The Confederate Code Disk was based on a centuries old system known as the "Vigenere System" but called the Vicksburg System by the Confederate States of America.
|Front view: Brass mechanical wheel cipher consisting of two concentric discs that share a common axle, each with the 26 letters from the Latin alphabet written out clockwise. Outer disc approx. 57mm dia., inner disc approx. 41mm. The inner disc is stamped at center CSA / S.S. (Confederate States of America Secret Service).|
|Rear view: The reverse side is stamped with maker's mark F. Labarre/ Richmond, VA.|
|Photos courtesy LiveAuctioneers web site|
Only five are known to have survived. One of the original cipher discs was given to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond VA. by Major Graham Davis who, as assistant adjutant to General S.G. French, used it to encipher and decipher messages for his commander. Cipher discs were probably made at the request of E.P. Alexander who, in 1861 was ordered to establish a Confederate Signal Corps.
The Crypto Museum Web site provides additional details about the code disk.
"An extremely rare decoding device used by the Confederates to encrypt secret messages throughout the Civil War. It was created by gold and silver worker, Francis LaBarre, ca 1862. At the start of the war, LaBarre (b. 1818), who was working in Washington, DC, fled the city for Richmond, Virginia where he was contracted by the Confederate Army to produce brass cipher devices as well as other medals. LaBarre enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private on April 22, 1861, in Alexandria, VA, and was mustered into Co. H of the 7th Virginia Infantry. Within a year, he was discharged on May 14, 1862, but during his time in the army, LaBarre's official military occupation was listed as "plater." He is referenced as a "tinner" in an 1864 Baltimore City Directory as well as an 1870 Baltimore census.
Only a handful of Confederate cipher discs known to exist".
(Provenance: From the Collection of Philip D. Sang)
This replica of the Confederate Code Disc was created by Precision Etchings and Findings Inc of Warwick, Rhode Island to the precise specifications of Donald E. Markle, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The disk is seen here atop its velvet carrying pouch and is a faithful replica of the original.
Contributors and Credits:
1) George Mace <gmace8(at)comcast.net>
2) Crypto Museum Web site