The Civil War Connections Blog

Coming Home

Officers of the USS Monitor. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

Officers of the USS Monitor. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

 

December 31, 1862. As the rest of the divided nation was preparing for a new year, and to hopefully end the Civil War, the crew of the USS Monitor was fighting for their lives. After getting caught in a storm as they traveled south to Beaufort, North Carolina, the Monitor sank sixteen miles off of the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina during a ferocious storm. While most of the 63 man crew were able to escape onto the USS Rhode Island, which was towing the Monitor to Beaufort, 16 of the men went down with the ship in what is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, to rest undisturbed until the discovery of the Monitor’s wreck in 1973.

 

Following the discovery of the Monitor, work to recover major parts of the ship, specifically the gun turret and the engine, began in what is now known as the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. In July of 2002, human remains were found within the gun turret during underwater excavation. After years of attempting to identify the remains, they will finally be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in early March. Currently the remains are at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, where they have been undergoing study and attempted identification since their excavation from the turret. While facial reconstruction was attempted once the remains were removed, there was nothing conclusive enough able to confirm a positive identification of either man. They will be escorted to Arlington by both the Navy and representatives from NOAA, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and will be buried, unidentified, with full military honors.

 

The family members of the 16 men who went down with the Monitor have been invited to pay their respects, despite the remains being unidentified.  Additionally, a Naval Arlington Lady will be present for the ceremony as well. The Arlington Ladies were founded by Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force Hoyt Vandenberg and his wife Gladys, when they saw a funeral taking place without any family members there. To prevent this, Gladys organized a group of fellow Air Force wives to attend the funerals and ensure that no service member was buried without someone there to pay respects. Soon after, both the Army and Navy both created similar groups and a Naval Arlington Lady will be present for the burial of the Monitor crew members.

 

This service is hugely significant in so many regards, and the fact that it is occurring during the sesquicentennial is almost haunting. Arlington Cemetery was established during the Civil War, and these may be the final victims of the war to be buried there, almost 150 years after its end. These two men, whoever they are, gave their service to defending the United States of America, and 150 years after they gave their lives for it, they are finally being laid to rest. The United States Navy, who sent them out to serve and protect, is finally bringing them home.

 

The missing sixteen men:

Landsman William Allen

Acting Ensign Norman Knox Attwater

Yeoman William Bryan

1st Class Boy Robert Cook

Landsman William H. Egan

Quarter Gunner James R. Fenwick

Acting Ensign George Fredrickson

2nd Assistant Engineer Robinson Hands

Officer’s Cook Robert H. Howard

1st Class Fireman Thomas Joice

3rd Assistant Engineer Samuel Auge Lewis

Coal Heaver George Littlefield

Landsman Daniel Moore

Seaman Jacob Nicklis

Boatswain’s Mate  Wells Wentz, aka John Stocking

1st Class Fireman Robert Williams

 

Crew of the original "Monitor" on her deck. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

Crew of the original “Monitor” on her deck. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.