published Friday, March 8th, 2013

2 Civil War sailors from USS Monitor buried in Virginia

  • photo
    Sailors salute Friday as one of two honor guard team places a casket of remains, during services to honor two sailors from the Civil War ship, the USS Monitor, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. A century and a half after the Civil War ship the USS Monitor sank, two unknown crewmen found in the ironclad's turret were buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Friday's burial may be the last time Civil War soldiers are buried at the cemetery.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ARLINGTON, Va. — A century and a half after the Civil War ship the USS Monitor sank off the North Carolina coast, two unknown crewmen found in the ironclad’s turret were buried Friday evening at Arlington National Cemetery.

The burial, which included a three-gun salute and a brass band playing “America the Beautiful,” may be the last time Civil War soldiers are buried at the cemetery overlooking Washington.

“Today is a tribute to all the men and women who have gone to sea, but especially to those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who spoke at a funeral service before the burial.

The Monitor made nautical history when the Union ship fought the Confederate CSS Virginia in the first battle between two ironclads on March 9, 1862. The battle was a draw.

The Monitor sank about nine months later in rough seas off North Carolina, and 16 sailors died. In 2002, the ship’s rusted turret was raised from the Atlantic Ocean floor, and the skeletons of the two crew members were found inside.

Researchers attempted to identify the remains by reconstructing the sailors’ faces using their skulls and by comparing DNA from the skeletons with living descendants of the ship’s crew and their families. They were unable to positively identify the men, though medical and Navy records narrowed the possibilities to six people.

What is known is that one of the men was between 17 and 24 years of age and the other was likely in his 30s. A genealogist who worked on the project believes the older sailor is Robert Williams, the ship’s fireman, who would have tended the Monitor’s coal-fired steam engine.

A marker with the names of all 16 men who died onboard the ship will ultimately be placed on top of the gravesite.

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