Civil War message found in a bottle

A glass vial stopped with a cork during the Civil War has been opened, revealing a coded message to the desperate Confederate commander in Vicksburg on the day the Mississippi city fell to Union forces 147 years ago.

The dispatch offered no hope to the doomed Lieutenant-General John C Pemberton: "Reinforcements are not on the way." The encrypted, six-line message was dated 4 July 1863, the date of Pemberton's surrender to Union forces led by Ulysses S Grant, which ended the siege of Vicksburg in what historians say was a turning point midway into the Civil War.

The message is from a Confederate commander on the west of the Mississippi River across from Pemberton. It read in part: "You can expect no help from this side of the river."

The bottle, less than 2in in length, had sat undisturbed in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, since 1896. It was a gift from Captain William A Smith, of King George County, who served during the Vicksburg siege.

A member of staff at the museum decided to investigate the contents of the strange little bottle. But the coded message, which appears to be a random collection of letters, did not reveal itself immediately. A retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy, was contacted, and he cracked the code in several weeks. A Navy cryptologist independently confirmed Mr Gaddy's interpretation.

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