March 7, 2013

Ironclad legacy laid to rest at Arlington

A Maine family will honor its Civil War ties to the sailors who were part of U.S. naval history.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

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Crewmen on the deck of the USS Monitor are seen in a photograph from July 1862. William Bryan, the great-great-great-uncle of Maine’s Andrew Bryan, is circled. William and his brother James came to the U.S. from Scotland and fought on opposite sides in the war.

Photo courtesy US Naval History and Heritage Command

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Andrew Bryan of Holden holds a National Geographic book that has a depiction of the famous naval battle at Hampton Roads, Va., between the Merrimack and the Monitor in 1862 during the Civil War. His great-great-great-uncle served aboard the USS Monitor.

Photo by Michael C. York

Additional Photos Below

The skeletal remains of two crewmen were discovered in the turret and taken to the military's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command center in Hawaii. There, researchers used genealogical research and DNA tests in a failed attempt to make positive identifications.

However, the staff was able to narrow down the likely descendants to about 30 family members in 10 different families, using a combination of DNA results and the characteristics of the skeletons.

Navy officials are planning to do DNA testing on Bryan family members who live overseas with the hope of obtaining a more precise match.

The Navy contacted Andy Bryan after he posted a query on a genealogical website about his great-great-great-uncle.

Bryan's family knows a surprising amount about their ancestors.

Both William Bryan and his brother James, who is Andy Bryan's great-great-grandfather, came to the U.S. via Scotland. James Bryan apparently died in South Carolina during a battle. By the time William Bryan joined the U.S. Navy, he had apparently spent nearly a decade on British ships.

In an April 15, 1862, letter to his parents -- written a month after the battle with the CSS Virginia -- William Bryan appeared to look forward to a coming engagement with the Confederate Navy.

"Dear parents, I have just got a few minutes to write," he wrote, according to a type-written account that Andy Bryan received from a relative. "We are going to have big time with the Southerens (sic) in a very few days and all our army is made another grand move on them again, and we expect orders every moment to start and make the Forts smell the Monitor again."

William Bryan also enclosed a copy of a photograph of the Monitor marked with a letter "B" above his head. The photo shows a somewhat blurry Bryan kneeling and reaching down to apparently play checkers on the ship's deck, amid about two dozen other crew members.

Andy Bryan, whose father was named William after the Monitor sailor, plans to bring those keepsakes with him to Friday's ceremonies. The proceedings begin with a private chapel ceremony for Monitor crew descendants and top Navy officials followed by an official, public military burial ceremony that is open to the public.

"These may very well be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War to be buried at Arlington," Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said last month when announcing the ceremony. "It's important we honor these brave men and all they represent as we reflect upon the significant role Monitor and her crew had in setting the course for our modern Navy."

For Andy Bryan and his daughter, it will be a chance to connect with other distant family members from around the country and other descendants of Monitor crew members.

"I think it's definitely appropriate," Bryan said of the Arlington burials. "They were fighting for the Union and served the country. I don't think there could be a better place for them to be."

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

An 1886 lithograph by J.O. Davidson, “First Fight between the Ironclads,” shows one of the most historic battles of the Civil War. The clash was the first between the two steel ships and lasted nearly four hours – with neither inflicting serious injury on the other. On Friday, descendants of the USS Monitor crew will gather in Washington’s Arlington Cemetery as remains of two of those sailors are interred.

Courtesy USS Monitor Center/McClatchy Newspapers


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