Friday, February 25, 2011

A Message in a Bottle

In December, the media widely reported the fascinating story of a message in a bottle. For over one hundred years, the Museum of the Confederacy has owned a message in a small bottle that was donated in 1896 by Captain William A. Smith, the former assistant adjutant general to Major General John G. Walker’s Texas Division. In 2008, the bottle was carefully opened, and the message was extracted and found to be in a secret code known as a VigenĂ©re cipher. Sent to Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, the commander of the force at Vicksburg, Mississippi, the deciphered message reads:

“July 4th

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 line. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps. I subjoin despatch from Gen. Johnston.”

Probably originating with General Walker, the message is dated on the day that Vicksburg surrendered. Certainly one of the frustrations of the campaign from the Confederate perspective was the inability of trans-Mississippi Confederates (like Walker’s division) to offer any substantial aid to their comrades across the river in Vicksburg.

An excellent article about the message in the bottle was recently published in the Museum of the Confederacy’s Magazine (Winter 2011) and may be read by following the link.

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