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Douglas Southall Freeman:
R. E. Lee

Robert E. Lee is one of the larger-than‑life figures in American history, and a key figure at a defining period of that history, yet despite a fair amount of superficial interest in him, the Web had very little serious material on his life. This site repairs that: Douglas Freeman's biography, in its 4 volumes and 2421 pages, is not only comprehensive, but remains to this day the best life of Lee ever published, even if sometimes producing the impression the man could walk on water; at any rate, in this equally defining period of our history, I felt that bringing it online was both useful and appropriate.

For technical details on how the site is laid out, see below.

I am not a historian, and certainly not a military expert: what you have in front of you is thus a simple transcription.

Freeman felt the need to point out in his foreword that the last thing he wished to do was to glorify war. I in turn will point out that I hold no brief for any romanticized view of secession, nor of course of slavery or racial animus or discrimination. Yet although I was born in Switzerland and have only lived six months in the American South, my view is substantially Lee's (see Vol. IV, Chapter 17). As an American constitutional problem, that question remains unsolved: solution by arms is hardly testimony to the rule of law.

Thus the War between the States was a disaster for America, for all the obvious reasons, but also, not least, because it created a very dangerous precedent: had I lived at the time, I would fervently have wished that Lee's honor might have found any other way out of its dilemma. Lee's tragedy, and ours as Americans, was that he held firmly and correctly to Duty, Honor, Country — when "Country", thru a failure of the framers of our Constitution, had not been defined.

The biography on these pages runs to nearly a million words. If you are just looking for a quick fix, this biographical sketch is generally accurate and balanced.

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Freeman's biography reproduces 1 oil portrait and 7 photographs of General Lee, as well as a photograph of his death mask: all these pictures of Robert E. Lee are listed and linked in the Table of Illustrations.

The work is inscribed,
I. G. F.
Who Never Doubted



A Carriage Goes to Alexandria

Family background: mostly a biographical sketch of R. E. Lee's father, Henry "Light-Horse" Lee. Robert E. Lee's infancy, at Stratford, VA.

A Background of Great Traditions

Lee's childhood, at Alexandria, VA. His appointment to West Point.

First Impressions of West Point

Plebe year. Cadet life at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, NY.

The Education of a Cadet

Upperclassman years. Cadet life at the U.S. Military Academy. Lee's studies and reading.

Sorrow and Scandal Come to the Lees

Lee's mother dies. He takes his first post, at Cockspur Island, SC, where he works on the construction of what would become Fort Pulaski. His half-brother involved in scandal.


Cockspur Island and Fort Monroe, continued; Lee marries Mary Custis.

The Ancient War of Staff and Line

The Southampton slave revolt (Nat Turner's Rebellion). Post politics at Fort Monroe.

Lee Is Brought Close to Frustration

Lee stationed to Washington DC, and, like many another active man, doesn't like it. Mrs. Lee's first illnesses.

Youth Conspires Against a Giant

Lee starts work on two Mississippi River projects: to regularize rapids at Des Moines, IA; to remove islands that were threatening navigation and jeopardizing the commerce of the newly founded town of St. Louis, MO.

Lee Studies His Ancestors

Lee's interest in his own genealogy, used as a canvas by Freeman to detail Lee's forebears.

An Established Place in the Corps

Lee continues his work on the Mississippi River, but the project is halted when Congress fails to appropriate the money to complete it.

Five Drab Years End in Opportunity

Working mostly on the fortifications of New York City: Fort Hamilton and the Narrows. At the outbreak of the Mexican War, Lee is assigned to duty in the theatre.

A Campaign Without a Cannon Shot

The early phase of the Mexican War: Lee's unit chases an elusive enemy through northern Mexico, and never does find them.

First Experiences Under Fire

The siege of Vera Cruz.

A Day Under a Log Contributes to Victory

The battle of Cerro Gordo. Lee's actions a major factor in the American victory.

Laurels in a Lava Field

The advance on Mexico City: the battles of Padierna and Churubusco, in which Lee plays an even more pivotal rôle.

