Coded message deciphered—nearly 150 years after it was written


13 Responses to “Coded message deciphered—nearly 150 years after it was written”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The BBC article is a little scant in its details. A better article is at The Richmond Times Dispatch.

    There it says that the message was encoded in a Vigenère cipher and gives the full decoded text as:

    “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.”

  2. Anonymous says:

    Some other sources are reporting that the code was a simple rotation of the letters of the alphabet, like ROT13 except ROT4 or whatever.

    The guy cracked it by hand, no computer needed!

    • Anonymous says:

      a simple rotation of the letters of the alphabet, like ROT13 except ROT4 or whatever

      A Vigenère cipher IS a combined ROTn cipher where you have a rule or table that tells you what ‘n’ is for each character position in the message.

  3. kmoser says:

    Hey, by making public the text of this military secret, the retired CIA codebreaker is as guilty as Assange. He should be hunted down and jailed like the traitor he is.

  4. DSMVWL THS says:

    Turns out, the message sat, for more than 110 years, in a jar, in the Museum of the Confederacy. Only in 2010 did museum officials decide to take the message out of the jar and see what it said.

    And it said, “There’s no hope — you’ve lost.”

    It seems richly symbolic that this message went unread by the Museum of the Confederacy for over a century.

    • Anonymous says:

      I read this story in the Sunday edition of our local paper, and found it interesting.

      After reading your comment, I understand what brings me back again and again to BoingBoing.

      Best reader comments on the web.

      I say BoingBoing has the smartest, most thought-provoking and often wittiest comments of any site on the web.

  5. timbaer says:

    I can just see a messenger make it to the top of a hill, see a Union flag over the city, and just say “ehh… screw it.” Wonder if he knew his important message just said “No.”

  6. Yamazakikun says:

    The BBC doesn’t have much detail about how the bottle was opened, but that appears to have taken more work than actually decoding the message. (See the AP story — an electron microscope was involved. And everything’s better with expensive lab equipment; especially when it has blinkenlights, makes whirring noises, and is operated by people in white lab coats.)

  7. Donald Petersen says:

    The code was actually fairly easy to crack—a retired CIA codebreaker did it in a just a few weeks earlier this year.

    I want to assume that he broke it in his spare time utilizing the codebreaking tools appropriate to the period, which in my mind’s eye include a brass astrolabe, an abacus, lots of penknife-sharpened pencils, an almanac, a comfy seat in the shade of an old apple tree, a furrowed brow and a well-scratched muttonchopped chin.

    If he applied Computer Technology to the problem and still required “a few weeks” to crack the code, then “fairly easy” doesn’t seem to describe the robustness of the code.

    But I really know nothing of such things. In case you doubted.

    • spejic says:

      The correct code breaking tools would be paper, pencil, a little knowledge of how the Rebels coded their messages, and a Drogen’s decoder wheel. If the message used one of the keywords that the South often used then it would be trivial to break, if not it would take a little crunching. The Union actually got very good at breaking these during the war.

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