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At the outbreak of the Civil War, longtime friends and Naval officers Commodore Jordan and Captain Buchanan must chose whether to fight for the Union or return to their native Virginia. Buchanan chooses to return to Virginia, taking with him his daughter Julie, who is engaged to Jordan's son Raymond, who is also a Navy man. Jordan chooses to defend the North, but Raymond cannot bear to be parted from Julie and so he resigns to follow her and fight from Virginia. Raymond sadly bids farewell to his sister Constance and his best friend, Lieutenant Kenneth Reynolds, a Northern Naval officer who is engaged to Constance. Kenneth is given command of the mighty battleship U.S.S. Merrimack , but when he reaches his destination at Norfolk, Southern troops attack, and Kenneth is ordered to burn his ship to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Kenneth refuses, sinking the Merrimack instead, and is dishonorably discharged soon after. Kenneth then returns to Washingon, D.C. and to Constance, but finds that he cannot get a job because everyone considers him a traitor for allowing the Merrimack to fall to the South. The Southern Navy, including Raymond and Captain Buchanan, raises Kenneth's ship and begins the slow process of making it ironclad so that they will be able to break the Northern blockade. Meanwhile, Kenneth talks his uncle, Captain John Ericsson, into submitting to a Senate committee his own design for an ironclad ship with a revolving turret. The committee is deeply skeptical of the revolutionary design, and instead awards the contract to Bushnell, a leading shipbuilder. Ericsson then meets Commodore David G. Farragut and Bushnell, whom Kenneth invites to inspect Ericsson's model of his ship, which is named the U.S.S. Monitor . The two men are so impressed with the model that Bushnell gives up his own designs in favor of Ericsson's, and they rush the Monitor into production. While it is being built, Constance learns that Raymond is third in command on the Merrimack and will therefore be fighting against Ericsson's ship. She becomes even more distraught when the Monitor is finished and Kenneth is reinstated and allowed to join the crew. She begs him not to go, but even as she swears that she will never forgive him, Kenneth tells her that it is his duty. After sailing through a dreadful storm, the Monitor arrives in Norfolk just in time, for the newly ironclad Merrimack is making short work of the Northern blockade. The two ships meet in battle, and after a fierce struggle, the Monitor is triumphant, but only after Kenneth witnesses Raymond's death. Back in Washington, Kenneth receives Jordan's forgiveness for causing Raymond's death. Constance is unable to forgive Kenneth, however, until they meet President Abraham Lincoln as they are walking, and his sorrowful but passionate urging for peace persuades her to reconcile with Kenneth.