Skip to comments.Faces of Civil War sailors from sunken USS Monitor reconstructed in hopes of identifying them
Posted on 03/04/2012 3:58:49 PM PST by DogByte6RER
Faces of Civil War sailors from sunken USS Monitor reconstructed in hopes of identifying them
Faces of 2 USS Monitor crewmembers reconstructed
Recovery: The turret of the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor is lifted out of the ocean off the coast of Hatteras, N.C. on August 5, 2002
RICHMOND, Va. When the turret of the Civil War ironclad Monitor was raised from the ocean bottom, two skeletons and the tattered remnants of their uniforms were discovered in the rusted hulk of the Union Civil War ironclad, mute and nameless witnesses to the cost of war. A rubber comb was found by one of the remains, a ring was on a finger of the other.
Now, thanks to forensic reconstruction, the two have faces.
In a longshot bid that combines science and educated guesswork, researchers hope those reconstructed faces will help someone identify the unknown Union sailors who went down with the Monitor 150 years ago.
The facial reconstructions were done by experts at Louisiana State University, using the skulls of the two full skeletal remains found in the turret, after other scientific detective work failed to identify them. DNA testing, based on samples from their teeth and leg bones, did not find a match with any living descendants of the ships crew or their families.
After 10 years, the faces are really the last opportunity we have, unless somebody pops up out of nowhere and says, Hey, I am a descendant, James Delgado, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Maritime Heritage Program, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The facial reconstructions are to be publicly released Tuesday in Washington at the Navy Memorial, where a plaque will be dedicated to the Monitors crew.
If the faces fail to yield results, Delgado and others want to have the remains buried at Arlington National Cemetery and a monument dedicated in memory of the men who died on the first ironclad warship commissioned by the Navy.
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 Monitors confrontation with the CSS Virginia ended in a draw. Virginia, built on the carcass of the U.S. Navy frigate Merrimack, was the Confederate answer to the Unions ironclad ships.
The Monitor sank about nine months later in rough seas southeast of Cape Hatteras while it was under tow by the warship Rhode Island. Sixteen of the Monitors 62 crew members died. Dubbed a cheese box on a raft, the Monitor was not designed for sailing on rough water. Rhode Islands crew was able to rescue about 50 survivors.
The wreck was discovered in 1973 and designated the first national marine sanctuary in 1975. An expedition about a decade ago retrieved the revolving turret. It is now on display at the USS Monitor Center of the Mariners Museum in Newport News.
Of the Union sailors aboard the Monitor, some fell into the sea and died and some remain within the crumbling hull still on the ocean floor. The remains found in the turret probably reflect the desperate attempts of two crewmembers to abandon the ship before it sank.
Besides the comb, uniform scraps and ring, archaeologists also found other clues within the turret: a pair of shoes, buttons and a silver spoon.
None, however, conclusively identified the two dead men.
Delgado said this much is known about them. One was between 17 and 24 years old, the other likely in his 30s. They were Caucasian, so neither was among the three African-Americans who served on the Monitors crew, he said.
An examination of medical and Navy records narrowed possibilities to six people. The older man is one of two possible crew members, while there are as many as four possible matches for the younger one.
At this stage we dont know who these guys are, Delgado said. We can tell you a fair amount about them, but thats about as far as forensic science takes us without a DNA match.
Genealogist Lisa Stansbury, who was under contract for a year on the Monitor project, waded through pension records, the National Archives and other documents in hopes of conclusively identifying the two Monitor sailors in the turret. While she couldnt make a positive match, she believes the older sailor to be the ships fireman who tended the coal-fired steam engine.
I think there is strong evidence the older man in the turret is Robert Williams, she said.
Stansbury was able to connect many dots in his military service and medical records, and one in particular. Records variously listed Williams height as 5-foot-8 and one-quarter and 5-foot-8 and one-half.
An examination of the skeleton revealed one leg was shorter than the other, meaning his height would vary depending on which leg he was favoring.
Stansbury said she had not sought out any possible family connection in Williams native Wales because of his common name.
The detective work was hampered, she said, by the use of aliases during the period used to exit military service without a trace if it wasnt to your liking and the error-filled records of the day.
It can be very frustrating when you cant find information, Stansbury said. Still, she said, it was just an honor to have worked on this project.
The facial reconstruction was done at the Louisiana Repository for Unidentified and Missing Persons Information Database at LSU. Its director, Mary Manhein, declined to discuss the final product until the Tuesday announcement but called the facial renderings very cool.
David Alberg, superintendent of the Monitor sanctuary, said the reconstructed faces of the two unknown sailors cast the ships sinking in very personal terms.
The notion of putting a face on history suddenly rings true, he said.
If no one steps forward following Tuesdays announcement, Delgado said he hopes the remains can be buried at Arlington.
After 10 years in the lab, maybe its time for these guys to get out of archival boxes and into a final resting place, he said. Fundraising has also begun to erect a monument in Arlington to the 16 men on aboard Monitor, which he called an iconic warship that changed naval history.
Like all who served and all who do pay the price, that in and by itself makes them important and worthy of remembrance and recognition, Delgado said.
On board: The crew of the USS Monitor posing on the deck of the ironclad. Robert Williams, standing at the extreme edge of the photo with his arms crossed, is the likely candidate for the older sailor whose remains were discovered inside the wreck's turret in 2002
Let’s get these sailors moved on and into their final resting place.
Let us keep green in our minds the memory of those who sacrificed so much that the life of the nation might be preserved
Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty.
Fascinating! Thanks for posting this.
Throughout our nation’s history, many blueunicorn6 ancestors have served proudly on US Navy vessels. They were mostly serving time in the brig, but there they were.
Maybe they were just sleeping it off in the brig so they would be ready for watch and to go to battle stations?
Yer’ ancestors were lucky. My great, great grandmother sailed from Naples to Staten island and ended up in Canada..took the wrong ship.
You’re being kind, but out family crest is a chicken running from a redcoat.
Those massive dents just below the gun port always get me.
I was watching some show the other night and they were excavating ruins somewhere in the Middle East. And I wondered to my wife “How old does a grave have to be before you can rob it?”
He looks taller than 5’8’’. In fact he looks to about 6 ft. And those burly arms. Looks like a big shootin’ son ‘o’ gun. I hope these two soldiers are identified or at least laid to rest with the proper respect they deserve.
Who is there going to be who can identify them. It could only be done from photos.
It’s not the age of the grave, it’s whether or not you rob it with the government’s approval or not. Government sanctioned theft is ok. Haven’t you been paying attention lately? /sarc
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