Friday, March 9, 2012

Faces From the Past

By the mid-part of the 19th century, it was clear that exploding bombs and incendiary missiles were a problem for wooden warships.  The solution was to move to wrapping wooden hulled steam-ships with iron, followed by a push towards designing ironclad ships that are the ancestors of today's great steel battleships. 

The first use of ironclads in battle came during the U.S. Civil War 1862, when the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, formally called USS Merrimack, hammered each other at the Battle of Hampton Roads.  Tactically, the engagement was a draw.

The Virginia was a standard wooden warship that had been wrapped in iron.  The Monitor, on the other hand, had been designed and built as an ironclad.  As so often happens, the design had a flaw -while the Monitor was well-suited for river combat, she had a low freeboard and heavy turret, so she was not seaworthy in rough waters.  As a consequence, she was lost in a storm off Cape Hatteras, NC, in December of 1862.

Fast forward.  In 1973, the wreck of the Monitor was found off Hatteras, and the site was designated the first U.S. marine sanctuary.  In 1986, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.  Due to the high cost and potential of damage, plans to raise the entire ship were scrapped, but over time the propeller, the steam engine, and the revolving gun turret have been brought up.  When divers were preparing to remove the gun turret, they discovered the remains of two trapped crewmen.

Now, nearly 150 years after they died in the sinking Monitor, NOAA  has released forensic reconstructions of the faces of the two crewmen in hopes of aiding in their identification.

It's not quite as if someone will see these pictures and say "Oh!  Look!  It's Dad!" But perhaps there is a family picture somewhere, perhaps a family story of someone who didn't come home from the war, and maybe someday these men will be identified and go home to the proper burial they deserve. Until then, their remains are held by the POW-MIA Accounting Command at Hickam AFB in Hawaii.

The full story can be read here.


  1. They probably should have added shots with period facial hair such as muttonchops, cough drop maker's beards, etc. Men in that period had facial hair as often as not.

  2. It will still be interesting to hear the stories if/when they are identified.

    1. That they don't even have possibilities to attach to the remains suggests that the crew roster was not correct.

  3. Concur with both of the above... Interesting piece of history!