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From Atlanta To The Sea

July 2024
20min read

A newly discovered Union diary shows that Sherman’s march was about as Ruthless as Southerners have always said it was

When General William Tecumseh Sherman started his devastating march through Georgia in November of 1864, Captain James Royal Ladd, twenty-eight years old, an adjutant in the 113th Ohio Volunteers, was one of the sixty-two thousand tough veterans in his army. The huge force swept diagonally across the state, meeting little opposition, foraging, plundering, and burning as it went. When Lincoln was asked where Sherman was heading, he said “I know the hole he went in at, but I can’t tell you what hole he will come out of. “Savannah proved to be Sherman ‘s objective. During the short siege that preceded the fall ofthat city, Ladd wrote an account of the month-long trek to his wtfe, Mary, telling the whole story with a casual, even cheerful brutality. This unusually frank diary came to the attention of AMERICAN HERITAGE through Captain Ladd ‘s granddaughter, Ruth Ladd Pierson.

Head Qrs, 113th Ohio Vol., in the field 3 miles north of Savannah, Ga., Dec. 14th, 1864.

I hardly know whether it is of any use to write at present or not, but having nothing else to do to while away the time, I will attempt to commence a letter and send it when I can. Will tell you what we have all been about during our exile from the world and all communication therewith and in order to inform you I must necessarily go back to the time we left Cartersville [Georgia]. I last wrote you from Atlanta Nov. 9th. Upon the llth I returned to Cartersville.

Nov. 13th at 6 A.M. we bade adieu to the town after burning the same and commenced our march. We proceeded to the R.[ail] Road and commenced tearing up the same, which we did in the following manner. The iron was torn from the ties and the ties piled up, the iron was then lain across them and the ties set on fire which heated the iron to such a degree that it bent in any form the boys chose to put it. On that day we tore up six miles of road which brought us to Allatoona, which is a small town but a place of considerable note, having been two hard fought battles here this summer, both times our army were victorious and in the last the Rebs were badly handled. The town we did not burn for the reason that the Rebels were occupying the larger portion of it for a hospital. But the few [hospitals] that I visited I should call them Charnel houses of Death for never in my experience in the army have I ever seen such holes called hospitals, they were sickening beyond description. That evening we marched to Acworth, making a march of 14 miles.

Nov. 14th. Marched at 6 A.M. passing over the ground near Kinesaw [Kennesaw] Mountain where we fought last summer. Little did we think at that time that so soon again would we be called upon to remarch the same again. We passed through several lines of works which the 113th had built itself and saw several graves of the boys we had buried, which served to awaken sad thoughts within our breasts. We continued our march late in the evening marching 24 miles and burning everything we came to as we went, camping for the night near Vinings Station.

Nov. 15th. Marched at 6, moving very slowly, halting repeatedly and remaining some time at Chattahoochee River. We arrived in the suburbs of Atlanta at 2 P.M. No sooner did we arrive than the boys commenced burning every house in that part of the town. The wind was blowing hard at the time and soon that part of the city was gone. We marched through the city to the east side and encamped for the night. Then one of the most beautiful and terrific scenes I ever had the pleasure of witnessing took place, viz., the burning of the main portion of the city. It was truly a terrific sight. Torpedoes had been previously placed underneath the walls of the Rail Road buildings which were very large and numerous. One constant explosion took place throwing the walls in every direction and the burning brands ditto. Soon the whole business portion of the city was in flames, and notwithstanding the night was dark the blaze illuminated the country for miles. Some few families remained in the city regardless of Sherman’s order until it was too late to get away and to witness them getting away from the fire was decidedly rich. They remained long enough to see the folly of their ways but too late to repent and save their furniture.

Nov. 16th. Left Atlanta at 1 P.M. It seemed as if we were about to commence a new life. What doubts, what hopes and fears filled our minds as we took up our line of march, to see those mighty trains as they moved along conveying all that our vast army depended upon for subsistence. In case our undertaking succeeded our supplies were ample, if we failed they were not, the future alone must decide that. With our only line of R.R. irreparably destroyed in our rear and our enemies’ country in our front. We started with but 7 days rations of provisions in our train and 3 days issued before starting. We marched in an easterly direction, passing through Decatur and encamping 6 miles beyond for the night. Decatur is a small town and old at that, a part of it was burned in order to keep the boys in practice. Here we received a general order from Gen. Sherman giving the men privilege to forage anything and everything that they could find to eat. All horses, mules, cattle were to be taken indiscriminately for the use of the army. All cotton, cotton gins, etc. to be burned and all stores of subsistence that we did not use or carry to be destroyed, and gave us to understand that no more rations would be issued. Foraging parties from every Regt, were formed and set to work.

