In April 1862 Civil War general Robert E. Lee received an encrypted note from a Joseph E. Johnston. According to the library that owns this document, the encryption is unsolved.

American readers of this blog certainly know who Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) was. Lee is considered the most important Southern States general of the US Civil War.


Last year I blogged about an encrypted note Robert E. Lee sent to a fellow general named Alexander Lawton in 1864. The owner of  this dispatch, a private collector, asked US professor Kent Boklan if he could break the cipher. Kent, whom I had the pleasure to meet last year in New York, was successful.


An  encrypted message sent to Lee

Besides my readers, Google is my best source for interesting stories to blog about. When I searched for the term “diary in cipher” yesterday, one of the pages that showed up was the “Civil War day by day” site of the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina. On this site an encrypted note sent to Robert E. Lee is shown. It has got nothing to do with a diary (I don’t know why Google thinks it has), but it is quite interesting. Here’s the note:


The note was sent by Joseph E. Johnston, another Civil War general, in 1862.

On the website the following description can be read: “Cipher sent from Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to Gen. Robert E. Lee. The coded message appears to be a note regarding the supply of arms to Johnston’s command, which in April 1862 was engaged in the fortification and defense of Richmond. As there is no key for deciphering the message, the exact meaning of the note is unclear.”


A code or nomenclator?

The website that introduces this cryptogram is dated 2012. I’m quite surprised that I never heard of it. As it seems, it was never mentioned in the crypto history literature or in any discussion forum I follow. It goes without saying that the solution is not known to me.

Encryption played an important role in the US Civil War. At least a dozen ciphers from both sides of the conflict are known. Virtually all of them are pretty weak. This message to Robert E. Lee is the only unsolved Civil War cryptogram I am aware of.

The Johnston cryptogram, as I  will call it, mainly consists of two digit and three digit numbers. These numbers might have been taken from a codebook or nomenclator. If so, the Johnston cryptogram might be pretty difficult to solve. Above some of the numbers a word is written. Are these words the correct translations of the respective codegroups? The website doesn’t explain the origin of these additional notes.

Can a reader say more about this cryptogram? Any help is welcome.

Further reading: Ten more uses of the pigpen cipher


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Kommentare (25)

  1. #1 David Wilson
    31. August 2017

    The numbers have little pencil text right above it.

    General R.E. Lee April 8th 1862
    There are 45 R.I here for 174 R 16 40 Nr. 10. 278 L 33. More to 108 L 13. 250 R. 18 of there, 153 R 22 239 L 29. Will 157 R 17. Can not the government 195 R 11 45 R. I for the 176 Nr. 23 250 R. 18? I hope enough for 174 R. 16 40 Nr 10 will be 56 L. 26 to-Morrow.
    J.E. Johnston

    So apparently 45.R.I is “arms”, 228 L 33 is “route”, etc.

  2. #2 Thomas
    1. September 2017

    It is obviously a code based on a three column book (L, M,R = left, middle, right): number of page, column, number of line.The book, maybe an English dictionary, has at least 250 pages and 33 lines. See for example the Webster’s dictionary code: ( a link to the Webster’s dictionaries included).
    Who will find the appropriate dictionary?

  3. #3 Thomas
    1. September 2017

    Mabe this one from 1854:;view=1up;seq=21;skin=mobile? Haven’t tested it yet.

  4. #4 Thomas
    1. September 2017

    @David Wilson

    Thank you for the transcript. I think there are some typos. My version, corrections appreciated ( word codes in brackets):

    There are (45 R 1) here for (174 R 16) (40 M 10). (228 L 33). More to (108 L 13). (250 R 18) of them, (153 R 22) (239 L 29). Will (157 R 17). Can not the government (195 R 11) (45 R 1) for the (176 M 23) (250 R 18)? I hope enough for (174 R 16) (40 M 10) will (56 L 26) to-Morrow.

