The Sinking of the First USS Maine: 1898

In the New York Navy Yard, on October 17, 1888, many American ship builders began building a 6,682 ton battleship soon to be named the USS Maine. This second-class battleship sported four 10 inch and six 6 inch cannons, and 15 pound guns with four 14 inch torpedo tubes when she was launched from the navy yard a year later in November 1889. She was commissioned on September 17, 1895, her was Captain Arent S. Crowninshield, and she crewed 350 men; a few months after her commissioning, she was on her way to her first and final voyage, which was a peace keeping mission to Cuba.1

The USS Maine near Havana | Courtesy of the Naval Historic Center

In January of 1898, the USS Maine steamed from the Florida Keys to Havana Cuba. A Cuban fight for independence from Spain was underway, and with American citizens in Cuba caught in the cross-fire, the presence of an American battleship there would demonstrate US concerns to Spain about those American citizens. The ship was there in what the United Stated called a “friendly act,” though there wasn’t many friendly feeling from the Spanish authorities toward the battleship being in their harbor. No actions against the ship were taken. But at 9:40 P.M. on 15 February, that all changed. Two explosions rocked the ship as it threw pieces of the Maine two-hundred feet in the air as it illuminated the whole harbor. The first explosion was a small dull roar that was followed by a much more powerful second explosion. The explosion was larger due to the forward magazines going off in the fire. The forward half of the ship was reduced to a mass of twisted steel; the aft section slowly sank, leaving two officers and 258 members of the crew dead in the aftermath of the destruction.2

The exploding of the USS Manie | Courtesy of Fouquet on Wikimedia Commons

Upon hearing what happened to the USS Maine, both the Spanish and American Governments sent their own investigators to the wreck to determine what happened to the ship. Both investigators came up with completely different conclusions as to the cause of the explosions. The Spanish said that the cause was an internal explosion in the coal bunker, while the American investigator said it was an external explosion that set off the forward magazine after the first explosion. While the investigators were working on the causes, the remaining survivors were rushed to hospitals on a ward steamer and a Spanish cruiser. Eight of those survivors subsequently died. Once news of the Maine’s explosion and the deaths of American sailors reached the States, many Americans believed that the explosion was due an external explosion caused by a shady individual, and they demanded an armed intervention against the Spanish. Though this wasn’t the cause of the Spanish-American War, it was certainly a catalyst for starting it.3

The hulk of the USS Maine | Courtesy of the Naval Historic Center

The wreck of the Maine stayed in Havana’s harbor for years, until 1911, when the American Government sent a group of Army engineers to raise the wreck. There they found that the aft section was the only intact part of the ship, so they raised it and floated it out to sea. Then, on the 16th of March, 1912, the Maine was given her minute gun salute as she sank with her flag flowing proudly one last time. Remains of the crew found with her were subsequently laid to rest as well in Arlington cemetery. Before she was sunk, officials performed one last set of investigations. They found evidence that pointed to a faulty boiler as the possible cause of the explosion, but they still lacked conclusive evidence to support the theory, so the cause of the explosion is still undetermined and we may never know for sure what caused the Maine to explode.4

  1.  The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, 2009, s.v. “USS Maine,” by Naval Historic Center.
  2. Dictionary of American History, 2003, s.v. “Maine, Sinking of the Maine.”
  3.  The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, 2009, s.v. “USS Maine,” by Naval Historic Center.
  4. Dictionary of American History, 2003, s.v. “Sinking of The Maine,” by Walter B. Norris.

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41 Responses

  1. I didn’t know too much about this warship, and this article explains how it was a iconic piece of military history. The article was really informative about this piece of history and what happened to it. I’ve only knew minor things about the ship, and with the hold of this article the reader can learn so much more about a historic piece of military history and the importance of it during this time period.

  2. The sinking of the USS Maine I believe many think it is still a mystery. The Spanish blamed the Americans and vice versa, which led to controversies between both countries and eventually the Spanish American War later that year. The story of this ship I think is interesting because of the many theories it has and what caused the explosion of the ship. I enjoyed how detailed this article is on the explosion of the ship and how this story changed the course of history.

  3. I knew that there have been consipiracies as to how the USS Maine had been sunk but I wasn’t aware that there were multiple investigations. That was something new that I had learned with this article along with pulling what was left out to sea to give it a final salute even though the ships life was short lived unfortunately.

  4. This was a very informative article. I remember learning about the USS Maine back in, I believe my jr. year, of high school. However we never went into much depth about the details of it. This article gave me information that I didn’t know before, such as how both the U.S. and Spain did separate investigations. Although the truth as to what caused the explosion on the USS Maine is still unknown, it still had an affect on history. In the end this was a good article that I enjoyed reading.

  5. This article was such an eye-opener. I had never heard of the USS Maine, although now I wish I had. It’s intriguing of how much of a mystery the explosion is. I find it insane of how everything seemed to be so tranquil, but escalated so quickly. I also find it insane of how much confusion can cause trouble. And it’s weird that just a month after this, the Titanic sank.

  6. Interestring and descriptive article. I find it peculiar that no one has come to a conclusion on why the USS Maine actually exploded. My theory would be that the Spanish were right, and it was an interior boiler explosion, and that the U.S fabricated there findings so they could come up with a reason to go to war. This was definitely one of the factors for the Spanish American war, as well as the yellow journalism surrounding the story.

  7. Even though this was a very interesting article, I did have some trouble reading some parts of the article, other than that it was great. It’s very mysterious that to this day we don’t know what caused the explosion that sunk the USS Maine. The two theories that this article states could of very much happened, but no one will ever truly know.

  8. It’s definitely interesting to wonder how the U.S ends up in conflicts with the usual major event that acts as a catalyst. I remember in high-school going through this lesson and wondering what other theories existed out there for this event, but never looked into it. It’s unfortunate lives had to be lost in such a simplistic way, but your article provided a great overall view of the situation that I could appreciate.

  9. I know very little about the battleship USS Maine, and I was curious to learn more about the tragic circumstances in which two officers and 258 crew members died due to the explosion. Your article was very informative and eye opening. I wish we had more information about the cause of the blast, but since we do not know much, we can only hope for the best. The pictures you used in your article are great and help they help give the article more substance.

  10. I found this to be a very interesting. I do think that it was Spain that sunk the USS Maine but I guess we will never know. I really liked the part how they took the remains of the people that died on the ship and let their spirits rest when they were finally buried. I also really enjoyed how they gave the ship one last salute as they let her sink to the bottom, overall, I really enjoyed this article.

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