical responds among many black Southerners responded to the declaration of War is out of patriotism and just as eager to serve as white Southerner to fight against this invading enemy and to protect their homes and family.

On April of 1861, a company of 60 free blacks responded to the call by marching into Richmond with a Confederate flag at the head of their column. They volunteered their services to the military, but were sent home after being complimented for their show of Southern patriotism (Barrow, 1995).

General Nathan B. Forrest: told a Congressional committee after the war: “to his Colored fellows on my plantation that I was going into the Army and if they would go with me, if we got whipped they would be free anyhow, and that if we succeeded and slavery was perpetrated, if they would act faithfully with me to the end of the war, I would set them free. Eighteen months later before the war closed I was satisfied that we were going to be defeated, and I gave those 45, or 44 of them, their free papers for fear I might be called.”



Why did Black Slaves and Free blacks fight for the Confederacy?


This seems like a paradox why so many served under the flag of the Stars & Bars.  These Black southerners did support their country and that by doing so they were “demonstrating it’s possible to hate the system of slavery and love one’s country.” This is the very same reaction that most African Americans showed during the American Revolution, where they fought for the colonies, even though the British offered them freedom if they fought for them.

However, the quest for Freedom played a very important role in black confederate decisions with good service to the master or to the southern cause, there was hope of being released from slavery after the war. Slaves also knew the army life offered them a chance for adventure and opportunity to get away from drudgery of plantation work. The Slaves also who felt compelled to volunteer for the south did so because they hoped it would improve their status after the war. They also knew if the North won they would probably be free, but if the south won, they would have to show support during the war if they had hopes of being free.

Accounts from the years 1861 to 1865, or shortly thereafter, in the case of the UCV Reunions, were presented above as independent bodies of archival evidence, from pension record applications, photographs, a variety of newspaper articles, Union observers, and elsewhere. All these indicate that black Southerners responded similarly to white Southerners: They responded with patriotism for their country, eagerness to defend their country, their homes, their families, and their way of life with a willingness to shed their blood to establish their country’s independence.

Blacks fought for the same reason that whites fought for the South: To defend and protect. Perhaps it is time to look beyond the false black versus white dichotomy, and look at both blacks, and whites, as the same group: Southerners sharing a common interest, fighting-- at least in a large part-- for common goals.



What was the pay for black Soldiers?


Why would black support and possibly want to fight for the confederacy? One good reason is money. The pay rate for laborers was greater than that of white unionist.

Interestingly enough, by Confederate Law required that both Black and White musicians receive the same equal pay.

 Free black musicians, cooks, soldiers and teamsters earned the same pay as white confederate privates. It is significant to note that Free Blacks earned up to $30 dollars a month in the Confederate Army, plus the upkeep for themselves and their families.  This was not the case in the Union army where blacks did not receive equal pay. The Free Negroes fighting for the North only received $10 a month payment compared to $13 a month for white soldiers with a rank of private.

At the Confederate Buffalo Forge in Rockbridge County, Virginia, skilled black workers "earned on average three times the wages of white Confederate soldiers and more than most Confederate army officers ($350- $600 a year).



In what role did the black Southern Soldiers serve?

Recently the National Park Service, with a recent discovery, recognized that blacks were asked to help defend the city of Petersburg, Virginia and were offered their freedom if they did so. Regardless of their official classification, black Americans performed support functions that in today's army many would be classified as official military service. The successes of white Confederate troops in battle, could only have been achieved with the support these loyal black Southerners.

Nearly 180,000 Black Southerners, from Virginia alone, provided logistical support for the Confederate military like building fortified mounds and driving Teams of horses, including many free blacks that were cooks but some were highly skilled workers as well. These included a wide range of jobs such as nurses, military engineers, firemen, harness makers, blacksmiths, wagon makers, boatmen, mechanics, wheelwrights, and carpenters.

Initially Northern whites refused to believe blacks would fight for the South. A letter from a Union Soldier that appeared in the Indianapolis Star on December 23, 1861, and was reprinted in the New York Times:


Frederick Douglas, warned Lincoln that unless slaves were guaranteed freedom (those in Union controlled areas were still slaves) and land bounties, “they would take up arms for the rebels”.

Douglas also reported, “There are at the present moment many Colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but REAL SOLDIERS, having musket on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal troops and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government and build up that of the…rebels.”

Another example of thousands of black Americans fought as Johnny Rebs. Dr. Lewis Steiner of the U.S. Sanitary Commission observed that while the Confederate army marched through Maryland during the 1862 Sharpsburg (Antietam) campaign, "over 3,000 Negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie knives, dirks, etc. And were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army."

Union General U.S. Grant in Feb 1865, ordered the capture of “all the Negro men… before the enemy can put them in their ranks.”

