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  • Grant & Sherman at Chancellorsville

    OK, so I'm wandering into the ACW, an area where I'm not as confident as more recent conflicts. Most ACW alternate histories are about the Confederates doing better, but I hate those people, so I want to take a different tack. I have been thinking about what might have happened if Grant been in command of the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville.

    Buck, this is firmly on your home ground, so be gentle with me. ;) I will also need some advice on movement of troops. I'm not sure how quickly the Union force can get from the battlefield to Richmond, keeping in mind that they didin't have a big wagon train, but carried 7 days of supplies. I'm also assuming that if they can get get east of Richmond thay can be supplied from the sea.

    I don't much like 'magic' in alternate history, so I've tried to make this as credible as I can. Obviously the tough bit is getting Grant to the AOP in time. I understand that before Vicksburg & Chattanooga Grant isn't just going to be given the AOP to play with. My contrivance is that Lincoln, remembering Shiloh and impressed with Grant's initiative in the Iuka/Corinth campaign, decides to have him moved to the AOP after he sacks McClellan. Grant attacks & Grant fights, Abe wants more of that in the East. Over the objections of Halleck (big POD right there), who Lincoln does not entirely trust, he insists on a transfer and a senior position. Yes, I know all of this is a bit unlikely, but any more so than Burnside in charge of the AOP????

    This means that Grant unexpectedly finds himself in charge of one of the three 'grea tdivisions' at Fredricksburg. Franklin & Hooker have the two attacking the main objective. Sumner has been transferred West. Burnside is unfamilar with Grant, so he gives him the secondary objective on the left flank of the battle rather than charging Marye's heights. In OTL Franklin's men, led by George Meade, pushed the Confederates back and established a good position on Prospect hill, only for Franklin to refuse to commit his reserve of 20,000 and lose the initiative. Grant commits the reserve and pushes back the Confederate right. Stonewall Jackson manages a fighting withdrawal and the disaster still unfolds in front of Marye's Heights, but Grant comes fairly close to forcing the Confederate flank. During the unrest in the AOP following this defeat Grant keeps silent. That counts in his favour with Lincoln, as Hooker's vocal criticism & boastfulness counts against him. When Burnside's command disintegrates in late January Lincoln decides to put Grant in charge, again over the objections of Halleck & several senior AOP generals. Franklin quits and is transferred, Hooker is livid.

    One of Grant's first requests is that his trusted friend Sherman join him – he needs allies. He also decides that Hooker is the man he needs to win over, so he puts him in charge of a much needed army reorganization, takes him into his confidence & makes sure Hooker knows how important his knowledge of Lee & the terrain is to Grant. Hooker is still unhappy, but he is impressed by Grant's professionalism & attacking attitude and responds to having his ego stroked. Hooker suggests the plan that he would implement in OTL and Grant likes it, though his unfamiliarity with the ground leads him to keep one division of Stoneman's cavalry closer at hand. The remainder set off on their raid into the Confederate rear. For the battle Sherman gets the job Sedgwick had in OTL - to attack Fredricksburg as a distraction and then hopefully get into Lee's rear. Hooker will be with Grant because he knows the plan well. Sherman will have over 30,000 men, Grant over 90,000. Unlike OTL he will use them all. Based on experience in the west and still uncertain about some of his generals, Grant makes sure to keep in close communication with his divisions.

    OK, that is the setup. I'm too lazy to work out how to paste a map here, and there are a few maps, so I'll just link to the wiki page and people can have a look. I'm going to refer to a few locations and also to events in OTL, so these might be handy. I'll try not to get too bogged down in detail, but some is required. We'll assume Grant gets his army into position as Hooker did.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle...ancellorsville


    May 1: Grant attacks with more vigour than Hooker did in OTL, but he isn't quite the supremely confident general of 1864. Sherman attacks Marye's heights and finds the going tough. Grant pushes out of the Wilderness and occupies the higher ground from Catherine furnace along to Salem church, but then stops to dig in. His right flank ends near the Chancellorsville house and is 'in the air'. At a conference of his generals tha tnight Hooker, Sherman & Meade all question his decision to stop and suggest a missed opportunity. Lee & Jackson decide to try the flanking maneuver, with Jackson marching down Catharpin Rd & then back up to Wilderness Church.

