Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: The Robinson Farm and Family, Hampton’s Legion, 7/21/2021

28 07 2021

Our sixth (penultimate) stop on Thursday was the site of the Robinson house and the farm lane/driveway down to the Warrenton Turnpike. Here Brandon Bies related the fascinating and complicated story of James Robinson and his family (here’s a website that discusses archaeology at the site). Then I spoke briefly and extemporaneously on the actions of Hampton’s Legion in this area. Appearing in this video are Civil War Times Magazine editor Dana Shoaf, Manassas National Battlefield Park superintendent Brandon Bies, and myself. The magazine’s director of photography Melissa Winn is behind the camera.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: Artillery Demo, 7/21/2021

26 07 2021

Our fourth stop on Thursday was behind the Henry House, where the NPS was putting on a living history artillery demonstration of Ricketts’s Battery. Appearing in this video is Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf. Director of Photography Melissa Winn is behind the camera. I’m somewhere offscreen opening my mouth as wide as I can.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: A Dead Letter Soldier and Ranger Cameo, 7/21/2021

25 07 2021

Our third stop on Thursday was the Henry House, which is a reproduction of a post war structure. There we learned about a soldier in the 1st Ohio Infantry, commanded by Alexander McDowell McCook – gotta look into that middle name a little closer – in Schenck’s brigade of Tyler’s division. We also get to hear from Ranger Anthony Trusso of the battlefield staff. Appearing in this video is Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf (who also stands behind the camera for the very first time), director of photography Melissa Winn, and MNBP Ranger Anthony Trusso.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: Bartow Monument, 7/21/2021

24 07 2021

Our second stop on Thursday was the monument to COLONEL (NOT Brigadier General) Francis Bartow on Henry Hill. There we spoke about the first monument on a Civil War battlefield (I think), the man in whose memory it was erected, as well as a little about the incidents surrounding the naming of “Stonewall” Jackson and his brigade. See here for a nice article on that by John Hennessy. You can also read more about the Bartow monument in the April 1991 issue of Blue & Gray Magazine (the one with friend Clark “Bud” Hall on the cover), in an article titled The Civil War’s First Monument: Bartow’s Marker at Manassas. Appearing in this video are Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf and myself. The magazine’s director of photography Melissa Winn is behind the camera.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: Matthews Hill, 7/21/2021

23 07 2021

Our first stop on Thursday was the gun line on Matthews Hill. Until just recently, this meant the five James Rifles of Reynolds’s Rhode Island Battery. But just last week two 12-pdr Dahlgren Boat Howitzers were installed at the site of those of the 71st New York State Militia, then under the command of the Captain of Co. I, Augustus Van Horne Ellis (read his brother John’s account of the battle here).

Appearing in this video are Civil War Times Magazine editor Dana Shoaf, Manassas National Battlefield Park superintendent Brandon Bies, and myself. Civil War Times director of photography Melissa Winn is behind the camera.





Anniversary Videos from the Battlefield

23 07 2021
Left to Right, Dana Shoaf, Melissa Winn, and Brandon Bies on Matthews Hill

This past Thursday, July 21, 2021, I had the great fortune to roam about the battlefield for the 160th Anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run, to record a series of Facebook Live videos with the good folks from Civil War Times Magazine, Editor Dana Shoaf and Director of Photography Melissa Winn. Also joining us was Manassas National Battlefield Park supervisor Brandon Bies. We spent time on Matthews and Henry Hill, and took in some familiar and new sites and sight lines. Over the next few days I’ll be posting the videos here. Topics discussed include: the 71st NYSM boat howitzers and their captain; Francis Bartow and his monument; Barnard Bee and “that nickname”; a dead letter office member of the 1st OVI; BOOM; tree clearing and the threat of a GINORMOUS data center to the view shed; the Robinson family; Hampton’s Legion; and the Gallant Pelham. And lots of other stuff on the way.

It was typically blistering hot on the Plains of Manassas. Not as hot as two years ago when it was 108 degrees, but still plenty hot enough for me to, I suspect, suffer from a little heat exhaustion toward the end of the day – but lack of sleep and food also had something to do with it.

Thanks so much to Dana and Melissa for giving me the chance to talk about the battle and the people and to be seen and heard all over the planet, and for allowing me to wear a hat!





A Few Charleston Civil War Sites April, 2021

4 05 2021

Here are a few photos from James Island I took while on my recent trip to Charleston, S.C.  Click the images for larger versions. I apologize for the format – still trying to figure out WordPress’s “new” editor, and it’s clumsy. Next post I think I’ll just insert thumbnails.

