Civil War Message To Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton Decoded After 147 Years: Reinforcements Are Not Coming

By on Dec 28, 2010 in United States, Weird, World Comments

A Civil War message to Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton during the Vicksburg siege has been opened and decoded after 147 years, international news sites reported.

Civil War Message
Image Credit: AP Photo/Museum of the Confederacy

The coded message was placed inside a glass vial stopped with a cork which sat undisturbed since 1896 at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. The code was said to be called the “Vigenere cipher,” a method of encrypting messages with different letter combinations to facilitate secret communication which was commonly used by Southern forces during the Civil War.

The message was only decoded when the manager of the museum Catherine M. Wright decided to investigate the content of the bottle due to curiosity. Wright contacted a retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy, to break the “Vigenere cipher” code manually. Gaddy was able to crack the codes for several weeks and his interpretation was confirmed by a Navy cryptologist.

According to reports, the message was to inform Pemberton that there was no reinforcement coming on the way. It was believed that the coded message was from a Confederate commander on the west side of the Mississippi River across to Pemberton.

“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.”

Wright said that the message never got Pemberton probably because the Confederate messenger arrived at the river’s edge and saw the city was already flying a U.S. flag and have decided to turn back.

Reports said that the message was dated July 4, 1863, same date when Pemberton‘s surrender to Union forces led by Ulysses S. Grant, ending the siege of Vicksburg.

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