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 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 11:07 pm
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JoanieReb
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WOW!  Thank You All!  Really great stuff, some excellent points and food for thought.

The quality of these discussions and debates have become first classSeriously.   I finally had time to read the W.Va. thread today, and just can't help but be proud to be a member of this board. 

Aside from that, I sure am glad that I thought to ask these questions before I started my reading; this discussion will surely make my reading more valuable to me.

So, don't stop now! )(90)(90)(90)(90)(90



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 01:22 am
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JoanieReb
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"Maybe Mary’s calling Grant a butcher was a political way of protecting her husband. Elections were coming soon and maybe by not condoning the deaths of 17,000 men, Mary was protecting her husband’s political future."

Very interesting thought - and, outside the box.  I like it!

Mary may have been a very unhappy woman, to put it mildly, but she was not simple. 


"Men died in this needless battle of wills and semantics, and a favorable light does not shine on either commander because of it. But it was a 19th century mindset — they were a product of their times, like we all are. They both had points of pride. And war is hell."

So, would other generals have indulged in this rather extreme denial of the facts -   and, more - risk what it would do to their men's morale, knowing that they could be next to die a most hellish and anguished death, out of pride?

Or perhaps it was neurosis - Grant also had that thing about refusing to retreat or backtrack that also proved costly to his men.   It is almost as if he chose the simple strategy of attrition and could not carry in out in any but the simplist possible ways.

Furthermore, are you saying that, at this critical juncture in the war, Lee waw wrong for not saying, "Oh, isn't that Little Grant Fellow cute, the way he refuses to play by the rules and doesn't want to admit he lost this one, when he obviously did?  Well, guess I'll just play along for the sake of his men, it will build the little fellow's confidence and make him look good, just what I want!" 

(For anyone just jumping in here, we're discussing Grant's refusal to call for a truce to collect his wounded, letting them die slowly over a period of four days, instead.)





Last edited on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 01:54 am by JoanieReb



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 04:18 am
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PvtClewell
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Grant also had that thing about refusing to retreat or backtrack that also proved costly to his men. It is almost as if he chose the simple strategy of attrition and could not carry it out in any but the simplist possible ways.

What, you want Grant to fight a war without sustaining casualties? What commander wins wars by retreating? When you're on the offensive, you attack. Men die. I think we've already established that Grant, by the numbers, was no more a butcher than any other commander in the war, but it's Grant who gets the bad rep. Lee loses nearly 6,000 men in a frontal attack at Pickett's Charge, does that not make him a butcher, too? Apparently not. Lee's an icon. Grant's a cigar smoker. Lee says 'It's all my fault' after Gettysburg and he is revered. Grant says he regrets the last assault at Cold Harbor and he's reviled. I don't get it.

In technical terms, Grant may have lost the battle of Cold Harbor in the sense that he did not break Lee's line. But he did not lose the field. He was still there the next day, and the next week. If, in the 19th century, asking for a truce meant conceding loss of the field, clearly Grant wasn't going to do it. But Lee insisted that Grant ask for a truce and all that that implied (to his credit, Foote, a southerner, covers this ground, too, on the very page of Vol. III that you cited). Both were playing the game. Both were culpable here. Maybe they were both neurotic. Lee could have just as easily let Grant recover his men after Grant's initial request as not. What's up with that? (In reality, this is an argument that's hard for me to make. It's difficult to defend leaving wounded men lay for days on a battlefield. But my point, Joanie, is that you can't make 21st century judgments when dealing with 19th century thought processes, traditions and customs. And I know you know that.)

I think it's too simple to say that Grant was simplistic in all that he could so was fight battles of attrition. He was also a master of maneuver (an attribute that seems to get lost in these discussions), constantly pressing forward, constantly putting pressure on Lee. He was the commander Lincoln was looking for after all those halting years of McDowell, McClellan, Pope, Burnside and Hooker. Consider this: if Grant is made commander, say, in 1862, does his aggressiveness (no retreats) possibly end the war sooner, thus actually saving lives? Wouldn't that be ironic?

As for MTL, she was a highly educated, sophisticated whackjob. Not only did she not like Grant, but she alienated Grant's wife, Julia, as well with her irrational tirades. She disliked the Grants, and calling the general a butcher easily would be within her parameters. And protect what political future? Lincoln already had the Republican convention's nomination for a second term by June 8 and MTL's 'butcher' comment didn't surface until Petersburg was under siege weeks later. Cold Harbor was old news. Besides, Lincoln's political future was guaranteed with victories in the western theatre and the capture of Atlanta later in the year.



