Encrypted Civil War Message Finally Decrypted, 147 Years Later

from the wasn't-that-hard,-actually dept

When talking about encryption, people often talk about just how long it would take a certain level of computing to crack the code, so there may be some interest in the fact that it apparently took 147 years to decipher a coded Civil War message... but it turns out that the main reason it took so long was that no one looked. The message had been stored in a bottle and was apparently delivered to Confederate General John Pemberton during the battle of Vicksburg (which the Confederacy lost) on July 4th, 1863. The bottle was given to the Museum of the Confederacy back in 1896 by a former soldier, but the museum staff never bothered to pull the message out of the bottle until a few months ago. After discovering the message was coded, the museum asked some top code breakers to see if they could decipher it, and it apparently took them a few weeks. The message? It probably wasn't that important either, as it basically told General Pemberton he was in trouble and wasn't getting any reinforcements:
"You can expect no help from this side of the river."


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Jake, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 8:04pm

    You might want to check the date of that battle before anyone notices. Not that there weren't plenty of people spoiling for a rematch in 1963, of course.

     

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  2.  
    icon
    Ian (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 8:18pm

    Re:

    Ditto! Actually had to read that a couple of times before it clicked!

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    coldbrew, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 8:32pm

    Re: Re: yeah, that's a neat trick

    It's pretty cool that the dude turned it over to a museum 60-some years before it was delivered. I'm gonna patent that in case some one else figures out how to do it some time in the future...

     

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  4.  
    icon
    reechard (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 8:40pm

    This changes everything

    I'm off to edit Wikipedia right now! Who knew the Civil War was going on all the trime?

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Chase, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 8:52pm

    Re: This changes everything

    That also explains why so many died during that war! :)

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 9:38pm

    "top code breakers to see if they could decipher it, and it apparently took them a few weeks."

    Wow, some regular "coder" can crack WEP in a few minutes, yet this prehistoric code takes two weeks to crack?

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 9:39pm

    Piling on

    The longest civil war ever!

    LoL

    But different from others above I will point to the exact point where it is.

    (which the Confederacy lost) on July 4th, 1963(this should be maybe 1863)
    .

    Now it is easy to find it, just by highlighting it and clicking CTRL+F(on Firefox).

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 9:45pm

    Re:

    Heck, even the FBI can crack WEP.

     

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  9.  
    icon
    Sydney (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 9:50pm

    The Full message

    "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."

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Silvo, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 9:58pm

    So much text and it decodes to only this one sentence?!

     

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  11.  
    icon
    ltlw0lf (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 10:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: yeah, that's a neat trick

    It's pretty cool that the dude turned it over to a museum 60-some years before it was delivered.

    I believe the dude's name, if I remember it correctly, was Clint Eastwood or Marty McFly, or something like that. He had a Delorian that he said needed to get up to 87 miles per hour for the flux capacitor to work. I thought he was smoking crack at the time, since my time travelling device just has a spinning lotto wheel on the back of it.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    coldbrew, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 10:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: yeah, that's a neat trick

    Exactly. One point twenty-one gigawatts, and then we can stop the terrorists from killing us. Or, something like that. I'm sure they'll remake it soon so I can remember.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    anonymous coward, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 10:31pm

    ;)

    Just like to point out that the script kiddies can crack WEP in a "few minutes" because some very smart people spent a lot of time figuring it out for them.

    Using a program made by someone else, does not a "coder" make. :D

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 11:01pm

    Re: ;)

    I know, I was joking.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 12:33am

    Re:

    You might want to check the date of that battle before anyone notices

    Yeah... whoops. Fixed. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 12:38am

    Re: Re: ;)

    Then you forgot the tag. Ha!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 12:55am

    Re: Re: This changes everything

    It also explains why us southerners hate all Yankees.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Susan, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 2:22am

    Security by obscurity? ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 5:28am

    Re: ;)

    I read a more detailed article about this and it looked like it took weeks because none of the code breakers took the job as a high priority. The code was a simple shift cypher that was easily cracked once someone sat down and worked on it.

    The bullet was in the bottle so that it would sink if it was tossed into a river.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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