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Interesting US History
A Website Devoted to Interesting Events in U.S. History





March 23, 2009

Lincoln’s Pocket Watch

A great mystery is finally solved. Since the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, a rumor had circulated.  The story had been passed down among family and friends by Jonathan Dillon, a watch maker that just happened to have Lincoln’s watch in his hands on April 13, 1861 when he heard the first shots of the Civil War had been fired in South Carolina the day before.

If you put yourself in his place at that time, you can only attempt to imagine what went through Jonathan Dillon’s mind. It was a traumatic event to be sure and it was obvious to Mr. Dillon that this was an important event in American history. Of course he would have no way of knowing that the war would go on for four years and claim over 600,000 lives, or that Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee would become two of the most famous Generals in American history. He would not know that the long and bloody war would result in a reunited Union and that Lincoln would become the first United States President to be assassinated.

But the story persisted that Mr. Dillon, on April 13, 1861, had etched something into the watch that Lincoln carried around for years.  In a 1908 article in the New York Times, Dillon was reported as saying he wasn’t sure exactly what he had engraved in that watch and that Lincoln never saw the inscription.  As far as he knew, it wasn’t even there.  In 1958, the watch was donated to the National Museum of American History, but still the story went unconfirmed.

On March 10, 2009, George Thomas , a volunteer at the museum, opened the watch and found the following inscriptions: “Jonathan Dillon April 13 – 1861 Fort Sumter was attacked by the rebels on the above date” and “thank god we have a government”. The story is finally confirmed. An amazing piece of history that gives us a glimpse into the mind of a watchmaker in Washington D.C. at a turning point in American history.

Mark Bowman

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