    May 2 : Jackson starts his march. Union soldiers can see what looks like a retreating Confederate force, but the cavalry tells Grant that they are flanking him. Grant orders Howard to dig in and makes sure he does. He delays his attack by a couple of hours redeploying his forces - he is going to attack Lee, but he needs to cover his rear and be awake to the possibility of splitting the Confederates and attacking both groups. Sherman again attacks first, Grant attacks late morning and rapidly threatens Lee's left flank. Lee has 17,000 men against 50,000 and is being overrun. Lee decides that he has to retreat to defend Richmond or risk losing his army. He orders Early to fall back to his position so they can retreat together. He sends word to Jackson to also fall back, but Grant has already sent Meade in behind Jackson, so the rider does not get there in time. Jackson knows there are Union troops in his rear, but believes he can hold them off. Late in the afternoon he attacks well dug in Union troops and is bloodily repulsed. A second attack makes headway before union soldiers in reserve come around Howard's right and crash into his left flank. Jackson gets Lee's message and decides to retreat along the Orange turnpike pursued by two Union divisions. Grant orders Meade to move south and try to cut Jackson off from Richmond. With Early retreating to Lee Grant tells Sherman to march his men around Early's flank and march as hard as he can toward Richmond. After dark Jackson is scouting a safe reout to retreat when his party runs into some Union cavalry. Shots are exchanged and he takes a bullet to the head and dies. With AP Hill badly injured JEB Stuart takes over.

    This is the point at which I don't really know enough to keep going. If Lee starts retreating mid-late afternoon May 2 where will he stop next? Grant is going to be on him, so Lee won't be able to avoid stopping to fight. Lee has 25,000ish men, so he will be able to hold Grant off for short periods on the right ground, but not for long. Grant will flank where he can, to Lee's left if he can. Grant also believes Longstreet is on his way, so he won't delay.

    How long will it take Sherman to get to Richmond? At best Lee can send a small force to delay him, and I'm betting that won't be an issue. I'm assuming Sherman can't beat Longstreet to Richmond. Does Richmond have any other troops available?

    There is another wildcard in this equation. There are 7000 Union cavalry under Stoneman maybe a day's ride west of Hanover Junction. Both sides are aware they are around, but not necessarily where they are. They could easily hit Lee's flank.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...d-Richmond.png

    My scenario is that Sherman gets to Richmond and gets stopped by Longstreet, but cuts off Lee's line of retreat. Lee and Grant tangle at North Anna. Lee moves south but Stoneman slows him down. Grant traps Lee between him & Sherman. Lee tries to attack Sherman's rear, but Sherman is dug in. Lee and some men get to Richmond, but most are captured or wounded. North west Stuart makes a fighting retreat. Meade hits him but he gets away west of Richmond. Grant orders those divisions to move to Richmond. More Union troops & supplies are arriving at ports east & south of Richmond. Early in the second week of May Grant breaks through a thin defensive line & enters Richmond. The Confederate government has already fled and Lee attempts to organize the ANV into some sort of fighitng force. Grant stops to resupply, reorganize & work out with Lincoln what comes next.

    So, how does this look? Is it credible? If not, how close am I? What next? (I have some ideas)
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    Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

  • #2
    Pete,

    *Cracks knuckles*

    I usually HATE alternate histories....I find them a waste of time, but this one intrigues. As I like sci fi, this too requires a hell of a lot of willing suspension of disbelief...

    I am glad to see you accounted for Longstreet coming up from Suffolk...good move.

    Also, keep in mind you are dealing with an Army of the Potomac. A large swath of the officer corps are still pissed off about what happened to both McClellan AND FitzJohn Porter...Porter was seen by many to be the savior of the AOP because of his set up at Malvern Hill.


    For now I'll just ask these four questions for you to ponder and then wait to see what others have to say:

    What road networks get used by the 2 armies?

    How do Union forces handle the rivers south of the Rappahannock?

    What is approach and area around RIchmond where Sherman attacks?

