The burial came on a blustery afternoon that was one day short of the 151st anniversary of the Union ship’s legendary battle in Hampton Roads, Va., with the Confederacy’s CSS Virginia, formerly the USS Merrimack.
It followed a crowded religious service at the Ft. Myer chapel adjacent to the cemetery, where eulogists called them brave sailors and noble souls and sang them a Navy hymn. A painting of the Monitor sinking stood in the front of the chapel, flanked by two tall candles.
The battle at Hampton Roads was history’s first between ironclad warships, and perhaps the most important naval battle of the Civil War.
The sailors were two of the 16 men who perished when the Monitor sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras in 1862. The Navy said a gravestone bearing the names of all 16 men will be erected later.
The bodies of the other 14 crewmen were not recovered. Most of the 62-man crew survived.
Friday’s ceremonies came after a reunion of sorts in an Arlington hotel of crew descendants, scientists, government officials and historians.
“It’s a very solemn occasion,” said James M. McPherson, professor emeritus of American history at Princeton University and a leading Civil War scholar. “These sailors deserve just as much praise for their contribution to saving the Union as the soldiers that Lincoln acknowledged at Gettysburg.”
The funeral “is a recognition of their contribution and importance,” he said. “It’s a chance for Americans today, 151 years later, to pay their respects to people who died to save the country.”
Numerous family descendants of the Monitor crew attended.
Andrew Bryan, of Holden, Maine, said he was a descendant of Monitor yeoman William Bryan, who died when the ship sank. The sailor appears in one of the old photographs of the ship’s crew, Bryan said.
“This was a story my grandfather told when I was really young,” he said. “I think it’s great. The moving part, the emotional part for me is my family. . . . This will carry on the family history. . . . This a part of our heritage. This is how we got here.”
Anna Holloway, curator of the USS Monitor Center of the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, said the gathering was like a family reunion.
“We are like this whole big Monitor family,” she said, referring to the Navy, the museum and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “And all these descendants. It is like old home week.”
Robert Sheridan, 72, was a University of Delaware scientist on board the research ship that found the Monitor in August 1973. “I saw it on a sonar device that we had,” he said. “The first sign of it. I just went, ‘Whoa.’ ”