Secessionville Manor, a short boat ride from my brother’s dock. The impressive dwelling and grounds played a role in the 1862 battle of the same name.

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Morris Island Lighthouse, a longer boat ride. The lighthouse can orient you in the general direction of the site of Ft. or Battery Wagner, now under water. And the lighthouse was designed at least in part by First Bull Run first-shot-firer, Peter Conover Hains. There is an active preservation group working on the lighthouse, and you can learn more about it here.

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Monuments and displays at the Ft. Lamar Heritage Preserve. (EDIT: I did not notice the vandalism until I posted these photos.)

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These are self explanatory, and are found in the yard of the James Island Presbyterian Church.

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Leesburg Sojourn

28 03 2020

This past March 10, in a time I now refer to as “Fo da quo,” (before the quarantine), I delivered a program on McDowell’s Plan for First Bull Run to the good folks at the Loudoun County Civil War Round Table in the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, VA. But before the meeting (7:30 that evening), round table member and friend Craig Swain of To the Sound of the Guns showed me a few of the local Leesburg sites. Click on the thumbnails for great-big-giant images.

First, a few Leesburg dwellings related to Robert E. Lee and the Confederate invasion of Maryland in the summer of 1862.

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John Janey house. One time VA Governor, nearly Vice President (and President), secession convention supervisor. R. E. Lee visited here after Chantilly/Ox Hill prior to Antietam.

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Glenfiddich. R. E. Lee stayed here and met with Jackson & Longstreet inside to plan Maryland Campaign. Currently for sale.

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Home of the physician who tended to R. E. Lee’s injured hands. Across the street from Glenfiddich. Also for sale.

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Detail of physician’s house for sale sign. I guess this means it’s haunted!

Next stop was White’s Ford across the Potomac, used by the Army of Northern Virginia prior to Antietam and after Early’s raid on Washington.

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Wayside at White’s Ford (text by Craig Swain)

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Wayside at White’s Ford (text by Craig Swain)

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Wayside at White’s Ford (text by Craig Swain)

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Wayside at White’s Ford (text by Craig Swain)

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Potomac River near White’s Ford. View to Maryland and C&O Canal.

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Original road trace to White’s Ford.

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White’s Ford view to Maryland. Much of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed here to advance into Maryland in 1862.

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White’s Ford view to Maryland. Much of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed here to advance into Maryland in 1862.

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White’s Ford view to Maryland. Much of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed here to advance into Maryland in 1862.

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Craig Swain and me at White’s Ford.

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White’s Ford view to Maryland. Much of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed here to advance into Maryland in 1862.

Our last stop was Union Cemetery in town.

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Grave of and memorial to Elijah White, owner of White’s Ford and White’s Ferry, commander of “White’s Comanches,” Union Cemetery, Leesburg.

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Memorial to Elijah White, owner of White’s Ford and White’s Ferry, commander of “White’s Comanches,” Union Cemetery, Leesburg.

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Memorial to Elijah White, owner of White’s Ford and White’s Ferry, commander of “White’s Comanches,” Union Cemetery, Leesburg. “A Good Soldier of Jesus Christ.”

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Grave of Elijah White, owner of White’s Ford and White’s Ferry, commander of “White’s Comanches.” Union Cemetery, Leesburg.

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Grave of Elijah White, owner of White’s Ford and White’s Ferry, commander of “White’s Comanches.” Union Cemetery, Leesburg.

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Cenotaph to engineer Morris Wampler, who designed Fort (Battery) Wagner, Charleston, SC, and was mortally wounded there. Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

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Memorial to unknown Confederate dead, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

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Memorial to unknown Confederate dead, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

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Memorial to unknown Confederate dead, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

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Memorial to unknown Confederate dead, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

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Memorial to unknown Confederate dead, Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.

A good day. A summary of the meeting that night to follow.





A Hot Time on Anniversary Weekend, July 20-21, 2019

17 08 2019

This past anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run was spent by me, for the first time, in Manassas. I was booked for two talks on Saturday and a bus tour on Sunday, the actual anniversary of the battle which, as you know, was fought on a Sunday. I’ve never really felt the attraction of anniversaries like some, maybe most, of you do – the earth just happens to be in a very similar position to one star in a vast, endless sea of stars as on the day of the actual event. I know, I have no soul. But the fact that this anniversary fell on a Sunday seemed to be a big deal, and lots of activities were planned by the NPS for the day. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.