  5. #5 Thomas
    1. September 2017

    Two days before, Johnston sent this telegram to Lee :

    Rapidan, April 6, 1862.
    General B. E. LEE, 0.5. A.:
    GENERAL: I have just received your telegram of yesterday in cipher.*
    My suggestion, to which you refer, was based on the supposition that the enemy is advancing upon you. I cannot here compare the state of affairs in my front with that in front of others, and cannot, therefore,
    decide understandingly whether troops are less needed here than elsewhere, which seems to me to be the question. He who directs Military operations upon information from every department can.
    The railroad is operating so slowly that there is abundant time to instruct me further.
    General Stuart thinks that the Federal force near Cedar Run is about 10,000 and that there is no large body of troops at Manassas. General Jacksons two last reports represent the enemy near him quiet.
    Your obedient servant,

    The civil war correspondence from spring 1862 can be found here:

  6. #6 Thomas
    1. September 2017

    On March 26, 1862, President Davis wrote to Johnston:
    “I send you a dictionary, of which I have the duplicate, so that you may communicate with me by cipher, telegraphic or written, as follows: First, give the page by its number; second, the column by the letter L, M, or R, as it may be, in the left-hand, middle, or right-hand column; third, the number of the word in the column, counting fromthe top. Thus the word junction would be designated by 146, L, 20.”
    Hence, we can be sure that Johnston used this code (and probably the dictionary given to him by the president) in his message to Lee. In a letter from Dec. 1862 Johnston wrote: “Your dispatch of today received. The cipher was given to me by the President, and used last spring. Revised edition abridged from N. Webster by W.G. Webster.”

    We must find this dictionary.

  7. #7 Thomas
    1. September 2017

    Only a guess:
    Webster`s pocket pronouncing dictionary . On the internet I´ve found only the 1868 edition which seems to be a little bit shorter because the item “junction” is not on page 146, but on page 130:
    Thus the edition in question should have approx. 270-280 pages.

  8. #8 Davidsch
    1. September 2017

    The “Noah Webster, William Greenleaf Webster” dictionary of 1857 does contain the word junction. on P 146 L 20th word.

  9. #9 Davidsch
    1. September 2017

    Then 45 R1 = CAR.
    A possible word in previous column is Captive then:

    There are (45 R 1)CAPTIVES here for (174 R 16)ONE/ONLY (40 M 10)BRIGADE.
    (228 L 33)SIXTEEN. More to (108 L 13). FOLLOW

  10. #10 Davidsch
    1. September 2017

    (250 R 18) THREE of them, (153 R 22)LONG (239 L 29) STREET/STREAM/STRENGTH. Will (157 R 17) MARCH.

  11. #11 Davidsch
    1. September 2017

    Can not the government (195 R 11)PROCURE (45 R 1) CAPTIVES for the (176 M 23) OTHER/OTHERWISE (250 R 18) THREAT(THREE)?

    I hope enough for (174 R 16) ONE (40 M 10) BRIDGE will (56 L 26) COME to-Morrow.

  12. #12 Davidsch
    1. September 2017

    (40 M 10) BRIDGE is wrong. I took the first word and because bridge is a common crypto word … 😉 should have been: (40 M 10) BRIGADE.

  13. #13 Thomas
    1. September 2017

    Great you found the right edition of the dictionary!

    40 M 10 in the last sentence yields “BRIGADE” instead of “BRIDGE”:

  14. #14 Thomas
    1. September 2017

    I get:

    “There are cars here for one brigade. Six. More to follow. Three of them, long street. Will march. Can not the government procure cars for the other three? I hope enough for one brigade will come tomorrow.”

  15. #15 Amiga-Freak
    1. September 2017

    I think it should be “Longstreet” insted of “long street”. It is very probable that Gen. James Longstreet is meant. Then the sentence is “Longstreet will march” (instead of going by car).

  16. #16 Norbert
    1. September 2017

    @Thomas, Davidsch: Congratulations, good job!

  17. #17 Thomas
    1. September 2017

    As to (Gen.) Longstreet you’re definitely right, there is no period between street and will. This makes sense because Longstreet was a subordinate of Johnston and Lee.

  18. #18 S. Tomokiyo
    1. September 2017

    @Davidsch and others,
    Congratulations! I will update my description of this letter in my article in near future.

  19. #19 Klaus Schmeh
    1. September 2017

    @S. Tomokiyo:
    Sorry, I didn’t know that this cryptogram is shown on your page. So, my statement that this note isn’t described in the standard crypto literature was wrong.

  20. #20 Klaus Schmeh
    2. September 2017

    @Thomas, Davidsch, Amiga-Freak: Thank you very much, great job!

