Remember the Maine, 1898

USS Maine, from Harper’s Weekly, February 26, 1898. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)On February 15, 1898, the battleship USS Maine exploded in Havana’s harbor in Cuba, killing nearly two-thirds of her crew. The tragedy occurred after years of escalating tensions between the United States and Spain, and the “yellow press” and public opinion were quick to blame Spain. While the sinking of the Maine was not a direct cause of the Spanish-American War, it did accelerate the breakdown in diplomatic relations between the US and Spain. “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!” became a rallying cry.

The Harper’s Weekly article featured here represents a more balanced view of the event, noting:

the fate of the Maine will continue an unsolved mystery for historians to wrangle over. Meanwhile all that we shall positively know is that the explosion occurred forward, and hence that the seamen rather than the officers were the sufferers; that not more than 26 of the men remained uninjured; 57 being wounded and 246 killed, and that two of the 24 officers are certainly lost. If the disaster were the result of design and not of accident, it is considered probable that the blow would have been dealt the ship on the very spot where the explosion occurred—not because it would be more desirable to destroy the men than the officers, but because the magazine is always a preferable point of attack.

The cause of the Maine’s sinking remains the subject of speculation. Suggestions have included an undetected fire in one of her coal bunkers, a naval mine, and sabotage to drive the US into a war with Spain.

A pdf of the article is available here.