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Ironclads (1991)

Unrated | | War | TV Movie 11 March 1991
A naval battle between two large ships: the "Monitor" and the "Merrimack".


Delbert Mann


James Retter (story), Harold Gast (teleplay)
Nominated for 4 Primetime Emmys. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Virginia Madsen ... Betty Stuart
Alex Hyde-White ... Catesby Jones
Reed Diamond ... Leslie Harmon (as Reed Edward Diamond)
Philip Casnoff ... Lt. Guilford
E.G. Marshall ... Commdr. Smith
Fritz Weaver ... John Ericsson
Leon B. Stevens Leon B. Stevens ... Capt. Franklin Buchanan
Kevin O'Rourke ... Lt. Joe Smith Jr.
Joanne Dorian Joanne Dorian ... Blossom
Beatrice Bush Beatrice Bush ... Opal
Conrad McLaren Conrad McLaren ... Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy
Burt Edwards Burt Edwards ... Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War
James Getty James Getty ... Abraham Lincoln
Phil Whiteway Phil Whiteway ... Cmdr. Davis
Carl Jackson Carl Jackson ... Cletus


In 1861, at the onset of the American Civil War, the Union forces stationed in Gosport, Virginia, prepare to leave. The Confederate forces are poised to take Gosport. Before departing Gosport, the Union forces destroy the port facilities, docks, warehouses and a few ships that cannot sail. One of these ships is U.S.S. Merrimack, a 40-gun steam frigate. However, the Union forces fail to destroy the dry dock. The Confederates use the dry dock to repair the Merrimack and cover it with iron plates in order to turn it into an Ironclad. The Confederates intend to use the ironclad ship, re-named C.S.S. Virginia, to attack the Union wooden warships blockading the Confederacy. Washington D.C. gets wind of these Confederate plans and decides to send two spies, one man and a Southern belle, to Virginia to steal the exact specs of the new Confederate ironclad ship. This information is vital for the Union in order to allow it to build a more powerful ironclad ship than the Confederate one. While ... Written by nufs68

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Men of steel in ships of iron clash in the fiercest naval battle of the Civil War.




Unrated | See all certifications »






Release Date:

11 March 1991 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A ferro e fuoco See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Turner Pictures (I) See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The Monitor and the Merrimack were re-created in models one third of their actual size, and the battle scenes between them were filmed in the big tank at Pinewood Studios, England. See more »


When the Monitor first appears from behind the Minnesota there is nobody on deck. But in the next close-up the Monitor's captain and her officers are standing on deck. See more »


[first lines]
Narrator: At the beginning of the American Civil War, when Virginia voted to secede from the Union, the United States Navy was forced to abandon Gosport, its finest naval facility. The U.S.S. Pawnee arrived with orders to make certain that nothing of any value was left to fall into Confederate hands, including the pride of the Navy: the 40-gun steam frigate Merrimack.
Commdr. Smith: Burn every ship that can't be towed! Burn the machine shops, the storehouses...
Lt. Joe Smith Jr.: What about the drydock, sir?
Commdr. Smith: Destroy it, ...
See more »

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User Reviews

The only film made on this historic event
28 May 2006 | by theowinthropSee all my reviews

In 1900, if one was studying the Civil War, an American student would have had some very brief discussion of the slavery issue. It would have mentioned the North was opposed to it, and the South favored it. That brief discussion would have been it - nothing further about slavery.

The heroes and heroines of the war would have been more detailed. Grant, Lee, Sherman, Jackson, Lincoln, Davis would have been mentioned. So would have Farragut, Buchanan, David Porter, Semmes, Sheridan, Early, Joseph and Albert Johnston, John Bell Hood, Longstreet,McClellan, Hooker, Meade, Bragg, Rosecrans, Thomas, Schofield, Custer, A.P. and D.H. Hill...an endless list of heroes. It's doubtful if Frederick Douglas or Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman would have been mentioned (except in Black schools). John Brown would have to be mentioned because of the raid on Harper's Ferry, but his reputation would have been different in the school depending on who discussed him. The majority of these names were dropped out of discussions of that war by the time that the "baby boomers" generation showed up (1944 - 1970). Even the success of Ken Burn's CIVIL WAR series has not pushed these names back into the classrooms.

The naval portion of the war was always limited. There were many ship to ship fights, but the only commander on the Northern side who became truly famous was David Glasgow Farragut, who won a series of naval victories, most noteworthy at New Orleans in 1862 and at Mobile Bay in 1864 (capped by his quote: "Damn the Torpedoes and Full Speed Ahead!). He certainly deserves our respect for his work. The best remembered Confederate naval hero was (of course) Captain (later C.S.S. Admiral) Raphael Semmes, who (while commanding the C.S.S. Alabama) became the greatest commerce raider in our history.

But the naval battles we recall today were not under these men. They involved two experimental ironclad warships - C.S.S. Virginia and U.S.S. Monitor - off Hampton Roads, Virginia, and the sinking of the U.S.S. Housatonic off Charleston by the Confererate submarine C.S.S. Hunley.

We do not recall the two commanders at Hampton Roads (Confederate Commodore Franklin Buchanan and Union Lt. John Worden). Neither really demonstrated a flair for tactics, as they slugged it out on March 9, 1862. They really did not quite know what to do with their two machines. The "cheesbox" turret of the Monitor was hit once or twice, but it's swiveling action prevented real damage. The thick armor plating of the Virginia (formerly the U.S.S. Merrimac) was dented occasionally, but it was not breached. The battle was a draw - but it showed that battleships would have to be metal from now on. The reason was the comparative one: The Virginia/Merrimac had attacked the Union fleet on March 8, 1862 at Hampton Roads, and sunk the U.S.S. Cumberland and the U.S.S. Congress, and caused the U.S.S. Minnesota to run aground. Up to Pearl Harbor that was the worst naval disaster inflicted by an enemy on the U.S. navy. But those ships were wooden.

The Second Battle of Hampton Roads became a textbook battle in naval history from the point of view of innovation - not tactics. It's full effect is a little exaggerated: Both Britain and France had started building iron hulled warships like H.M.S. Warrior before 1860. But none had been tested in battle. Now everyone knew what to expect. The subsequent Hunley experiment showed another step forward in naval warfare: one underwater one.

Oddly the Monitor/Merrimac fight has rarely been discussed in movies. A "B-feature" was made in the 1930s that showed the battle at the end. And there is this passable film made in 1991 by Ted Turner's production company for T.N.T. It is best showing the difficulties of the North dealing with the builder of U.S.S. Monitor, the gifted Swedish inventor John Ericcson, who was an egomaniac. Ericcson is played by Fritz Weaver, who gives a nice performance. But it is not the central portion of the film. The battle concludes it. I'm giving a "7" for Weaver's performance, and for a brief, sad moment (well handled) when E.G.Marshall realizes that his son is dead. Marshall's son commanded the Cumberland, and he realizes that if the ship sank the son has to be gone (he is).

In all the hoopla of the finding of the "Hunley" and it's restoration in Charleston, few noticed that the Monitor's wreck (off Cape Hatteras) was found in the 1970s, and (in the face of deterioration) the turret and other portions of the wreck were raised and are being restored at Hampton Roads. The Merrimac had to be blown up in May 1862 to prevent it being seized by the North. Some fragments of that ironclad still exist.

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