Into the "Halls of the Montezumas"

The battle of Chapultepec and the U. S. victory in Mexico. The Pillow Inquiry. The lessons Lee learned from the Mexican War.

The Building of Fort Carroll

Three and a half years posted to Baltimore, MD: a quiet period.

West Point Proves to Be No Sinecure

Lee becomes Superintendent at the United States Military Academy.

Lee Transfers from Staff to Line

Lee as USMA Superintendent: his dealings with cadets and parents. His life at West Point; his transfer to the Cavalry in an expanding U. S. Army.

Education by Court-Martial

Duty at Fort Cooper, TX: chasing Indians, but mostly sitting on courts-martial in various places in the West.

The Lees Become Land-Poor

Lee's father-in law George Washington Custis dies, and Lee discovers he has inherited the executor­ship to a very difficult estate at Arlington. He takes leave of absence to run the plantation. Lee's wife becomes an invalid.

An Introduction to Militant Abolitionism

Lee called to resolve a hostage situation at Harpers Ferry, VA.

Colonel Lee Declares the Faith That Is in Him

Lee serves in Texas but leaves for home in Virginia, with some difficulty, when several Southern states secede. His views on the Union, secession, and his duty.

The Answer He Was Born to Make

As the nation moves toward war, Virginia secedes from the Union and Lee resigns from the U. S. Army.

On a Train en Route to Richmond

Lee's character and aptitudes on the eve of his participation in the War between the States.

Virginia Looks to Lee

In Richmond, Lee is appointed Commander in Chief of the military and naval forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Can Virginia Be Defended?

Lee sets to organizing the defense of Virginia, which for two months does not yet belong to the Confederate States.

The Volunteers Are Called Out

Lee deals with the logistics and politics of mobilizing and arming Virginia, and the uncertain allegiance of its western counties.

The Mobilization Completed

From an office in Richmond, Lee completes the mobilization of Virginia's forces. Virginia joins the Confederacy and they are turned over to Confederate command.

The War Opens on Three Virginia Fronts

The situation in western Virginia; the battles of Rich Mountain and (First) Manassas.

Lee Discloses a Weakness

Difficulties on the Allegheny Front; Lee, too conciliatory, fails to solve them.

Lee Conducts His First Campaign

Under Lee's direct command, a botched engagement at Cheat Mountain.

Politics in War: A Sorry Story

Two political appointees, Generals Floyd and Wise, sent to the Kanawha Valley in western Virginia; their continual infighting bodes ill for any military success.

Politics, the Rain Demon, and Another Failure

Lee achieves a measure of coordination in the Kanawha Valley, but the Confederates finally withdraw without engaging the enemy; West Virginia secedes from Virginia back to the Union.

An Easy Lesson in Combating Sea-power

Lee is put in charge of the defenses of the southern coasts of the Confederacy, especially Savannah and Charleston.


The Offer of the Union Command to Lee in 1861

Townsend's Account of Lee's Interview with Scott, April 18, 1861

The Summons of Lee to Richmond, April, 1861

The Staff of General Lee

General Lee's Mounts

Table of Illustrations in Volume I



Lee Is Given an Impossible Assignment

President Davis keeps vacant the post of Secretary of War; Lee acts as one without the power or the title.

The Concentration on the Peninsula

Lee contributes to the Confederate decision to defend the Virginia Peninsula against growing Federal forces.

Lee and the Conscription Act

Faced with a massive drop in troop strength, Lee sets in motion an act providing for the draft.

The Genesis of Jackson's Valley Campaign

Lee entrusts to Stonewall Jackson the protection of Fredericksburg and central Virginia.

The Battle Brought Closer to Richmond

The Confederates fall back to protect Richmond; the engagement at Drewry's Bluff.

"Drive Him Back Toward the Potomac"

Jackson's key decision, and success­ful appeal to Lee over other orders, to attack part of the Federal army while it can usefully be done: the famous "Valley Campaign".

