Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Civil War Ironclads

Civil War Ironclads

Spring 2015 Television
Ages: 10 - 16 yrs.
Rating: TV G

Any student of the Civil War, no matter what age, knows about the Union's ironclad ships the Monitor and the Merrimack. On a fascination scale of one to 10, these two marvels of mid-19th century technological warfare score an 11.

So when the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation chose to dive into this remarkable tale (premiered March 13, 2014) in its Electronic Field Trips series, it chose wisely and ventured into a level of facts and details of Civil War history rarely found in classroom textbooks or lesson plans for its target audience.

Civil War Ironclads is a story of the strategic race in the early 1860s by the Union and the Confederacy to build armored, steam-powered warships that were the predecessors of today's submarines. But what's so compelling is that the program looks into not only the armored vessels and the historic ironclad battle that took place, but also the lives of the sailors stationed inside them.

Told through the narrative of a modern-day father and daughter touring museums in Columbus, Ga., and then Newport News, Va., with the assistance of a knowledgeable ghostly boy from the Union ship who befriends the daughter, the presentation features the history of the Civil War ironclads filled with details that draw viewers into the legend that lead up to the critical ironclad battle of Hampton Roads that changed everything in the war.

Production values are good; the panel of experts is outstanding in both the panelists' knowledge and their ability to explain clearly and enthusiastically. Through historical reconstruction, viewers even get to experience what it was to live inside these mighty vessels.

The interactive online poll and questions during the live episode via Twitter and phone aren't the production's strength. And the narrative dramatics occasionally get a bit too stagey. Those points aside, this is a powerful magnet to students of Civil War history and an excellent educational production.

Don Oldenburg   ©2015 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

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