Monitor's 150th Anniversary
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The Lost Monitor Boys

The Lost Monitor Boys | Discovery of Remains | Personal Artifacts

On December 31, 1862, 16 men perished that stormy New Year's Eve when the USS Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C. Official reports of the incident listed four officers and twelve enlisted men as lost. The Rhode Island brought onboard the remaining 47 Monitor sailors, who were affectionately known as the Monitor Boys. As the Rhode Island crew shared their warm clothing with the survivors, the ship began the journey back to Hampton Roads.

Upon arriving at Fortress Monroe, the survivors rushed to send letters home to assure their families and friends that they were safe. George Geer sent two letters, one to his wife Martha, which was brief and bereft of detail:

 
Fireman George Geer. Monitor Collection, NOAA
 
 Fireman George Geer. (Monitor Collection, NOAA) 
 

U.S. Steamer Rhode Island
Jany 2 1862 [sic]

Dear Wife
I am sorry to have to write you that we have lost the Monitor, and what is worse we had 16 poor fellows drownded [sic]. I can tell you I thank God my life is spaired [sic]. Besides the 16 we lost one boat that was sent from this Steamer with 11 semen [sic] in is missing. We have crused [sic] two days for them, and have given them up for lost. I have not time to write you any more, but do not worry. I am safe and well. Write to Troy and let them know I am safe.

Your Loving Husband
Geo S. Geer

 
Paymaster William Keeler
 
 Paymaster William Keeler. (Courtesy The Mariners' Museum) 

A second, longer letter went to Geer's brother, which had more harrowing details of the sinking; details Geer wished to keep from his wife in order not to worry her. In contrast, William Keeler spared no detail in his letter home, telling his wife "The Monitor is no more…what the fire of the enemy failed to do, the elements have accomplished."

Who were the Lost?

After a complete accounting of the survivors, it was determined that four officers and 12 enlisted were among the missing. Among the enlisted personnel that perished, were three African-Americans. Some initial research conducted on the Caucasian enlisted personnel is noted after each name.

Officers:
ATTWATER, Norman Knox, Act. Ensign
FREDERICKSON, George, Act. Ensign
HANDS, Robinson, Woolen, 2rd Asst. Eng.
LEWIS, Samuel Augee, 3rd Asst. Eng.

Enlisted African-Americans:
COOK, Robert, 1st Cl. Boy
HOWARD, Robert H., Officer's Cook
MOORE, Daniel, Landsman

Caucasian Enlisted Crew:
ALLEN, William, Landsman , born in England, 5’-10”, 24y.o., ships #70
BRYAN, William, Yeoman, born in NYC, 5’- 7 ½” 31y.o. , ships #39
EAGAN, William H., Landsman, born in Ireland, 5’ – 6”, 21y.o., ships #73
FENWICK, James R., Quarter Gunner, born in Scotland, 5’ – 5”, 23yo, ships #48
JOYCE, (Joice) Thomas, 1st Cl. Fireman, born in Ireland, 5’ – 9- ½”, 23yo, ships #35
LITTLEFIELD, George, Coal Heaver, born in Saco, ME, 5’ – 7 ½”, 25yo, ships #67
NICKLIS (Nickles), Jacob, Seaman, born in Buffalo (?), NY, 5’ – 7 ½”, 21yo, ships #61
WENTZ, Wells (John Stocking), Boatswain's Mate, born in Binghamton, NY, 5'-8", 32yo, ships #43
WILLIAMS, Robert, 1st Class Fireman, born in Wales, 5’ 8 ½”, 30yo, ships #4


 
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On July 9, 1862, Union photographer, James F. Gibson, came onboard to take the first and only photos to document the celebrated ironclad and her crew. President Lincoln also planned to visit that day, and Gibson hoped to photograph Lincoln on the Monitor. Although, both Gibson and Lincoln visited the Monitor that day, as she lay anchored off Berkeley Plantation on the James River, it was not at the same time. Lincoln arrived at 7:45 a.m., before Captain Jeffers was awake. Lincoln had a boat sent for Goldsborough to attend him on the Monitor. The meeting was apparently brief, and both men left before Jeffers ever made his appearance. n. Gibson arrived in the afternoon and though the President had left, he took eight photographs of the men of the Monitor, the only known photographs of the vessel in existence. Below are six of the eight images taken that day. (All photos courtesy Library of Congress).
Click on the images to view them larger.

Monitor Officers on Deck

Monitor Officers on Deck

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Close-up of Monitor Officer on Deck

Close-up of Monitor Officer on Deck

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Monitor Crew

Monitor Crew

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Lt William Jeffers

Lt William Jeffers, Monitor Captain
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