The modern American Steel Navy was essentially born with the launching of the “ABCD” ships, the protected cruisers Atlanta, Boston and Chicago and the dispatch vessel Dolphin. As the 1880s approached, the US Navy had been in a state of
deterioration and stasis. Much of the Civil War fleet was either long gone or rusting and rotting away. New construction was limited and with no real innovation or modernization. A political climate of isolationism also adversely impacted the
contemporary state of the fleet. At the time the construction of “
ABCD” ships was authorized, there was a lack of experience in building steel cruisers. In addition, the industrial infrastructure of the United States could not produce the armor plate,
large caliber guns or other technologically advanced features of a major warship. Not only was the technology required beyond American shipyards, but existing slips and docks were too small. These limitations, along with political intervention and
bungling, delayed the completion of the first three protected cruisers by several years. The
Atlanta, Boston and Chicago could be accurately referred to as beginner’s ships, which helped the US Navy gain experience and to get yards used to building
with more modern construction methods.

USS Charleston was the fourth protected cruiser built for the US Navy and one of the 2nd generation of US Navy protected cruisers. The design for the Charleston was purchased from the British firm Armstrong, Mitchell and Co. of Newcastle,
with the construction to be done in an American shipyard. The plans were similar to the Armstrong-built Japanese cruiser
Naniwa, which was launched in 1885. Charleston’s keel was laid down on January 20, 1887 at the Union Iron Works in San
Francisco and launched on July 18, 1888. She measured 320 feet long, with a beam of 46 feet and draft of 18 feet 6 inches.
Charleston was an improvement over her predecessors in that she had improved protection and higher speed with similar
Charleston’s main armament was two 8-inch (203 mm)/35 caliber Mark 3 guns, fitted in barbettes at the bow and stern. Secondary armament was comprised of six 6-inch (152 mm)/30 caliber Mark 3 guns fitted in sponsons along the
sides. The smaller armament was a mix of 6-pounder, 3-pounder, 1-pounder guns, and smaller caliber weapons.
Charleston was able to reach a speed of 18.2 knots on trials, which was much better than 14-15 knots the earlier cruisers could
achieve. Unlike her predecessors,
Charleston was not fitted with a full sail rig.
Charleston was commissioned on December 26, 1889. At the time of her commissioning, the 8-inch guns were not yet available, so four additional 6-inch gun mounts, two forward and two aft, were fitted in the barbettes. It wasn’t until a refit in
1891 that the 8-inch guns were fitted replacing the stopgap 6-inch guns. The first part of her career was spent on both coasts.
Charleston joined the Pacific Squadron as flagship on April 10, 1890. From August to December of 1891, she served
as flagship of the Asiatic Squadron before returning to the Pacific Squadron as flagship in 1892. Later that year,
Charleston steamed for the east coast, showing the flag at several South American ports along the way.

Charleston arrived in Hampton Roads on February 23, 1893 and participated in the International Naval Review, along with USS Atlanta and USS Chicago, that was held in New York City as part of the Columbian Exposition. She returned to San
Francisco in July 1894 for a refit prior to rejoining the Asiatic Squadron, which she served in until she returned to San Francisco and decommissioned in July 1896.
With the start of the Spanish-American War, Charleston was quickly brought back into service and recommissioned on May 5, 1898. She steamed for Honolulu where she joined three steamers that we chartered to serve as troop transports. The small
convoy set out for Guam, which was a Spanish possession, to claim it for the United States. Leaving the transports safely anchored outside Apra Harbor, on June 20
Charleston steamed into the harbor firing a challenge round at Fort Santa Cruz. In
response, a boatload of Spanish authorities, unaware of the state of war between the two nations, came to the ship to apologize for not having any gunpowder to return what the presumed was a salutatory shot. The authorities were quite surprised to
learn that a war had started and that the American ships were there to take Guam. The following day, the surrender was received by a landing party from
Charleston. Afterwards, Charleston sailed to Manila Bay to join Admiral Dewey’s fleet.

She arrived in Manila Bay on June 30, 1898 to reinforce the fleet that had won the naval battle the month prior in their blockade of the city of Manila. On August 13, she participated in the final bombardment of Manila, which brought the surrender of
the capital city.
Charleston remained in the Philippines through 1899, providing shore bombardment against insurgent positions in support of US Army forces and taking part in the naval operations that captured Subic Bay in September 1899.
On November 2, 1899, Charleston ran aground on an uncharted reef off Camiguin Island, north of Luzon. The damage was too severe to save her and the crew abandoned ship to a nearby small island and then on to Camiguin Island where they
made camp to await a rescue party. The ship’s sailing launch was sent to get help and on November 12, the gunboat
USS Helena arrived to rescue the shipwrecked crew. USS Charleston became the first US Navy steel hulled ship to be lost.

