“ Remember the Maine!” Voices from the Past A Primary Source Activity on the causes of the Spanish-American War. Card 1:.
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For many years Cubans living under Spanish rule had been mistreated by their government. In 1892 Jose Marti led the “Cuban Revolutionary Party” which sought to free Cuba from Spanish rule. Many Cuban rebels started to fight for independence only to be forced into jail, work camps, have their homes and lands taken away, and see their families starve to death.
In 1895, the revolution’s leader Marti was joined by Maximo Gomez who was a skilled military leader. Along with band of guerrilla forces, they planned to rid the island of brutal Spanish rule. Jose Marti said the “revolution should bring new economic life to Cuba,” but it seemed to only bring death.
General Maximo Gomez
Spain would not willingly let go of this profitable territory. Over the next three years, over 300,000 troops would be sent to fight to maintain Spanish rule.
Thousands died…including Jose Marti. However, instead of squashing the spirit of revolution, Martí’s death inspired the rebel cause and sent ripples of nationalism throughout the island.
The Cuban revolution held the interest of citizens all over the United States who saw themselves in the triumphs and struggles of the Cuban revolutionaries. After all, we too fought to gain independence from England when we were just a collection of colonies.
Americans could not read enough about the atrocities Cubans suffered under and the exploits of what Hearst the "courageous freedom fighters."The editorial writers knew no bounds and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal were happy to give it to them…even if that meant making up some stories along the way.
On January 24 1898, President William McKinley sent the USS Maine to Havana to "protect American lives and property."
Three weeks later, on the evening of February 15, 1898, the USS MAINE exploded at 9:40 pm and sank in Havana Harbor. More than five tons of powder charges for the vessel's six and ten-inch guns ignited, virtually obliterating the forward third of the ship.
What caused the sinking has been a subject of debate ever since. What is known is that, in the tragedy, 260 American naval personnel were killed or wounded. Here are some accounts from that fateful day…
"We are going to stay down south here, I think a good while. The whole fleet of ships is maneuvering and drilling at sea. I don't believe we will have any trouble down here with Spain. We are within about 80 miles of Havana. There was a rumor aboard one of the ships a couple of weeks ago that we were to proceed to Havana, but the order was postponed. I was thinking of making out a will when I heard that.
We are watching for filibusters here in Key West since we came here-I mean ships that were smuggling arms and ammunition down to Cuba."
A USS MAINE coal passer
I received your loving letter a few days ago and was pleased to hear from you. I would have written sooner but owing to us having to been ordered to sea so soon, I didn't have any chance. We are now in Havana Cuba. We arrived here yesterday after a five hour run around a place called Dry Tartogos, a small Florida reef. We were out to sea when the orders came for us to proceed at once to Havana. We are the first American ship that has been here in six years. We are now cleared for action with every gun in the ship loaded and men stationed around the ship all night. We are also ready to land a battalion at any moment. By the looks of things now I think we will have some trouble before we leave. We steamed the whole length of Cuba and about every mile you can see puffs of smoke and the Spaniards firing on the rebels...
…This is a landlocked harbor but I think we could get out of it all right although we are in a pretty dangerous position at the present time and we hardly know when we are safe. Well dear Father I will now have to close sending my best love and wishes to all and hoping that I may be alive to see you all again. I remain you loving son. Charles U.S.S. Maine in the charge of Council General of the United States, Havana, Cuba.”
Apprentice, 1st Class, Battleship Maine
Written, 10 days before Charles died when the Maine exploded.
"I was just closing a letter to my family when I felt the crash of the explosion. It was a bursting, rending, and crashing sound, or roar of immense volume, largely metallic in character. It was succeed by a metallic sound - probably of falling debris - a trembling and lurching motion of the vessel…attended by an eclipse of the electric lights and intense darkness within the cabin. I knew immediately that the MAINE had been blown up and that she was sinking.…
….I was informed that the forward magazine was already under water, and after inquiring about the after magazine was told that it was also under water, as shown by the condition below, reported by those coming from the ward room and steerage."
