Pemberton’s Vicksburg Surrender and a Decoded Message in a Bottle 147-Years Later

December 27, 2010

(ChattahBox US News)— Amid controversial whitewashed celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Confederacy that conveniently leave out the issue of slavery, comes a story that should tweak the interest of Civil War buffs. A long-forgotten message in a bottle, sitting on the shelves of The Museum of the Confederacy since 1896, was recently opened. Inside was a ciphered message to Lt. Gen. John C Pemberton, a despised figure in the South who subjected the Mississippi city of Vicksburg and his army to a forty-seven day siege, before surrendering to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863. The message was dated on the day of his infamous surrender, informing him that nearby Confederate forces would not be coming to his aid.

The message is thought to have been written by Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, as Pemberton was in the midst of negotiating his surrender.

“The glass vial stopped with a cork contained a coded missive to Lt Gen John C Pemberton, who was besieged in the Mississippi city by Union forces led by Ulysses S Grant.”

“After nearly six weeks people in Vicksburg had resorted to eating cats, dogs and leather, and making soup from wallpaper paste.”

“The encrypted, six line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton’s surrender, and would have offered no hope to him. It said: “You can expect no help from this side of the river.”‘

After uncorking the bottle, the historic missive was deciphered by David Gaddy, a retired CIA cryptographer.

The message to Pemberton adds some context to a period in the Civil War that many historians view as the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. After Pemberton’s controversial retreat to Vicksburg and ultimate surrender, the vital shipping route of the Mississippi River fell under Union control.

Pemberton, known for his administrative talents more than his combat expertise, was later blamed for the defeat by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, because of Pemberton’s refusal to obey orders to leave Vicksburg and join forces with Johnston’s men. Pemberton, battle weary from disastrous run-ins with Union soldiers, retreated instead to Vicksburg to save the city at all costs. And the rest is history.

The terse message, “You can expect no help from this side of the river,” made it clear that Pemberton was on his own.

Photo Source: Wikimedia/John Clifford Pemberton, 1814–1881, author unknown. Public Domain.


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