Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hidden Code on Civil War Diary

Varina Howell Davis
Queens College computer science professor has deciphered the cryptic notes in Confederate officer James Malbone's civil war diary. Professor Kent Boklan found interesting entries nestled among orders and other military information.  Malbone's entries were written in a code he devised himself where symbols, punctuation marks, and dollar signs were used instead of letters of the alphabet.

The entries contain camp gossip and stories about soldier infidelities.  One of the most interesting items is about meeting Mrs. Jefferson Davis and suggesting that from her looks that "she may have been of mixed race."

There doesn't seem to be any indication of what that "mixture of races" might have been. Her image suggests a number of possibilities including Hispanic, Native American, and African American. 

According to Strode Hudson in Jefferson Davis, Volume I: American Patriot:"She tried intermittently to do what was expected of her, but she never convinced people that her heart was in it, and her tenure as First Lady was for the most part a disaster,"as they picked up on her ambivalence. White residents of Richmond freely criticized Varina Davis; and some described her appearance as "a mulatto or an Indian 'squaw'."

Frankly, I could care less about her pedigree. Mrs. Jefferson was a strong and supporting wife who had incredible influence in the Confederate government.  As the war continued and hardships spread to those who demanded secession, disgruntled Southerners attacked both President Davis and his First Lady. 

President and Mrs. Jefferson Davis
On a personal note, I have now returned to the land of the living after spending most of the last three months completing my manuscript on the life of Major General Charles Ferguson Smith. The process of obtaining permissions and drawing maps resulted in long days with virtually no time for other activities. Please excuse my prolonged absence. --- A. Mesch