Mast of the USS Maine Memorial
The mast of the USS Maine Memorial (Section 24) overlooks the remains of those who died when the ship exploded off the coast of Havana, Cuba on February 15, 1898. As Cubans were fighting for independence from Spanish colonial rule, President William McKinley ordered the Maine to Cuba to protect U.S. political and economic interests on the nearby island. On the night of February 15, an explosion in Havana Harbor tore through the ship's hull, killing more than 260 sailors on board. One hundred and two members of the crew survived.
Historians are still unsure what caused the Maine's explosion, but popular sentiment at the time, encouraged by sensational journalism, blamed the disaster on the Spanish. Fueled by public outrage over the Maine's destruction, as well as concern for the Cuban rebels and opposition to European colonization of the Americas, on April 25, 1898, the United States declared war against Spain. "Remember the Maine!" became pro-war Americans' signature rallying cry.
While brief — hostilities concluded by August 13, 1898 — the Spanish-American War had major historical consequences. The first significant military conflict after the Civil War, the Spanish-American War played a key role in reuniting the nation and strengthening American nationalism. It also expanded U.S. territory beyond the American continent: Spain ceded Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the United States, while Cuba (though nominally independent) became a U.S. protectorate. Famously described by Secretary of State John Hay as a "splendid little war," the Spanish-American War confirmed that by the turn of the twentieth century, the United States had become a global power.
Those who died in the Maine's explosion were initially buried in a Havana cemetery. On March 30, 1898, Congress approved a bill authorizing for their remains to be disinterred and transferred to Arlington National Cemetery. On December 28, 1899, 165 remains (63 known, 102 unknown) were reinterred in Section 24, with a full military honors service.
The USS Maine, meanwhile, lay at the bottom of Havana Harbor for over a decade. Calls to raise the ship heightened in 1908, the 10th anniversary of its destruction. In 1910, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to raise the Maine, recovering 66 bodies from the wreck. Two years later, in March 1912, the Navy transported the ship's mast to Arlington, where it was placed onto a granite base meant to represent the turret of a battleship. The names of those who died aboard the Maine were inscribed onto the base. The monument is located on Sigsbee Drive, named after Admiral Charles Dwight Sigsbee, who commanded the vessel at the time of the explosion (and survived). Located behind the memorial are two bronze mortars captured from the Spanish during the war. The memorial was unveiled and dedicated by President Woodrow Wilson in a large public ceremony held on May 30, 1915.
Welded into the door of the base is the Maine's bell, with an inscription that reads: "USS MAINE, Navy Yard, New York, 1894." Above the door that leads into the base, another inscription reads: "Erected in memory of the officers and men who lost their lives in the destruction of the USS Maine at Havana Cuba, February Fifteenth MDCCCXCVIII." The anchor is similar to the one that was on the Maine.
The USS Maine and Its Crew
The Maine was an armored cruiser, 324'4" long and 57' wide, made of steel and divided into 214 watertight compartments. It was powered by two steam engines with a total designed output of 9,293 horsepower. It carried four 10-inch guns, six 6-inch guns, seven 57-millimeter anti-torpedo boat guns and four 18-inch above-water torpedo tubes.
The names on the side of the USS Maine Memorial indicate the ethnic diversity of its crew. Some joined when the ship was in port in Japan, China or the Philippines. The crew also included thirty African Americans. Because the explosion occurred on the forward part of the ship, below enlisted sailors' quarters, only two of the approximately 260 killed were officers; the rest were enlisted men. Their jobs (engraved with their names on the memorial) included coxswain, fireman, coal passer, oiler and more.
Other Spanish-American War Memorials at Arlington