USS Maine Second Class Battleship
The first Maine, a second‑class armored battleship, was laid down at New York Navy Yard 17 October 1888; launched 18 November 1890; sponsored by Miss Alice Tracy Wilmerding, granddaughter of Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Tracy; and commissioned 17 September 1895, Capt. Arent S. Crowninshield in command.
Maine departed New York Navy Yard 5 November 1895 for Newport, R.I., via Gardiner’s Bay, N.Y., to fit out 16 to 23 November, and then proceeded on the 25th to Portland, Maine, to visit her namesake. The battlewagon then put to sea on the 29th on trials and inspection, being assigned to the North Atlantic Squadron 16 December, and sailing via Newport to Tompkinsville, N.Y., arriving 23 December. The ship sailed the next day for Fort Monroe, Va., arriving on Christmas Day. She operated out of that place and Newport News through June 1896 and then on the 4th sailed for Key West on a 2‑month training cruise, returning to Norfolk 3 August. Maine continued extensive east coast operations until late 1897. Then the ship prepared for a voyage to Havana, Cuba, to show the flag and to protect American citizens in event of violence in the Spanish struggle with the revolutionary forces in Cuba.
On 11 December Maine stood out of Hampton Roads bound for Key West, arriving on the 15th. She was joined there by ships of the North Atlantic Squadron on maneuvers, then left Key West 24 January 1898 for Havana.
Arriving 25 January, Maine anchored in the center of the port, remained on vigilant watch, allowed no liberty, and took extra precautions against sabotage. Shortly after 2140, 15 February, the battleship was torn apart by a tremendous explosion that shattered the entire forward part of the ship. Out of 350 officers and men on board that night (4 officers were ashore), 252 were dead or missing. Eight more were to die in Havana hospitals during the next few days. The survivors of the disaster were taken on board Ward Line steamer City of Washington and Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII. The Spanish officials at Havana showed every attention to the survivors of the disaster and great respect for those killed. The court of inquiry convened in March was unable to obtain evidence associating the destruction of the battleship with any person or persons, but public opinion in the United States was so inflamed that the Maine disaster led eventually to the declaration of war on Spain 21 April.
On 5 August 1910, Congress authorized the raising of Maine and directed Army engineers to supervise the work. A second board of inquiry appointed to inspect the wreck after it was raised reported that injuries to the ship’s bottom were caused by an external explosion of low magitude that set off the forward magazine, completing destruction of the ship. It has never been determined who placed the explosive; responsibility for the sinking of Maine remains one of the continuing enigmas of American history.
Maine’s hulk was finally floated 2 February 1912 and towed out to sea where it was sunk in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico with appropriate ceremony and military honors 16 March.