In July of 2008 I visited the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia (I wrote a post about my day in Richmond). One of the artifacts that stood out to me was a sealed vial with a message that had never been read:
When Vicksburg was about to fall, the help of General Joseph Johnston was needed urgently. The message in the vial below was intended for him. This message has never been removed from the vial or read since it was written. It makes me very curious. . .
This afternoon I saw an AP story regarding this message.The vial was recently opened and the message decoded.
During my visit the display case at the Museum of the Confederacy contained a paragraph of text speculating that the vial contained a message from General John C. Pemberton, under severe duress in Vicksburg at the time, requesting the assistance of General Joseph E. Johnston.
Now that the message has been extracted it has been revealed that it is a message from an unknown Confederate commander (thought to be Major General John G. Walker) in response to General Pemberton’s need for help. It is dated July 4, 1863.
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.”
Not good news for General Pemberton, though the message never got to him. On July 3, 1863 (one day before the message in the vial was composed) Pemberton contacted the commander of the Union forces (General Ulysses S. Grant) to alert him of his intention to surrender. The surrender of Vicksburg was finalized the following day.
It appears a new display case sign is in order. Now that the message in the vial has been extracted there is one less secret in the world.