LSU scientists may be on right path
to identifying Civil War participants
Is it possible to identify people who fought in the Civil War?
The efforts of forensic anthropologists at Louisiana State University may make this happen.
Using models of skulls and layers of clay, scientists at the university have reconstructed the faces of two sailors who served on the USS Monitor in 1862.
Ten years ago when the U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) raised the turret of the sunken vessel, they also recovered two sets of human remains, and now they’re trying to identify them.
Mary Manhein, director of the FACES forensic anthropology laboratory at LSU, noted that the oldest case the lab previously had received that resulted in an identification was of someone who was 32 years old.
“We promoted the image we created and someone recognized something and it sparked an idea in this person’s head, and we got the person identified,” Manhein said. “We’re hoping the sculptures enhanced photographs of the Monitor sailors will help genealogists find their descendants and confirm the connection through DNA testing.”
Sculptures of the Monitor sailors were unveiled in early March. They evidently were crewman on the Civil War Ironclad that battled the Confederate ship Virginia on March 9, 1862 in Hampton Roads, Va. The Monitor survived the encounter, but 16 sailors died on New Year’s Eve of that year when the ship capsized and sank during a storm off the coast of North Carolina.
“If we can identify people from 150 years ago,” Manhein said, “that would just be a great feeling. It’s gosh, we got it, you know.”
Robert Worden, a descendant of the Monitor’s commander, said it was moving to see the sculptures and know the two men served with his ancestor.
“It’s almost like bringing them back to life in a sense,” Worden said. “And they look like any one of us in a way. The LSU scientists have done an amazing job.”
The Defense Department has analyzed the sailors’ DNA, and genealogists are searching for likely descendants. NOAA hopes to identify the sailors so they can be buried with honors by New Year’s Eve, the 150th anniversary of the day the Monitor went down and the men were lost at sea.