Years ago, I received a box from
Ted Paris with a surprise: a waterline casting of a USS Charleston hull along with a few parts, like the funnel, some platforms, and the 8-inch and 6-inch guns. This was a little preview of a release Ted and Jon
had been working on. Since I had recently completed by builds of the Iron Shipwrights USS Boston, Columbia and Denver kits, they thought that I would appreciate checking out the Charleston. Ted knew that I like to model waterline
and he would send me the rest of the parts and photo-etch when ready. Time passed, the kit parts went into the stash and it was basically forgotten. Well, a few of weeks ago I had a moment of déjà vu when a box arrived from Jon with a complete
Charleston kit. Jon later explained to me that after Ted’s retirement and the relocation of full operations to Tennessee, he had boxes and boxes of stuff to go through. In one of those boxes were the master pattern for the Charleston. The photo-etch
design was done by
Jim Corley and voilà, a lost kit is now in production. The kit is a typical Iron Shipwrights production, you get a full hull and larger resin parts with extra smaller parts provided for compensate for breaking or short castings and a
nice photo-etch detail set.
The full hull is generally well done but you do have your share of bubble voids, especially along the keel and bottom, due to air getting trapped during the casting. While it can be a bit annoying, they can be filled in smoothed down. In my sample,
there was streak of extra resin at the bow that will need to be sanded down. The hull captures the lines of the
Charleston, with the sponsons for the 6-inch guns, bulwarks along the sides, the barbettes for the 8-inch guns, portholes, hatches,
skylights and a deck housing forward all cast into the large part. What is especially eye-catching is the scroll work at the prow that is also integrated into the hull – gild it with some gold paint and it will pop. The larger resin parts include the funnel
and decks for the bridge, flying bridge and forward platforms. The funnel is cleanly cast with the steam pipe attached. There is some flash between the funnel and piping that will need to be removed as well as a bit of resin on the bottom from the
mold. The platforms are also well done but needs removal of some excess resin from the mold channels. The main deck and the bridge platforms have planking that is effective.

The smaller parts include the shields and barrels for the 8-inch and 6-inch guns, a variety of cowl vents in different sizes and styles, some mushroom vents, what I think are either the 6-pounder or 3-pounder guns, anchors, anchor handling davit,
rudder, searchlights, masts and fighting tops. The running gear, in the form of the propeller shafts, struts and propellers are also provided. To round things off, a slew of boats is provided, ranging in styles and sizes and includes steam launches,
cutters, whalers and dinghies. The smaller parts are typical for
Iron Shipwrights in that they are somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of casting quality. The better parts will still need a fair amount of flash to remove and bit of resin from the mold
channels to clip off. Some parts are just not usable. The resin boat skegs are an example, but I think they were included because they were part of one of the molds and brass versions are included on the photo-etch fret. You do get plenty of extra
parts to pick out the better ones to use. The resin masts are really not meant to be used but are provided as a template to scratch build a pair using plastic or brass tubing and rod.
The photo-etch fret is a beauty and contains the basics like the railings, inclined ladders and vertical ladders as well as numerous detail parts. The fret has the framework and decking for the searchlight platforms that were fitted on the bridge and
flying bridge decks, boat davits, boat oars, boat skegs and chocks, funnel cap, ship’s helms, ratlines, anchors, pulleys and shields for the resin small armament. Sadly, the openings in those shields are not open and will need to be opened up
somehow. Parts numbers are etched into the fret. There are some extra parts not used with this kit but the labelling on the fret says “
Pre-1900 Cruisers”. I am not sure if the fret is also included with some of the other ISW early cruiser kits or if it
means others will be released. A small decal sheet with 45- and 46-star US flags is included as well.

The assembly instructions are a little better than what I have seen in some
Iron Shipwrights kit, but not on par with what I have seen in kits by other producers. Some additional references will certainly help out. The resin parts are presented with
hand drawn representations and part numbers. Resin part numbers are within squares and photo-etch parts with circles to help differentiate them in the assembly diagrams. The assembly diagrams are useable as this ship is not that complicated to
build. The last sheet of the instructions has a reprint of a profile and plan view of
Charleston from an 1893 volume of the Journal of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, which is helpful but could have been printed a little darker.
I have an affinity for US Navy ships from this era and finally seeing the Charleston released makes me happy. The kit is like most Iron Shipwright kits, a solid foundation that will need work and patience to work on but in the end, it can become
a great model, I speak from experience. My thanks to
Jon Warneke for providing the review sample.

Felix Bustelo
New York