  21. #21 ofu
    2. September 2017

    wenn der artikel in deutsch geschrieben waere wuerde ich ihn mir durchlesen

  22. #22 James Simpson
    7. September 2017

    Possible similarities to Beale Papers…..?

    Maybe something in the book used…..

    Or a document…?

    Declaration of Independence was used in Beale Papers for second cipher…..

    It would not surprise me if that is something the Confederates used as a coding template for their further affairs in the KGC Operations that the Beale conceals.

    Try also the “Confederate Cipher Wheel”…..there are directions hinted at in the ‘R’ and ‘L’ in the ciphertexts above that show the wheel is in use.

    Here the cipher is shown to be of the 5 disc wheel system…….invented by none other than George Beale, a Purser on the ship S.S. Peacock.

    From what I have gathered from the Beale there is a good chance there is a similar use of the same wheel in the cipher that is shown above…..

    What gives me that Idea…….?

    Cracking the Beale Ciphers has shown me their templates, systems, and their interests of encoding their affairs as an extension of the Declaration itself, as a statement as to their identity being a part of a separatist order, declaring their Independence from the Union.

    George Beale tried to start the use of these flat disc systems as a more compact version of the Jefferson Wheel.

    The variances are very slight in the two methods.

    They wanted a faster method of encoding for field agents and officers passing codes to soldiers, so George Beale, in charge of accounting of the ship’s finances, was able to compress a series of rotating wheels based on Francis Bacon’s Methods.

    The Union Army at the time decided to NOT use his inventions, and he later sold the idea to the Mexican Army.

    Later the Confederates adopted these wheels.

    This being the future of cryptography, and the first time that we see the integration of accounting profiles and the symbols that carry the info into these types of ciphers.

    Interesting to track it all back to an accountant.

  23. #23 James Simpson
    7. September 2017

    The M is the Zero Point or the centered standard starting point, or a reset along the way in the rotations.

    The Wheel is created by the use of the Purser Coding inside of the wording of the letter, in Templar Form, and the basic observations are derived from the patterns and the letter counts.

    The Reset ‘M’ setting is the crack as these are the standard settings.

    The continued use of the M in certain places will produce the intended phrase of the 3M’s… it will produce the intended ? MMM ? to question the validity of the initial message through the book codes.

    The further use of the 3 MMM’s is then applied to the reading of the letter from the beginning to show they are clearly hinting at the wheel cipher.

    THERE ARE 3MMM’s 45R, almost spells THERE ARE ARMS HERE FOR THE .45 Rounds……

    Imagine ………

    There is some COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MESSAGE derived through all of this

    I challenge you to not jump so soon to confirm the findings before trying all the Historical Tricks of the Triangle Trade.

    These men were Pirates……the Sinclairs, the Ingrams, Drakes, the O.A.K. , the K.G.C., and they had stolen the documents of the RC order in the takeover of the nation. Hiding the true religious texts that Bacon had left behind and leaving a trail of deception on their paths.

    Almost every one of these military codes related to two orders and two messages that are derived in this SAME EXACT MANNER

    Passed on for TWO ORDERS of the Confederate Soldiers and the Confederate Generals that were encoding their symbolic and ironic ideals into these as themes to carry the authenticity of the letters.

    All of these coded messages can be read clearly by using both the known textbook methods for the Operative Masons……and for the Speculative Masons there was another message… of their intended order’s affairs at the highest levels of the Jesuit Order.

    Don’t take their letters for a simple face value answer…..use the older methods to derive the ultimate purpose of its meaning.

    There you will find these keywords are encoded.

    I discovered this letter holds these messages in only a few minutes because I knew what to look for…..

    But the second layer was the ultimate message that shows their treasonous order is still active, as these hidden methods of multi layer encryption are still used today.

  24. #24 James Simpson
    7. September 2017

    3 MMM’s


    3M ?

    M+M ?

    Cryptic Marketing Strategy?


    The Blue Tape of Silence

    & The Reward For Keeping Quiet?

  25. #25 James Simpson
    7. September 2017

    There is also a hidden ‘catch’ to the cipher.

    There is a Weapons Cache layered as well as a layer of a Gold Map to a Confederate Treasury in this letter.

    These are great nulls……