The lost 16 sailors were a kind of cross section of mid-19th-century America: three African Americans, two natives of Ireland, one each from Scotland, England, and Wales, and a coal heaver from Maine, among others.
The burial marks 40 years of research into the Monitor by the Navy, NOAA, the Mariners’ Museum and other organizations.
And it will lay to rest perhaps the last of over 600,000 soldiers, sailors and Marines who perished in the long-ago Civil War, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan M. Garcia III said Thursday.
The nation is currently commemorating the sesquicentennial of the war, which ran from 1861 to 1865.
Almost 10 months after the March 9, 1862, Hampton Roads battle, the two sailors buried Friday were aboard the Monitor when it sank in a gale off the North Carolina coast on Dec. 31, 1862. The ship capsized and settled on the bottom upside down.
The wreck of the Monitor was located in 1973 by a Duke University research ship in a stormy region off the North Carolina coast called “the graveyard of the Atlantic.”
In 2002, more than a century after the ship sank, the almost-complete skeletons were found, one on top of the other, amid a tangle of huge guns and debris in the turret.
“I think . . . one was helping the other” in the ship’s last moments, said James P. Delgado, director of NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program. “Seasick, hurt, whatever.”
“Those two guys together were trying to get out,” he said Wednesday. “There but for the matter of a few moments, they might have made it out onto that deck; they might have made it onto that last (rescue) boat.”
“But the Monitor finally slips,” capsizing, under the waves, he said. “It tumbles. They go head over heels. They land on the roof of the turret upside down. Everything comes down on them. The cold sea pours in and they’re gone.”
“I think we can all picture ourselves caught up in something like that,” he said.
The study of the sailors’ bones yielded DNA but few other clues: the younger man’s broken nose, and indications of a limp in the older man, the ring on a finger of his right hand and a groove in his front teeth where he bit down on his pipe.
The turret today resides in a state-of-the-art exhibit and research facility at the Mariners’ Museum.
“This a powerful moment,” Delgado said. “This is so gratifying to see, that after this time these men . . . interred in this hallowed ground, that they will be honored by the nation.”