Sinking of the Maine – What Happened?
The United States battleship, U.S.S. Maine, was sunk in an explosion amid Cuba’s uprising against Spain known as The Cuban War of Independence.
On February 15, 1898, at 9:40pm, an explosion rocked the battleship U.S.S. Maine while in the Havana, Cuba harbor. The explosion tore out the bottom of the ship and sank her, killing 266 officers and members of the crew of 354. The next morning, only a small amount of the huge warship could be seen sticking out of the water. The sinking of the Maine would raise United States’ tensions against Spain, which eventually led to a naval blockade against Cuba and a full-on declaration of war.
The Spanish-American War
While officially on a friendly visit, the U.S.S. Maine, one of the earliest American battleships, had been sent to protect American interests after major rioting broke out in Havana in January. A U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry ruled on March 28, 1898 that the Maine had been sank by a mine, but failed to lay blame on any particular party or nation. However, public opinion throughout the United States believed the Spanish military, whom had been occupying Cuba, was responsible. After diplomatic negotiations failed, the Spanish-American War was declared by the end of April, with Spain declaring war on the United States on April 24th and the United States formally declaring war the next day, on April 25th.
The Spanish-American war was truly an uneven contest. The first conflict of the battle was dominated by American Commodore Dewey’s fleet on May 1st in Manila Bay, Philippines. In the battle, the Americans destroyed the Spanish fleet quickly and easily, with the Americans suffering a total of only seven sailors injured.
Shortly after the Naval battle, in June of 1898, an American expedition force landed close to the Cuban city of Santiago. On July 1st, Teddy Roosevelt led his band of volunteers – known as the “Rough Riders” – and the African-American 10th Cavalry to take the San Juan Heights above Santiago. Roosevelt’s troops faced only minimal resistance and few casualties. The city fell swiftly and Santiago officially surrendered on July 17th.
By this time, the remaining Spanish Cuban Naval fleet had fled Santiago harbor. Unfortunately for the fleet, however, they didn’t get far as they were quickly hunted down and found by American battleships. Once the Americans caught-up with the opposing fleet, they destroyed or sunk all enemy ships within four short hours. American troops captured Puerto Rico a few days later, prompting the Spanish government to sue the United States for peace – officially ending fighting in the Spanish-American War.
Many more Americans, by far, were killed by tropical diseases than in the battle itself. Typhoid, malaria, and yellow fever claimed the lives of approximately 4,000 Americans, while only 300 were listed as casualties of war.
Spoils of War
With the signing of a peace treaty in Paris, France in December 1898, Spain relinquished the last of its colonies in the “New World.” The United States claimed Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and the Pacific island of Guam. In addition to these lands, the United States gained worldwide respect as a super power. In the process, Cuba gained its independence from Spain and Theodore Roosevelt was vaulted to hero status in America. Additionally, poor food supplied to the American troops during the skirmish resulted in the founding of the Food and Drug Act.
Raising the U.S.S. Maine
In the years after the Spanish-American War’s end, the United States Congress came under pressure to have the historic vessel raised and returned home. On August 5, 1910, Congress finally gave-in to the pressure and authorized raising the remains of the Maine. The Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with the job and set about building a cofferdam around the sunken ship, pumping out water, and finally removing the wreckage. The ship and remains of sailors found were then removed to be sent back to the United States for proper burial.