Washington For nearly 150 years, a story has circulated about a hidden Civil War message engraved inside Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch. On Tuesday, museum curators confirmed it was true.
A watchmaker used tiny tools to carefully pry open the antique watch at the National Museum of American History, and a descendant of the engraver read aloud the message from a metal plate underneath the watch face.
“April 13 - 1861,” the first line reads, “Fort Sumpter (sic) was attacked by the rebels on the above date. J Dillon.” The second part repeats same date, states the location as Washington and says, “Thank God we have a government.”
The words were etched in tiny cursive and filled the space between tiny screws and gears that jutted through the metal plate. A magnifying glass was required to read them.
Jonathan Dillon, then a watchmaker on Pennsylvania Avenue, had Lincoln’s watch when he heard the first shots of the Civil War had been fired in South Carolina.
Dillon’s great-great grandson, Doug Stiles, was responsible for tracking down the rumor and alerting the Smithsonian.
Lincoln’s family kept the watch until it was donated to the museum in 1958. It was Lincoln’s everyday pocket watch. There’s no evidence that the president ever knew about the inscription.