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 04:52 am
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JoanieReb
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Ah, General Clewell, 

Please let me point out that while I may have played "devil's advocate" and discussed the topic,  I never condoned calling Grant a butcher.  Never have;  although I'm not saying I never will. 

What I have protested is his leaving his men on the field to die.  While he and Lee were both stubborn about it,  Lee made it clear:  ask for a truce, as is the way it is done (or, "as is customary"), and Grant just couldn't bring himself to do that until it was much too late to accomplish anything positive by his stubborness.

OK, I understand your point abut 19th century standards.  But again, I ask, did any other respected general of the CW behave this particular way?   Refuse to ask for a truce to collect his wounded?  I think that was pecular to Grant.

Good discussion, I am enjoying it!  Thank you!

Joanie

(Oh, yeah - I have to look up some of that stuff about his refusing to backtrack.  As I understand it,  that actually was a quirk.) 


 

Last edited on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 04:57 am by JoanieReb



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 08:02 am
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JoanieReb
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In addition to the above -

Interestingly, both Foote and McPherson mention Grant's reputation as a butcher emerging before Petersburg; neither attributes it to MTL, although I'm sure she used the term.  McPherson says it was appearing in the press (Illus.BCoF, 652) at a time when it could be percieved as detrimental to Lincoln's re-election; Foote mentioned it as a copperhead charge known to the men around the time of Cold Harbor. (Volume III, 296).

McPherson didn't consider Grant's behavior normal for the time; he wrote of "Cold Harbor Syndrome" sucking the fight out of the AoP in The Battle Cry of Freedom, mentioning it repeatedly in his discussion of Cold Harbor through Peterburg.

What Foote had to say about Grant's refusal to care for his wounded bears repeating.    Following his failure to recover his wounded before they succumbed, Grant sent a snittly message to Lee, and (pg. 296):

"Lee made no reply to this, no doubt feeling that none was called for, and not even the northern commander's own troops were taken in by a blame-shifting pretense which did little more than show their chief at his worst.  They could discount the Copperhead charge that he was a butcher, a 'bull-headed Surarov', since his methods so far had at least kept the rebels on the defensive while his own army moved forward more than sixty air-miles.  But this was something else, this sacrifice of brave men for no apparent purpose but to salve his rankled pride.  Worst of all, they saw in the agony of their commrades, left to die amid the corpses on a field already lost, a preview of much agony to come, when they themselves would be left to whimper through days of pain while their leader composed notes in defense of conduct which so far as they could see, had been indefensible from the start."                

(Italics and bold print mine)

Unfortunately, the only McPherson book I have at hand right now is Battle Cry of Freedom; judging from that, I'd say Mcpherson and Foote are likely of similar mind about the whole affair;  I'm looking forward to looking into that. 

Last edited on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 08:08 am by JoanieReb



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 02:08 pm
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OH MY GOD, JOANIE!!!! I think my heart actually stopped for a minute with you referencing McPherson in your argument, given our past exchanges on him. Couldn't find my defibrillator. I was almost another Cold Harbor casualty. ;)

As I stated previously, this whole scenario is an uncomfortable argument for me to make for truly there is no excuse to leave dead and dying on the field. And I don't believe I ever insinuated that you personally referred to Grant as a butcher, and if I did, that was never my intent. My reference was to MTL. Plus, the 'butcher' tag seems to go hand-in-hand with Grant in any Overland discussion. Almost unavoidable.

Having said that...

If I'm getting the timeline right, Grant sent his 'snitty' note to Lee after the four-day episode. I'm guessing Grant was in a snit because Lee was nit-picking, specifically asking for a truce. If Lee agrees to Grant's initial request after the second day, maybe more lives are saved. I submit that this whole affair is a two-way street, although I will concede that Grant, in my view, gets the lion's share of the blame here.

We might have to get a definition of what 'lost the field' means for this argument to gain real focus — and I don't know if we can. Clearly, Grant felt he never lost the field — his lines were still intact after the debacle — even if most of his men did. Is the 'field' the actual point of battle or the entire battlefield proper? He never had to retreat from his original lines. The field is not lost. If Grant didn't feel like he 'lost the field' then his decision not to call a truce (which back then implied that he did lose the field) almost makes sense. It has its own convoluted logic.