Nov. 17th. Marched at 7 A.M. Took dinner near Livonia [Lithonia] a small town on the Augusta & Atlanta R.R. Here we tore up a few miles of the same and also burned a part of the town in retaliation for the inhabitants bushwacking our men. Passed on to Conyers Station, camped for the night. Distance marched 20 miles.

Nov. 18th. Marched at 6 A.M. Proceeded to Covington 18 miles, arriving at 2 P.M. and commenced tearing up R.R. While the Regt, was doing that I went out among some of the erring brethren of Georgia for the purpose of replenishing Head Quarter mess, which by the way was getting slightly depreciated. I had good success, procuring several chickens, honey, sweet potatoes, flour and meal. … We had a splendid supper and all decided that I should again try my hand on the morrow.

Nov. 19th. Marched at 6 A.M. Our Regt. in advance of the Corps. Went out with foraging party. Left the main road. We had proceeded about 1 mile when two men of the party were accidentally shot, or rather carelessly by their comrades while shooting chickens. Sent back to road and procured surgeon and ambulance. Passed on two miles farther and came to a splendid plantation where the boys got all the forage they wished, consisting of meal, flour, potatoes, pork, chickens, turkeys, honey … we also took from this place several head of horses and mules which served to convey our forage to camp. We also obtained a large quantity of molasses, which is one of their chief products, often finding several barrels at a single plantation. Gen. [Joseph E.] Brown, after the fall of Atlanta, ordered the State Militia to be relieved in order that they could come home and secure their crops and more especially the molasses crop. Well they secured it and we have eaten a good portion of it for them. Sweet potatoes are in great abundance and on this campaign we have found them already dug which is very convenient, it saves time in procuring them.

Sunday 20th. Marched at 6. Raining hard nearly all day. Nothing of importance transpiring during the day except cleaning out the plantations along the line of our march. At night we encamped at Sandtown, a small place, the chief attraction being a large cotton factory which employed about 60 girls manufacturing clothes for Rebel Army. We burnt the factory, notwithstanding the girls could not see the use of doing it. They of course were deprived of employment but we could not avoid it. Still raining. Marched 18 miles.

Nov. 21st. Marched at 6 A.M. Still raining. Marched 12 miles and encamped for the night. After we were fairly settled I started foraging, went to the first house, found it pretty well cleaned out. The niggers told me that one mile farther on I would come to the main plantation where I would find a plenty of everything. I should have stated before that the slaves will tell where everything is. The residents have hid everything from the houses in the woods and swamps, but the boys find it all for the slaves expose it and then it is forever gone, while if they would allow it to remain in their houses, 9 cases out of 10 it would not be disturbed. But to return to my subject. I went to the main plantation notwithstanding it was slightly dangerous, for the Rebel Cavalry were hovering around. Here I found all I wanted and more too. In conversation with the lady of the house, she said that I was the first Yankee that ever put a foot in her house. I very politely calmed her feelings by informing her that by the next night she would undoubtedly have the honor of forming the acquaintance of several of the vandals.… I returned safely back to camp late in the evening. After partaking of a bowl of milk and cornbread retired for the night.


Nov. 22nd. We lay still upon that day, the 1st Div. passing us as we march each division in front 3 days and then change. I went out in the afternoon five miles but found nothing, the country was completely stripped. Upon this day it turned off cold, the first cold day of the season. At night it froze water ¼ of an inch. While out that afternoon I saw a member of the 14th Ohio Volunteers shot dead by one of his companions while in the act of catching a chicken. I returned to camp gaining nothing by the trip I made.

