CIA Codebreaker Reveals 147-year-old Civil War Message About The Confederate Army’s Desperation
The piece of paper with a message for a Confederate leader was rolled up, tied with string and sealed along with a bullet in a glass vial. It remained a mystery for 147 years, until a CIA codebreaker cracked the message after a museum had the vial opened
The message is from a Confederate commander on the west side of the Mississippi River across from 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.'
The bottle, less than two inches in length, had sat undisturbed at the museum since 1896. It was a gift from Capt. William A. Smith, of King George County, who served during the Vicksburg siege.
The code is called the ‘Vigenere cipher,’ a centuries-old encryption in which letters of the alphabet are shifted a set number of places so an ‘a’ would become a ‘d’ — essentially, creating words with different letter combinations.
The code was widely used by Southern forces during the Civil War, according to Civil War Times Illustrated.
The source of the message was likely Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, of the Texas Division, who had under his command William Smith, the donor of the bottle.
The full text of the message to Pemberton reads:
'Gen'l Pemberton: You can expect no help from this side of the river. Let Gen'l Johnston know, if possible, when you can attack the same point on the enemy's lines. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps (explosive devices). I subjoin a despatch from General Johnston.'
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