Decoding a Civil War letter mystery

EP Alexander001

Image P-7/2, in the Edward Porter Alexander Papers, #7, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Back in 2011, when the Civil War Day by Day blog was in its infancy, a letter from the Edward Porter Alexander Papers, #00007 (a blog favorite) sparked a flurry of comments, when readers noticed the code present in the missive. The commenters with knowledge of the Chinook jargon Alexander used debated the wording and meaning of the secret message intended for his brother. After much back and forth the small group of engaged readers reached no consensus.

Four years later, Wilson Library staff received an e-mail from David D. Robertson, PhD, a consultant linguist at the University of Victoria, B.C., explaining how he used his expertise in the pacific northwest language to take a stab at his own translation. He reveals a message that if discovered would have been considered traitorous to the Confederacy. To read his interpretation of the message see his excellent blog post, which also summarizes the translations done by other readers and staff members before him.

Thank you to all the wonderful readers of the Civil War Day by Day blog for their work on this 150 year old mystery. And especially to Dr. Robertson for revealing Alexander’s wavering belief in Confederate success!

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