    The James River and environs are in a different department than the AOP...how does Grant make sure Sherman get's resupplied?

    I'll stand by....
    “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
    Mark Twain

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Albany Rifles View Post
      Pete,

      *Cracks knuckles*

      I usually HATE alternate histories....I find them a waste of time, but this one intrigues. As I like sci fi, this too requires a hell of a lot of willing suspension of disbelief...

      I am glad to see you accounted for Longstreet coming up from Suffolk...good move.

      Also, keep in mind you are dealing with an Army of the Potomac. A large swath of the officer corps are still pissed off about what happened to both McClellan AND FitzJohn Porter...Porter was seen by many to be the savior of the AOP because of his set up at Malvern Hill.
      Yeah, I realize that I had to make some BIG leaps to get Grant in charge, but I tried to do stuff that was at least possible if unlikely, rather than straight out impossible. It would be more realistic for Grant to come into the AOP earlier, but he wouldn't have learned as much then & likely wouldn't have risen so far. I am hoping that at least some officers will like his no nonsense style & aggressive intent. I'm not sure if Hooker would have been so amenable. He served under others after his defeat, but I'm not sure if an unchastened Hooker would help Grant or undermine him. Grant did learn a lesson from Corinth/Iuka about poor communication, so I don't see that as a stretch.

      I also checked up on Stoneman and he was at Yanceyville on the South Anna around the 2nd/3rd, so it isn't a stretch for him to get involved as Lee retreats, especially south of Hanover Junction. Lee probably has 20,000ish by this point, so 7000 cavalry is enough to slow him down.

      For now I'll just ask these four questions for you to ponder and then wait to see what others have to say:
      I don't have a full set of answers for, but I'll give some preliminary ideas & then try to tap your knowledge. Again, I know that I'm out of my depth, so I'm hoping for help too. My intent here was partly to find out how things might have played out if Hooker had been more aggressive, but it is more interesting if its Grant & Sherman - you know they would actually get shit done. So, any suggestions you can give to indicate what was possible would help.


      What road networks get used by the 2 armies?
      Looking at the map for the Overland campaign I'm thinking Sheman heads down the road out of Fredericksburg that runs parallel to the railroad east of Guinea station, Milford station & down to Hanover. Lee doesn't have enough me to stop Sherman and Grant, so maybe he detaches a few to try blocking Sherman, but I can't see them having much impact.

      Grant & Lee head through Spotsylvania Courthouse. Lee wil ltake the most direct route south - the 'Anderson/Ewell' line on that map. Most of Grant's forces follow him, but if held up some can try the route to the west of that. It looks like there are ferries rather than bridges over the North Anna on that route, so that might be tricky.

      How do Union forces handle the rivers south of the Rappahannock?
      I don't know. I don't know enough about them to know which ones will be a problem. I'm not sure which of the smaller rivers/creeks/tributaries might be fordable & which need bridges & where. This is where my lack of specific knowledge is a problem.

      I am going to assume Grant has pontoons coming (along with wagons of supplies), but obviously that will be a bit slower than the speed he ideally wants to move at. However, if Lee stops to fight, and I assume he will have to at least once or twice, the pontoons might catch up.

      I've cheated with Sherman by assuming he moves quickly enough to maybe get over the Pumunkey river at Hanover Couthouse before he hits a serious force. I don't know how realistic this is.

      What is approach and area around RIchmond where Sherman attacks?
      If Sherman moves fast ehough I'm assuming he comes down around Mechanicsville/Yellow Tavern. Assuming Longstreet has deployed behind the Chickahominy Sherman might try to move east along the river to some of the crossings there.

      The James River and environs are in a different department than the AOP...how does Grant make sure Sherman get's resupplied?
      I'm going to use the PFL (Pure ****ing Lincoln) wand here and assume that with an army barreling toward Richmond Abe is able to knock together enough heads to get it done. As per Hooker's plans they are carrying 7 days of supplies, which I assume means he can get to Richmond.