Nov. 23rd. Marched at 6 A.M. Very cool, ground frozen quite hard in morning but of course did not last long. During our march this day we burned an immense quantity of cotton and corn, also destroying the plantation of Senator [Howell] Cobb, now Maj. Gen. C.S.A. [Confederate States of America], Militia. We made a clean thing of this plantation, burning everything that would burn. All that he has left to mark a once happy and beautiful home is the charred ruins and desolate fields. We camped for the night 3 miles from Milledgeville, Ga. Today the Rebs. captured some of our foragers and shot them, the balance escaping and reporting of the same. We encamped for the night in a beautiful grove, having marched 12 miles.

Nov. 24th. Thanksgiving. Well, we had the roast turkey.… By order of Gen. James D. Morgan a detail of 150 men was sent back to the residence of Col. Jordan, C.S.A. where our foragers were captured yesterday with instructions to clean the thing out in case they would not procure the bodies of our men. It having been ascertained that the premises were made a rebel resort, I being anxious to see the fun, volunteered to go along. We started at 7. It being but two miles of course we were soon there. The house was found to be hid almost entirely from the road by shade trees and its gardens. Mistrusting [due to] information received from Negroes before we arrived there that some of them might still be there, we formed our men so as to approach the house from 3 sides, I taking 40 men and passing around to the left. No sooner had we come in sight than sure enough Johnny was there and commenced firing at the line which was approaching from the right. Our boys promptly returned the fire and Johnny ran, three of them running directly into my line and the other four directly into the line advancing from the front. Of course they were kindly taken in out of the wet and had I been the ranking officer, I would have hung them to the first tree, but they were taken into camp as prisoners of war. We then went to the house which proved to be one of the richest furnished things I ever saw in my life. To attempt the description of the same is beyond my time, but I will endeavor to give a faint outline of the same. The furniture was of the most costly kind, chairs were all rosewood trimmed with satin, sofa the same. All the crockery was china of best material (and to settle all doubts in the matter look upon our supper table this eve). All the stands and bureaus were marble top. Such was the sitting and dining rooms, but we will step into the parlor. The handsomest carpet I ever saw covered the floor. On the center table was a chandelier beautiful beyond description, costing I was told $300. The window curtains reaching from the ceiling to the floor were satin lined with straw colored silk. Two large mirrors reaching from the floor to the ceiling and everything else in keeping. All that money could purchase to make a house beautiful was there. Its rooms above were equally well furnished. I was told by those that pretended to know that it cost over $25,000.00 to furnish the house. The silver plate but little of it could be found, it having been removed. They had any quantity of bedding of the best articles besides large quantities of wearing apparel. Now for a scene far different. The boys were drawn up on a line and ordered to stack arms and then to go in and clean the concern out and now a scene was enacted which beggars all description. They completely demolished everything. It looked wicked to see such splendid furniture go to pieces. The house was ransacked from cellar to garret and everything they did not want to carry away was destroyed. Crash followed crash and all the comforts and luxuries of a splendid home were soon in ruins. The garden was also beautiful, two large hot houses containing all kinds of choice plants and flowers were destroyed. The out buildings were in keeping. A splendid barouche carriage shared the same fate and after all this had been done the torch hid it from view. But such has been the fate of several plantations. In fact, nearly all. … We then moved into Milledgeville, capitol of state. The Legislature was in session the day before but they adjourned in great rapidity to meet again when convenient. We marched into the city without any opposition, colors flying and bands playing. The city contains about 2000 inhabitants. It is far from being a handsome place although it contains a few fine residences. The State House is (or at least was) a very imposing structure, built of brick and plastered upon the outside and made to represent granite. The interior was very handsomely finished containing the life size portraits [of political leaders], besides several other paintings. It contained a splendid library which together with all the public papers and records were scattered to the four winds of Georgia. The State House was burned together with all public buildings, otherwise, property was not much destroyed. Of course all eatables were taken. The ladies were quite numerous but they were very rebellious. One of them covered her face as the stars and stripes were carried by. Poor thing! We remained in the city three hours giving the boys ample time to see it all. I visited the cemetary which contained several beautiful monuments. Every grave was covered with a wealth of fresh flowers or had a bouquet sitting at the grave. It had the appearance as if they had visited their friends for the last time and wished to leave a memento of affection. The description we received in regard to the adjournment of the legislature was decidedly rich. It is said that Gov. [Joseph E.] Brown left so fast that a person could play cards upon his coattails. The Hon. Members ditto. I hardly think that they will convene again soon, or in case they do, they will have to occupy some smaller building for state purposes. Crossing the Ogeechee River, we passed over, camping 7 miles beyond the city for the night having marched 10 miles.…