I don't know of any other examples where other generals called a truce to recover their dead. Was this a common thing? I don't know. Did Burnside ask for a truce at Fredericksburg? Either McClellan or Lee at Antietam? Lee left Gettysburg filled with dead, dying and wounded. Was there a truce at Spotsylvania?
Because I don't know the answer, I'll hazard a guess that most humanitarian truces were called at the smaller unit level, maybe even at the regimental level. But I honestly don't know.

Joanie, if you're undecided about whether to call Grant a butcher or not, let me quote your now-favorite historian, James M. McPherson, in his latest collection of essays, 'This Mighty Scourge.' (2007, pg.113):

"Union frontal assaults at Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg gave Grant a reputation as a 'butcher.'
"This description is distorted. The campaign turned out to be one of attrition, but that was more Lee's doing than Grant's. The Union commander intended to maneuver Lee into a position for open-field combat; Lee parried these efforts from elaborate entrenchments with the hope of holding out long enough to discourage the Northern people and force their leaders to make peace — a strategy of psychological attrition. It almost worked, but Lincoln's reelection and Grant's determination to stay the course brought victory in the end. And if any general deserved the label 'butcher,' it was Lee. Although the Confederates had the advantage of fighting on the defensive most of the time, they suffered almost as high a percentage of casualties as the Union forces in this campaign. For the war as a whole, Lee's army had a higher casualty rate than the armies commanded by Grant. The romantic glorification of the Army of Northern Virginia by generations of Lost Cause writers has obscured this truth."

Even Foote says this was the price the South paid for having Lee as its commander.

You're right. This is fun. But what if we're both playing devil's advocate? Hmm.

Last edited on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 02:10 pm by PvtClewell



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 03:41 pm
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"Grant has lost no less than half as many men as it had lost in the previous three yearsunder McDowell, McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade on his own."

A good question may be how did McDowell, McClellan, Pope, Burnside and Hooker manage to lose twice as many men and get no where?


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 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 05:34 pm
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Michael C. Hardy
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According to one of Grant’s biographers (McFeely), it was not Grant that tried to cover up his losses, but his did generals (171). McFeely goes on to say that had Grant taken Richmond in the spring on 1864, Grant most likely would have been the “seventeenth rather than the eighteenth president of the United States.” (170) Is it possible that Grant, refusing to call a truce, is an effort to protect his own job and future aspirations? Something to think about.

Something else that grabbed my attention while looking through McFeely’s book - Grant, save for a small period of time in the middle of the day, was not even on the field during the assaults. It was Meade’s job to run the army. Also, neither Grant nor Meade had inspected the field prior to launching the assaults. Nor was there any artillery support for the Federals. So one, or both of them are negligent.

Furthermore, Furgurson in Not War But Murder, provides us with this little tidbit (236):

Theodore Lyman, the most perceptive chronicler of events at either headquarters, came closest to explaining why Grant ordered the attack. The blunder was not “the outcome of a headstrong belief in brute combat,” Lyman wrote. “Rather may it be called a subjective mistake. Because [Grant’s] teeth were firmly set as ever, he supposed that the nerves of other people were still well strung. His want of imagination rendered it difficult for him to understand the condition of his soldiers, or to measure the spirit of the enemy.”
Grant had disclosed this “want of imagination” a week before he ordered the final assault at Cold Harbor, when he advised Washington that “Lee’s army is really whipped. The prisoners we take now show it, and the action of his army shows it unmistakably.” As [John C.] Ropes said, Grant had arrived from the West “ignorant, grossly ignorant” of his own army’s history, “thinking that it only needs to be fought thoroughly to destroy its formidable antagonist.”

So Grant, paraphrasing Furgurson, utterly fails to grasp his opponent, Bobby Lee. Furgurson adds that Grant does not even understand his own army (Army of the Potomac).

It appears that the only thing that Grant does comprehend is this (my thoughts): that to retreat back across the river after the loss in the Wilderness is to loss his job like so many before. To retreat back across the river is to, most likely, cost Lincoln the election, and to lose the war. It is interesting to note that Grant makes his comments about Lee’s army being whipped after he has failed to dislodge Lee from the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and the North Ann River.

While Grant holds his lines of communication and supply, the Overland Campaign is a failure. His objective was to get in between Lee and Richmond and force Lee out into the open where Lee can be fought without entrenchments and beaten. Grant fails at this.



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 05:55 pm
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Leaving the field seems to have been the equivalent of having been driven off it or whupped to the point that you had to retire from it.

