Thursday, February 15, 2018

Remember the Maine

Today is the 120th anniversary of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor exploding in Havana harbor. The Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect U.S. interests during Cuban War of Independence against Spain. Teddy Roosevelt, who was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy was convinced the explosion was caused by "outside work," and was desperate for the U.S. to enter the war against Spain. He was aided, in part by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, two newspaper barons. "Remember the Maine" became the battle cry of a nation which seemed eager for war thirty years after the bloody Civil War.

The cause of the explosion is a subject of speculation still today. The board appointed to investigate the explosion soon after it occurred determined the explosion was caused by a mine. However, several naval personnel thought the explosion was caused by an internal accident. The Navy's Steam Engineering bureau chief thought there had been a magazine explosion which caused the Maine to sink. A naval ordnance expert posited those magazine's ignited because of a spontaneous explosion in the coal bunker. Because the ship was powered by bituminous coal which was known for for releasing a gas prone to spontaneous explosions, his premise was quite plausible. Evidence now seems to indicate a fire in the coal bunker "cooked" off the ship's magazine.

Congress declared war on Spain on 25 April 1898. Hostilities were halted on 12 August after Spain was defeated in Cuba and the Philippines and its Atlantic and Pacific fleets were destroyed.  About 280,000 soldiers, sailors, and marines served in the war, many of them volunteers.

The mast of the USS Maine; recovered when the ship  was raised and refloated out
to sea and resunk; Arlington National Cemetery; personal collection
Graves of unknown sailors killed when the USS Maine exploded in Havana harbor;
Arlington National Cemetery; personal collection

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