"About this time fire broke out in the mass forward, over the central superstructure…. At this time, I observed, among the shouts or noises apparently on shore, that faint cries were coming from the water, and I could see dimly white, floating bodies, which gave me a better knowledge of the real situation than anything else. I at once ordered all boats to be lowered…
… Lt. Commander Wainwright whispered to me that he thought the 10-inch magazine had been thrown up into the burning mass, and might explode in time. I directed him the to get everything into the boats over the stern, and this was done, although there was some little delay in curbing the extreme politeness of the officers, who wanted to help me into the boat. I directed them to go first…and I followed…
Captain Charles D. Sigsbee,
Commanding Officer U.S.S. MAINE
"I turned into my hammock at eight o'clock, and heard three bells strike. I don't remember anything more until I felt myself turning over and over, falling heavily upon the deck through a mass of smoke. I got on my feet and worked my way on deck. When I got there the superstructure deck was dipping under water, and I jumped overboard to keep from being drawn down in the suction. I was picked up by a boat from the Spanish man-of-war. Four more were picked up by the same boat."
Ship's Cook U.S.S. MAINE
"I was on watch, …Everything was absolutely normal. …I was feeling a bit glum, and in fact was so quiet that Lieutenant J. Hood came up and asked laughingly if I was asleep. I said "No, I am on watch." Scarcely had I spoken when there came a dull, sullen roar. Would to God that I could blot out the sound and the scenes that followed. Then came a sharp explosion - some say numerous detonations. I remember only one. It seemed to me that the sound came from the port side forward. Then came a perfect rain of missiles of all descriptions, from huge pieces of cement to blocks of wood, steel railings, fragments of gratings, and all the debris that would be detachable in an explosion." "I was struck on the head by a piece of cement and knocked down, but I was not hurt, and got to my feet in a moment…”
“… though scarce a minute could have elapsed, I had to wade in water up to my knees, and almost instantly the quarter deck was awash…
“…Captain Sigsbee ordered the launch and gig lowered, … and rescued a number in the water. Captain Sigsbee ordered Lieutenant Commander Wainwright forward to see the extent of the damage and if anything could be done to rescue those forward or to extinguish the flames,… and gave the last sad order, "Abandon Ship,"…
…"I have no theories as to the cause of the explosion. I cannot form any. I, with others, had heard the Havana harbor was full of (mines), but the officers whose duty it was to examine into that reported that they found no signs of any. Personally, I do not believe that the Spanish had anything to do with the disaster. Time may tell. I hope so…”
John J. Blandin, Lieutenant U.S.S. MAINE
Lt. Blandin was considered a survivor of the Maine explosion. However, he later died as a result of his injuries.
I sent you two cablegrams last night telling you of my safety, and before they both reached you before the morning papers, and that you were spared the agony of suspense and uncertainty.
It seems almost selfish to speak of ourselves even when so many hundreds are mourning lost dear ones. Still I could only give you the brief statement that I was safe and unhurt.
I cannot tell you now of my miraculous escape, as the scene is still too terrible to recall, even had I the time. I will only say that I was in my room, writing to you when the ship blew up, and that when I rushed for the ladder leading on deck I found the door closed. In pitch darkness, with explosion following explosion, and expecting each second to be blown into the air, or drowned by the inrushing water, I found the other door and reached the ladder - probably the last.
The whole ship was blown into the air, except the officer’s quarters - which explains why so many of them were saved… Among the men all were blown up, but we saved about 50, leaving about 250 dead. I cannot write of the horrors now. Each man lived a lifetime of horror in a few seconds and all would like to forget it if possible.
Whether we were torpedoed by the Spanish, blown up by a mine, or whither the Cubans did it to bring on a war - or whether it was one of these spontaneous explosions, we do not know. I hate to suspect the Spanish, and their actions and sympathy seems to indicate that they are ignorant of the cause. For the present we must withhold our (judgment).
Lt. George Blow
Written to his wife the day after the USS MAINE was lost.
