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Object Record

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Object Name VIAL
Catalog Number 0985.13.00458
Description Small glass vial with cork stopper. Inside are a rolled dispatch paper (encoded) and lead bullet.

A glass vial, measuring 1 3/16" long by 0.5" wide at the base, with a slightly narrower (7/16") mouth. Inside is a rolled piece of paper 1.5" in length (when unrolled, measuring 6.5" wide by 2.5" long), tied with a length of cotton string, and a lead .36-caliber pistol bullet. On the paper an encrypted message (cryptograph) is written in iron gall ink.
Material Glass/Cork/Paper/Lead/Metal/Cotton
Dimensions L-3.5 inches
Owned William A. Smith; John G. Walker
Event Siege of Vicksburg
Provenance Message in a bottle, with a lead bullet as a sinker, sent but never delivered during the Siege of VIcksburg in 1863.

According to donor, "Dispatch in a medicine phial [sic.] with lead sinker [bullet] sent by General Joseph E. Johnston to Lt. General John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg in 1863. When the scout arrived at the Mississippi River Vicksburg had fallen and the dispatch was brought back to Captain W.A. Smith of A.A. of Gen Walker's Division, Texas Troops. (The misplaced key to this dispatch will be sent in as soon as recovered.)"

However, subsequent research indicates that the message referenced Johnston, and therefore was not written by him. It is believed written/sent by Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, who was stationed on the western side of the Mississippi River.

The text, which was encrypted using the Vigenere cipher method, when decrypted reads, "July 4th / 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 line. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps. I subjoin despatch from Gen. Johnston."
People Johnston, Joseph Eggleston
Smith, William Augustine
Walker, John George
Search Terms Siege of Vicksburg
Vicksburg Campaign
Vicksburg, Mississippi
Subjects Encryption
Cryptology
Ciphers
Bottles