USS Monitor sailors: From watery grave to final rest in Arlington

  • Article by: MICHAEL E. RUANE , Washington Post
  • Updated: February 12, 2013 - 8:08 PM

The remains of two sailors who went down on USS Monitor during the Civil War to be buried next month.

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The USS Monitor crew relaxed on the deck of the Civil War ironclad at James River, Va., in this undated photo by James F. Gibson.

Photo: ., Library of Congress via Associated Press

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For 140 years, the two Yankee sailors lay entombed in the turret of the USS Monitor, doomed shipmates aboard the sunken Civil War vessel 40 fathoms down and 16 miles off Cape Hatteras.

Their remains were recovered when the turret was brought to the surface in 2002.

Next month, after a decade of trying to learn their identities, the Navy plans to bury the comrades as unidentified in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

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.

And it will lay to rest perhaps the last of over 600,000 soldiers, sailors and Marines who perished in the long ago war for the Union.

"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 Tuesday. "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 Monitor is famous for battling the Confederate ship CSS Virginia, formerly the USS Merrimack, on March 9, 1862, at Hampton Roads, Va., in history's first fight between ironclad warships.

Ten months later, the two sailors were aboard the Monitor when it sank in a gale off the North Carolina coast on Dec. 31, 1862. Most of the 63 crewmen escaped. Sixteen died, the bodies of the other 14 were never recovered.

The two unidentified men -- an older sailor, about 35, who walked with a limp, wore a gold ring, and always had a pipe clenched between his teeth, and a younger man, about 21, with a broken nose and mismatched shoes -- were trapped in the turret.

On March 7, their remains will be escorted from the military's Joint Prisoner of War Missing in Action Command in Hawaii, where the bones have undergone study, said Navy spokeswoman Lieut. Lauryn Dempsey. The next day the sailors will be borne to their graves in caskets on a horse-drawn caisson during an interment ceremony.

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