Two Monitor Crewmen Honored at Arlington
On March 8, 2013—the 151st anniversary of the historic Monitor-Merrimac battle of 1862—the remains of two unidentified Monitor sailors were buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In the decade since two skeletons were discovered inside the turret of the wrecked USS Monitor, the Navy has attempted to identify the men by means of clay facial reconstruction models and DNA. None of the results led to claims by any descendants. One expert who has studied the evidence, however, suspects that a good case can be made that one of the sailors was a 36-year-old Welshman, Robert Williams.
Monitor made history when it faced CSS Virginia (previously USS Merrimac) at Hampton Roads in the first-ever battle between ironclads. Less than a year later, on New Year’s Eve 1862, the Union vessel sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C., while it was being towed south to a new defensive position. Sixty-two of the sailors aboard survived, but 16 other crew members are believed to have gone down with the ship. The only human remains recovered were those discovered in the turret in 2002.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement, “It’s important we honor these brave men and all they represent as we reflect upon the significant role the Monitor and her crew had in setting the course for our modern Navy.”
One Stop for Maryland Civil War History
Sandwiched between North and South, Maryland was home to Union loyalists, Confederate sympathizers, free blacks and slaves. Pro-slavery Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney lived there. So did abolitionist John Brown. Aficionados can now explore the state’s rich, tangled history in a new comprehensive site sponsored by the Catoctin Center for Regional History. The institute, a collaboration between Frederick Community College and the National Park Service, has gathered links, databases and records pertaining to personal letters and memoirs, soldier enlistment, the experience of African Americans, maps, battlegrounds, parks and historic buildings. Viewers can read, for example, the newspaper coverage of the 1859 proposal to remove all free blacks from Maryland. Or someone looking for an ancestor’s service record could plug his name in to the soldier’s database. If you enjoy touring Civil War sites, browse the historic buildings page. This is one-stop-browsing for buffs of all kinds in the Frederick, Md., region. See crossroadsofwar.org.
Victory Save at Franklin Battlefield
After vigorous fundraising, matching grant programs and a heaping dose of organizational cooperation, preservation groups have managed to raise more than $3 million since 2005 to buy the land needed to preserve 112 acres on the historic site and battleground where some 10,000 soldiers— 7,000 of them Confederate—died on November 30, 1864. Franklin, Tenn., saw one of the war’s bloodiest battles: Six Confederate generals were killed there, and Confederate forces engaged in a long charge that claimed more lives than Pickett’s Charge. Over the next year or so, businesses and tenants in the Franklin area will be relocated and restoration of the land can begin. A battlefield park is scheduled to open in November 2014, in time for the battle’s sesquicentennial.
Jubal Early’s ‘Demand Letter’ Returns to Gettysburg
A scrap of paper with a list of Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s demands to the town of Gettysburg in late June 1863 is a highlight of a remarkable trove of artifacts recently donated to Gettysburg National Military Park. The gift from Cleveland attorney and Civil War collector Craig Bashein includes 64 unpublished sketchbooks of Gettysburg topography by Union Army engineer Elmer Bradley Cope, and also a detailed hand-drawn map noting troop positions by an aide to Union Maj. Gen. David Birney. Also included are cavalry gauntlets owned by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, the personal belongings of Brig. Gen. Alexander Webb, and one of the engraved pocket watches given to staff officers by General in Chief Henry W. Halleck.
The so-called demand letter from Early, which appears to have been written on a page from a small notebook, requests 7,000 pounds of bacon, 1,200 pounds of sugar and 1,000 pounds of salt, as well as 1,000 pairs of shoes and 500 hats. Gettysburg officials replied that they could not possibly give Early so much, but merchants would open their doors and supply some items. According to Gettysburg National Military Park Historian John Heiser, Early’s quartermaster came into the town and left with “every horseshoe and keg of nails that could be found in the borough and liquor was requisitioned from Gettysburg taverns.”
Some of the donated artifacts will be displayed in an exhibit called “Treasures of the Civil War,” opening June 16 at the Gettysburg National Military Park. In late June and early July this summer, the park will host dozens of displays and re-enactments to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
What Really Sank Hunley?
The removal of a layer of hardened sand encasing H.L. Hunley, raised new questions about how the Rebel sub itself sank on the first submarine to sink an enemy ship, has February 17, 1864, killing all eight crewmen. Conventional wisdom has long held that Hunley’s crew attached a torpedo filled with explosives to USS Housatonic, then backed away some 100 feet before the blast. But examination of the pole used to poke the torpedo into Housatonic suggests that the explosion happened when Hunley was roughly 20 feet away. Hunley was packing a 135-pound torpedo, and shock waves from that blast could have buckled its hull plates and let water rush in. Did Hunley’s design lead to its destruction? We won’t know until the hard shell around the rest of the vessel is removed and the damage examined.
Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.