Nov. 26th. Marched at 6 A.M. Our Regt, again in advance of the corps. We had proceeded about 3 miles when we found the road blockaded near Sandersville and signs of the enemies’ pickets. Skirmishing soon commenced. The 113th being in front of course we were elected to go ahead and clear the way. Two companies were deployed as skirmishers, soon we had warm work, but we rushed it through and soon drove them from the town. Their force proved to be but about 300 cavalry belonging to [Joseph] Wheeler’s command. They took refuge behind the houses and in them, firing from the same. We had 1 killed, 3 wounded. Rebs’ loss 2 killed, 5 wounded. At least that was all we could find.

Sandersville is the county seat of Washington Co., pop. 1200. It contains 2 churches, several fine stores, large hotel buildings and several fine residences. Here again was enacted a scene which went ahead of anything I had yet seen. Every store building and dwelling was gutted (excuse the term) from the cellar to the garret. The boys were allowed to do just as they pleased. We had fought for the town and it was our plunder. I went into a large drug store after the boys had cleaned it out and I never saw such a mixture of medicines and glassware. I would hate to take some prescriptions which were compounded. The town was completely ruined and then burned. In the jail we found a man who had been confined in a dungeon for 5 years for manslaughter. He was a happy man I assure you when we let him loose. In front of the court house stands a monument erected to the memory of Ex. Gov. [Jared] Irwin, now deceased. It is a splendid structure erected by the State and if the epitaph upon the same is all it reads, he never halted short of the 3rd heaven for the same covers the four entire sides. We camped near the town for the night, marching 6 miles upon that day.…

Nov. 28th. Marched at 6 A.M. During day found bridge burned over creek which detained us several hours. Having rebuilt bridge we crossed and soon entered Louisville, County Seat of Jefferson Co. Here again another scene of destruction took place, everything was destroyed. It was far from a beautiful place when in its glory and when we left it it was far from anything but a heap of smouldering ruins. We encamped for the night late in the evening 3 miles beyond the town, having marched 15 miles.

Nov. 29th. We lay in camp without any change. I went out in charge of foraging party of 50 men. Upon arrival at the first plantation and finding it tolerable well cleaned out, learning from the negroes that he had another plantation adjoining and in rear about 2 miles from where we were, I concluded to go there. We proceeded without any difficulty. Upon arrival we found all we wished for, the great difficulty being transportation. Having scared a nigger until he was almost white, he finally confessed that he knew where the oxen were. I sent him in charge of guard and soon they brought up a fine yoke. Now we were surely in luck. But as we were filling a cart large enough to haul one half of the Southern Confederacy, a squad of Johnnies appeared and commenced firing upon us. We soon were in condition to return the compliment. We were annoyed but a short time when they withdrew. We were not long in finishing our business at that point I assure you, but we got all we could haul away.… We had enough to feed the entire Regt. Take it altogether it was a regular frolic, besides burning 2 cotton gins and upwards of 600 bales of cotton.


Nov. 30th. We still occupy the same camp. At 9 A.M. a detail of 5 companies from our Regt, was made to go to the plantation where I was as a train guard, Capt. Watson Acting Maj. in charge. They proceeded to within a short distance from the house, when the rebel cavalry appeared upon them from every side. The Capt. had but little time to form his men for defense, but did the best he could. On dashed the Johnnies and the fight commenced in earnest. He attempted to fall back but found them in his rear also, in fact, he was completely surrounded. Surrender or fight was the only alternative. He chose the latter and commenced. He fought for nearly one hour when the pickets were advanced to his assistance and the rebels driven off. They left 7 dead upon the ground besides several wounded and the niggers report that they carried several away. The Brigade was immediately called out. Upon arrival we were informed that they were still lurking around. The 113th together with one company from the 121st and 1 company from the 78th Ohio were then deployed as skirmishers. We advanced through a piece of woods and saw them standing in line of battle. They were cavalry numbering I should judge about 200. As soon as we found them we halted until the balance of the Brig, came up. We were then ordered by Gen. Morgan to push forward and give them battle in case they would remain long enough. We advanced our line over a clear and open field. Johnny still remained. When we were within about ¼ of a mile they commenced performing some of their evolutions and again formed line, in single rank. I think that it was the handsomest line of battle I ever saw. We were still advancing, a fight or a foot race was in prospect. At this juncture of the proceedings they struck up Dixie upon a brass band and as they came to the close “Away, away,” they did go away, turned and ran, moving to the left. We received orders from Col. Pierce, Brig. Comd. to move the same way, keeping them in our front and he would keep the support close at hand. We did so and in order to accomplish it had to pass through a large cypress swamp which was almost impenetrable. We were so long getting through this that the balance of the Brigade was ordered to go to camp. When we came to the opposite side here again we saw Johnnies in line of battle but I hardly think they saw us, but appeared to be watching the main column which we supposed was directly in our rear. We lay here unobserved until nearly dark, the Rebs. in the mean time having discovered us and attempted to get in our rear, and cut us off.


