The National Museum of American History found that a golden pocket watch owned by Abraham Lincoln bears a message marking the start of the U.S. Civil War–however, the president never knew about this reticent inscription.
The engraving, by watchmaker Jonathan Dillon, is dated April 13, 1861, and reads in part: “Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels” and “thank God we have a government.”
After being contacted by the great-great-grandson of the watchmaker, the museum agreed to open the watch to find out if the message really was there. Lo and behold, there it was.
The American Civil War began when Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861.
Forty-five years later, the watchmaker told The New York Times that he was repairing Lincoln’s watch when he heard that the first shots of the Civil War had been fired.
Dillon said he unscrewed the dial of the watch and used a sharp instrument to mark the historic day on the president’s watch. He told the newspaper that, as far as he knew, no one had ever seen the inscription.
“Lincoln never knew of the message he carried in his pocket,” Brent Glass, director of the National Museum of American History said in a statement. “It’s a personal side of history about an ordinary watchman being inspired to record something for posterity.”