Welshmen aboard the USS Monitor in the American Civil War

Britannia’s Dragon names several Welshmen who are known to have served in both the Confederate and Union navies during the American Civil War, including an account of the most famous of them – Henry Morton Stanley, the future discoverer of Doctor Livingstone. There were Welshmen aboard the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (formerly Merrimac), which fought the world’s first battle between metal warships, and one of them has been the subject of a recent, if slightly macabre, news story. As I wrote in the book,

‘Aboard the USS Monitor as it sailed into battle against the CSS Virginia (and their fellow Welshmen) were coal heaver David Ellis, a trainee teacher from Carmarthenshire, and fireman Robert Williams, who later went down with the ship when it sank in a storm in December 1862. A skeleton likely to be that of Williams was discovered when the Monitor’s turret was raised in 2002. In 2012 his face was reconstructed by a team from Louisiana State University, and on 8 March 2013 the body believed to be his received a funeral with full military honours at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, making him probably the last sailor of the American Civil War to be honoured in this way.’

Further information about the remains and facial reconstruction of ‘Williams’ can be found here, while coverage of the funeral can be found here, with film footage here,

When Britannia’s Dragon had already gone to press, I came across a reference to a memoir that Ellis had written about his time aboard the Monitor. It was too late to do more than work in at the proof stage the brief reference to him having been a trainee teacher; this was a pity, as Ellis’s memoir provides a rare first-hand account of a Welshman’s experiences during the American Civil War at sea. Fortunately, the memoir is freely available online, and can be read here.

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