      I don't know how easy to reinforce Sherman once he arrives. I know there are some 20,000 troops at Suffolk. They were aware of what was happening in OTL. Are they able to harrass Longstreet? If they can't slow him down is it at least feasible for them to cut the railway north or even threaten Petersburg? Are there other troops avaiable that can be landed to threaten Richmond? This would be the opportunity Lincoln has been waiting for since Mac blew the Penninsula campaign, so I'm assuming he will move heaven & earth to make resources available for ti to succeed.

      Sorry, more questions.

      I'll stand by....
      Not sure it was worth the wait. ;)

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      Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

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      • #4
        Pete,

        Good stuff and well thought out.

        But your lack of knowledge of the area and the specifics of the requirements are where you will go off the rails...and that is not a knock. I've been studying this for decades and I still overlook things.

        Okay, your route of the Telegraph Road (along the railway) makes the most sense as it was the only North-South road at the time. There were a wide web of farm trails on both sides where guides would be needed...slaves could be reliable. But mostly you are dependent on The Telegraph Road.

        Obstacles: the Mattaponi River Valley is a serious obstacle. In the area where Sherman has to pass it is actually 4 rivers (the Mat, the Ta, the Po & the Ni). Each is practically unfordable with steep banks. Once it becomes a single river it is a real obstacle.

        Same for the North & South Anna....especially the North (where there was a battle in 1864). This entire area was defendable by a smaller force.

        The Pamunkey River Valley is the worst yet...as steep drop off into a 3/4 mile wide valley to flat low land. Easily defensible.

        Every one of these would have to be bridged. There could be some of what was seen out west in the Army of the Tennessee where infantry regiments built bridges across slow meandering rivers. But these rivers were closer to the ocean, flowed faster than the Big Black and one other thing...in the West a key component of those bridges were bales of cotton...you are too far north in Virginia to see cotton in this area.

        Finally, the Chickahominy River. Steve Sears said it best when he said no general would want to fight within 5 miles of the Chickahominy. Wide, sluggish, multi channeled, swampy, it is a nightmare of a place...especially in the area of the Mechanicsville & Yellow Tavern...which is where you have to go get at Richmond.

        Keep in mind that Grant in 1864 moved east away from Mechanicsville through Cold Harbor and then almost 20 miles downriver to get across the James.

        As the song goes, Richmond Is A Hard Road To Travel.

        The Army: The Army of the Potomac was still a fragile beast in Spring 1863. It had been kicked off the Peninsula, fought a bloody draw at Antietam, had it's beloved leader McClellan sacked and teeth kicked in at Fredericksburg. Keep in mind that Burnside outranked Grant & Sherman and was held in high regard by Lincoln. But that said AOP was still fragile. The tough, fairly agile Army of 1864 was forged at Gettysburg and the often overlooked Rappahannock & Mine Run Campaigns in the fall of 1863. Plus its ungainly large number of corps had been streamlined into 3 Infantry and one Cavalry Corps. At Chancellorsville the Army of the Potomac had 7 corps of Infantry and one of Cavalry. It wasn't really a whole lot more folks. Many of the corps in AOP had 3 divisions with only 2 brigades each. In other words it was a bloated force.

        Also the Army had been on the march for over a week already. I don't care how much a driver Sherman is believed to have been he would have had a hard time pushing that force. Keep in mind much of Grant's moral authority with the AOP in 1864 came from his successes at Vicksburg & Chattanooga. That didn't exist at this time.

        Supply: 7 days supply may seem like a lot. But here is the issue. It's less the men. When 7 days of supply (mostly rations) were carried by the armies that was 3 days on each man and 4 days in wagons. And those wagons had to be pulled by draft animals which needed fodder and grain...which they had to carry. Bottomline is a Civil War Army had to be within about 40 miles of a supply depot. Beyond that an army, especially one like the AOP, would start to wither on the vine. Aquia Creek Landing on the Potomac, about 20 miles NE of Fredericksburg, had been the Union supply depot since NOV 62. Another supply depot would need to be established somewhere south...White House on the Pamunkey is the logical choice; that is where McClellan established his base in 1862. But that was a deliberate move something on the fly. It would have to be well coordinated ahead of time. Not undoable but it would need to be done. In 1864 Grant used 3 different supply depots along the river lines as he headed south.

