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Civil War message opened and decoded: No help coming

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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 Pemberton: Reinforcements were not on the way.

The encrypted, six-line message was dated July 4, 1863, the day Pemberton surrendered to Union forces led by Maj. Gen. 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.

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

Catherine Wright, collections manager at the museum, decided to investigate the contents of the little bottle containing a tightly wrapped note, a .38-caliber bullet and a white thread.

Author: Steve Szkotak
Published: 4 Apr 2010
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