Monday, April 11, 2011

A Timeless Message

One hundred and fifty years ago, on April 12, 1861, at 4:30 a.m., Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, signaling the start of the Civil War. The guns fired for 34 hours before the fort fell to the rebels.
President Abraham Lincoln was at 1600 Pennsylania Avenue, having left his pocket watch with a local watchmaker down the street. The watch was one of Lincoln's few valuable possessions he brought with him to the White House from Springfield, Illinois.

Jonathan Dillon was repairing the president's pocket watch, when he heard that the first shots of the Civil War had been fired at Fort Sumter. Those shots were the "Pearl Harbor" or "September 11th" of that generation - they represented the end of the world, as they knew it.

Dillion was the only Union sympathizer in the watch repair shop. Forty-five years later, a then-84-year-old Dillon told the New York Times in a 1906 article he had secretly engraved a hidden Civil War message inside President's Lincoln's pocket watch.

Dillon's great-great grandson, Doug Stiles, first heard the story of the engraving from his great uncle decades ago. He contacted the Smithsonian Institution, where the watch was on display, and related the family legend. A 21st century watchmaker named George Thomas, using intricate tools, carefully pried open the interior of the antique pocket watch and revealed the metal plate underneath the watch face. Engraved in tiny script was the message: "April 13 - 1861, Fort Sumpter (sic) was attacked by the rebels on the above date. J Dillon." A second part repeats same date, states the location as Washington and says, "Thank God we have a government."

It is believed Lincoln never saw or knew about the engraving. "My gosh, that was Lincoln's watch," Stiles said, "and my ancestor put graffiti on it!"

You can read more here and here

The real mystery is how Jefferson Davis' name got etched inside the watch as well.

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