More than 150 years after they died when their ship sank during a storm, two Union sailors from the Civil War will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.
The sailors’ remains were discovered in 2002 during efforts to recover the 150-ton gun turret of the USS Monitor — the United States’ first ironclad warship — from the site of the wreck off Cape Hatteras, N.C. The Defense Department’s attempts to identify the remains over the last decade (including bone, teeth and DNA analysis) haven’t been conclusive.
Still, as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has said: “These may very well be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War to be buried at Arlington.”
The Monitor, as you may remember from your school days, was famous for its March 9, 1862, clash with the Confederate ship Virginia — the first battle between two ironclad warships. (The iron-armored Virginia was constructed using the hull of a Navy ship known as the USS Merrimack, so you may have learned about this as the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack. It’s also referred to as the Battle of Hampton Roads.) The battle — 151 years ago Saturday — ended in a draw, but it marked the beginning of the end of what you might call the dead-tree era of naval warfare.
When the Monitor sank on Dec. 31, 1862, 16 of its crew members were killed. All of those sailors will “be memorialized on a group marker in section 46” of Arlington cemetery, the Navy says. Friday’s graveside ceremony, set for 4:30 p.m. ET, is open to the public.
“The Navy expects scores of relatives of those who served on the Monitor, including 21 descendants of some lost in the storm, to attend,” USA Today reports:
“A possible descendant [of one of the two unknown sailors whose remains were found] could be Jamie Nicklis, a 46-year-old construction worker from near Columbus, Ohio, who plans to attend with son Brock, 15. The Navy identifies Jamie Nicklis as the great-grandnephew of seaman Jacob Nicklis, 21.
“Forensic analysis argues intriguingly that he may be the younger sailor whose remains are being interred at Arlington. A spoon with the initials ‘JN’ was recovered near the remains.
” ‘It’s pretty neat,’ says Jamie Nicklis, who feels it is likely that his relative is one of those being buried. ‘It felt really good to know that part of our family … devoted his life and gave his life to serving in our military to help better our ways.’ “