Image above: Mining camp at Bennet Lake, May 1898. Photo courtesy Woodside, H.J., 1858-1929. Library and Archives Canada. Right: Engraving of the immigrant scene at Ellis Island, New York harbor. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Timeline - The 1890s
The Age of Immigration
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Detail - 1898
February 15, 1898 - The rallying cry, "Remember the Maine" is struck when the United States battleship Maine explodes and sinks under unknown causes in Havana Harbor, Cuba, killing two hundred and sixteen seamen. The sentiment becomes a rallying point during the coming Spanish-American War.
Today, the war cry used by the men fighting an upcoming war, "Remember the Maine," is probably known more than the incident itself. And many, beyond the history buff, not really knowing what and why the battleship was sunk. Problem is, ... we still, to this day, don't really know.
The Battleship Maine had been sent to Cuba on a friendly visit, to protect Americans there after the January riots in Havana. There was no intention by the United States to do anything else; it was not an invasion by one ship. The Maine had been the pride of the Navy, built at the cost of two million dollars after it was put into service and commissioned on September 17, 1895. The Maine was one of two advanced designed armored cruisers or second-class battleships built from 1888 forward, along with the Texas, to counter new battleships built or bought by South American nations, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.
The fleet of the United States was old, and Navy commanders knew that they were falling beyond not only Europe, but now their American neighbors to the south. Plans began in 1884 to build two three hundred foot long ships; asking Congress for the authorization to build two six thousand ton battleships; i.e. the Maine and Texas were born. Authorization was given on August 3, 1886. It was decided that the Maine would be more of an armored cruiser, and she took nine years to build. Upon planning, a ship of her size was intended be like a small battleship for overseas service. With the long timetable to build, the Maine was somewhat behind newer trends by the time she was put into service. The Maine was finally launched on November 18, 1889.
The Maine became part of the North Atlantic Squadron, operating along the Atlantic seacoast from Norfolk to the Caribbean.
Destruction of the Maine
By the time the Maine got to the port of Havana on January 25, 1898, there was no thought of what lay ahead. Her crew of three hundred and fifty-four crew members were in harbor, biding time on the mission, most asleep in their cabins, when, on February 15, 1898, the ship hit a mine. That explosion ignited the powder for its own six and ten inch guns, taking down the front third of the ship. The remainder sank into the bay. Two hundred and sixty-six sailors were killed.
There was no credit by an adversary for the attack. Some thought it was an accident. The U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry, after meeting on March 28, admitted that the explosion had occurred, and that it had been caused by a mine exploding, but placed no blame on a nation, Spain occupied Cuba at the time, or person. Various other inquiry boards looked into the matter; Spain concluded it was spontaneous combution of the coal bunkers.
This was not good enough for the public in the United States. They blamed the mine of the Spanish. The phrase, "Remember the Maine," was augmented by members of the public and the press to "Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain." With public sentiment that high, and riled, the U.S. Government began making plans for war in late April. Diplomatic attempts were made; they were not satisfactory.
Meanwhile, the mainstream press in the United States, pressured the story, often exaggerating claims that were not known. This was evident particulary in the New York Journal (William Randolph Hearst) and New York World (Joseph Pulitzer).
By April 11, President Wiliam McKinley asked for Congressional approval to send troops to Cubs. The Spanish-American War began on April 21, 1898 with Congress declaring war four days later.
Photo above: Lithograph of the Destruction of the Battleship Maine, 1898, Kurz and Allison. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Photo of the Battleship Maine, 1897, Detroit Publishing Co. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info Source: Library of Congress; New York Times; Wikipedia Commons.