An Anxious Fortnight Ends in a Memorable Ride

After Jackson takes Winchester, Lee's zeal puts him unexpectedly at the battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks), mismanaged though a technical victory for the Confederacy. President Davis puts Lee in command of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Tête de l'Armée

Lee's first steps as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee as the "King of Spades"

Preparing for the Battle of Richmond: Lee insists on building earthworks. Character sketches of his principal generals. A daring reconnaissance by Jeb Stuart.

A Dusty Horseman Reaches Headquarters

Preparing for the Battle of Richmond: Lee hopes Jackson's army will reinforce him — and Jackson appears unexpectedly, miles from his troops.

Lee Seizes the Initiative

Preparing for the Battle of Richmond: a council of war. Lee's battle plan.

Where Is Jackson? (Mechanicsville)

The Battle of Mechanicsville, 25‑26 June 1862, the first two of the "Seven Days" for the defense of Richmond. Lee's battle does not go according to plan, mostly because Jackson fails to appear on time.

Lee's First Victory — at Heavy Cost

The Battle of Gaines's Mill: 27 June 1862.

"A Cloud by Day"

The Battle of Richmond: 27 June 1862, a pause, in which the Union army withdraws and Lee does not pursue it.

The Pursuit Goes Astray

The Battle of Savage Station: 30 June 1862. More opportunity let slip.

The Army Shows Itself Unready for a Cannae

The Battle of Frayser's Farm (Glendale): 30 June 1862. The Union army in full retreat across Lee's front but his last opportunity for a crushing blow to it is irretrievably lost.

The Federal Artillery Proves Too Strong

The Battle of Malvern Hill: 1 July 1862, the last of the Seven Days' battle for Richmond.

"The Federal Army Should Have Been Destroyed"

Freeman's analysis of Lee's successes and failures in the Seven Days.

Domestic Interlude

Mrs. Lee's moves through Virginia as it is invaded by the Union army. Lee himself briefly at home with his family.

Enter General John Pope

Some of the Union divisions beaten by Lee reorganized into a new "Army of Virginia". Lee gradually evolves a strategy for dealing with them in Virginia.

General Pope Retires Too Soon

Lee fails to trap Pope because he isn't ready before Pope gets wind of the plan; Pope beats a hasty retreat.

By the Left Flank Up the Rappahannock

Lee and Pope jostle for position in central Virginia.

Great News Comes on a Hard March

Lee succeeds in gaining the advantage of position over the Union armies.

"My Desire Has Been to Avoid a General Engagement"

The Battle of (Second) Manassas: Lee gains a major victory but is unable to pursue the Union army.

"My Maryland" — or His?

Lee's army drives into Maryland; glimmers of a possible offensive further into the North.

With Eyes on the Harpers Ferry Road

Jackson takes Harpers Ferry, but Union troops advance unexpectedly, and near Sharpsburg, MD Lee readies his army against an attack by much larger forces.

The Bloodiest Day of the War

The Battle of Sharpsburg (known in the Union tradition as the Battle of Antietam): 17 September 1862.

Sharpsburg in Review

Lee withdraws to Virginia. Freeman's analysis of Lee's successes, failures, and responsibility at Antietam.

Matching Wits with Changing Opponents

Lee reorganizes after his withdrawal to Virginia. So does the Union army: McClellan replaced by Burnside.

Two Signal Guns End Long Suspense

Burnside prepares to attack Fredericksburg, and Lee to defend it.

"It Is Well That War Is So Terrible . . ."

December 1862: the (first) battle of Fredericksburg.

The First Warnings of Coming Ruin

Lee and his army winter at Hamilton's Crossing, and work on solving supply problems. Life in the camp. The soldiers' morale.

Jackson Disappears in the Forest

The Union army moves to turn Lee's position at Fredericksburg, in the area near Chancellorsville. Jackson proposes to get around behind that army with a substantial force: Lee approves the plan and Jackson leaves.

Fate Intervenes at Lee's High Noon

2‑3 May 1863: Lee and Jackson win the greatest of Confederate victories in the battle of Chancellorsville. Jackson is seriously wounded.

