The remains of two unknown Union sailors recovered from the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery on March 8, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Tuesday.
“These may very well be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War to be buried at Arlington,” Mabus said in a statement. “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 of our modern Navy.”
The two skeletons and the tattered remains of their uniforms were discovered in the rusted hulk of the Union Civil War ironclad in 2002 when its 150-ton turret was raised from the ocean floor off Cape Hatteras, N.C. Conservators of the wreck had a forensic reconstruction done on the two men’s faces in the longshot bid that someone could identify the sailors who went down with the Monitor 150 years ago.
As a result, some families whose ancestors had served on the Monitor came forward, but DNA testing did not produce a match, said David Alberg, superintendent of the Monitor sanctuary. While efforts to identify to the two continue, he said, “Let’s lay the men to rest.”
Alberg has pushed for the Arlington honors. So have the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Maritime Heritage Program and descendants of the surviving Monitor crewmembers.
“It’s their final voyage,” Alberg said. “They sailed out in 1862 and never made it home and now they’re finally being laid to rest 150 years later.”
The Brooklyn-made Monitor made nautical history, fighting in the first battle between two ironclads in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862. The Monitor’s confrontation with the CSS Virginia ended in a draw. The Virginia, built on the carcass of the U.S. Navy frigate USS Merrimack, was the Confederate answer to the Union’s ironclad ships.
The Monitor sank about nine months later in rough seas southeast of Cape Hatteras while it was under tow by the USS Rhode Island. Sixteen of the Monitor’s crew members died. The crew of the Rhode Island was able to rescue about 50 survivors.