#OnThisDay: “Remember the Maine!” What you might not know.

If asked what the slogan, “Remember the Maine!” was about, I could have told you it referred to a ship that was sunk and caused the Spanish-American War. I minored in history in college, but some of the details are a little blurry now. Today is the 123rd anniversary of the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor.

USS Maine three weeks before it sank in Havana harbor.
The USS Maine passing Morro Castle as she entered the harbor of Havana, Cuba 25 January 1898. Photo credit: US Naval History & Heritage Command photograph. Catalog#: NH 48619. 

Manned with a crew of 350 men, the Maine was a 393-foot-long battleship. It had been sent to Havana to protect Americans living there in the event that Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain spun into a full-scale war. At 9:40 p.m. on Tuesday, February 15, 1898, there was an explosion and the ship sank. Only 84 crew members survived. It was quickly concluded that the ship had been hit by a Spanish torpedo or that it had hit a Spanish mine.

“Remember the Maine!” became the battle cry in the United States, and the US Congress declared war on Spain ten weeks later on April 25, 1898.

U.S. Navy diving crew with wreckage of USS Maine in 1898, from aft looking forward. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command photograph. Catalog#: NH 46774.

Fast forward to 1976

In 1976, U.S. Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover investigated the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine and concluded that the ship sank due to a probable coal bunker fire. That deflates the rallying cry, “Remember the Maine!” in a heartbeat.

Some historians have disputed Adm. Rickover’s conclusions, so we maybe haven’t heard the end of this story.

One has to wonder how differently the course of Cuban and American history would have gone if everyone had known at the time that the sinking of the U.S.S, Maine was a self-inflicted accident and not an act of war. The next time you read or hear, “Remember the Maine!” remember what can happen when a nation’s government jumps to the wrong conclusion.

How the US got Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines

The first battle of the Spanish-American War took place on May 1, 1898. The war lasted only several months, ending on August 12, 1898. Through the peace treaty, which was worked out in Paris the following December, Spain gave Cuba its independence and gave Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. Let that sink in for a minute. What a turn of events!

When I was in school, we never studied the details of the Spanish-American War. Every year we studied U.S. history from colonial times through the Civil War. It was just through living, watching TV, and having an early interest in history that I absorbed through osmosis the stories of the Battle of Bunker Hill, and Teddy Roosevelt and “The Rough Riders.”

In other words, I couldn’t give you a definitive summary of the Spanish-American War. I couldn’t have told you that Puerto Rico, Guam, or the Philippines had anything to do with that war. If I ever knew they did, those facts were lost to me over time. It was only in researching “Remember the Maine!” for today’s blog post that I learned of those connections.

Through my interest in genealogy, I’ve just in recent years learned that one of my great-uncles fought in the Spanish-American War. This made me realize that it’s not ancient history. It makes me realize today that I should have known more about it. I’m not as far-removed from it as I thought.

In the big scheme of things, United States history covers but a tiny fraction of world history. So how is it that we do such a poor job of teaching our citizens U.S. history?

Since my last blog post

I was able to get my first Covid-19 vaccine shot on Saturday. I thought I’d have to wait until March, but some more appointments opened up in my county. It is encouraging to get that first shot. I got the Moderna shot. My arm is sore, but that’s the only side effect I’ve had.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson. Having it on CD from the public library was a blessing the 48 hours I had a sick headache last week and couldn’t stand any light. I highly recommend this nonfiction book. Mr. Larson has a talent for bringing history alive in his writing.

I hope you have time to enjoy a hobby or favorite pastime this week.

Note: Next Sunday, February 20, is World Storytelling Day. Are you a good storyteller?

Janet