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The sailors were buried with full military honors, and about 200 descendants of the Monitor’s crew attended the funeral. (Christopher Gregory / The New York Times / Redux)

A Civil War Burial

Two sailors are buried at Arlington National Cemetery 150 years after their deaths

By Jennifer Marino Walters | March 13 , 2013
<p>The ship sank in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, less than 10 months after the famous Battle of Hampton Roads. (Jim McMahon)</p>

The ship sank in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, less than 10 months after the famous Battle of Hampton Roads. (Jim McMahon)

On December 31, 1862, the U.S. naval warship USS Monitor sank off the coast of North Carolina during a storm. The U.S. Navy recently discovered the bodies of two sailors in the remains of the ship. Now almost 150 years later, those 2 sailors were finally laid to rest on March 8.

The warship was a technical marvel in its time, and it helped save the Union during the Civil War. A civil war is a conflict in which groups from the same country fight each other. America’s Civil War was the deadliest conflict that the country has ever faced. The two sides, called Union and Confederate forces, fought on land and sea from 1861 to 1865.

“These may very well be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War to be buried at Arlington,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. “It’s important we honor these brave men and all they represent.”

The sailors, whose remains have not yet been identified, were buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. The 14 other sailors who died aboard the Monitor were also honored at the ceremony, which was open to the public. About 200 descendants of the more than 60 Monitor sailors attended.

A HISTORIC SHIP

The USS Monitor was the country’s first ironclad (armored) warship. Before it, warships had been made entirely of wood. On March 9, 1862, the Monitor fought the much larger Confederate CSS Virginia in the famous Battle of Hampton Roads in Virginia. It was the first battle between two ironclad warships. Though the battle ended in a draw, the Monitor prevented the Virginia from taking control of Hampton Roads and from destroying much of the Union fleet. It has therefore been credited with helping to save the Union during the Civil War.

But less than 10 months later, the Monitor sank in a storm. It remained sunken for 112 years, until the shipwreck was found in 1974. It was designated the country’s first national marine sanctuary, managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

WHO WERE THE SAILORS?

In 2002, while searching for artifacts in the wreckage, Navy sailors discovered the remains of the two Civil War sailors inside the ship’s turret, the part of the ship where guns are mounted. Researchers have been trying to identify the sailors since, but have had difficulty because the remains are so old. However, based on genetics and items found with the remains, researchers have narrowed down the possibilities to six of the white enlisted crewmembers. They believe they’ll eventually be able to identify the two sailors.

“The decision to lay these heroes to rest in Arlington honors not only these two men, but all those who died the night Monitor sank,” says David Alberg, superintendent of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. “[It] reminds us that the sacrifices made 150 years ago will never be forgotten.”

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