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Crimean texts

[Transcribed by Megan Stevens]

The Times 18 Feb 1857 p 7


Third Notice

(Concluded from The Times of Feb. 6.)

Pursuing the case of Mr. Filder, the Chelsea Board declare that it was only his duty to furnish the ration according to the order of the General Commanding. But did he do this? In October Lord Raglan strongly urged him to procure vegetables in sufficient quantities to preserve the health of the men. How he fulfilled this injunction has already been shown. Lord Raglan was also incessant in impressing on him the necessity for extensive issue of fresh meat. We have next to see how he complied with his instructions on this behalf.

Mr. Filder maintains that the average quantity of fresh meat issued from November to March was 10lb. per month to each man. But how does he obtain this result? By mixing up the issues to the sick and healthy, and bringing the increased quantity in March to raise the average of the previous months, when the men suffered most from the continued use of salt meat. Disentangling this confusion and taking other deductions into account, what is the 10lb. a-month reduced to for both sick and healthy, the sick very properly having had the preference?

“A surgeon of the 4th Dragoon Guards says in his evidence to the Commissioners that —

‘During part of November the SICK received fresh meat occasionally, but in December they had nothing but salt meat till the 25th. In January the sick had fresh meat 20 days, in February 12 days; on some of the days on which fresh meat was issued the quantity was not sufficient for the requirements of the Hospital.’

The surgeon of the 49th Regiment also states —

‘In the month of December there were 14 days during which no fresh meat could be got for the sick, either from the commissariat or the purveyor.’

It must also be inferred from Mr. Filder's letter to Mr. Peel that the British soldier received, during the three months referred to, more fresh meat than the French soldier, but this inference is also incorrect. Mr. Filder compares the whole quantity issued to the British army, including the sick (who, as he admits, got much the larger share of what was supplied), with the quantity issued to the French troops, exclusive of what was required for the sick. Ten ounces every three days, or 6¼lb. per month, was the quantity issued to the healthy French soldier as his ration of fresh meat. The corresponding quantity received by the healthy British soldier of the five divisions of infantry during the months of December, January, and February was, on the average, only about 4lb. per month, as stated in the Commissioners' report.”

What were the grounds for limiting the scurvy-stricken soldier to about 12lb. of fresh meat in three months? We must attend to the alleged grounds, for they are very remarkable. In the first place, Mr. Filder was apprehensive of exhausting the resources of Turkey. We now know by experience that nearly three times the force employed during the first winter in the Crimea has since been supported there chiefly on fresh provisions. But, putting aside conjecture, there were “available in depôt in the beginning of the winter of 1854 about 8,000 head of cattle.” Of these less than half were brought over in the three months, though the tenders Mr. Filder rejected in one of these months would have almost replaced the entire 8,000, and though the tenders he did accept left him in April with 7,500 on hand, or very nearly the same quantity he had at the beginning of winter. So far from exhausting the resources of Turkey, he had more cattle than he knew what to do with. The loss of an extra thousand in transit, to which he attributed great importance, would never have been felt. This loss would have been quite ridiculous when compared with the resources of Turkey.

We have mentioned above certain rejected tenders. Why were these tenders rejected, when a more liberal supply of fresh meat would have saved the lives of thousands? Mr. Filder declares “the question of expense was never taken into consideration.” But on this point his own official returns contradict him, and the contradiction is made remorselessly patent by Colonel Tulloch. The Board countenanced the misstatement, although possessed of the contradictory evidence, and the Board must now share the discredit of its refutation. If we allow that the tenders were rejected for another and an adequate reason, — that Mr. Filder had “plenty of cattle at Constantinople,” then why did this “plenty” reach the troops at the rate of only 4lb. per month? The soldiers were perishing by thousands from disease produced by the use of salt meat. During December, January, and February there was almost a total absence of fresh meat, and even the sick were for many days — nay, even for weeks — fed exclusively on salt meat, which in their state was poison. Why, then, this reckless waste of life, and what reason can be given for this great stain, “which might almost be termed an outrage on humanity?” Land transport was the chief difficulty in the Crimea, but live cattle once landed would have transported themselves — nay, they would have set at liberty the mules and horses required to carry up the salt meat in their place. Mr. Filder, therefore, and the excusing Board lay primary stress on the want of sea transport, but Colonel Tulloch thus sweeps this last excuse into the Euxine.

