“Ironclads” (1991) Review

Ironclads (1991) is “based on the true account of the Monitor vs the Merrimac. The movie uses the story of the Battle of Hampton Roads (1862) as the backdrop for the story of love and loyalty. The USS Monitor and the Merrimac (CSS Virginia) represented the first battle between ironclads and forever changed naval warfare. Like in the film, both ironclads could have done significant damage on port cities along the East Coast. However in the film, the battle developed into a fight that would forever change the war. The battle did no such thing, but the ships did become symbols of ingenuity. The first half of the film was about the design and development of the two ships.

Ironclads chose to focus on the Union cause and the ending of slavery. Betty, a Virginian who despises slavery, acts as a spy for she is well placed in the right circles. Her love for Catesby Jones, second in command on the Merrimac, overshadows her loyalty to the Union cause. Her role in the movie is to give the Union information about the Merrimac and that would help the war effort, the abolitionist effort.

Ironclads is important in the larger picture of understanding the Civil War in memory because it reflects on 1991 perception of the Civil War and the Battle of Hampton Roads. The Battle of Hampton Roads is revolutionary in naval warfare but controversial in its result. Both sides claimed victory, but some claim a draw. This debate still occurs, even in scholarly works, such as The Battle of Hampton Roads: New Perspectives on the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. Ironclads did do a good job in the details of the ships, battles, costumes, and other historical points.

Holzer, Harold and Tim Mulligan, eds. The Battle of Hampton Roads: New Perspectives on the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006.

Quarstein, John V. A History of Ironclads: The Power of Iron Over Wood. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2006.

Ironclads VHS. Directed by Delbert Mann. California: Turner Pictures, 1991.


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