Saturday started off hot and sultry, and the weekend kept that up through the end. My morning talk, for the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division (PWC), was scheduled for a tent outside historic Ben Lomond south of the battlefield, along the trace of the historic farm road that led from Manassas Junction to Liberia, past Ben Lomond, past Portici, to the Henry House and the Warrenton Turnpike. I’ll have more on Ben Lomond in a future post. Luckily for me and the 25 or so folks who attended, my talk on McDowell’s plan for the battle was moved indoors (it was 102 degrees Fahrenheit outside). The talk went well though I had to rush through the conclusion due to time constraints. Nobody threw anything at me. It was great to see some old friends and folks who have attended some of the Bull Runnings Battlefield Tours. I appreciate your continued support. Thanks to Rob Orrison and Kevin Pawlak for the invite. I completely forgot to take my usual pre-talk selfie, but here’s one courtesy of Rob.

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Me talking about Johnny Caspar from Miller’s Crossing, who plays an integral role in explaining McDowell’s Plan.

After my talk, I was taken to lunch by Kim Brace of the Manassas Battlefield Trust (MBT), which was hosting my talk at the Manassas National Battlefield Park (MNBP) visitor’s center later that evening. After a change of clothes, I repaired to The Winery at Bull Run for a pleasant, if muggy, sit-down on the patio with Kim and my good friends Dan and Kathy Carson.

After yet another change of clothing, it was off to the visitor’s center, where the MBT had invited me to talk about Peter Conover Hains and his 1911 account of his experiences at First Bull Run. I saw a few familiar faces in the crowd, including former U. S. Army historian Kim Holien and MNBP museum specialist (and long-time Friend of Bull Runnings) Jim Burgess, who joined me for dinner afterwards. Again there were about 25 people in attendance. Not too many glitches, and I think everyone enjoyed the presentation and learned something (I know I did). Thanks to MBT and Christy Forman for the invite.

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Pre-talk selfie. Sorry to those folks blocked by my big giant head.

Bright and early Sunday morning it was back to Ben Lomond for a bus tour of sites on and off the battlefield. This was a fundraiser for PWC and was led by Kevin Pawlak of that group and myself. We had ten people, including Civil War TImes Magazine’s editor Dana Shoaf and his media guru Melissa Wynn, and old friend and Licensed Antietam Battlefield Guide Jim Rosebrock (look, if you’re gonna hire someone to guide you about Antietam, hire an ALBG – it just makes sense). Yes, it was hot on Saturday, but it was hotter on Sunday, as my dusty dashboard attests.

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One Hundred and Three Degrees!!!

It was in fact so hot that the NPS cancelled most of the events they had scheduled for the day. But we few, we happy but sweaty few, vowed to endeavor to persevere.

Kevin and I conducted the tour kind of like a sporting event broadcast – at each stop, Kevin laid out the action, rather, the play-by-play, and I provided the color. We had to cut out a couple of stops due to time. I’ll lay out the route of the tour in photos:

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First Stop: Old Stone Church in Centreville, where we talked about the Confederate dispositions, the Federal approach, and some after-battle incidents. Kevin Pawlak in dark blue.

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Quick stop in Centreville McDonalds to pay respects to the Centreville Six. Someone will do an Abbey Road take on this. But not us.

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Blackburn’s Ford

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Blackburn’s Ford – View south

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Panoramic view south at Blackburn’s Ford

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Signal Hill monument

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Kim Brace (white beard, red shirt) provided a little more info on E. Porter Alexander

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Kevin saying something worthwhile at the Stone Bridge.

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Me – in white hat – trying to think of something worthwhile to say at the Stone Bridge. Photo by Rob Orrison.

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Group shot at Reynolds’s guns on Matthews Hill. A couple folks did not make the trek from the bus at this stop.

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View south from Matthews Hill

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Reynolds’s guns (James rifles). There were only six Federal smoothbores, all howitzers, that crossed Bull Run that day. The other 20 were rifles.

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Me, on Matthews Hill, pointing. Others, looking. Photo by Rob Orrison.

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Dana Shoaf and me, trying to figure out what direction we’re facing, on Chinn Ridge, our final stop.

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Kevin Pawlak wrapping things up on Chinn Ridge.

Afterwards, upstairs at air-conditioned Ben Lomond, Dana and Melissa introduced me to Facebook Live. Enjoy Dana, Rob, Kevin, and me in all our technicolor glory.

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Behind the scenes: Videographer Melissa Winn, Dana Shoaf, and Kevin Pawlak

Afterwards, Rob, Kevin, and I enjoyed a couple of cold ones at the 2 Silos Brewing Co. in Manassas. A cool place, check it out.

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Rob Orrison and Kevin Pawlak show the way to the 2 Silos complex.