At Gettysburg and Antietam. Lee hung around for a while, most certainly partly because he didn't want the subsequent retreats to look like he had "left the field." At Gettysburg, many agree that he went into the third day (again partly) so as not to retire from the field.

Seems that most officers held the same view -- except when they were truly driven off. That must have been embarrassing!

And I've read the same thing: Grant, during his career from Belmont through Appomattox, lost a smaller percentage of his forces than did Lee during his career from the early days in West Virginia until Appomattox. Given that Grant was rarely on the defensive (he was on the offensive when he got his nasty surprise at Shiloh, but that's picking nits),  and that Lee pushed almost as consistently, the figures can be hard to believe.

ole



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 05:59 pm
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Ole-

  Some generals are more offensive than others.  ;)



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 06:05 pm
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Michael C. Hardy
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There was also a truce at Fredericksburg. According to O’Reilly, three days after the battle General Franklin (US) sent a request for an informal truce to collect the wounded. This Federal officer was met by General Rodes (CS) who decline “an unofficial arrangement.” Franklin tried again two hours later, and Stonewall “rejected it, and demanded the application by properly submitted in writing. Franklin’s representative acquiesced; Stonewall Jackson, well satisfied, granted a truce for the remaining hour of daylight.” (445)



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 07:06 pm
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Perhaps the most well-known, though improvised, truce occured on September 18th, 1862, the day after the battle of Antietam.


HankC
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 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 07:16 pm
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"So Grant, paraphrasing Furgurson, utterly fails to grasp his opponent, Bobby Lee. Furgurson adds that Grant does not even understand his own army (Army of the Potomac).

It appears that the only thing that Grant does comprehend is this (my thoughts): that to retreat back across the river after the loss in the Wilderness is to loss his job like so many before. To retreat back across the river is to, most likely, cost Lincoln the election, and to lose the war. It is interesting to note that Grant makes his comments about Lee’s army being whipped after he has failed to dislodge Lee from the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and the North Ann River.

While Grant holds his lines of communication and supply, the Overland Campaign is a failure. His objective was to get in between Lee and Richmond and force Lee out into the open where Lee can be fought without entrenchments and beaten. Grant fails at this."

I disagree with much of this.

Grant maintains the initiative throughout the campaign. Lee is constantly reacting. The movement around Richmond and across the James is a brilliant feat. It is not the army that Grant is ignorant of, it is the army leadership's almost total lack of imagination, iniatative and agility.


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 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 08:09 pm
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While Grant holds his lines of communication and supply, the Overland Campaign is a failure. His objective was to get in between Lee and Richmond and force Lee out into the open where Lee can be fought without entrenchments and beaten. Grant fails at this."

Furgurson said that!? Glad I haven't read that one yet. Clewell couldn't find his defrib and I don't have one.
I disagree with much of this.

As do I. Ain't saying Grant was the reincarnation of Napoleon, but from the day he set off he was pushing Lee back to Richmond. I 'spect he'd have liked to have done it quicker, but he did do it without going back to refit and resupply.


Grant maintains the initiative throughout the campaign. Lee is constantly reacting. The movement around Richmond and across the James is a brilliant feat. It is not the army that Grant is ignorant of, it is the army leadership's almost total lack of imagination, iniatative and agility.
What you said. Grant had a chance in the west to pick and choose and develop his lieutenants. And it is likely true that he was trying to pick his way through his subcommanders, but it a bit egregious to propose that he didn't know his soldier!

ole



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 08:12 pm
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I hope you mistyped...Grant was on the OFFENSIVE at Shiloh?

Read the disclaimer, Ed. Grant was on his way to Corinth. He got hisself a setback on the way. Almost like Cold Harbor was a setback on his way to Richmond.

ole



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 08:12 pm
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Michael,

Good stuff there. But I relish playing the contrary fool. Ask Joanie. I do this to bring balance and counter-balance to the debate, so don't be mad at me. I just do it to present a different perspective. Let's begin:

Is it possible that Grant, refusing to call a truce, is an effort to protect his own job and future aspirations?

In fact, Grant did ask Lee for a truce without actually using the word 'truce' for the reasons we discussed previously. And Lee rebuffed him. Twice. I'd forgotten that about Franklin at Fredericksburg, but even that request came three days after the battle was over. And again, the Confederates initially refused the request. I'm seeing a trend here. Besides, nobody goes running around shouting 'That butcher Burnside,' even though he suffers nearly twice as many casualties in a single day than Grant does at Cold Harbor.