“When I entered the army I took 47 Negroes in the army with me and 45 of them surrendered with me…. Those boys stayed with me, drove my teams and better Confederates did not live.”



Were Black Slaves & Free Colored Forced to Fight?


Some historians of history will grudgingly admit that some blacks did fight for the South, but will add that they were “forced” to fight. The implication is that their service is diminished, or dismissed, if they were “forced” to fight. However, other evidence speaks otherwise from the soldiers themselves that is found in Tennessee Colored Man’s Pension Applications (TCMPA). Some 285 black Tennessee’s filed for these pensions during the 1920s and 1930s. Applicants were not required to describe their combat experience, but many did so anyway. In these descriptions, 17 stated that Union forces captured them. Of those, 6 escaped back to the South (Rollins, 1994, page 81).

The individual accounts are instructive in revealing the motivation of black Southern soldiers:

Dawson Pugh was captured by the Yankees in March, 1863, escaped, and returned to his owner and master, Lt. Frank Pugh (TCMPA No. 192).

Clay Hickerson was captured and when the Yankees tried to take him North, he refused to go and returned to his owner, who told him he was free anyway (TCMP No. 79).

Dave Burns, was captured In the spring of 1865, along with “most of my company.” He escaped and returned to his “old master” (TCMP No. 123).

Henry Church returned to the army by himself after leaving his wounded master at home (TCMP No. 19).

George Washington Yancey was captured with the Georgia militia, escaped, makes his way through the lines, and returns to his Tennessee infantry unit. Captured again at Missionary Ridge. He escaped a second time from the Federals, and rejoined his unit at Atlanta. He was captured again at Macon and imprisoned. “I was loyal to the Confederate states,” he asserted, and escaped again, spending the rest of the war foraging for the Confederate troops (TCMP No. 206).

George _____, a black confederate, when captured by Federals was bribed to desert to the other side. He defiantly spoke, "Sir, you want me to desert, and I ain't no deserter. Down South, deserters disgrace their families and I am never going to do that."

There are many examples of the valor among black Confederate soldiers.

Another fine example is Confederate Levi Miller’s war service with his Commanding Officer’s account of an instance that reveals Levi Miller’s motivation: In his letter of recommendation, Anderson dispelled any doubts as to whether Miller had fought for the South of his own free will. "… at Chambersburg he met several Negroes he knew, and who had run away from Virginia," wrote Anderson. "They tried to get Levi to desert-- but he would not."

After the war, Miller received a full pension from Virginia as a Confederate veteran. Upon his death in 1921, the Evening Star published a front-page obituary (Jordan, 1995). This show of patriotism to the Confederate States of America, and the many other accounts listed in the essay “Valor of Black Confederates,” contradicts the theory that blacks “were forced to serve.”

Here is just one more example of Dick Poplar who joined the confederate fighting units as a cook and was captured at Gettysburg and sent to Point Lookout Prison, which was noted for its cruelty towards Negroes. He was put under special pressure to take the oath of Allegiance to the US but he repeatedly refused declaring himself a “Jeff Davis Man.” He remained a prisoner until the end of the war, after returning home became a celebrated and prosperous local figure in the community.

How are these blacks victims? How were they “forced” to fight for the South? Imagine a soldier who was forced to fight and was captured by the opposing forces-- under what circumstances would that soldier escape from the “liberators” and make his way back through two lines of armed soldiers, ready to fire at a moment’s notice? To escape back to the very forces who had forced him to fight in the first place? Perhaps to see his wife or children? Yet in many cases, black Confederates did not return south to see their family—they returned to their master, or to their army unit. This does not strike the modern reader as the action of someone who has been forced to fight—unless those soldiers underwent considerable change of mind during their service. However, it is also true that thousands of slaves escaped to northern territories with their families to find Freedom and to fight for the Union Army.

Shown below is the 1890 Alabama Confederate Veterans Reunion. In this photo there are more than 40 black Southern men present. Were they forced to attend?

Black regiments were used and recruited long before the official position of Confederate Congress gave their approval. Many Soldiers like General Nathan Forest had body servants, both Slaves and free men who served under his command at the beginning of the War 1861 and was loyal to the very end, surrendered with him at Gainesville, Alabama. His personal escort company has been rated as the best military fighting force in the war. It had 105 members. Two members of his escort were black. One died fighting and the other received pensions after the war, as did many of the wagon unit. They were also welcomed

at reunions after the war.

Yes, There was opposition within the Confederacy on NOT allowing black Slaves to join ranks due to the mixed opinion in Congress that it was against what the South stood for…. was preserving their southern heritage and possibility insulting their fighting men. However, If releasing the slaves were the only means of preserving the Confederacy and remaining independent, it was worth that sacrifice.

