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Civil War Secret Message Decoded 147 Years Later

A message sent by one Confederate commander to another circa the siege of Vicksburg has been decoded 147 years after its transmission. Addressed to the besieged Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton from an unnamed officer, the message is dated the day that Pemberton ultimately surrengered to the Union, ending the siege. Not that the message, found in an unopened 2-inch glass bottle which had been sitting in the Museum of the Confederacy since 1896, would have offered much consolation.


“He’s saying, ‘I can’t help you. I have no troops, I have no supplies, I have no way to get over there,’ ” Museum of the Confederacy collections manager Catherine M. Wright said of the author of the dispiriting message. “It was just another punctuation mark to just how desperate and dire everything was.”

The message was manually decoded by a Navy cryptologist named John B. Hunter over the course of two weeks; it employed a Vigenère cipher, which consists of a series of Caesar ciphers run in sequence with different shift values.

(AP via Gizmodo | Museum of the Confederacy homepage)

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