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About John Pyne Bankhead
John Pyne Bankhead (1821–1867) was an officer in the United States Navy who served during the American Civil War, and was in command of the ironclad USS Monitor when it sank in 1862.
John Pyne Bankhead was born on August 3, 1821, at Fort Johnson on James Island, South Carolina. His father was General James Bankhead, a brigadier general who distinguished himself in the Mexican–American War. Bankhead entered the navy in August 1838 at the age of 17. His first ship was the frigate Macedonian, and his early career was spent with the Coast Survey in the Carolinas. He was promoted to passed midshipman on 20 May 1844. While in Vera Cruz during the Mexican–American War, Bankhead served under his father. He was later promoted to master on 8 May 1851 and lieutenant on 7 April 1852.
During the Civil War, Bankhead was stationed on the Pembina and was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, for blockade duty, where his years with the coast survey were put to good use. Bankhead was promoted to commander on July 16, 1862, and in the middle of August the Pembina was ordered to New York for repairs. Flag Officer DuPont wrote a letter on Bankhead's behalf to Captain Gustavus Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, requesting that he be transferred to an ironclad vessel. Bankhead was given the Monitor and took command from Thomas Stevens on September 10, 1862.
Shortly after Bankhead took command the Monitor's boilers and engines were condemned, and on October 3, 1862, the ironclad arrived at the Washington Navy Yard for repairs. By November the ship was repaired and returned to Hampton Roads.
Orders were issued on December 24, 1862, for the Monitor to move to Beaufort, North Carolina. There the ship would join the blockade off Charleston. On Christmas Day the Monitor was ready for sea, but bad weather delayed departure until December 29. On December 31, 1862, a storm hit seas off Cape Hatteras, and the Monitor, under tow by the Rhode Island, foundered and sank with the loss of four officers and 16 men. Bankhead survived, but suffered from exposure. After his recovery he was given command of the side wheeler Florida and participated in blockade duty off Fort Fisher, North Carolina. In 1864, Bankhead was transferred to the Otsego, but was eventually relieved of command due to poor health. Bankhead ended the war in command of the Wyoming, which was stationed in the Pacific searching for the CSS Shenandoah.
The Wyoming was transferred to the Asiatic Squadron, and Bankhead was promoted to captain in 1866 and remained in command until 1867, when due to poor health he requested to be relieved of duty. He died on April 27, 1867, off Aden on the Bengal steamer Simla, on his way home to the United States.