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In 1865, following the siege of Richmond toward the close of the Civil War, three Union soldiers, a Northern newspaperman, and a Rebel sergeant escape from a Confederate prison in an observation balloon and are carried across the country and far out over the Pacific. A violent storm forces them down on a tiny tropical island; there they find giant creatures (land crabs, roosters, and bees) but no signs of human life. One day they are joined by two women, the sole survivors of a shipwreck. As the little community grows, a pirate ship enters the lagoon and is mysteriously exploded and sunk. At this point a stranger emerges from the sea and announces himself as Captain Nemo. For the past 8 years he has been living on the island and experimenting in the mutation of animals in the hope that the development of such mammoth creatures may solve the world's food problems. The island's volcano will erupt in a few days, he tells the group, and they must try to refloat the sunken pirate ship. By means of the observation balloon, the vessel is raised; and all scramble aboard just as the volcano erupts--all, that is, except Captain Nemo; for by remaining behind until everyone else is safe, he is trapped by tons of rock and lava.