In this they succeeded but our left was open and we passed out that way. Upon arrival at camp we found the whole Brig, ready to march to our relief. Our loss for the day amounted to 3 wounded, 2 killed and 7 captured, total 12, all members of the 113th.

Dec. 2nd. Marched at 12 M. Acted as rear guard to train. This was decidedly a sweet trip, our route lay through a swampy country and the roads in some places were almost impassable. We got into camp at 1:30 A.M. tired and cross, having burned in retaliation anything we came to and foraged ditto. Distance 10 miles.…

Dec. 4th. Marched at 11 A.M. in rear of Div. Gen. [Judson] Kilpatrick, successful, capturing several prisoners and 3 pieces of artillery. At this point we were near Milan where our prisoners have been confined for some time and died by the hundreds. We were anxious to go there but had no opportunity. We foraged extensively through the day. Marched 18 miles.…

Dec. 6th. Regt. acting as train guard. I was in advance for purpose of foraging. Saw a nigger coming out of a swamp. Rode up to him and he informed me that there was 26 horses and mules hid about three miles from there. Having a guard of but 4 men, I went back to the column, got a guard of 6 men and together with Mr. Contraband [the slave] proceeded to the swamp and captured 22 head and 1 of the guard, the balance escaped. During the day found plenty of forage and had the pleasure of seeing several beautiful fires. Distance marched 20 miles.

Dec. 7th. Marched at 7 A.M. I left camp with foraging party at 5 A.M. Found the road badly blockaded which detained the trains about 3 hours. I had splendid success, foraging, raising a large wooden bucket full of honey, chickens, 1 large turkey, sweet potatoes, and over 50 lbs. of good sugar which by the way is a cash article in this country. During my rambles I went into a house (which had been badly handled by the boys) in which resided an old man and his daughter whose name I have forgotten. One thing I have not forgotten and that is she was the best looking girl I have seen in Georgia, being a well educated sociable lady. She commenced to relate to me her grievances, 1st she had taken her trunks and clothing and hid them in the woods. The boys had found them and taken several articles and the army niggers were wearing her father’s clothing. She had lost all her jewelry and a package of letters (the contents of course she did not tell). Her grievances were numerous. She said she had always been for the Union and she thought it was too bad. I agreed with her as far as she was being for the Union, replying that it was generally the case that all young ladies’ sympathies ran in that direction. She saw the point and replied she was not inclined that way. I could do her no good towards restoring her property but of course sympathized with her deeply and left.…

Dec. 8th. Having removed obstructions and rebuilt bridge we left camp at 12 P.M. Ebenezer Creek is truly a dismal stream about 100 yards across, the water deep, black and murky. Upon each side of the road is an impenetrable swamp filled with water, a fit habitation for alligators. It empties into the Savannah River about Vz mile from where we crossed. While eating dinner the rebels came down the river and shelled our camp from gunboats but did us no harm. Of course it created a little excitement.… At 2 P.M. we again took up our line of march and proceeded 8 miles when we were ordered to countermarch, which of course was sweet information. We returned arriving at camp at 10 P.M. The cause of our returning proved to be that [Gen. Braxton] Bragg with about 6000 cavalry were threatening our rear.