        As for once the US forces got to Richmond....White House may work...it is about 25 miles away. The James may be better...but the James River Squadron had not been dealt with yet. In 1864 Butler's Army of the James' greatest contribution was establishing the City Point Depot. Grant's Problem was solved once he got to the James.

        Forces at Suffolk: the Union force at Suffolk was a makeshift group from 3 different corps with the task of holding Suffolk and preventing Longstreet from foraging. Under John Peck it was successful in the first...and failed miserably at the second. Longstreet freely foraged from Southside Virginia and sent their bounty north to Petersburg and Richmond. Peck's force failed to prevent Longstreet from any of this. And when ordered to leave Longstreet loaded his force on trains and went away. Peck couldn't stop that and would not have been able to. Additionally the forces at Suffolk fell under a totally different Department commander so would not have fallen under Grant for his command. And in 1863 there were no good choices for routes for Peck's force to move overland to reinforce Sherman that wouldn't have run smack into the Richmond-Petersburg defenses. In other words all roads from Tidewater lead to Richmond. Forces could be moved by boat (the best move, actually) but would need to be coordinated ahead of time and shipping appropriated. But a significant force would have to stay (10,000) to protect Norfolk, Fortress Monroe and environs.

        Cavalry: Like the Infantry, the Union Cavalry Corps of 1863 was not what it became in 1864. In fact, because of their poor performance in this campaign, George Stoneman, corps commander, & William Averell, division commander, were relieved for their roles in campaign. Pleasonton, due to self promotion, was promoted to corps command but performed poorly at Gettysburg. Only McGregg was a solid performer. While the raid did cause damage in Lee's (remember him?) rear it did not prevent him from fighting the battle, evacuating his wounded or keep his Army supplied. And sending him south to assist Sherman makes sense...but he is going to run into the same supply issues that Sherman would run into.

        One of the overarching lessons from all of this was what a difference having a single Army commander in 1864 meant...Grant made a National plan and passed orders to Halleck to execute. Halleck and the Army staff executed and supply depots appeared and forces moved.

        Not trying to punch holes in the argument, Pete. Just saying you need to address these points for a hope for success.

        Cheers!
        “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
        Mark Twain

        Comment


        • #5
          Thanks for the detail Buck. It is helpful. I'll have a think about things and get back to you.

          As I said, the thing that interests me most here is a credible 'what if the Union did Chancellorsville properly'. Grant & Sherman are a fun contrivance, but theoretically Hooker could have done it with a slightly different attitude. At heart I'm curious to know if Richmond could realistically be taken as a result of better Union tactics in that battle. In the end the answer might be 'yes', but in a month or two rather than two weeks. I'd love it if you could help me workshop that a bit. You are helping a great deal thus far.

          What fascinated me about Chancellorsville is just how big a risk Lee took, perhaps his biggest. Bad as something like Pickett's charge might seem in hindsight, to my eyes it didn't open up the possibility of a massive defeat the way Chancellorsville did. I guess I want to work through what might have happened if he had misjudged his opposite number. In that respect I'm curious to know if you think I have at least picked his likely response - retreat toward Richmond and a better defensive position and order Jackson (and then Stuart) to do the same? How costly do you think that retreat might be in the face of an aggressive Union commander - even just the first couple of days?

          Anyway, I've left you with more questions while I go off in search of more answers. :)
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          Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

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          • #6
            Pete,

            You have hit on the crux of it...the closer Lee got to Richmond the stronger he would get. The defenses of Richmond were formidable. He was falling back onto his base of supply along a secure supply line (the RF&P Rail line) and reinforcement ( Longstreet's corps, forces from the Valley & Carolinas if needed.)

            The terrain the closer to Richmond favors the defender more than the attacker. That is one of the reasons why Grant chose to cross the James so far down river. As moist as my county of Prince George is, it is a hell of a lot dryer than, Caroline, Hanover, Henrico & Charles City counties. Sheridan had some success but he was using a force of only around 12,000 men and never planned to return back to Grant.

