The Civil War Connections Blog

Sixteen…..

Sixteen men. They came from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales & Denmark. And from Connecticut, Maine, New York, Maryland & Virginia. Some were black, others were white. They were officers and enlisted. Some were well-to-do and some had escaped slavery. The youngest was 18, the oldest, 32. But no matter their ages, origins or skin color – they were bound together in an elite brotherhood – they were “Monitors.” Half of them had served from the first – had been there in those agonizing moments of suspense on March 9, 1862 – as they waited for the first shot to hit their untried vessel. Yet those who became a part of the crew much later were still bestowed with that aura that came when one served on board the celebrated Monitor.

And these sixteen formed another – more elite, yet less welcome – brotherhood in the early morning hours of December 31, 1862 when the Monitor struggled in a gale off Cape Hatteras. As she breathed her last, so too, did they.

Yet they – like the Monitor – live on – inextricably woven into the fabric of this nation’s history. Thus we come together today to honor them, their shipmates, and all such brave sailors and soldiers who have given their last full measure of devotion in service to this nation.

Though 150 years separates them from us – their sacrifice is no less immediate, no less important than if it had just occurred. And it is most appropriate that here – in this place – so near to where the Monitor and her crew spent so much of their time –we honor them.

Their story is one for the ages. And those who survived that awful night, 150 years ago understood this – and the significance of the passing of both ship and shipmates. And those who first saw the Monitor over a century later  – and those who journey to see her today still understand the enormity of the loss.

A young sailor, Norman Cubberly, was moved to write after first seeing the Monitor in early 1974. His words are particularly fitting for us today:

I saw the bones, a forlorn iron grave.

The lonesome rusted wrack upon black sand.

A cast off toy at peace beneath the wave.

A weak think flattened by a giant hand.

 No trace is left of them that lived or died

But this, their song, forever haunts us all.

An engine built for death which has our pride.

A staunch defiant box so very small.

So fitting that we come revere these dead,

This small beginning, such a help to death!

Since all sea battles now from here were bred.

From these poor men great dragons draw their breath.

 

So let us cry and here at least release

A solemn tear to bring us close to peace.

 

A fitting epitaph – 150 years on.