Friday's ceremony honored all 16 of the Monitor dead, part of a crew that was celebrated in life, warranting a visit from President Lincoln, and treated as heroes for their role in the Civil War and naval history.

Historian John V. Quarstein calls the Hampton Roads clash the most significant sea battle of the Civil War, in that it stopped the advance of the Confederacy, which had already destroyed two of the Union's wooden ships, and maintained the Union's blockade of the South.

"This is the ship that saved the nation," said Quarstein, author of "The Monitor Boys: The Crew of the Union's First Ironclad."

"She stopped the Virginia from doing further damage," said Quarstein, who lives part of the year at a family farm near Chestertown. "This was the beginning of a change in warfare.

"That's what makes the crew so important — they were there at the change of history."

Among the 16 who went down with the ship were two Baltimoreans. One was Robinson Woollen Hands, a mechanical engineering student before becoming an assistant engineer on the ship, and the brother of a Confederate soldier.

"My great-grandfather didn't speak of his brother at all after the war," said Edward Bryan Hands, 70 of Vicksburg, Miss., whose ancestor was the Confederate soldier.

Hands said he regrets becoming interested in his family history only as an older man. As for the family split over the war, he says it confirms what he thinks he always knew: "I feel to an even greater extent, war is a terrible way to solve your problems."

The other Baltimorean, Samuel Augee Lewis, also an assistant engineer, was described by a fellow crew member as "a mere boy, merely a cypher in our little society." A survivor of the sinking said he was seasick that last day and stayed in his bunk.

"He had only been on the ship a month," said John Phillips, 52, of Stillwater, Minn, a descendant. Lewis was his great-great- grandfather's brother-in-law, Phillips said. "It was well-known in my family that he had gone down with the Monitor. His sister was said to be very distraught over his death."

With his family connection, Phillips had been following the news of the Monitor's recovery, and was thrilled to learn of the discovery of some silverware with Lewis' three initials. He said Lewis was originally from West Chester, Pa.; his family does not know how long he lived in Baltimore.

That Friday's honors were for not just the two recovered sailors but all 16 who perished on the Monitor seemed fitting to many, including Scholley, who found herself thinking of the crews she led during her career.

"I love that we're making it about the whole crew, that they're going to represent the entire crew of missing sailors," Scholley said. "Divers are such a tight community — that's what a crew is, everyone together."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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