February 15, 1898 - USS Maine explodes (right) while at anchor in Havana harbor. Built in 1895, the armored cruiser USS Maine was dispatched to Havana, Cuba in January 1898, to protect American citizens and interests during a period of unrest on the island. For the several years the Cubans had been rebelling against the Spanish in a bid for independence. Cruelly treated by Spanish forces, the Cuban independence movement was largely supported by the American public. Anchoring in the middle of the harbor, Maine's presence seemed to have a calming effect on the city. Aware of the delicacy of the situation, the ship's commander, Captain Charles Sigsbee prohibited liberty for his crew and forbade them from going ashore. At 9:40 PM on the night of February 15, a massive explosion ripped through the forward part of the ship, killing 260 of its crew. As Maine sank, the survivors, including Sigsbee, abandoned ship. On March 28, a Naval Court of Inquiry concluded that the ship had been sunk by a mine. This sparked massive public outrage and significantly contributed to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War the following month. Subsequent investigations have found that the ship was not sunk by a mine and most likely suffered from a fire in a coal bunker adjacent to a magazine.
The Spanish-American War:
Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center