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A little piece of history

Confederate soldier's deciphered Civil War diary full of surprises

The just-cracked code a Confederate officer used for his Civil War diary wasn't to keep military actions a secret; it was to protect gossip from the front lines.

James Malbone wrote straightforwardly about casualties and his day-to-day thoughts, but he brought out the code for entries about a soldier who was found in bed with another man's wife, The Associated Press reports. Malbone also wrote details about Varina Howell Davis, Confederate President Jefferson Davis' wife, saying she had "high cheek bones wide mouth" and was possibly of mixed race.

"That's pretty shocking," Kent D. Boklan, a former National Security Agency cryptographer who figured out Malbone's code, told AP. "It's a military diary and you expect military information, but you don't expect the first lady of the Confederacy to make an appearance in this diary."

Malbone's fate is unknown. Somehow, his diary made it to New York, where it wound up at the New York State Military Museum. In 2012, a volunteer looking at the diary realized that parts were in a code consisting of symbols, which ended up corresponding to the letters of the alphabet. Boklan said that "technically" it was not hard to figure out. "With a little bit of work and patience, everything worked out," he said.