I doubt that Grant was looking to a possible political future while in the middle of a war. That prospect would be something akin to Eisenhower planning Overlord and then thinking, 'Man, if I screw this up, I have no future in politics.' I don't know of any evidence that Grant aspired to a political career before or during the war.

It was Meade’s job to run the army. Also, neither Grant nor Meade had inspected the field prior to launching the assaults. Nor was there any artillery support for the Federals. So one, or both of them are negligent.

Would that be the same kind of negligence as when Lee pulled his artillery from Spotsylvania? Apparently, Bobby Lee didn't understand Sam Grant.

It's true that Meade was in command of the army at Cold Harbor, and that Grant made only brief appearances at the front (for which Meade was grateful). But clearly Grant is in overall command. Nobody goes running around screaming 'That butcher Meade.'

As [John C.] Ropes said, Grant had arrived from the West “ignorant, grossly ignorant” of his own army’s history, “thinking that it only needs to be fought thoroughly to destroy its formidable antagonist.”

Well, isn't that what ultimately happened?

Furgurson adds that Grant does not even understand his own army (Army of the Potomac).

I love Furgurson. While I haven't read 'Not War But Murder', I loved his treatment of Chancellorsville. But for here, let me suggest that the AofP — after seeing one commanding general after another prior to Grant turn away after butting heads with Lee — didn't understand Grant. They did soon enough, though, cheering him when he turned south after the Wilderness instead of crossing back over the Rapidan.

It is interesting to note that Grant makes his comments about Lee’s army being whipped after he has failed to dislodge Lee from the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and the North Anna River.

Grant may have misunderstood Lee's strength, but I submit that Grant did dislodge Lee — through maneuver (which to my mind is Grant's true genius). After each of those battles, Grant is another step closer to Richmond.

His objective was to get in between Lee and Richmond and force Lee out into the open where Lee can be fought without entrenchments and beaten. Grant fails at this.

Maybe so, but Grant's still the one who has Lee under siege at Petersburg. In the end the Overland campaign ultimately resulted in Appomattox and surrender. Not bad for a guy who is ignorant of his own army.

All this has been incredibly interesting. I've now got it in my mind through these discussions that there were only a handful of requests for humanitarian truces throughout the war to recover the dead and dying. And if that's true, then why are we suddenly jumping down Grant's throat? If nobody else is asking for truces, why should we suddenly expect it of Grant? Now it becomes an anti-Grant issue, if it wasn't already.

True, Cold Harbor changed the character of the war, and most certainly the AofP, which was everafter reluctant to make frontal assaults on entrenched positions, and wisely so. Grant's actions at Cold Habror would probably warrent criminal investigation in the 21st century, but not so in the 19th. There was no call that I know of to remove Grant from command outside of noted military advisor Mary Todd Lincoln.

Most curiously, and maybe ironically, of all is that butcher Grant presents Lee with surrender terms so benevolent that even Lee is surprised. Maybe that's where Grant's true character rests. Butcher, indeed.

Last edited on Sat Feb 9th, 2008 11:29 am by PvtClewell



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 08:38 pm
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JoanieReb
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Pvt Clewell wrote:

"But what if we're both playing devil's advocate?"

We are!  Hee-hee-hee.  At least, that's what I think.

And, I said I think McPherson biased. That doesn't mean I don't find him useful.  I just take that into account when I read his work.  Baby and bathwater type stuff.

Oh, God, we are finding common ground.

This must end!  Return to battle position, please. 

(If we get bored, we could switch sides - I bet we could argue just as effectively that way, =+++ - but as it would be against our natural inclinations, it wouldn't be any fun, would it?)

 

Last edited on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 09:30 pm by JoanieReb



 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 08:57 pm
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"A good question may be how did McDowell, McClellan, Pope, Burnside and Hooker manage to lose twice as many men and get no where?"

I believe McClellan got about as far as Grant did in the wilderness during the time-frame (up to Cold Harbor) we are discussing.  That was the AoP's second excursion into the wilderness. Admit I'm going on memory here, should be map-checking, but I'm pretty sure Little Mac got' em somewhere!  To within 6-10 miles of Richmond, I think?

Wow, I fell asleep for a few hours, and The Cwi Fairy brought me all kinds of good replies to read!  Thanks, All - I'm'a workin' on it!

Last edited on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 09:32 pm by JoanieReb



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