By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford,
Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
It was a call to arms not unlike “Remember the Alamo” 62 years earlier. While that Texas bravado has endured the decades, memory may falter on a similar outcry: “Remember the Maine!” Or at least why it should be remembered at all.
Unlike the Alamo, in Texas during its fight for independence in 1836, the Maine in this instance was not the state, but a battleship. USS Maine was in a foreign port, Havana, Cuba, in 1898 to protect American citizens when pro-Spanish forces caused riots to break out across the island.
There was good reason for such a show of strength. In the late 1800s Cuba was fighting a vicious battle to free itself from Spain. American sympathies were with the Cubans, a situation made worse when, during the first Cuban insurrection, the Spanish captured the ship Virginius. The Virginius, a freebooter supporting the Cuban revolutionaries, was hired to deliver men and arms to Cubans and was considered by the Spanish to be pirates. They executed 55 of the British and American crewmembers, some of them young boys.
When the second Cuban insurrection began in 1895, Spain sent in Gen. Valeriano “The Butcher” Weyler to serve as governor. Under his rule, thousands of Cubans perished in his reconcentration camps, mostly to disease and starvation, as he sought to separate the insurgents from civilians. As the situation worsened, the United States sent in Maine to protect its interests.
The battleship set out from Florida on Jan. 24, 1898, to Havana, where it stayed moored to the pier. The ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Charles D. Sigsbee, mindful of the trouble on the island, did not allow enlisted Sailors to go ashore. For three weeks Maine was a peacekeeping influence. But Feb. 15, a quiet night in Havana Harbor, the peace was shattered as an explosion rocked Maine, sinking the ship and killing 266 Sailors.
A board of inquiry, after a month in Cuba, came back with their verdict – a mine detonated under the ship. Though no blame was fixed for the mine, it set loose a rallying call to “Remember the Maine!” by journalists seeking to influence America to get involved in a war with Spain.
On April 11, President William McKinley asked Congress to end the fighting between the Spanish and insurgents and establish a stable government. Congress passed a joint resolution April 20 acknowledging Cuba’s independence and began a blockade into Cuba’s harbors. Spain followed with a declaration of war on April 23. The Spanish-American War ended with a cease-fire on Aug. 12, 1898, giving Cuba its independence.
Years after the Spanish-American War, in 1912, the wreck of the ship was cleared to facilitate an additional investigation into the cause of her sinking. Her remains were subsequently scuttled in deep waters north of Havana, but parts of her can still be found across the country today. Dozens of artifacts from the ship proudly bear marks of their heritage.
Navy / Military kept items
- Ship’s Mainmast and Anchor at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.
- 6-in. 30-caliber Deck Gun, Spare Propeller and Bronze Windlass at Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington D.C.
- Foremast, a Life Preserver, two Port Hole Covers, Log Glass, Keys to the Magazines, an Electric Light Bulb and Shade, a Bugle, a 1888 Penny from Sigsbee’s desk, Sigsbee’s ink well, and Sigsbee’s Binoculars at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.
- Union Jack at Hampton Roads Naval Museum, Norfolk, Va.
Museum kept items
- Stern Scrollwork Nameplate at the Museum of American History, Washington D.C.
- A Deck Plate Key, Two Capstan Gears, A Capstan, Part of the Starboard Quarter Boat Davits, A Piece of Worm Drive, and a Metal Fragment at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio
- Sigsbee’s Bathtub from the Ship at the Hancock Historical Museum, Findlay, Ohio
- A Bolt at the Museum of History, Raleigh, N.C.
- Iron Hooks at the Miami Valley Military History Museum, Dayton, Ohio
Government kept items
- Anchor Chain Hooks in Newton, Mass.
- A Shell in Easton, Penn.
- A Bow Anchor in Reading, Penn.
- A Torpedo Tube in Pittsburgh, Penn.
- Two Portholes and a 10-inch Shell in Scranton, Penn.
- A Bowscroll in Bangor, Maine
- The Conning Tower Base in Canton, Ohio
- A Capstan in Charleston, S.C.
- A Capstan in Butte, Mont.
- A Gun Port in Oakland, Calif.
- A Ventilator Cowl in Los Angeles, Calif.
- A Worm Gear in Sacramento, Calif.
- A 6-inch Gun in Alpena, Mich.
- A 6-inch Gun (Barrel Only) in Portland, Maine
- A Six-pounder Gun in Columbia, S.C.
- A One-pounder Gun in Milford, Maine
- A 10-inch Turret Sighting Hood in Key West, Fla.
- A Ventilator Cowl in Woburn, Mass.
- A Ventilator Cowl in Rock Island, Ill.
- The Ship’s Silver Service in Augusta, Maine
- A Steam Whistle in Larchmont, N.Y.
- A 10-inch Shell in Port Chesters, N.Y.
- An Engine Room Funnel in Pompton Lakes, N.J.
Also 28 bronze plaques made from the metal of the battleship are spread out throughout the country.
A website that tries to track parts of the Maine, www.spanamwar.com, has a laundry list of the battleship’s parts and where they reside.