NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WTVR) – The remains of two unknown Union sailors recovered from the Civil War ironclad the USS Monitor will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery on March 8, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Tuesday.
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 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, so officials decided to let the men be laid to rest.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Maritime Heritage Program and descendants of the surviving Monitor crew members pushed for the Arlington honors.
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.
The wreck was discovered in 1973 and designated the first national marine sanctuary in 1975. The turret is now on display at the USS Monitor Center of The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News.