· By September 1864, the Governor of Louisiana told Confederate Secretary of State Seddon that the time had come to raise Negro regiments: “Free all able to bear arms, and put them into the field at once.”

· In 1864, President Jefferson Davis approved a plan that proposed the emancipation of slaves, in return for the official recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and France. France showed interest but Britain refused.

· In March 1865, Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Secretary Of State, promised freedom for blacks that served from the State of Virginia. Authority for this was finally received from the State of Virginia and on April 1st 1865, $100 bounties were offered to black soldiers. He exclaimed, “Let us say to every Negro who wants to go into the ranks, go and fight, and you are free…Fight for your masters and you shall have your freedom.” Confederate Officers were ordered to treat them humanely and protect them from "injustice and oppression".

The National Park Service has recognized that blacks were asked to help defend the city of Petersburg, Virginia and were offered their freedom if they did so. Eighty-three percent of Richmond's male slave population volunteered for duty in the Confederate States Colored Troops. Before Richmond fell, black Confederates in gray uniforms drilled in the streets, but only some saw action before the war ended.

· By March 1865, General Robert E. Lee, keenly aware of the terrible deterioration of his troops and lack of replacements, strongly urged Black recruitments. He stated, “I think the measure not only important but necessary.”

During the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913, arrangements were made for a joint reunion of Union and Confederate veterans. The commission in charge of the event made sure they had enough accommodations for the black Union veterans, but were completely surprised when unexpected black Confederates arrived. The white Confederates immediately welcomed their old comrades, gave them one of their tents, and “saw to their every need”. Nearly every Confederate reunion including those blacks that served with them, wearing the gray.

From the very beginning of the Civil War, African American men sought to enlist in the Union Army. Their requests were denied. This was a "white man's war," they were told, being fought to preserve the Union. Blacks knew better. The "Negro is the . . . pivot upon which the whole rebellion turns," said Frederick Douglass. Finally with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the demand for new recruits outstripping supply, the Lincoln administration agreed to enlist black men. Only white men, however, could serve as officers.

In Spring of 1861, the Governor of Louisiana organized a militia of military men of (colored) known as the ‘Native Guard’ who were in the service of the Confederate States offered their services as escorts for prisoners of war which was declined but thanked for their promptness to the call. Later when the city was in peril against Yankee conquest, it was called upon again but to maintain their organization, hold their position and be prepared for orders transmitted to them. However, these orders were never transmitted and not seen any action in her defense. While the white confederate forces withdrew, the free colored men had remained in the city, feeling left out and shabbily treated.

Under these circumstances, they were then willing to respond when Union General Butler invitation to enlisted colored into the service of the United States was offered.

On September 27th 1862, over a 1000 Colored men were mustered into the service of the Union forces, for whatever reason and a strong desire to fight. These colored men both free and slave responded in great numbers. No explanation is necessary for the eagerness of these fugitives to enlist. General Phelps told General Butler, “They were willing to submit to anything rather than slavery”. As for the former colored men who had been enrolled to fight for the South, there is evidence they were motivated in part by treatment they had received at the hands of their white neighbors before becoming Yankees.

One of the Federal Officers remarked, “You would be surprised at the progress the blacks made in drill and in all duties of the soldier. I find them better disposed to learn, and more orderly and cleanly, both in their persons and quarters, than the whites. Their fighting qualities, he admitted have not been tested in a large scale but I am satisfied that, knowing as they do that they will receive no quarter at the hands of the rebels, they will fight to the death.”

Early in 1863, the abolitionist governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrew, requested permission from the War Department to form a regiment of black soldiers. Barracks were built at Camp Meigs in Readville (the Hyde Park section of present-day Boston), and recruitment began.

The enthusiasm of Bay State blacks was tempered by their exclusion from the officers' corps. The governor assured them that African American soldiers would be treated equally; they would receive the same pay and the same benefits as white recruits. Still, there was hesitation. Of the 1,007 men who enlisted, only 133 were from Massachusetts. Of these, 27 were from Boston, 39 from the whaling port of New Bedford, and 33 from Berkshire County, where a black Congregationalist minister was an active recruiter.

Every effort was made to accept only the healthiest volunteers; approximately a third of the men who responded to the call were turned away. In selecting the white officers, Governor Andrews looked for "young men of military experience, of firm Anti-Slavery principles, ambitious, superior to a vulgar contempt for color; and have faith in the capacity of Colored men for military service." The governor asked Robert Gould Shaw, the only son of one of Boston's leading abolitionist families, to assume command of the regiment.

(A caption Picture of The Famous 54th Regiment – First Colored regiment from Boston)

The stakes were high. The Confederacy had announced that any black that was captured fighting for the Union would be enslaved. (In fact, some were summarily executed.)

