Charleston’s Monitor

USS Tonopah
During the War Between the States, Charleston was under attack from Federal ironclads called monitors, but in later years monitors were a welcome sight in Charleston harbor. After the war, the monitor design was modified with newer engines and bigger guns, and by the turn of the 20th century, the monitor was similar to a battleship. In 1900, the US Navy built a new class of monitors called the Arkansas class. One, the USS Nevada was built 252 feet long, with a crew of 220 officers and men. It was armed with two 12-inch guns. What made the monitors unique was their low free board which harked back to Swedish inventor John Ericsson’s original monitor design in the 1860’s. Theoretically it made them harder to hit by enemy shells, but also proved more susceptible to heavy seas, so the Nevada was relegated to duty as harbor defense and as a tender to the first submarines created by the US Navy. By 1908, the navy decided to build a bigger battleship class and name them after states, so the Nevada’s name was given to a ship which would go on to be bombed at Pearl Harbor. Because an historic feature of the Civil War monitors was giving them Indian names, such as Passaic, Weehawken, Patapsco, etc., the old Nevada was renamed the Tonopah, an as the USS Tonopah served in Charleston before World War I, before eventully being decommissioned in 1920.

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