“It was horrible!…As I descended into the death-ship the dead rose up to meet me. They floated toward me with outstretched arms, as if to welcome their shipmate. Their faces for the most part were bloated with decay or burned beyond recognition, but here and there the light of my lamp flashed upon a stony face I knew, which when I last saw it had smiled a merry greeting, but now returned my gaze with staring eyes and fallen jaw. The dead choked the hatchways and blocked my passage from stateroom to cabin. I had to elbow my way through them, as you do in a crowd. While I examined twisted iron and broken timbers they brushed against my helmet and touched my shoulders with rigid hands, as if they sought to tell me the tale of the disaster. I often had to push them aside to make my examinations of the interior of the wreck. I felt like a live man in command of the dead. From every part of the ship came sighs and groans. I knew it was the gurgling of the water through the shattered beams and battered sides of the vessel, but it made me shudder; it sounded so much like echoes of that awful February night of death. The water swayed the bodies to and fro, and kept them constantly moving with a hideous semblance of life. Turn which way I would, I was confronted by a corpse.”
A gun captain on the USS NEW YORK who spent about two weeks clearing the wreckage of the MAINE.
You have read of our wreck, and I suppose Dr. Greer has informed you that I am all right. I was on watch when the explosion took place. A more complete and sudden wreck one can’t imagine. All of us left alive climbed onto the poop (deck), and then looked around to see in anything could be done. We pulled out the wounded where we could. The wreck sunk and rested on the bottom, and was soon burning fiercely. When the Captain saw that nothing more could be done, he gave the order to abandon ship. We had two boats left that would float, and the Spanish man-of-war sent 5 boats, the steamer Washington sent 2 boats, and we got all who were alive into them, 80 men and officers were saved, out of 340. So we lost 260 men, or near that. About half of those saved are badly injured, and some will die. We all went to the American Steamship “City of Washington”, of the Ward Line, and were treated with every courtesy. I have just learned that we are to go to Key West this afternoon, and suppose I will get home soon…Thank God, my darling that my live was spared again.
No one can tell what caused the explosion. I don’t believe the Spanish had anything to do with it.
Lots of love to my darlings from your own,
Written the day after the sinking of the MAINEby Lt. John ”Jack” Blandin of the Battleship MAINE.
A formal investigation conducted by U.S. officials would take over 4 weeks and yielded few conclusive results. Captain Singsbee, who survived the explosion, said that "Public opinion should be suspended until further report." However, newspaper reporters, eager to sell a sensational story, came up with their own conclusions.
William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal became the first newspaper in history to sell over one million copies. Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World printed what would become the war’s slogan “Remember The Maine!” They competed to write the most fantastic stories which fuelled American anger and made many citizens eager to go to war with Spain.
Just over a month after the Maine explosion, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly voted to go to war. Lt. Secretary of the navy, Theodore Roosevelt sent word to our Pacific fleet to blockade the Spanish fleet at the Philippines and prepare for possible hostilities. Finally, on April 25, 1898, the U.S. congress formally declared war on Spain.
In 1911 the Navy Department ordered a second board of inquiry after Congress voted funds for the removal of the wreck of Maine from Havana Harbor.
U.S. Army engineers built a cofferdam around the sunken battleship, thus exposing it, and giving naval investigators an opportunity to examine and photograph the wreckage in detail. Finding the bottom hull plates in the area of the reserve six-inch magazine bent inward and back, the 1911 board concluded that a mine had detonated under the magazine, causing the explosion that destroyed the ship.
In 1974 Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover conducted a study that concluded the explosion had started by spontaneous combustion in some accumulated coal dust in one of the ship's coal storage bunkers. The heat from this fire, Rickover says, ignited the ammunition magazine and blew up the ship.
Recent studies have shown that a boiler explosion may have caused the demise of the USS Maine, not sabotage from Cuban or Spanish interests. Despite the best efforts of experts and historians in investigating this complex and technical subject, a definitive explanation for the destruction of Maine remains a mystery to this day…
8 Scotch Marine Boilers provided steam to the Maine’s engines