But by the middle of May 1863, over a thousand black men from 24 states —15 northern, five southern, and four border states — had been accepted into the Massachusetts 54th. About a quarter of the regiment was made up of farmers, another third, laborers. There were barbers and seamen, waiters and teamsters, cabinetmakers, a dentist, and a druggist. Fathers enlisted with sons, and brothers signed on together — among them two of Frederick Douglass's sons.

(The 54th Mass. Regiment Memorial with Robert Shaw leading the precession into Heavens Gates)


What did  [13th Amendment] (Lincoln’s) emancipation accomplish for the black man?

It is commonly believed that Lincoln freed enslaved Americans when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the document actually frees slaves only in states and regions under rebellion - it did not free slaves in any of the slaveholding states and regions that remained in the Union Such as Delaware, Maryland and a few other Union States. In other words, Lincoln "freed" slaves everywhere he had no authority and withheld freedom everywhere he did.

Earlier, in Lincoln's first Inaugural address in March of 1861, he promised slaveholders that he would support a Constitutional amendment forever protecting slavery in the states where it then existed - if only those states would remain in the Union. The Corwin Amendment - Article 13 “NO AMENDMENT SHALL BE MADE TO THE CONSTITUTION WHICH WILL AUTHORIZE OR GIVE TO CONGRESS THE POWER TO ABOLISH OR INTERFERE, WITHIN ANY STATE, WITH THE DOMESTIC INSTITUTIONS THEREOF, INCLUDING THAT OF PERSONS HELD TO LABOR OR SERVICE BY THE LAWS OF SAID STATES.” (United States Statues at Large, 36 Congress, 2nd Session 1861 -Congress adopted this proposal March 2, 1861)

This Corwin amendment and the 13th Amendment were the only proposed amendments ever signed by the President and Former President James Buchanan also signed the Corwin amendment just 2 days before leaving office for Abraham Lincoln.

The Emancipation Proclamation was a war measure aimed only at freeing slaves in southern territory that came under union military control AFTER January 1, 1963. The Real 13th Amendment abolishing slavery PASSED the senate easily in April 1864, but was defeated 95 to 66 the first time it went before the House of Representatives in June. It took the House 6 more months before it reconsidered the amendment and adopted it 119 to 56 on January 31, 1865. President Lincoln put his signature on the Anti-Slavery 13th Amendment on February 1, 1865. He was murdered 2 months later. On December 6, the Real 13th Amendment received enough ratification to become Law.

· By 1866, Congress passed the 14th Amendment, which was designed to ensure those rights guaranteed blacks under the Civil Rights as American Citizens but not the right to vote in all states.

· By 1867, the new laws required the southern states to ratify the 14th Amendment and to guarantee blacks the right to vote. The campaign for state ratification of the 15th Amendment was successful and became the law of the land.

· By 1868-1870, the Southern States were readmitted to the Union and large numbers of blacks were elected to state legislatures. Blacks also won seats in Congress.

· By 1870, President Grant declared the 15th Amendment had been adopted, which guaranteed all citizens the right to vote regardless of race.

· By 1875, Former President Douglas was a foremost spokesman for black Americans, and helped civil rights bill that gave blacks the right to equal treatment in public places.


What did the 14 & 15 Amendment provide for free blacks?

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Civil Rights (1868) Passed by Congress June 13, 1866 and ratified July 9, 1868, the 14th amendment extended the Liberties and rights granted by the bill of rights to former Slaves.  The Major provision was to grant Citizenship to all persons born or Naturalized in the United States, thereby granting citizenship to former slaves. Another Important provision was the statement that “ nor shall any state deprive any person of live, Liberty, or Property without due process of law nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. The right to due process of law and equal protection of the law now applied to both the Federal and State Governments.

The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Voting Rights (1870) Passed by Congress February 26, 1869, and ratified February 3, 1870, this granted African American men the right to vote. This supposedly signified the fulfillment of all promises by the 14th amendment to black Americans.

Consequently, the 14th amendment failed to extend to the Bill of Rights to the states; It also failed to Protect the rights of Black Citizens. However, the One legacy of Reconstruction was the determined struggle of Black and White citizens to make the promise of the 14th amendment a reality. While the citizens did not succeed in empowering the 14th amendment during the Reconstruction, they effectively articulated the arguments and offered opinions that would be the basis for change in the 20th century.

Closing Statement:

This American War was fought for many reasons and ideals ….. but we know that these Men went off to War to protect their families and homes which so many did not return home but will not be forgotten.

Stone Mountain is the largest Confederate Monument dedicated to the memory of ALL SOLDIERS who served the Confederacy with honor.

Let Us remember their Courage, by honoring their memory and acknowledge their Sacrifice.


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(REVISED Saturday, November 10, 2007 )

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