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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 4:54 EDT

Lincoln’s Watch Unveils Secret Message

March 11, 2009

The discovery of an inscription on a gold watch owned by Abraham Lincoln was revealed on Tuesday by the National Museum of American History.

The inscription bears a message marking the start of the U.S. Civil War that the president never knew about.

Watchmaker Jonathan Dillon was the one who engraved the watch, which reads “Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels” and “thank God we have a government.”

The museum agreed to open the watch to find out if the message was really there after it was contracted by the watchmaker’s great-great-grandson, Doug Stiles of Waukegan, Illinois.

The watch was engraved on April 13, 1861, the day after Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, the start of the American Civil War.

Dillon told The New York Times 45 years later, that he was repairing Lincoln’s watch when he heard that the first shots of the Civil War had been fired.

He 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 no one had ever seen the inscription as far as he knew.

“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.”

In November of 1860, Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States.  South Carolina and six other states seceded from the Union before Lincoln’s inauguration in March 1861, which lead to the Civil War.

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