LSU helps reconstruct faces of Civil War sailors lost on the USS Monitor

This July 1862 image provided by the NOAA Monitor Collection shows some of the crew of the USS Monitor posing on the deck of the ironclad. Robert Williams, standing at the extreme edge of the photo with his arms crossed, is the likely candidate for the older sailor whose remains were discovered inside the wreck's turret in 2002. (AP Photo/NOAA Monitor Collection )

RICHMOND, Va. – When the turret of the USS Monitor was raised from the ocean bottom, two skeletons and the tattered remnants of their uniforms were discovered in the rusted hulk of the Union Civil War ironclad, mute and nameless witnesses to the cost of war. A rubber comb was found by one of the remains, a ring was on a finger of the other.

Now, thanks to forensic reconstruction, the two have faces.

In a longshot bid that combines science and educated guesswork, researchers hope those reconstructed faces will help someone identify the unknown Union sailors who went down with the Monitor 150 years ago.

The facial reconstructions were done by experts at Louisiana State University, using the skulls of the two full skeletal remains found in the turret, after other scientific detective work failed to identify them. DNA testing, based on samples from their teeth and leg bones, did not find a match with any living descendants of the ship’s crew or their families.

“After 10 years, the faces are really the last opportunity we have, unless somebody pops up out of nowhere and says, `Hey, I am a descendant,’ ” James Delgado, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Maritime Heritage Program, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The facial reconstructions are to be publicly released on Tuesday in Washington at the United States Navy Memorial where a plaque will be dedicated to the Monitor’s crew.

If the faces fail to yield results, Delgado and others want to have the remains buried at Arlington National Cemetery and a monument dedicated in memory of the men who died on the first ironclad warship commissioned by the Navy.

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