In laying such stress on the want of sea transport the Board left out of view the evidence of Colonel Gordon, that “a large number of horse sailing transports were placed at the disposal of the Commissariat on the 28th of October, and from a list produced, showing the distribution of these transports on the 19th of November, it appears that 16 of them were then empty and available for Commissariat purposes.” These vessels lay idle during the winter, while the troops were perishing for want of fresh meat. If the Board observed, without commenting on, this circumstance, it must be presumed that the concurred in Mr. Filder's reasons for not employing such vessels; that they also thought “sailing vessels unsuitable for the service,” and knew “of no large army that has at any former time been dependent upon supplies brought by sea in sailing vessels.” The Board, however, might have remembered that at no remote period there were no other means of sea transport for cattle but these. Several of its members had shared in the Peninsular campaign, and might have had personal knowledge of the fact “that when the army lay within the lines of Torres Vedras it was in a great measure supported by cattle brought from the north of Spain in sailing vessels — a much more tedious, difficult, and dangerous voyage than any between the shores of Turkey and Balaklava.” The despatches of the Duke are most particular upon this point. He is solicitous for fresh meat because he has already “begun to give the British army salt provisions two days in the week.” Therefore he orders cattle to be despatched to him in horse transports, the very vessels to the use of which Mr. Filder raised so many objections. Instead of being deterred by the advance of winter and the tempestuous weather, or being apprehensive of exhausting the resources of the country, he keeps increasing his supply of cattle as the winter goes on, and he preserves probably by this very means for their responsible functions at Chelsea certain of the seven Generals who are now unable to recall the circumstance, who either concurred with Mr. Filder in his ignorance that any large army had at any former time been dependent upon supplies brought by sea in sailing vessels, or who, if they remembered the circumstance, ignored its bearing in a spirit which it is quite superfluous to characterize.

We thus leave the question of fresh meat, passing over the possibility of buying up killed meat, and which Colonel Tulloch discusses, to come to the question of limejuice, which involves further discredit to the Board, and heaps even a larger measure of contempt upon their proceedings. The Commissioners had pointed out that while the sufferings of the army were probably at their height there was lime-juice lying in the Commissariat stores at Balaklava from the 10th of December, and this limejuice was not issued till the first week in February. The Board (we abstain from repeating the alternative inference) protected the living at the expense of the dead, and cast the blame of this omission, “which forms undoubtedly one of the greatest blots in the history of the war” upon Lord Raglan. Lord Raglan, they say, “appears to have been duly informed that there was limejuice in store,” and “in this matter no blame seems to attache to the Commissary-General.” Colonel Tulloch approaches this miscarriage as a painful subject, and painful it is in many senses, with humiliation superadded.

If Lord Raglan really knew that 20,000lb. of limejuice was lying in the store unused, at a time when its issue was essential to the health of his men, his memory would assuredly little deserve that high consideration which it has up to the last moment received from all his critics. But how stands the fact? Mr. Filder's own examination condemns himself, and it also condemns the Board, who excused him directly in the teeth of his own evidence.

“Was the General Commanding-in-Chief informed of the arrival of this limejuice?”

“No. Stores belonging to another department we informed the proper officer of.”

“Then, you informed the Medical Department?”

“Yes. I have a certificate here that I will read.”

But Mr. Filder, instead of reading a certificate, quoted a letter from one of his subordinate officers alleging that verbal intimation was given to Purveyor Jenner, &c., and the only way in which he connects Lord Raglan with the subject is in the following statement on the same query:—

“After the 22d of January we used to furnish Lord Raglan with a statement of all the stores in our possession of every kind, and it was not till the 29th of January that he gave me an order to begin the issue.”

His return was really made up on the 24th, and thus for the first time Lord Raglan knew the fact that the limejuice, for the want of which his army was melting away, had been lying for five or six weeks in the Commissariat stores. Only two days after this fact came to his knowledge he was discussing through official channels the proper mode of using it, and on the 29th the General Order appeared, under which it was issued as part of the daily ration. “In fact, instead of Lord Raglan having been cognizant of the delay, it is more than probable that, but for his calling for the returns in question, the limejuice would have remained in store till he no longer had an army to use it.”

