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Civil War Message De-Coded

30 Dec

From the AP and CBS News websites:

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 doomed Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton: Reinforcements are not on the way.

The encrypted, 6-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. 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 2 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.

It was Wright who decided to investigate the contents of the strange little bottle containing a tightly wrapped note, a .38-caliber bullet and a white thread.

“Just sort of a curiosity thing,” said Wright. “This notion of, do we have any idea what his message says?”

The answer was no.

Wright asked a local art conservator, Scott Nolley, to examine the clear vial before she attempted to open it. He looked at the bottle under an electron microscope and discovered that salt had bonded the cork tightly to the bottle’s mouth. He put the bottle on a hotplate to expand the glass, used a scalpel to loosen the cork, then gently plucked it out with tweezers.

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, did not reveal itself immediately.

Eager to learn the meaning of the code, Wright took the message home for the weekend to decipher. She had no success.

A retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy, was contacted, and he cracked the code in several weeks.

A Navy cryptologist independently confirmed Gaddy’s interpretation. Cmdr. John B. Hunter, an information warfare officer, said he deciphered the code over two weeks while on deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. A computer could have unscrambled the words in a fraction of the time.

“To me, it was not that difficult,” he said. “I had fun with this and it took me longer than I should have.”

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.

The Johnston mention in the dispatch is Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, whose 32,000 troops were encamped south of Vicksburg and prevented from assisting Pemberton by Grant’s 35,000 Union troops. Pemberton had held out hope that Johnston would eventually come to his aid.

The message was dispatched during an especially terrible time in Vicksburg. Grant was unsuccessful in defeating Pemberton’s troops on two occasions, so the Union commander instead decided to encircle the city and block the flow of supplies or support. Many in the city resorted to eating cats, dogs and leather. Soup was made from wallpaper paste. After a six-week siege, Pemberton relented. Vicksburg, so scarred by the experience, refused to celebrate July 4 for the next 80 years.

So what 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. For Pemberton, the bottle is symbolic of his lost cause: the bad news never made it to him.

The Confederate messenger probably arrived to the river’s edge and saw a U.S. flag flying over the city. “He figured out what was going on and said, ‘Well, this is pointless,’ and turned back,” Wright said.

 
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Posted in History, Wars

 

Italian-Turkish War of 1911-1912 Now Available Online

30 Dec
Italian Troops Fighting Turks in Libya 1911-1912

Italian Troops Fighting Turks in Libya 1911-1912

Italo-Turkish War of 1911-1912 now online at http://www.historyguy.com/italo_turkish_war.htm

The Italian Navy transported nearly 50,000 Army troops to the Libyan coast, where they quickly overcame light resistance and occupied the coastal cities. The Ottomans only had light forces on the ground, and were not able to put up an effective resistance. Due to the weakness of their navy, compared to the Italian naval forces, and the declared neutrality of Egypt (which was under British control), the Ottomans were not able to reinforce the defenders in North Africa. Because of this apparent weakness in the face of Italian aggression, the Ottoman government had to…(read more at http://www.historyguy.com/italo_turkish_war.htm)

 

Egypt-Libya War of 1977

29 Dec

New page on the Egypt-Libya War of 1977 now online at http://www.historyguy.com/egypt_libya_war_1977.htm

 

Dionne’s Editorial on the American Civil War is Correct

27 Dec

A recent editorial by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Don’t Spin The Civil War, is a fact and data-filled piece that reiterates the need to remember the real reason the United States fought a bloody, and ultimately victorious and righteous Civil War (note that it is rightly called the “Civil War,” not the ” War Between the States.”)  Dionne’s piece backs up the post on this website denouncing the upcoming re-enactment of Jefferson Davis’s oath of office by pro-Southern re-enactors who want to (pardon the pun) white-wash history by spouting the usual blather about the reasons for the Civil War.  Secession and the war were driven by the slavery issue, not states’ rights.  Read Dionne’s piece for some good information on this ongoing problem with the pro-Confederate attempt to revise the history of the American Civil War.

