The Civil War in Missouri

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Confederate Cipher Reader Presented to Captain George C. Bain, Chief Signal Officer, CSA, by Captain William N. Barker, Confederate Signal Bureau

MHM Collections

This Confederate cipher reader was used to gather and transmit intelligence for the Confederate army. There are other examples of Confederate ciphers, such as discs and reels, but this particular device might be unique. On each of its 15 pages are two ribbons of alphabetized tape, one fixed and one adjustable, which could be manipulated to decipher, and possibly encipher, coded messages.This cipher was used by George C. Bain of the Confederate Signal Corps while stationed in North Carolina. After the war, Bain moved to St. Louis and worked as a salesman for the grocery company Meyer-Bain Manufacturing.It is not known whether this type of device was used in the western theater of the war, though secret messages were certainly being transmitted. James M. Utz was executed in St. Louis in 1864 after the discovery of a coded letter led to charges against him of being a rebel spy, recruiting men for the rebel army, and carrying correspondence and information to the enemy.