Some further hypotheses on the subject of lime-juice are perfectly immaterial, as Colonel Tulloch scatters them to the winds; so we make our way to the subject of fresh bread. The Commissioners had charged Mr. Filder with an indisposition to make the attempt of baking fresh bread, to which he replied, in the opinion of the Board, “satisfactorily.” The endeavours which were thus “satisfactory” may be stated in brief compass. Mr. Filder in the beginning of winter purchased a three-months' supply of flour for the purpose, but during more than half a year he abstained from converting this flour into bread. Had the Ordnance considered it sufficient to provide cloth for great-coats or wool for blankets, though neither great-coats nor blankets were manufactured therefrom, the Ordnance might have given equal satisfaction to the Chelsea judges. Mr. Filder had applied for a floating mill and bakery, which did not arrive from England till May, and which, when they did arrive, were found quite inadequate to the demand, and on this distant prospect Mr. Filder dwelt serenely. In the meantime the troops suffered, but no attempt was made to construct the ovens, which, after all, had to be constructed when the floating mill and bakery failed. The want of bread during the winter fell with very great severity upon the sick, particularly those suffering from scurvy, whose gums were in such a state that they could not use biscuit, and whose longing for fresh bread is described as being incessant. If there was really a difficulty in transport, as is alleged, even for so limited a quantity, surely as many animals might have been devoted to that purpose as were found necessary for an equal weight of biscuit, which few of the sick could use. But considerations of transport were not very material, for even the sick in the hospitals at Balaklava received no bread, though during the greater part of the winter it was baked in abundance within a few hundred yards of them for all who were rich enough to pay for it at the rate of 1s. per lb. As regards these men, it was certainly not a question of transport. We should add that there were old Russian ovens at Balaklava capable, as the event proved, of turning out nearly 3,000 loaves per day, and which merely required to be cleared out to make them available. If the few bakers requisite could not have been supplied from the army, bakers could have been imported from Malta or Scutari in the month of November as easily as in the month of May. Yet up to the 9th of April not a morsel of bread was issued even to the sick, though Mr. Filder in his evidence before the Board admits that it was repeatedly applied for.

When Sir John McNeill [sic] and Colonel Tulloch arrived at Balaklava, on the 12th of March, they were so impressed with the urgency of supplying this want that they themselves immediately set about the erection of ovens, under the circumstances stated in the appendix to their report. These ovens ought to have produced 8,832lb. of bread daily; but after they were given over to Mr. Filder they only produced between one-third and one-half of that quantity. Had they been erected earlier, and had their capacities been properly worked, these and two more of similar size would have admitted of bread being issued for the whole army every second day during the winter, merely by the employment of 12 men acquainted with baking — a number which there is little doubt might have been found among the Scottish regiments at Balaklava alone. Were any further evidence wanting of the indisposition to make bread, it might be found in the correspondence and memorandum by Colonel Tulloch on that subject, where it will be seen that, though, in order to remove all difficulties with regard to ovens, he offered on the 15th of March to superintend the building of the two above mentioned, so many difficulties were thrown in the way of his obtaining the requisite materials and assistance that after a fortnight's delay he was actually obliged to obtain an order for the fire bricks required under Lord Raglan's own hand. On the 31st of that month Sir John M'Neill intimated to Mr. Filder the necessity for bringing over bakers to work these ovens, as objections had been urged by the military authorities to men being employed from the army; but even after this it was not till the 18th of April that bakers were sent for. Nearly another month elapsed before they arrived at Constantinople, and the ovens were only brought into use on the 19th of May, and then not till the Scotch regiments at Kadikoi, seeing them remain so long idle, were making preparations to use them on their own account. The other ovens already existing in Balaklava were only brought into use on the Commissioners representing that the gentleman charged with the administration of The Times Fund was about to supply the deficiency in some of the principal hospitals. Then the discredit of having this effected from a private source apparently brought about the desired improvement; and, under these circumstances, viewed as a consistent whole, the Commissioners charged Mr. Filder with an indisposition to make bread. Under these circumstances, moreover, the unexacting Board took their portion of the responsibility by releasing him from the imputation.

