2 Monitor Crew Who Died On Ship Are Unknown,
But DNA Survives

By Scott C. Boyd
(May 2011 Civil War News)

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The skeleton to the left, victim “Monitor 2,” is shown by digital overlay where it was uncovered after the photo of the first victim was taken.
(Monitor Collection, NOAA)

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Details are being worked out to bury the remains of two crewmen recovered from the turret of the USS Monitor in Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 31, 2012, the sesquicentennial anniversary of their deaths.

However, if descendants come forward to have their DNA tested and are successfully matched, the families could make burial plans.

“We’ve got great DNA from the two sailors,” according to Jeff Johnston, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary project historian. “What we need is for families of lost Monitor crewmen to offer their DNA for matching.”

 

If there were a match, the Navy would then turn over the remains to the family.

“It would be such a coup to be able to put these guys in the ground, under headstones, with the correct names of these unknown sailors,” Johnston said.

Johnston spoke about the crew on March 6 at the annual Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend hosted by The Mariners’ Museum.

Descendants of these men who died when the USS Monitor sank can have their DNA tested. See contact information in accompanying story.

Officers
Attwater, Norman Knox – Acting Ensign
Frederickson, George – Acting Ensign
Hands, Robinson Woollen – 2nd Asst. Engineer
Lewis, Samuel Augee – 3rd Asst. Engineer

Enlisted African-American
Cook, Robert – 1st Class Boy (born Gloucester County, Va.)
Howard, Robert H. – Officers’ Cook (born Howard County, Va.)
Moore, Daniel – Landsman (born Prince William or Loudoun County, Va.)

Enlisted White
Allen, William – Landsman (born England) 24 yrs.
Bryan, William – Yeoman (born New York City) 31 yrs.
Eagan, William H. – Landsman (born Ireland) 21 yrs.
Fenwick, James R. – Quarter Gunner (born Scotland) 23 yrs.
Joyce (Joice), Thomas – 1st Class Fireman (born Ireland) 23 yrs.
Littlefield, George – Coal Heaver (born Saco, ME) 25 yrs.
Nicklis (Nickles), Jacob – Seaman (born Buffalo (?), NY) 21 yrs.
Stocking, John – Boatswain’s Mate (born Binghampton, NY) 27 yrs.
Williams, Robert – 1st Class Fireman (born Wales) 30 yrs.

The iconic Union ironclad sank in 230 feet of water 16 miles off Cape Hatteras on the way to Port Royal, S.C., on New Year’s Eve in 1862. Sixteen of her 62 crewmen were lost that night (see sidebar).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has administered the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary since it was created by Congress in 1975, has sent all artifacts recovered from the ironclad to The Mariners’ Museum.

After NOAA and the U.S. Navy determined that the entire ship could not be raised, selected parts have been recovered, the largest of which was the 140-ton turret in 2002.

When the ship sank, the turret came off and rested upside-down on the ocean floor, with the upside down hull then landing on top of it, covering the turret.

While doing some excavation inside the turret underwater on July 26, 2002, the remains of the first crewman, known as Monitor 1, were discovered.

“A few weeks later after raising the turret, we found the second set of remains, Monitor 2,” said Johnston, who was present on the expedition ship.

“We know all 16 men who were lost that night, four officers and 12 enlisted men. Any time we’ve ever gone out and worked on the site, we work with the knowledge that it is potentially a tomb for 16 men,” Johnston said.

There has been considerable speculation about who the two men were whose remains were recovered from the turret.

“After the order was given to abandon ship, somebody had to keep the fires going, because the only things keeping the ship afloat were the steam pumps,” Johnston said.

His educated guess is that the last two were a fireman and a coal heaver, both enlisted men.

The way the Monitor was rigged for the ocean trip, Johnston said, the only way to the outside was through the hatch on top of the turret. Anyone wanting to leave the ship had to climb a ladder in the turret to exit. That’s why it’s not surprising two bodies were found in there.

The skeletons are intact and there is no evidence of the two large XI-inch Dahlgren guns in the turret striking the two men, he said.

Excavation of the turret, which is nearly complete, has uncovered buttons, buckles, leather, a wool coat and other abandoned clothing, and a ring found with Monitor 2. Johnston said it had no inscription.

“The material found is typical of enlisted men — there is no gold bullion from an officer’s shoulder boards, for instance,” he said.

The skeletons were sent to the Department of Defense’s forensic lab in Hawaii. Its study suggested that both were Caucasian, so that would tend to exclude the three African-American sailors among the 16 lost men, although Johnston said they want to keep an open mind to all the possibilities.

Part of the challenge identifying the two men is that when sailors enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the 1860s, they did not have to produce identification, and thus could give a false name and age. Also, they did not have to list their next of kin, which makes it much harder to find their descendants.

Whether identified or not by the 150th anniversary of their deaths, NOAA and the Navy hope the two men can be laid to rest in Arlington then.

Anyone who might be a descendant of one of the 16 men lost on the Monitor when it sank can contact  Jeff Johnston at (757) 591-7351, Jeff.Johnston@noaa.gov