From 1861 until 1865 the United States became the Divided States as North battled South in the US Civil War. Small towns, creeks, hills and even a courthouse gained a place in history that they may never have had. Names like Lee, Grant, Jackson, Buford, Meade, MacPherson, Custer, Sherman and Picket were commonplace. Brother met brother, father met son on battlefields named Antietam, Bull Run, Gettysburg, Lookout Mountain and Harper’s Ferry to name but a few.
Telephones were non-existent. Messages were sent by telegraph or by couriers, soldiers or officers who were part of a General’s staff or aides to a fortunate field officer. These couriers raced off on horseback entrusted with messages that could make or lose a battle. Depending on your perception, the courier was as important as the General sending the message for he bore the responsibility of delivering it and returning with a response.
Some of you may know of my unquenchable thirst for all things pertaining to the Civil War. This morning, while perusing Yahoo News, I came across the following article. To think that 147 years ago a message was written, placed in a small bottle containing a .38 caliber bullet, the bottle corked and handed to a courier to deliver to Lt. General John C. Pemberton is fanciful enough. But, that the message was encoded and never delivered may seem stranger.
So, why put the message in a bottle containing a bullet? Well, as the article states, the source of the message was likely to have been Maj. General John G. Walker, and he was on one side of the Mississippi River and Pemberton’s troops on the other. The courier was probably ordered to throw the bullet weighted bottle into the river if he was intercepted by Union troops. The unopened bottle was donated to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia by Capt. William A. Smith, a veteran of the Vicksburg siege, in 1896.
One hundred and forty seven years later, the collections manager of the museum, Catherine M. Wright became curious and with the help of Scott Nolley, a local art conservator and retired CIA code breaker David Gaddy, sated her curiosity.
Many thanks to Steve Szkotak for writing this article and to Yahoo News for sharing it.