With respect to the memorable green coffee which was so bitterly complained of by the soldiers, the Board have partly made incorrect statements and partly fallacious inferences, and both with the same tendency to exculpate Mr. Filder. They say he was in no way responsible for the coffee not being roasted, when there is evidence to show that it was sent out raw at his special request, and this though the difficulty attending such an arrangement was distinctly pointed out to him. He had even stated in his note to Mr. Grant, “The soldiers will no doubt find some means of overcoming any difficulty that may arise from the want of mills and coffee-roasters,” and when Mr. Grant suggested mills for grinding coffee six small coffee-mills only were directed to be sent out to him. A military board, held at Varna, had, it is true, decided on issuing coffee in its green state to the troops, but Mr. Filder and the Board have kept out of sight the important distinction that this took place during summer, in a country where wood was abundant and the soldiers had plenty of leisure. But in the Crimea they could only procure fuel by digging roots from ground covered with snow and ice, which their previous duties in the trenches scarcely left them strength to accomplish. In November, accordingly, the men began to complain of their unreasonable and unfeeling treatment by the Commissariat in respect of their coffee. But Mr. Filder neither caused the coffee to be roasted nor ground, because it was not ordered; and thus declined to fulfil the responsibilities of his high position by exercising any option of his own, nor did he relieve himself of these responsibilities by requesting Lord Raglan's authority to have the coffee prepared at Constantinople or Balaklava, or for procuring and issuing tea instead. According to his own showing he allowed the men to suffer under this privation from the beginning of November till the end of January; while the Board appended this obvious untruth to his explanation, that ‘fuel would have been EQUALLY required for making the tea,’ the roasting as well as the making of the coffee being in question. We call this an untruth, but it has an alternative title, and may be simply a stupid insult to the common sense of their countrymen.

On the subject of fuel the Board displayed a further equivocating talent. The Commissioners blamed Mr. Filder for want of alacrity in providing it, and the Board excused him from any want of foresight in this respect, a want which Colonel Tulloch contends was never imputed to him. His foresight he had shown in storing up a supply at Balaklava, but his want of alacrity he displayed in not issuing it. Again and again did Lord Raglan press him to commence the issue of fuel. He appears to have been still under the delusive apprehension of exhausting his stock, though there was no difficulty in procuring firewood from the shores of the Black Sea. He even remonstrated with Lord Raglan for requiring him to supply fuel at all, referring as usual to Peninsular precedents, and this time, we assume, stating the facts correctly. At all events he justified the imputation of a want of alacrity, which the Board slurred over, with respect to which they took the equivocal course of neither admitting nor denying it, while excusing Mr. Filder from charges which were never made, and so leaving the impression that he had been wronged by the Commissioners.

From this point we follow the Board through their last double, and pursue them and their Crimean protégés to their last retreat. The key of their position — their petty Malakhoff — is the difficulty of procuring land transport, because Mr. Filder was not supplied with pressed hay from England. Any real difficulties on this score must be accounted for by the department here; the sham consequences have been thus thoroughly disposed of by Colonel Tulloch. Pressed hay from England at close upon 2d. per lb. would doubtless have been useful. In the meantime chopped straw at about one farthing per lb. might have been had from the Bosphorus, and, combined with barley, would have fed the animals, not perhaps according to Peninsular precedents, but “as is the custom all over the East.” Mr. Filder was aware that abundance of chopped straw could be procured, but he contends that in an unpressed state a vessel could only carry a quantity equal to about one-tenth of her tonnage, and therefore it was inexpedient to provide this species of forage (although some species of forage was the assumed linch-pin of the Crimean expedition), and thus he waited till the gods should annihilate both time and space, and make him happy by the arrival of pressed hay from England. While he was waiting, like Mr. Micawber, for the pressed hay to turn up, it never seems to have occurred to him that, during the winter, in addition to other disposable sailing vessels, he had still his 16 large transports lying perfectly idle. If, from the apprehension of loss, he thought these transports unfit to carry cattle, the percentage of chopped straw which would have suffered from sea-sickness would not have been considerable. He had 2,000 baggage animals in depôt at Constantinople, and they cost him at the rate of about 8d. a-day each; in fact, their keep by the end of November had cost more than their value. A simple person, provided he was not a member of the Chelsea Board, would have thought it economy to turn the idle horses, and the idle transports to a mutual profit. He would probably, by the way, have saved thousands of heroic hearts, have upheld the honour of his country, and changed the whole tenour of one of its historic efforts; but if, with his simpler end in view, to be accomplished by the simplest means, he had solely had regard to the economies of his department, this simple person, to attain his object, must have been less simple than Mr. Filder.

