Tuesday, February 15, 2005

On this day in military history....in 1898

On this day in military history….in 1898. The battleship USS Maine explodes and sinks in Havana harbor which precipitates the Spanish-American War. In the late 1890’s, Spain’s empire in the New World was starting to come apart as more and more of her possessions wanted their freedom. The Spanish military was fighting guerrillas in both Cuba and the Philippines. At the same time in the US, there was a “battle” between rival American newspaper chains for readership. Since nothing sells newspapers like “bad news”, the newspapers competed with each other by printing reports of Spanish atrocities committed against the Cuban “freedom fighters”. Because American business had invested heavily in Cuba, the USS Maine was sent to Havana harbor in January 1898 to help protect American interests there. On the night of 15 February, an explosion ripped thru the battleship USS Maine, causing it to sink with 260 of her crew. Although the cause was not immediately evident, American opinion, urged on by the press, singled out sabotage by the Spanish as the culprit. A Naval board of inquiry later stated that the cause was an underwater mine. In April, after the US Congress passed a resolution declaring Cuba a free and independent nation, the Spanish broke off diplomatic relations. The US Congress declared war on the 25th of April.

After the declaration of war, the US Navy quickly destroyed the Spanish Navy at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines and the Battle of Santiago Bay in Cuba, thereby isolating Spanish possessions in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. After the invasions of the Philippines and Cuba, the Spanish sued for peace in August, 1898.

The aftermath of the war was that Cuba became free and independent and the US gained the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Thanks to modern technology, the real reason of the sinking of the USS Maine has been found to be due to an internal explosion, most likely caused by a smoldering coal fire igniting volatile coal dust. It is interesting how just one unattended smoldering coal fire brought down the Spanish empire.

Trivia of Note #1: The Bugs Bunny cartoon phrase “You may fire when ready, Gridley” came from the Battle of Manila Bay. The US squadron commander, Commodore George Dewey, uttered this phrase when he instructed the captain of his flagship, the USS Olympia, that he could begin firing at the Spanish ships.

Trivia of Note #2: Theodore Roosevelt became a war hero when he lead his “Rough Riders” up San Juan Hill outside of Santiago during the invasion of Cuba.

Trivia of Note #3: The Spanish-American War was the first war in which the newly admitted state of Utah was able to participate. Batteries “A” and “B” of the Utah Light Artillery (commanded by a son of Brigham Young) participated in the Manila Campaign and the 24th Infantry and the 9th Calvary Regiments saw action at the Battle of San Juan Hill.


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