147-year-old message decoded in US
London: An encrypted message meant for a commander of the Confederate, a force formed by the rebel southern states of America against the Union of the United States during the 1861-1865 Civil War, was deciphered by a former CIA code breaker.
The dispatch sent in a glass vial offered no hope to Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, the Confederate commander in Vicksburg, on the day the Mississippi city fell to Union forces 147 years ago.
The six-line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton's surrender to Union forces led by Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Siege of Vicksburg in what historians say was a turning point midway into the Civil War.
According to British newspaper Daily Mail, the message was sent from a Confederate commander on the west side of the Mississippi River.
"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 2 inches in length, had been kept at the museum since 1896. It was a gift from Capt. William A. Smith, of King George County, who served during the Vicksburg siege.
Wright decided to investigate the contents of the bottle containing a tightly wrapped note, a .38-caliber bullet and a white thread.
The sewing thread was looped around the 6 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch paper, which was folded to fit into the bottle. The rolled message was removed and taken to a paper conservator, who successfully unfurled the message.
But the coded message, which appears to be a random collection of letters, deciphered by the retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy.
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."
The last line, Wright said, seems to suggest a separate delivery to Pemberton would be the code to break the message.
"The date of this message clearly indicates that this person has no idea that the city is about to be surrendered," she said.
About the bullet in the bottom of the bottle, Wright suspects the messenger was instructed to toss the bottle into the river if Union troops intercepted his passage. The weight of the bullet would have carried the corked bottle to the bottom, she said.
The Civil War was fought between the Confederate States of America formed by eleven slave states in the south that declared seccession from the United States in 1961, soon after the victory of the Republican Party led by Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, who campaigned for the abolishment of slavery, refused to acknowledge the seccession of states.