Veterans and family members gathered Friday morning to commemorate a group of sailors who lost their lives more than a century and a half ago.

Naval Air Station Patuxent River hosted the ceremony at the USS Tulip Memorial in St. Inigoes to honor the 47 sailors who died when the USS Tulip exploded due to a faulty boiler in 1864.

The Tulip was a Union gunboat assigned to the Potomac Flotilla, with its mission being to support Union communications, tow, transport and land soldiers, and maintain the Union blockade of Confederate ports during the Civil War.

With a faulty starboard boiler, the vessel had been ordered to return to Washington for repairs. Not wanting to be a slow, easy target for enemy cannons during the voyage up the Potomac River, the ship’s captain ignored the faulty boiler and ordered Tulip to proceed full steam ahead.

The end result was an explosion heard for miles. The ship sank near Piney Point with 10 of the 57 men on the ship surviving, but two dying shortly afterward, according to a press release.

The only human remains ever recovered were eight badly burned, unidentified bodies that washed ashore and are buried near St. Inigoes Creek, where the secluded USS Tulip Monument stands, marking the smallest federal cemetery in the nation.

Capt. John Brabazon, executive officer of Pax River, spoke at the ceremony, thanking everyone in attendance for supporting veterans and the sailors.

“It means a lot to me, and I hope it means a lot to you,” he said, adding that it is important to pay respects to the fallen.

Brabazon encouraged those in attendance to remember those who served and to recognize the three-day Veterans Day weekend was paid for with blood.

He said, “Our veterans are truly extraordinary … and they understand the adversaries that threaten our way of life. … The world’s longest continued democracy deserves to be protected.”


Madison Bateman