Here’s Your Chance to Decode President Lincoln’s Secret MessagesBreaking News
On April 12, 1865—three days after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox and two days before President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated—the president sent a telegram to Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, whose Union forces were occupying Richmond, Va., the former Confederate capital. The message alluded to some of the issues faced by the conquerors. Would churches in the defeated city be permitted to open that Sunday? Would they be required to offer the customary prayer for the president—now of a newly reunited nation? Lincoln’s telegram begins: “Whats next news I the prayers I to while coming star what you you mean dispatch zebra I you spirit there understanding any if the piloted your offer there such of any and have was I to Emma never seen of of no toby Zodiac…”
The message was written in code. During the war, a large number of such messages had been intercepted by the Confederacy but never deciphered. The Confederacy even took out advertisements in newspapers futilely seeking assistance.
Now, the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens is requesting similar aid in its project “Decoding the Civil War,” collaborating with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, North Carolina State University’s Digital History and Pedagogy Project, and Zooniverse.org, a “crowdsourcing” platform associated with several academic and research institutions. Scans of 15,971 telegrams handled by the U.S. Military Telegraph office during the Civil War have just been put online. About a hundred were sent by Lincoln; about 5,400 are enciphered. A selection of the pocket-sized code books used to translate the ciphers have also been scanned.
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