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Civil War mystery: Faces of Monitor sailors re-created

March 06, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • The phases of facial reconstruction of two sailors of the Civil War ironclad the Monitor are seen in the auditorium of the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington.
The phases of facial reconstruction of two sailors of the Civil War ironclad… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — This is really a cold case.

Nearly 150 years after the Civil War ironclad the Monitor sank, an effort was launched Tuesday to identify the remains of two of its sailors.

Officials in Washington unveiled forensic reconstructions of the faces of the two crew members, whose skeletal remains were discovered inside the Union warship’s gun turret after it was raised from the ocean floor off the North Carolina coast in 2002.  

"Our hope is that someone seeing the sculptures may recognize the face as an ancestor,’’ Mary H. Manhein, director of Louisiana State University’s Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services lab, said at the Navy Memorial in Washington.

The clay models were put on display there, and a plaque was dedicated in memory of the Monitor crew.

James P. Delgado, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s maritime heritage program, said his hope is that "somebody might say, 'I recognize that face -- they’re in that family album.'"

The effort comes in advance of this weekend’s 150thanniversary of the first fight between the most famous ironclads -- the Monitor and the Confederate Virginia, also known as the Merrimack -- in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862.

The four-and-a-half-hour duel ended in a draw. The Monitor sank in a New Year’s Eve storm later that year, killing 16.

The skeletal remains were sent to the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, where recovered DNA has yet to produce a match to descendants. The LSU lab volunteered to reconstruct the faces from casts of the skulls.

The results: One sailor is believed to have been between ages 17 and 24, about 5-foot-7, "with relatively good oral hygiene." The other would have been between ages 30 and 40,  about 5-foot-6 and "probably smoked a pipe." Both men were white. Traces of other crew members have not been found.

The effort to identify the sailors has involved an eclectic group -- including genealogist Lisa Stansbury, who pored through archives for information on the Monitor crew, and the United Parcel Service, which spent three weeks fashioning and testing a shock-proof container to transport the delicate sculptures from the LSU lab to Washington.

Manhein was hopeful that the crewmen would be identified, recalling a 32-year-old case her lab worked on.

"We were able to get that person identified because a detective looked at that image and said the thing we like to hear – 'He looks familiar to me.'"

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