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USS Maine (ACR-1)

Wreckage of the USS Maine, 1898

The first USS Maine (ACR 1), a 6682-ton second-class battleship, was originally designated as Armored Cruiser #1. Congress authorized her construction on August 3, 1886, and her keel was laid down on October 17, 1888, at the New York Navy Yard. She was launched on November 18, 1889, sponsored by Miss Alice Tracey Wilmerding, and commissioned on September 17, 1895, under the command of Captain A.S. Crowninshield.

Her active career was spent operating along the U.S. east coast and in the Caribbean area. In January 1898, Maine was sent to Havana, Cuba, to protect U.S. interests during a time of local insurrection and civil disturbances. Three weeks later, at 9:40 on the evening of February 15, a terrible explosion on board Maine shattered the stillness in Havana Harbor. Later investigations revealed that more than five tons of powder charges for the vessel's six and ten-inch guns ignited, virtually obliterating the forward third of the ship. The remaining wreckage rapidly settled to the bottom of the harbor. Most of Maine's crew were sleeping or resting in the enlisted quarters in the forward part of the ship when the explosion occurred. Two hundred and sixty-six men lost their lives as a result of the disaster: 260 died in the explosion or shortly thereafter, and six more died later from injuries. Captain Sigsbee and most of the officers survived because their quarters were in the aft portion of the ship. On Mar. 28, the US Naval Court of Inquiry found that a naval mine caused the explosion.

The tragedy was a precipitating cause of the Spanish-American War that began in April 1898. At the time, it was used as pretext for war by those who were already inclined to go to war with Spain. In 1976, Admiral Hyman Rickover of the United States Navy published an investigation that concluded that the tragedy was self-inflicted, probably the result of a coal bunker fire. Some historians have disputed these findings, maintaining that failure to detect spontaneous combustion in the coal bunker was highly unlikely. Other people maintain that Maine was the victim of sabotage or sacrificed to rally public opinion against Spain.

On August 5, 1910, Congress authorized the raising of Maine. On February 2, 1912, she was refloated under supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers and towed out to sea where she was sunk in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico on March 16, 1912, with appropriate military honors and ceremonies.

There is a memorial to those who died at the Arlington National Cemetery.

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