The identities of USS Monitor crew members have been in the news recently, as officials prepare to lay to rest the remains of what are believed to be the Civil War ironclad’s final occupants on March 8.
“These may very well be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War to be buried at Arlington,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement last week. “It’s important we honor these brave men and all they represent as we reflect upon the significant role Monitor and her crew had in setting the course for our modern Navy.”
The two sailors were aboard the Monitor when it sank upside down in a gale off the North Carolina coast on December 31, 1862, 10 months after its battle with the Confederate CSS Virginia. While most of the crewmen escaped, several men perished and the bodies of the others were never recovered.
The two unidentified men — an older sailor, about 35 years old, who walked with a limp, wore a gold ring and often had a pipe clenched between his teeth, and a younger man, about 21 years old, with a broken nose and mismatched shoes — were trapped in the turret.
More than a century later, their almost-complete skeletons were found, one on top of the other, amid a tangle of huge guns and debris. “It’s extraordinary on a number of levels,” said David W. Alberg, superintendent of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. “There’s something comforting to know that, no matter what you go through, what sacrifice you make, that the nation’s promise to look after you, bring you home and honor you is as good 150 years later” as it is was back then. “Here we have two men who were lost in a storm, forgotten by even many of their descendants,” he said. “But the nation’s never forgotten.”
The study of the sailors’ bones yielded DNA but few other clues. The identities of all the other lost Monitor sailors are known, and many crew members are depicted in old photographs, but it was not known which identities might go with the recovered remains.
Last year, at the Navy Memorial in Washington, experts from Louisiana State University displayed clay facial reconstructions of the two men, based on models of their skulls. Experts hoped that the clay images might, through public exposure, provide leads to the sailors’ identities.
On March 7, representatives from the Navy and NOAA will escort the remains from the military’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, where the bones have undergone study, said a Navy spokeswoman, Lt. Lauryn Dempsey.
The funeral, scheduled for March 8, will mark 40 years of research into the Monitor by the Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA, and many other organizations. The sailors will be borne to their graves in two caskets on a horse-drawn caisson during an interment ceremony at 4 p.m.
Officials said the case will remain open, should further information be discovered.
More information available here.