            The Army of the Potomac was a less nimble beast than the Army of Northern Virginia. And with Stoneman out screwing off Hooker/Grant had no force to cut off Lee. The Union had more artillery which means more horses and wagons...and the need for more supplies. Plus the union needed to get its trains over a major river obstacle while Lee was already ahead of that game. And any wounded, impediments he threw on trains at Hanover Junction and got them out of the area.

            At the bottom line the crux of the Union's problems were leadership, lines of authority & logistics.

            Leadership: I am not a Leeanista and Hooker did get a leg up on him (for that matter so did Burnside but he got hosed by poor planning) at Chancellorsville. Hooker had Lee in a bind but Hooker lost faith in Hooker. Hooker was likely concussed. He should have followed his corps commanders advice & continued on the attack. Despite Jackson's attack the AOP was still a powerful force...but it was ponderous. Another mistake by Hooker was pulling Dan Sickles off of Hazel Grove...instead of pounding the Confederates with artillery the Confederates pounded him. Something which would have consequences at Gettysburg 2 months later. And unlike Gettysburg, the AOP's leadership would not be shattered as it was at Gettysburg. For Lee his greatest leadership issue was the loss of Jackson. For the most part his division and below leadership survived well. but the loss of Jackson was less his not being at Gettysburg as more it forced Lee to elevate 2 folks past their abilities to corps command. While Gettysburg wrecked the command structures out of both armies, it ended up helping the Union. Along with shipping off Slocum, Howard and Hooker to the west in SEP 1863 the leadership losses at Gettysburg ended up with the AOP getting more streamlined in the winter of 63-64. This helped th eArmy in th espring 64 campaigns.

            Lines of Authority: This is tied to leadership. In the Civil War commands and responsibility were aligned geographically, though military operations didn't always follow along those lines. This is just the Eastern Theater, minus the Southeast, in 1863:

            Eastern Theater[edit]
            • Department of the East, January 3, 1863 - 1873
              • District of Western New York, 1864–65
              • District of Northern New York, 1864–65
              • District of New Jersey, 1865
              • District of Rhode Island and Connecticut, 1865
              • District of Maine, 1865–66
              • District of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, 1865–66
              • District of Northern and Western New York, 1865–66
              • District of Champlain, 1866
            • consolidated Middle Department and 8th Army Corps, June 26, 1862 - June 27, 1865
              • Defenses of the Upper Potomac, Jan 5 - Feb 1863. (Discontinued)
              • District of Delaware, 1863–65
            • Department and Army of the Potomac, - 1865
              • I Corps, September 2, 1862 -
              • II Corps, March 3, 1862 - 1863
              • III Corps, March 3, 1862 - 1863
              • IV Corps, March 3, 1862 - August 1862, to Department of Virginia
              • V Corps, March 3, 1862 - 1863
              • VI Corps, June 26, 1862 - 1863
              • IX Corps, July 22, 1862 - April 2, 1863 to Department of Ohio
              • XI Corps, September 12, 1862 – 1864
            • consolidated Department of Washington and XXII Corps, February 2, 1863 - 1865
            • Department of the Susquehanna, June 9, 1863 - December 1, 1864 (Changed to Dept. of Pennsylvania)
            • Department of Virginia - July 15, 1863
            • Department of North Carolina - July 15, 1863
            • Department of Virginia and North Carolina, July 15, 1863 - January 31, 1865
            With those lines came supply relationships.

            It was hard for "Lincoln to pull a Lincoln" without and overall commander to manage the logistics and movement of forces. As was seen, Henry Halleck was not that man.

            Logistics: the life's bane of every general. Lee was passable at logistics (I am sure you remember Shek's almost borderline contempt for Lee on this), Hooker was pretty good and Grant was superb. Sherman was less than Hooker.

            Shoot me an e-mail address in Message app and I'll shoot you some other info.

            Meanwhile, let me know if you cannot access these sites

            https://history.army.mil/html/books/075/75-9/index.html

            https://history.army.mil/html/booksh...war/index.html

            https://www.battlefields.org/learn/c...ancellorsville
            “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
            Mark Twain

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            • #7
              Thanks Buck. I'll do some thinking over the weekend and see what I can come up with. I'll probably start where I left off - part way through day two - and see what credible options I can come up with.
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