2 Drowned Civil War Sailors to Be Buried

The facial reconstruction of two sailors whose remains were discovered inside the gun turret of the USS Monitor after it was raised from the ocean floor in 2002. (Image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gina K. Morrissette)

Two drowned Union sailors are finally going to be laid to rest 150 years after they went down with the USS Monitor in a storm off the coast of North Carolina.

U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced Tuesday (Feb.12) that the remains will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. There will be a ceremony on March 8 to honor the two unknown men.

"These may very well be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War to be buried at Arlington," Mabus said in a statement. "It's important we honor these brave men and all they represent as we reflect upon the significant role Monitor and her crew had in setting the course for our modern Navy."

The Brooklyn-built USS Monitor was famous for fighting the CSS Virginia in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862. Although the battle was a draw, it preserved the Union blockade of the Norfolk-area. It also was the first battle between two ironclad warships, marking a turning point in naval history. [See Images of the USS Monitor Shipwreck]

The recovered gun turret of the USS Monitor, where the skeletons of two Civil War sailors were found. (Image credit: The Mariners' Museum)

Sixteen men were lost when the USS Monitor went down in a storm off Cape Hatteras on Dec. 31, 1862, while it was being towed. The sunken ship was discovered in 1974 resting upside down on the ocean floor in about 235 feet (71 meters) of water; efforts to salvage artifacts from the site began in 1998.

In 2002, the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) joined forces to recover the ship's gun turret, which contained two nearly complete skeletons. The remains of the other 14 casualties were never found.

Forensic anthropologists at Louisiana State University volunteered to reconstruct the faces of the two sailors who were entombed in the gun turret. Their modeling, which was revealed last year, showed that one of the men was between 17 and 24 years old and about 5 feet, 7 inches tall, with good teeth. The other man stood 5 feet, 6 inches and was likely between 30 and 40 years old.

The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii also attempted to identify the two men. But because of the age of the remains, they were only able to narrow down possible descendents to 22 family members from 10 different families, according to a statement from the Navy.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.