For the Board, equally simple, which unhesitatingly approved his arrangements, Colonel Tulloch exemplifies the working of the opposite system. It will scarcely be denied, says he, that an addition even of 500 baggage animals beyond what were brought over, would by doubling the available transport in the beginning of the winter of 1854, have prevented the most serious of the evils from which the troops subsequently suffered. A couple of transports might have brought them over, with barley and straw sufficient for the voyage, and a considerable surplus of the former would have been left for future use. To keep up the necessary supply after they were landed two other sailing transports would have sufficed on Mr. Filder's own calculation. The small size of the harbour to which Mr. Filder elsewhere alludes could have been no obstacle to this operation, for it was just as limited in extent at the end of the following year, when nearly thrice the number of troops and ten times as many baggage animals were abundantly supplied through the very same channel. Thus “the deficiency of forage to which (the Board assert that) step by step all other deficiencies were mainly attributable” could have been easily supplied. The forage would have fed the baggage animals, the baggage animals would have transported to the front food and clothing, medicines, and comforts; frost, famine, and pestilence would have retreated from their prey, and an ample army would still have answered to their rollcall, on the Board's deliberate admission, if only Mr. Filder, or somebody behind him, had taken the first necessary step in the sequence. This is the case of the Board at its very best, and the world will judge how far it exonerates Mr. Filder, now that the means at his disposal are thus thoroughly known.

Even the deficiency of land transport, to whomsoever attributable, had little to do with the supply of salt meat instead of fresh, of biscuit instead of bread, of green in the place of roasted coffee, and with the omission to communicate the arrival of lime juice to the proper authorities. Therefore the case of the Commissioners even against Mr. Filder does not fail if the exploded case of the Board were fully sustainable. Still less is deficiency of transport answerable for the starvation of Lord Cardigan's horses, for the exposure of Lord Lucan's, and the sacrifice of both; for Sir Richard Airey's forgetfulness of the knapsacks and squadbags; for the horse nosebags left in the Jason, and the horse medicines in the Medway; for the delays and objections to issuing the coatees, and for Colonel Gordon's hesitation between rugs and blankets; it accounts for the neglect of no available precaution when the troops were shivering, starving, rotting, and dying in sight of preservatives and in the presence of succour.

To know the full measure of these enormities we must gauge their consequences, and for this we have for the first time accurate data at our disposal. Towards the end of his volume Colonel Tulloch produces a summary of information collected by Sir John M'Neill and himself relative to the sickness, mortality, and prevailing diseases among the troops, information which they could not include in their report, and which now comes to add a terrible sanction to its conclusions. The aggregate loss from sickness alone, in seven months, discloses the general dimensions of the horror, but a careful analysis indicates its true sources:-

“That it could not have been in any important degree the result of climate must be inferred from the circumstance of this loss having occurred in a country which, by the concurrent testimony of nearly all the medical officers, as well as the experience of the following year, appears to have been almost as healthy as Great Britain, except, perhaps, as regards cholera.

Out of about 10,000 men who died during these seven months, belonging to the Crimean army, only 1,200 were cut off by that epidemic; the remainder perished by no foe-man's hand, no blast of pestilence, but from the slow though sure operation of disease, produced by causes most of which appeared capable, at least, of mitigation.

Compared with this, the mortality in our army on all previous occasions sinks into comparative insignificance; even that of Walcheren, which threw the nation into mourning, and for years convulsed our senate, did not exceed a fourth part of the average here recorded. Armies have perished by the sword — they have been overwhelmed by the elements, but never, perhaps, since the hand of the Lord smote the Host of the Assyrians, and they perished in a night, has such a loss from disease been recorded as on this occasion.

With the graves of 10,000 of their countrymen before their eyes, with the mouldering remains of Britain's choicest cavalry beneath their feet, and with an overwhelming mass of evidence in their possession, to show how much of this loss might have been averted by a proper application of the supplies, could the Commissioners be expected to arrive at the conclusion of the Board of General Officers, that for all this no one in the Crimea was to blame?”

