Here’s a nifty little stocking-stuffer of the kind that ol’ Robbo enjoys: CIA decodes Civil War message in a bottle after 147 years.

A message in a bottle sent to a Confederate general during the Siege of Vicksburg, one of the key turning points of the American Civil War, has finally been deciphered after 147 years.

The glass vial stopped with a cork contained a coded missive to Lt Gen John C Pemberton, who was besieged in the Mississippi city by Union forces led by Ulysses S Grant.

After nearly six weeks people in Vicksburg had resorted to eating cats, dogs and leather, and making soup from wallpaper paste.

The encrypted, six line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton’s surrender, and would have offered no hope to him. It said: “You can expect no help from this side of the river.”

The source of the message is thought to have been Maj Gen John G. Walker, of the Texas Division.

Pemberton had also held out hope that General Joseph E Johnston, and his 32,000 Confederate troops camped south of Vicksburg, would eventually come to his aid, but Walker’s message made clear that was not going to happen.

Not to get all pedantic about it, but  Joe Johnston was never camped south of Vicksburg – Grant had dropped south of Vicksburg on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi and crossed the river below the city, driving Pemberton’s forces north and east.  Johnston was sent to Jackson to try and save the situation, where he promptly got whipped on May 14 and retired to the north.  Grant then  turned on Pemberton’s remaining forces to the west, defeating him at Champion Hill on May 16 and driving him back into the Vicksburg fortifications, which Grant settled down to besiege two days later.  Johnston continued to hover around Canton, which is north of Jackson (and northeast of Vicksburg), but Grant detailed a force to keep an eye on him and pounce if he tried to relieve the seige.