The story takes place in Milwaukee during the early 1900s with a bank clerk named August Schiller who is happy with both his job and his family. He is tasked with transporting $1,000 in securities to Chicago. On the train he meets a blond seductress who convinces him to buy her a bottle of champagne, and takes him to a saloon. The next morning he awakes alone in a dilapidated bedroom and without the securities.
An embellished account of the 1813 expedition by famed frigate U.S.S. Constitution--a.k.a. "Old Ironsides"--against the Barbary pirates then terrorizing American shipping, focusing on the crew and passengers of a fictional merchant ship, The Esther, who fall afoul of the same pirates and thus become involved with the Constitution's mission.