The heroes of this historical novel are actually the Monitor and the Merrimac; the climax comes in the historical battle off Portsmouth which wrote finis to wooden ships. It isn't at all a conventional or traditional story, such as we learned in early textbooks. It is a very human searching of the forces of disunity, of the real significance of the ""house divided"", as Stephen Knott, Portsmouth born and bred, but a United States officer, chooses to stay with the Union. And Linden Cleave, whose father engineered the local ""underground railroad"", and whom Stephen loved, was passionately, unreasoningly a Virginian -- and therefore a Confederate. As a girl she felt cheated of the chance to serve -- so instead she threw everything into campaigning to support the completion of the Merrimac. And when the Merrimac was victorious, she felt there was something else she could give. How their stubborn conflicts are adjusted and resolved is told against the story of the double dealing, the conniving, and the unwavering faith of a few involved in the building of the two ships. An unusual and holding story.