The Commissioners, indeed, analyzed these awful records of mortality, and found them to contain, among others, these significant differences. While the losses in the Naval Brigade, which took a prominent part in the operations of the siege, were under 4 per cent., the average loss of infantry, as roughly estimated in the Commissioners' Report, was as much as 39 per cent.; and again, as compared with the latter, the loss of officers, of all arms, as only 6 per cent. According to the dates of arrival, the losses in different corps varied in the scale of destruction from 7 to 73 per cent., and in one case in different portions of the same regiment which equally faced the perils of the winter the difference from a different treatment was 28 per cent.; on the one side the loss was 2 per cent., and on the other it was 30 per cent. Grant that their respective duties to some extent account for this, to what was the excessive pressure of duties attributable? To the fact that at one time the sick in hospital and at Scutari considerable exceeded the force fit for any duty, that the army had melted away like a snow wreath, and that folly and incompetence, by unmistakable agencies, had accomplished half the havoc in the host of Sennacherib.

Into this horrible scandal Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch were commissioned to inquire, and they did inquire without fear or favour. Nor did they hesitate to expose the culprits whom they found red-handed, yet complacent, supercilious, and even insolent. With a calm indifference to such manifestations they gravely set down the truth and earned the eternal gratitude of their country, with the petty hostility of the delinquents whom they marked out for disgrace. But no public motion testified to their services; no public honour or recompense awaited them. Honours and rewards were reserved exclusively for the men to whom they had traced the destruction of a noble army. It may even be said that they were the sufferers by their successful labours, and that for their honest dealing they were marked men themselves. The Premier has laid it down that it would not have been fair to promote Colonel Tulloch over the heads of senior officers who had distinguished themselves by actual service in the field, but in the meantime junior officers have been promoted over his head without such service, or without any service which could at all compete with his. Colonel Randall Rumley, 123 below him on the list of Colonels, but who simply commanded a portion of the depôts at Malta, has been thus promoted to the rank of Major-General. Colonel Henry Storks, 124 below him on the same list, and who also did not serve in the Crimea, but who for a few months had charge of a hospital at Smyrna, and afterwards was Commandant at Scutari, has been thus promoted to the rank of K.C.B. Both these officers have marched over Colonel Tulloch's head, as if to mark the penalty of serving one's country too faithfully, and at the same time to contradict the latest theory of promotion. In the meantime the chief delinquents, now proved responsible for the wholesale destruction of England's choicest troops, have been more favoured and fortunate still. Not only have they been rewarded, as men may hope to be rewarded who succeed to the satisfaction of the Horse Guards in sacrificing an army, but they have been furnished with sponsors for their shame whom the public will now accept. The Board, which was introduced to redistribute their ignominy, in one sense at least has accomplished its purpose, for it has taken the burden on its own shoulders, where it is now fixed for ever by this reply of Colonel Tulloch. At the same time we must recur to the position of Colonel Tulloch himself, who, with Sir John M'Neill, has conduced to arrangements so satisfactory to all parties. These gentlemen alone have received no reward, though, in addition to the favours they have been the means of conferring on everybody else, “they performed their duty entirely to the satisfaction of Her Majesty's Government and very much to their own credit, — with great ability, great perseverance, and great minuteness of research;” and though they made a report which “was very useful to Her Majesty's Government in preventing a recurrence of such unfortunate events as had caused their being sent out.” Though they have thus an acknowledged claim in Her Majesty's Government, on the army, and on the nation, to whom as well as to the Government the preservation of its army from “unfortunate events” is important — though they have established a further claim on the gratitude of their countrymen by the simple tenacity which would not permit their faithful service to be faithlessly set aside, it is now contended in the face of the English Commons that their service does not require any “extraordinary recognition.” Extraordinary recognitions, it appears, are reserved for the authors of calamities of extraordinary dimensions. Extraordinary bunglers or culprits obtain extraordinary rewards. But some ordinary acknowledgment is at least expected here, or, if it is withheld covertly but advisedly, the public has a right to know why and by whom. This is not a question on which to mince words, for it is a question of the miscarriage of justice; it is a question identified with the credit of the Government, the honour of the Crown, and the interests of the army; and it is a question now confided to the Commons of England.

* The Crimean Commission and the Chelsea Board, being a Review of the proceedings and Report of the Board, by Colonel Tulloch, late Commissioner in the Crimea, London, Harrison, 1857.

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