USS Monitor honored with monument

Published 12:11 am Saturday, December 29, 2012

In 1889, Kurz & Allison Art Publishers in Chicago produced and published this color lithograph depicting the battle of the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. Typical of the publishers, the lithograph was a highly stylized look at what had taken place on March 9, 1862.

A monument to the Union participant in one of the most notorious naval skirmishes in U.S. history, which took place within shooting distance of modern-day Suffolk waters, will be dedicated in Hampton Saturday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration memorial monument to the USS Monitor, the Yankee warship that engaged with the Confederacy’s CSS Virginia (commonly called the Merrimack) near the mouth of the Nansemond River during the Civil War, will be unveiled at Hampton National Cemetery at 2 p.m., near the 150th anniversary of the ship’s demise.

The open-to-the-public ceremony will “memorialize the iconic vessel and the heroic efforts of the brave men who served their country,” according to an administration website. It will be followed by a reception for invited guests.

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The Battle of Hampton Roads, the first-ever clash between two ironclads, occurred in the waters off the end of North Suffolk’s College Drive on March 9, 1862.

Both vessels lived to fight another day, and the Monitor was shipwrecked off Cape Hatteras about 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 31, 1862.

A team from Duke University confirmed the Monitor’s final resting place 16 miles off the cape in 1974.

Her turret was recovered by the administration and the U.S. Navy in 2002. Two sets of human remains, currently at a federal government installation in Hawaii, were found during the mission.

“NOAA is making every effort to identify these sailors and to have them interred at Arlington National Cemetery in 2013,” the administration says.

The program includes a welcome by cemetery director Janice Hill, posting of the colors by the USS Port (DDG 78) Color Guard, and introduction of guests by David W. Alberg, superintendent of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

The monument will be unveiled after remarks by four guests, with a wreath-laying to follow.

According to Anna Holloway with The Mariners’ Museum, curator of the USS Monitor Center, the Battle of Hampton Roads likely did not actually take place in modern-day Suffolk’s waters.

After cross-referencing the battle maps with the modern boundaries of Suffolk, “It does not look as though any part of the Battle of Hampton Roads occurred in Suffolk waters,” she wrote.

“The CSS Virginia would not have ventured very far over towards the Suffolk shore because of her deep draft and the difficulties of navigating her through some of the shoals there.”

The battle would, however, have been visible from Suffolk shores at what was then called Pig Point, now the former Tidewater Community College campus.