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Ninety-two years ago today, after an overnight train trip from New York City to Washington, D.C., Winston Churchill made a courtesy call at the White House where he was received by President Hoover. It was a make-up meeting, of sorts, between two men who had a history.

During the Great War, as World War I was then known, Herbert Hoover made a name for himself by heading the volunteer Commission for Relief in Belgium, a predominately American organization credited with saving millions of civilian lives. Belgium produced enough food at that time to feed just one-quarter of its 7.5 million citizens, but it was essentially blockaded by the war, and the kaiser's troops requisitioned some of the foodstuffs to feed themselves.

Hoover, more than any living soul, filled the breach, spending two years in London, persuading German authorities to let him import food behind the lines and earning the affections of people on the continent, and eventually in England, where Hoover was offered British citizenship. Churchill was a famous holdout against this conventional wisdom. At the time, he considered "the Great Humanitarian" a meddler who should be tried by a military tribunal for transporting food behind enemy lines.

On this day in 1929, however, the two men had a cordial meeting. "Time heals some wounds,"  author David Pietrusza writes in an excellent new book, "1932: The Rise of Hitler & FDR."

From Washington, Winston Churchill's train took him to Richmond. He visited the city's Civil War museum before starting a tour of the area's battlefields. A military historian himself, Churchill was supplementing his income by filing newspaper dispatches from his U.S. tour for the Daily Telegraph. He was "astonished," he wrote upon returning to London, by the tangible evidence of battles that remained in those Virginia fields and forests some six-and-a-half decades after the fighting had ceased.

Churchill had a journalist's impulse for seeking out eyewitnesses to epic events and a historian's instinct for going to the places where the drama actually unfolded. His guide at Spotsylvania was an old man who had first seen that battlefield as an 8-year-old boy. It wasn't a battlefield then -- it was his family's farm. Soldiers came and told them to clear out because a big battle was coming. Upon their return, they found the land strewn with a thousand dead Union and Confederate soldiers.

Read today, at a time of often-acrimonious reconsideration of the monuments and place names that commemorate this history, Churchill's dispatches help explain why subsequent generations of Virginians felt such fealty to the losing side, the evils of slavery notwithstanding. At one stop, a local guide reported that his father, who was still living in Richmond, had been wounded on the ground they were walking across. Churchill's tour took him to hallowed ground all over the Old Dominion. Some of those battlefields are known to us still -- Chickahominy, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville -- while others are less remembered: Malvern Hill, White House Swamp, and Savage Station.

"The farmhouses and the churches still show the scars of shot and shell; the woods are full of trenches and rifle pits; the larger trees are full of bullets," Churchill wrote. "If you could read men's hearts, you would find that they, too, bear the marks."

At a battle site along the Rappahannock River, Churchill was put in mind of the World War I killing fields in France. He could not have known it then, but unimaginable horrors were coming, worse than Ypres and Verdun and Gallipoli -- and far worse than Antietam and Gettysburg -- and that for a pivotal time in human history the British people, with Winston Spencer Churchill leading them, would be the point of the spear.

Nor could he have imagined that in the aftermath of the Second World War, another American wartime president, a Democrat, would again call on Herbert Clark Hoover, a Republican, to organize relief efforts that staved off disease and starvation for millions of war-weary civilians. 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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