Lee Loses His "Right Arm"

Lee, in the Wilderness of Virginia, starts to deal with a situation that despite the victory at Chancellorsville, is mixed. Death of Stonewall Jackson.


(General Orders, No. 75, Army of Northern Virginia, June 2, 1862)º

Jackson's March of June 2‑26, 1862

The Reason for Jackson's Failure at White Oak Swamp, June 30, 1862

The Terrain of the Battle of Malvern Hill

Who Devised the Left Flank Movement at Chancellorsville?

Table of Illustrations in Volume II



The "Might-Have-Beens" of Chancellorsville

Freeman's analysis of Lee's successes, failures, and responsibility at Chancellorsville.

The Reorganization That Explains Gettysburg

Lee reorganizes the Army of Northern Virginia.

The Army Starts Northward Again

The Confederate leader­ship decides on a second invasion of the North.

Manoeuvring To Enter Pennsylvania

Lee coördinates the staging of his army for the invasion of Pennsylvania.

Lee Hears a Fateful Cannonade

Lee's army advances on Harrisburg, PA, but Jeb Stuart's cavalry scouts, ordered to alert Lee to Federal movement N of the border, fail to show, and Lee, surprised by the appearance of a Federal army of uncertain size and position, recalls the advance.

The Spirit That Inhibits Victory

The Battle of Gettysburg, Day 1: 1 July 1863. Relatively low-level fighting and Confederate successes. Lee's battle plan for the next day is too bold for many of his generals, especially for Longstreet.

"What Can Detain Longstreet?"

The Battle of Gettysburg, Day 2: 2 July 1863. Lee fails to prevent the engagement from starting very late, allowing the Union forces to concentrate. Uncoördinated Confederate attacks are pushed back.

"it Is All My Fault"

The Battle of Gettysburg, Day 3: 3 July 1863. Pickett's charge seals the Confederate defeat.

Why Was Gettysburg Lost?

The Confederate army retreats to Virginia. Freeman's analysis of Lee's part in the defeat at Gettysburg.

Can the Offensive Be Resumed?

Lee's Bristoe Station campaign to control the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, October 1863.

Surprise and a Disappointment

Engagements before winter sets in: Rappahannock Bridge and Mine Run, both of them a waste.

Sacrificed Christmas

Lee spends some time with his family in Richmond in December, 1863, but Christmas with his troops. Lee's family during the war.

Lee as a Diplomatist

Lee's relation­ships with subordinates and the Confederate government: paperwork, recommendations for promotions, etc.

Can the Army Be Saved for New Battles?

Lee works on infrastructure: despite good morale, the army faces grave problems in food and forage supply, transportation, and recruiting.

Preparing for the Campaign of 1864

Lee ponders the global strategy of the South for the coming year.

Into the Wilderness Again

Small successes in the uncertain start of a defensive campaign against a massive Federal army headed by Ulysses S. Grant.

History Fails to Repeat Itself

Prelude to the campaign in the Wilderness of Spotsylvania, 6‑7 May 1864: Lee narrowly defeats the Army of the Potomac, but Grant does not retreat.

The Bloody Climax of a Hurried Race

Campaign in the Wilderness: 8‑12 May 1864.

Merci­ful Rain and Another March

Campaign in the Wilderness: Spotsylvania, 13‑22 May 1864.

A Vain Invitation to Attack

Campaign in the Wilderness: the North Anna, 22‑27 May 1864.

Manoeuvre on the Totopotomoy

Campaign in the Wilderness: 27‑30 May 1864.

And Still Grant Hammers

Campaign in the Wilderness, 31 May – 3 June 1864: the (Second) Battle of Cold Harbor, a costly Confederate victory against mounting forces.

The Crossing of the James

Campaign in the Wilderness, thru mid-June 1864: Lee, having detached a sizable part of his forces to other fronts, and receiving increasingly poor intelligence, is forced to defend Richmond after Grant crosses the James River.

"Rapidan to Petersburg" in Review

Freeman's analysis of the successes and failures of the Campaign in the Wilderness.