Dec. 9th. Marched at 7 A.M. Advanced about 4 miles, found bridge burned, this detained us 3 hours. Having rebuilt bridge again, started, having proceeded 6 miles, we found a Rebel battery directly in the road. Here we halted and sent forward skirmishers, found the roads blockaded. Two pieces of artillery were sent forward. A lively artillery engagement immediately ensued. The first shot from the Rebel battery killed one of our horses, the second took ofï a wheel from one of our guns, the third killed Lieut. Coe, commanding Battery. Their guns being well protected and ours standing entirely exposed, it was deemed prudent to withdraw our guns and try some other plan to remove them. Consequently we encamped near there for the night. As soon as it became dark a force was sent around to the right, making a large circle and coming in their rear. But Johnny got alarmed and before our forces were in condition to make a clean sweep they commenced to evacuate. They succeeded to get away with one gun, our forces capturing 71 stand of small arms, 1 piece of artillery, 3 caissons, together with ammunition and 34 prisoners.

Dec. 10th. Marched at 7 A.M. We passed through the fort which proved to be quite a strong one, having embrasures for six guns. After marching one mile the 113th was deployed as skirmishers upon the left side of the road, our object being to reach the river and discover the whereabouts of a gunboat said to be patrolling the river and if possible to burn the R.R. bridge of the Sav.fannah] & Augusta R.R. which crosses the river at that point. We, upon entering the swamp, found it impossible to advance in line of battle on account of the density of the brush and nature of the ground. We returned to main road and proceeded one mile and again entered the swamp with the same success, but before we came out we captured 10 Johnnies who had endeavored to hide until we had passed. Also we came up [on] a splendid plantation well stocked with forage and if we did not clean it out on short notice it was our own fault. There was no one at home but the niggers. I secured for my mess 16 chickens, 2 bushels sweet potaoes and about 150 lbs. flour. We returned to main road and joined column. Here we formed junction with the 20 Corps who had marched upon a different road. Here we went into camp, the gun boats shelling the same. We are now within 11 miles of Savannah.

Sunday, 11th. The siege of Savannah is now fairly commenced. We moved into position 3 miles from Sav. in a dense swamp and relieved a part of the 17th Army Corps which passed on to the right.

12th. We were relieved by the 20th Corps and we pass on farther to the right and here we are yet, with good strong works. In our immediate front is a canal known as the tide water canal built by Gen’l Andrew Jackson during the Indian War. Sav. was then his base of supplies and this canal was used to transport supplies to the army. It runs from Savannah River to the Ogeechee, the distance I have not learned. We are using it now for the same purpose. Our base of supplies is at the mouth of the Ogeechee and when the tide rises and flows from the Ogeechee the boats come up and when it ebbs they float back. No horses are used for transportation. You may think it is a novel way but it wins. Our present situation is all right. With our base of supplies firmly established we are safe. That was the only question of doubt, when we started upon the expedition. Could we sustain ourselves after we got here? Of course we had no fears of getting here and now all fears of subsistence have passed away. Savannah is besieged and sooner or later it must fall. It is estimated that there are 25,000 troops in the city. We cannot well advance upon their works for the swamps that intervene, but we have them surrounded and every R.R. that the state of Georgia contains is destroyed beyond repair. We have destroyed millions of property and lain waste an immense scope of country. We have had a gay time. The weather has been beautiful, very warm, so much so that we have not used our tents except when it rained. Today is uncomfortably warm in the sun. You in Ohio I imagine are hovering around the fires to keep warm. Here the roses are yet in bloom. We find a good many curiosities growing in this climate. The palm leaf from which the palm fan is manufactured grow by the acre. Our trip has been attended by a great many pleasant scenes as well as sad. The Rebs have captured several of our men and brutally murdered them after having surrendered. Some of my Regt, have shared that fate. A great many rich scenes among the foragers have occurred, one of which I was witness. The boys were cleaning out a house, the woman was taking on awfully crying, and snivelling, one of the boys remarked “My God, madam, don’t take on so, you hurt my feelings.” What the inhabitants are going to do for subsistence is more than I can tell. They must emigrate or starve.

You ought to see the train of niggers which have followed our army. What disposition will be made of them is hard to tell. They are a squalid set. I must now leave you for the mail leaves at 2 P.M. We expect a mail tomorrow.

Please accept these few hastily penned pages as a faint witness of Sherman’s Georgia Campaign.

Yours truly, James Royal Ladd, Adjutant 113th Ohio Vol.


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