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Maine, Sinking of the


MAINE, SINKING OF THE (15 February 1898). In January 1898, the second-class battleship Maine, under the command of Capt. Charles D. Sigsbee, was ordered from Key West, Florida, to Havana, Cuba, during that island's revolt against Spanish rule, as an "act of friendly courtesy." Spanish authorities in Havana objected to the arrival of the Maine. For three weeks, the ship lay moored to a buoy 500 yards off the Havana arsenal. There was considerable ill feeling against the United States among Spanish citizens on the island, but no untoward incident took place until 9:40 p.m. on 15 February, when two explosions threw parts of the Maine 200 feet in the air and illuminated the whole harbor. A first dull explosion was followed by one much more powerful, probably that of the forward magazines. The forward half of the ship was reduced to a mass of twisted steel; the after section slowly sank. Two officers and 258 of the crew were killed or died soon afterward. Most of these were buried in Colón Cemetery, Havana.

American and Spanish authorities soon made separate investigations. Their conclusions differed: the Spaniards reported that an internal explosion, perhaps spontaneous combustion in the coal bunkers, had been the cause; the Americans, that the original cause had been an external explosion that in turn had set off the forward magazines.

News of the disaster produced great excitement in the United States, and newspapers such as the New York Journal accused the Spanish of complicity in the disaster. Without doubt, the catastrophe stirred up national feeling over the difficulties in Cuba and crystallized in the slogan "Remember the Maine." After two months of deteriorating relations, the United States declared war on Spain in April 1898.

The wreck remained in Havana harbor until 1911, when U.S. Army engineers built a cofferdam about the wreck, sealed the aft hull of the ship (the only part still intact), and floated it out to sea. There, on 16 March 1912, appropriate minute guns boomed as the Maine sank with its flag flying. The remains of sixty-six of the crew found during the raising were buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. During the removal of the wreck, a board of officers of the navy made a further investigation. Their report, published in 1912, stated that a low form of explosive exterior to the ship caused the first explosion. "This resulted in igniting and exploding the contents of the six-inch reserve magazine, A–14–M, said contents including a large quantity of black powder. The more or less complete explosion of the contents of the remaining forward magazine followed." The chief evidence for this was that the bottom of the ship had been bent upward and folded over toward the stern. European experts, perhaps influenced by several internal explosions in warships in the intervening years, still maintained the theory of an internal explosion. Subsequent investigations drew suspicion to a faulty boiler as the explosion's cause, but no conclusive evidence has ever been found to solve the mystery.


Gould, Lewis L. The Spanish-American War and President McKinley. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1982.

Healy, David F. The United States in Cuba, 1898–1902: Generals,Politicians, and the Search for Policy. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1963.

Hoganson, Kristin L. Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.

Trask, David F. The War with Spain in 1898. New York: Macmillan; London: Collier Macmillan, 1981.

Walter B.Norris/a. g.

See alsoJingoism ; Minesweeping ; Spanish-American War ; Spanish-American War, Navy in ; Warships ; Yellow Journalism ; andpicture (overleaf).

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