Recap: In the Footsteps of the 69th NYSM

12 06 2019


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At 9:00 AM on May 11, 2019, about 50 folks assembled in the parking lot at Manassas National Battlefield Park’s Stone Bridge to follow guides John Hennessy, Joseph Maghe, Damian Shiels, and me as we retraced the steps of the 69th New York State Militia during the First Battle of Bull Run.

The structure was simple: we followed the First Manassas Trail and walked along Bull Run from Stone Bridge and picked up the regiment’s route on the battlefield (west) side of Bull Run at the site of Farm Ford, where the men crossed on the morning of July 21, 1861. (Their route to the ford lies on the east side of the Run, over the grounds of the present day Winery at Bull Run.) At each stop, I contributed some framework of how we got to and what happened at that point using reports from the official records and other correspondence from participants. John Hennessy provided deeper context, again drawn from participants and from his years of research and experience on the field. Then Damian Shiels expanded our understanding of these men (and in some cases Irish soldiers of other regiments on the field as well) and their families in New York and Ireland, using the vast and poignant materials he’s gleaned from widows’ pension files. Consistent with the data set used, these accounts typically ended tragically, and Damian will forever be known as the George R. R. Martin of the First Battle of Bull Run. He drew us in with the stories of these men and women, got us to care about them, and then, well, bad things happened.

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John Hennessy discusses the advance to and crossing at Farm Ford

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After Farm Ford, we continued roughly west by north toward Matthews Hill, stopping to get some perspective and a view south to Henry Hill.

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Damian Shiels at Stop #2, a view south to Henry Hill from Sherman’s route of march toward Matthews Hill. John Hennessy and Joe Maghe, in green, look on.

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View south – MNBP Visitor Center in middle distance

The next stop was further west to the point of first contact between Sherman’s Brigade and the Confederates of Bee and – purportedly, possibly, perhaps – Wheat, and the death of Lt. Col. Haggerty. Damian continued the story of Haggerty’s widow. The ripples from pebbles tossed on that July Sunday were many and far reaching.

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Discussing the death of Haggerty

We then moved, still westerly, past the site of the Carter house “Pittsylvania” and the Carter Family cemetery.

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Carter Cemetery

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MNBP Superintendent Brandon Bies and his family joined us for the day

We took a jog south and discussed the Confederate collapse on Matthews Hill.

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View South

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View North to Confederate Line

Continuing farther west, we walked past the Stovall Monument and the site of the Matthews House to Matthews Hill where the 69th’s advance down Sudley Road toward Henry Hill was covered.

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Site of Matthews House

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View from Matthews Hill to Henry Hill

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The crew moves south to toward the Stone House and the Sudley Road/Warrenton Turnpike intersection.

After crossing the busy road (Warrenton Turnpike, today’s Lee Highway), we ascended to Henry Hill where we broke for lunch and to view Joe Maghe’s fine collection of 69th NYSM artifacts inside the reconstructed post-war Henry House (a big shout-out to MNBP for making the facility available).


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Joe Maghe fields questions from one of the dozens of folks on the tour and park visitors who stopped in the Henry House to view his collection. (Photo by Pat Young)

After lunch, but prior to setting out for the return trip to the Stone Bridge, we gathered for a group photo in front of the Henry House. A few opted not to do the return walk and are not pictured.


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After lunch, we discussed the 69th’s action on Henry Hill and the fight for Ricketts’s guns.

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John Hennessy describes the fighting on Henry Hill

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Occasionally participants contributed, in this case Pat Young of “The Immigrant’s Civil War”

We shifted base slightly down the hill, and covered the retreat.

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Here, I (green hat at center) discuss the retreat, prisoners, and the 69th’s forming of an infantry square

After that, we again picked up the First Manassas Trail, making our way along the back side of Henry Hill. Eventually we reached the site of the Van Pelt House, and wound our way down to the Stone Bridge parking lot where we started. FYI, my fit bit clocked in at right around 20,000 steps for the day.

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Guides (left to right) Damian Shiels, John Hennessy, Joe Maghe, and Harry Smeltzer

I think, all in all, the tour was a great success, and most important we all learned a good deal about these men, their families, and their circumstances before, during, and after the battle. Thanks to everyone who turned out, to our intrepid guides and exhibitor, to Debi Faber-Maghe who held down the fort in the Henry House, to the Bies kids who were super-troopers, and to my sister Patrice who really helped me out.

I’m mulling over a few really good – IMO – ideas for future First Bull Run tours (if you have any, I’m all ears), so check back here, every…single…day.