The U.S. Navy announced on February 12th, 2013 that the remains of two sailors found in the turret of the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on March 8th. The turret was recovered from the ocean floor off the North Carolina coast in 2002 and is at the USS Monitor Center at the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Virginia undergoing a years long conservation process along with several other components of the historic vessel.
The remains were taken to the Navy’s Joint Prisoner of War/Accounting Command in Hawaii in an attempt to identify them via DNA and other tests. Forensic facial reconstruction was done by experts from Louisiana State University in an effort to help identify the remains. Although science and genealogical research was able to narrow down the list of possible identities, exact identification could not be made.
The Monitor was not designed for open ocean travel and was being towed by the USS Rhode Island when it sank in a storm near the Outer Banks of North Carolina on December 31st, 1862. Sixteen of the 62 man crew perished; some were swept away by waves as they were in the process of being transported to the Rhode Island in small boats, and some others were still in the vessel when it sank. For the most part, it is not known which crewmen were still on board at the time of the sinking. Crewman Francis Butts recalled seeing engineer G.H Lewis incapacitated by seasickness lying in his bunk shortly before the vessel sank, but it is unlikely Lewis made it to the turret.
The remains will be laid to rest 151 years to the day that the CSS Virginia attacked wooden U.S. warships in Hampton Roads. The Monitor arrived the next day and the two vessels fought their historic battle, which ended in a draw but changed naval warfare forever.