Civil War Sailors from USS Monitor Reconstructed by Forensic Experts

Experts hope that descendants of the recovered sailors may recognize them.

March 8, 2012, 3:06 PM

March 8, 2012 — -- Do you recognize these handsome gentlemen? They were sailors from the USS Monitor, who died during the first battle between ironclad warships in 1862.

A group of forensic scientists that have been trying to identify them since their remains were raised from the Atlantic Ocean in 2002. They are hoping someone might recognize them from these forensic reconstructions.

"We might be able to give them a name so they won't have to be buried as unknown," Mary Manhein, director of Louisiana State University's Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) told

In December 1862, the Monitor was caught in a rough storm and sank off Cape Hatteras, killing 16 crew members. In 2002, 140 years later, the remains of two men were raised out of the gun turret. There are no plans to attempt to raise the rest of the Monitor from the sea.

FACES teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii to attempt to identify the men.

The results of their work were unveiled in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.

"The whole idea is that a descendant might recognize them," Manhein said. "Extracting DNA was not very successful. Those things are basically fossilized."

The forensic experts at LSU were sent casts of the men's skulls and hip bones, which can be used to determine gender and age. The bones led experts to believe that one man was about age 20 and the other was roughly 32.

Eileen Barrow, an imaging specialist at LSU, used the casts to create plastic skulls. Tissue-depth markers were placed across the face in strategic locations to represent average tissue depths based on age and gender.

Barrow then used clay to rebuild the faces. She gave them time period appropriate hairstyles and photographed them. The images were uploaded to a computer and manipulated with a photo program to look more human, almost photographic.

"It's like a 150-year-old forensic case to us," Manhein said. "It's solving a puzzle and we all love to solve a puzzle."

NOAA hired genealogist Lisa Stansbury to go through records in search for the men's names. She believes she has been able to identify the man in his 30s.

Stansbury told that while she cannot say definitively, there is a "high chance" that one set of remains belongs to a Welsh man by the name of Robert Williams.

Williams was in a photo taken of the Monitor crew shortly after the battle. The forensic experts' reconstruction resembles the man in the photo, even though they did not see the photo when they were working.

Stansbury has not been surprised by the interest in the sailors and their identities.

"People love a mystery and they're into forensics and history," Stansbury said. "There's a little bit of something for everybody."

The USS Monitor battled the CSS Merrimack on March 9, 1862 off the coast of Virginia, in what became known as the Civil War's Battle of Hampton Roads.

They fought for hours, but neither did significant damage on the other. But the Monitor was able to prevent the Merrimack from breaking a blockade on Norfolk, Va., which was a triumph for the Union.

"It's in all the history books," Manhein said. "All of us heard about the Monitor and the Merrimack growing up and we have the opportunity to ID these men and send them home, maybe even bury them at Arlington."