Lost At Sea: Do You Know These Civil War Sailors?

Crewmen of the USS Monitor pose on the deck of their ironclad ship in July 1862. Robert Williams, standing at the far right with his arms crossed, is a candidate for the older sailor whose remains were discovered inside the wreck's gun turret.

Crewmen of the USS Monitor pose on the deck of their ironclad ship in July 1862. Robert Williams, standing at the far right with his arms crossed, is a candidate for the older sailor whose remains were discovered inside the wreck's gun turret. Library of Congress hide caption

itoggle caption Library of Congress
According to a Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command report, the older sailor is believed to have smoked a pipe. i i

According to a Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command report, the older sailor is believed to have smoked a pipe. Louisiana State University hide caption

itoggle caption Louisiana State University
According to a Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command report, the older sailor is believed to have smoked a pipe.

According to a Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command report, the older sailor is believed to have smoked a pipe.

Louisiana State University
The JPAC report also states that the younger sailor had good oral hygiene. i i

The JPAC report also states that the younger sailor had good oral hygiene. Louisiana State University hide caption

itoggle caption Louisiana State University
The JPAC report also states that the younger sailor had good oral hygiene.

The JPAC report also states that the younger sailor had good oral hygiene.

Louisiana State University

In 1862, the USS Monitor — a Civil War-era ironclad warship — fought one of the world's first iron-armored battles against the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia. Less than a year later, a violent storm sank the Union ship off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. The wreck was discovered more than a century later, and subsequent searches have turned up more than just a crumbling ship — they also found the skeletons of two of the Monitor's sailors in the ship's gun turret.

To this day, their identities are unknown, but David Alberg, superintendent of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, is trying to change that. With help from the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and forensic scientists at Louisiana State University, Alberg's organization has released facial reconstruction images made from the sailors' skulls that he hopes will help identify them.

Alberg tells NPR's Melissa Block that scientists learned a lot from the sailors' remains. They know one of the men was likely in his early 20s, while the other was likely in his early to mid-30s. They have the sailors' height, weight and even samples of their DNA.

"From an anthropological perspective, the challenge now is more of a genealogical challenge: How do we go out and find somebody that can come forward, provide DNA to compare their data to what JPAC has done," Alberg says.

He says he hopes the facial reconstruction photos will prompt people to revisit family albums, talk about family history and, if they think they may be related to the lost sailors, come forward to claim their kin.

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