Lee's Most Difficult Defensive

Lee conducts the defense of Petersburg and the railroads supplying Richmond and the army.

Lee Encounters a New Type of Warfare

Part of the Confederate lines in front of Petersburg are mined with explosives. Despite the catastrophe, the line is retaken with even greater casualties inflicted on the Union forces.

The Loss of the Weldon Railroad

The Union army cuts one of Richmond's two railway supply lines from the South, but the damage is limited to that.


Lee and his army continue to hold Richmond and Petersburg as large swaths of Confederate territory fall to Union forces.

The Winter of Growing Despair

The winter of 1864‑65 sees no important engagements, but the Army of Northern Virginia nears collapse thru hunger, lack of horses and fodder, despair and desertions.


Stuart's Instructions for the Gettysburg Campaign

The Hour of Longstreet's Arrival, July 2, 1863

The Handling of Anderson's Division on July 2, 1863

Stuart in Pennsylvania

Beauregard's Call for Reinforcements, June 15, 1864

Table of Illustrations in Volume III



Lee Makes His Last Desperate Plan

Against a background of failed peace talks, Lee plans an attempt to break the siege of Petersburg.

Fort Stedman

The failed attack on Fort Stedman: 25 March 1865.

Five Forks: A Study in Attenuation

With Lee's lines defending Petersburg stretched very thin, Grant aims to cut the railroad supplying Petersburg; the Confederate army suffers a major defeat trying to prevent it.

The Breaking of the Line

The lines defending Petersburg are broken and Lee evacuates the town, starting the march of his army westwards toward Lynchburg.

The Threat of Starvation

After a 2‑day forced march under bad conditions, Lee's army arrives at Amelia Courthouse to find no food there: it is forced to forage and loses its 1‑day lead on the pursuing Federals.

"Has the Army Been Dissolved?"

[No abstract here yet, but the chapter is online]

A Letter Comes to Headquarters

[No abstract here yet, but the chapter is online]

The Last Council of War

[No abstract here yet, but the chapter is online]

The Ninth of April

Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, 9 April 1865.

The Final Bivouacs

The Army of Northern Virginia is dispersed, Lee is paroled and travels home to Richmond.

The Sword of Robert E. Lee

[No abstract here yet, but the chapter is online]

Two Decisions

Lee adjusts to the post-war realities, deciding to submit to the authority of the Federal government, and to work toward conciliation.

Third Decision

The presidency of Washington College in Lexington, VA is offered Lee, and he accepts it.

The Road from Appomattox to Lexington

[No abstract here yet, but the chapter is online]

First Fruits at Washington College

Lee settles in to work at Washington College. He testifies before the U. S. Senate, 17 February 1866. The college curriculum and fundraising; Lee's correspondence and social life.

"My Boys"

Lee's rapport with the students at Washington College.

Lee and the Reconstruction Acts

Lee's attitude towards the shifting policies of Reconstruction. The 1866‑67 academic year at Washington College.

Social Conciliator

In the summer of 1867, the Lees enjoy a brief trip to the Peaks of Otter in Virginia, and a longer holiday at various springs in Virginia and West Virginia.

The Return to Petersburg

Lee travels to Petersburg, VA, for the wedding of his son Custis; the trip lifted his spirits as nothing else had since the war.

The Johnston Affair and Old Animosities

[No abstract here yet, but the chapter is online]

Salvaging the Wrecked Family Fortunes

[No abstract here yet, but the chapter is online]

The General Revisits Familiar Scenes

[No abstract here yet, but the chapter is online]

Lee's Theory of Education

[No abstract here yet, but the chapter is online]

The Beginning of the End

Health problems, June 1869 – March 1870.

The Final Review

At the College's urging, Lee takes two months off from work to travel south for his health: a trip which, resembling a triumphal tour, was not restful at all.

Farewell to Northern Virginia

Lee travels to Baltimore to consult with doctors, and to Hot Springs, returning in the fall to open the College's 1870‑71 session.