 

Re-Enactment of Jefferson Davis’ Inauguration Re-Enacts Treason and Evil

22 Dec

Civil re-enactors plan to re-create Jefferson Davis’s Oath of Office on that event’s 150th anniversary.  This is akin to a pack of Neo-Nazis in Germany planning to re-enact the Nuremburg Rallies or a re-enactment of Benedict Arnold’s betrayal of the Patriots in the American Revolution. 

Jefferson Davis led a rebellion against the constitutionally-elected government of the United States.  The moment he took the Confederate oath of office, he marked himself and all of his followers as illegitimate traitors to all that the United States of America stood for then, and stands for today.  Re-enacting significant battles from American history is one thing, but Davis’ swearing in as the Confederate leader is re-enacting a political act; specifically a political act that sought to preserve the “right” of rich white men to own other human beings as property.  Many Confederate apologists argue that the southern secession and the Civil War are about the legitimate political concept of States’ Rights, or the sanctity of property, or a response to the economic inequality between the North and the South. 

The bare truth is that secession and war were about slavery, and that Jefferson Davis’ inauguration as the leader of an attempted country based on the blood and sweat of enslaved man and women was a ceremony as evil and malicious as Hitler’s Nuremburg rallies.  Slavery was the American Holocaust, stretched out over hundreds of years rather than Hitler’s 12 years of tyranny. 

Re-enacting the ultimate act of treason by America’s ultimate traitor is a political act (rightfully protected by the constitution Davis rejected), that will mark the re-enactors as ill-thinking racists who pine for an earlier era when African-Americans were subservient and without rights.  Do you think these re-enactors voted for a black man to occupy the White House?  I kinda doubt it.

Read the article from The Houston Chronicle, Dec. 22, 2010:

Hundreds of Civil War re-enactors will parade up Montgomery’s main street to the state Capitol on Feb. 19 to recreate the swearing-in of Confederate President Jefferson Davis 150 years ago.

African-American leaders might protest nearby with a message that the Confederacy should be remembered with shame for trying to keep blacks enslaved rather than with celebration.

Organizers say they are not trying to create controversy.   Read the rest of the article from The Houston Chronicle,

 

Wars of Korea Page Online

22 Dec

New page on the Wars of Korea at http://www.historyguy.com/wars_of_korea.htm

Wars of Korea

 

Donghak Peasant Revolution (1894)–This rebellion caused the Korean governement to request Chinese military intervention. This caused Japan and China to fight a war in Korea.

First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)–Japan defeated China. Many battles fought on Korean soil. The war resulted in Japan gaining increased influence in Korea.

Japanese Annexation of Korea (1910)–Though Japan retained effective control over Korea from 1905 on, the annexation was formalized in a 1910 treaty.

Anti-Japanese Resistance (1919-1945)–Many different groups and rebel forces resisted Japanese rule over Korea.

World War Two (1939-1945)–Many Koreans were drafted into Japanese forces during World War Two. The war ended with Japan defeated, and Japanese occupation of Korea ended.

Jeju Rebellion (1948-1949)–Communist rebellion on the South Korean island of Jeju

The Korean War (1950-1953)

 

North Korean Border Attack Update

24 Nov

The Korean Border Conflicts page is now updated to reflect the recent North Korean Attack on Yeonpyeong Island.
http://www.historyguy.com/korean_border_conflicts.htm

 

Veteran’s Day in America: A Time To Honor Heroes

11 Nov
American Veteran on Veteran's Day

American Veteran on Veteran's Day

Honoring our Heroes on Veteran’s Day

Veteran’s Day is a time to reflect upon the sacrifices, bravery, and patriotism of millions of service members whose call to duty guarantees the freedoms and way of life enjoyed by all Americans.  To my brother, cousins, father, aunt and grandfathers who served, most especially, THANK YOU!

 

New page on Islamic and Muslim History now online

12 Sep

New page on Islamic and Muslim History now online at: http://www.historyguy.com/muslim_history.htm

Islamic Symbol

Islamic Symbol

 

Russian History Page Now Online

12 Sep
Russian Flag

Russian Flag

The new Russian History Portal page is now online at:  http://www.historyguy.com/russian_history.htm