"Strike the Tent!"

Lee's final illness and death on 12 October 1870.

The Pattern of a Life

[No abstract here yet, but the chapter is online]


The End of the Last Valley Campaign

Lee's Failure to Receive Supplies at Amelia Courthouse

The Exchange of Notes on April 9, 1865

Acton's Appeal to Lee for the Southern Point of View

Memorial Presented by General Robert E. Lee to the Mayor and Council of Baltimore, Md., in the Interest of the Valley Railroad, April, 1869

Lee's Interview with Grant, May 1, 1869

Available Data on the Illnesses of General Robert E. Lee

The Funeral of Lee

Table of Illustrations in Volume IV

For now, the index only covers Volumes I and II.

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Technical Details

Edition Used

The original edition, in four volumes, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York and London, 1934.

It is now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been in 1961 or 1962. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)


As almost always, I'm retyping the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription is being minutely proofread. I run a first proofreading pass immediately after entering each chapter, so that the text of all the chapters is quite good already. I then run a second proofreading, detailed and meant to be final: in the table of contents above, chapters the text of which I believe to be completely errorfree are shown on blue backgrounds; any red backgrounds indicate that the chapter has not received that second final proofreading: illustrations and notes may also be missing. The header bar at the top of each chapter page will remind you with the same color scheme.

Inevitably, though the print edition seems to have been very well proofread, I've still caught a few errors in it, not all of them even strictly typographical. Those I could fix, I did, marking the correction each time with one of these: º. If for some reason I could not fix the error, I marked it º: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles. Inconsistencies in punctuation have been corrected to the author's usual style, in a slightly different color — barely noticeable on the page, but it shows up in the sourcecode as <SPAN CLASS="emend">. Finally, a number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, apparently duplicated citations, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Freeman would have approved of my corrections: he has assured me so himself.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have the printed edition in front of you.


Freeman's maps were printed in black and white. To make them easier to read, I have colorized them according to a consistent scheme; for the same reason, sometimes I retyped the text on them, and occasionally I rotated the map from vertical to horizontal (which allows larger display on the standard monitor), sometimes rotating some of the text as well. Wherever Freeman's map has a scale in miles, I added a kilometer scale.

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Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is indicated by local links in the sourcecode and appears in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line p57 ): it's hardly fair to give you "pp53‑56" as a reference and not tell you where p56 ends. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

Not facing the same kinds of constraints as in a print work, I've felt free to move maps and photos as near as possible to the text they were meant to illustrate; usually by a page or two within the same chapter, but occasionally to a different chapter, and in two cases to another Volume altogether. The original placement of moved images is indicated in the source code.

Offsite Links

The attentive reader looking for further information, as for example photographs of battlefields, etc., will not neglect the footer bar at the bottom of the various pages.


The print edition includes at the end of Volume II an index to Vols. I and II; and at the end of Volume IV an index to Vols. III and IV. Now at the end of Vol. IV myself, I'm starting to input the latter and fold both indexes together.

The entry headings are often different in the two volumes; in folding together those entries, I've given the most possible information in the heading, even if it required portmanteauing. (E.g.: Freeman's Index to Volumes I-II lists Ewell, Gen. Richard S., C. S. A. and his Index to Volumes III-IV has Ewell, Lt. Gen. R. S., C. S. A.; my heading is Ewell, Lt. Gen. Richard S., C. S. A.). Where a person's rank has changed between the indexes, if his first rank was not general, I list both, e.g.Fairfax, Maj./Col. J. W., C. S. A.

In the index as it appears on this site, each page reference is linked to the page in question, but almost never to the actual passage, which would have entailed a good deal of work for diminishing returns; but for a certain number of key entries, I'm inserting a few additional offsite links to the better and more permanent websites out there, shown in a different font style.

To keep my webpages to a manageable length, the index is currently in 11 sections; a number that will continue to increase as the second index is completely folded in: accordingly the page URL's will also change, so it's best not to bookmark or link to individual pages of the index until then.

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Site updated: 12 Jan 22