Surgeon Lucien G. Heneberger, USS MAINE

By Patrick McSherry with Randolph G. Heneberger


Surgeon Lucien Heneberger was the chief medical officer aboard the Battleship MAINE when she was lost in Havana Harbor.

Lucien Heneberger in a photo taken in October, 1898, eight months after the loss of the Battleship MAINE


Lucien Guy Heneberger was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on October 20, 1851, the son of Andrew Eli and Mary Elizabeth Effinger Heneberger. Lucien  attended the University of Virginia’s medical school and received his medical degree from there in 1872.

After a year of private practice, Lucien Heneberger decided to join the U.S. Navy. He was appointed assistant surgeon on June 17, 1874 with his initial duty being to serve at the Mare Island (San Francisco) Naval Hospital. This was followed by duty aboard the USS PENSACOLA in the North Pacific, during which time the assistant surgeon visited places such as the Hawaiian Islands,  Mexico, and Panama.  In 1877, Heneberger became a passed assistant surgeon and returned closer to home to serve on ironclads on the James River. In 1878 and 1879, he served at the Naval Hospital at Washington DC.

In 1879, Passed Assistant Surgeon Heneberger  was sent to serve aboard the flagship of the European Squadron, the USS TRENTON. The TRENTON was a wooden screw steam vessel. Although new, it was considered quite outdated by the standards of many European navies. Duty in the European station was strictly a diplomatic and social duty to show the U.S. flag in foreign ports. While Lucien Heneberger was on board, the TRENTON steamed to England, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, France, Egypt and Greece.  Probably with Heneberger still aboard, she returned to the U.S. two years later and was decommissioned. Heneberger was then assigned to the Naval Hospital and Museum of Hygiene in Washington, DC.

Apparently while serving in Washington, Heneberger met Miss Mabel Grymes of Staten Island, New York. They were married on April 22, 1882, in Baltimore, Maryland.  In 1883, the passed assistant surgeon was re-assigned, probably by request, to the New York Navy Yard. As the fates would have it, the marriage was brief. Mabel died on March 15, 1883 in Washington DC at the age of 21, after giving birth to their first child,Lucien Randolph Heneberger, on Febreuary 27, 1883. Heneberger never remarried.

Heneberger’s next duty was aboard the USS DESPATCH, where he would serve from 1884 to 1887. The vessel was stationed primarily in the Chesapeake Bay.  Life aboard the DESPATCH must have been somewhat interesting as the vessel was frequently used by the president, the secretary of the navy and other cabinet members as well as members of Congress for conducting inspections and various ceremonial functions. In 1887, Heneberger returned to New York to serve as the attending physician to the officers’ families at the New York Naval Hospital. In 1888 and 1889, he served aboard the venerable USS MINNESOTA, a survivor of the Civil War Battle of the Ironclads, which was now serving as a permanent training vessel in New York harbor.

In 1889, Heneberger again crossed the continent to serve aboard the USS IROQUOIS, a small steam sloop which patrolled the waters of the Pacific to protect American interests. While serving aboard the USS IROQUOIS, Heneberger was promoted to the rank of Surgeon, on May 5, 1890.

Following his service aboard the USS IROQUOIS, Heneberger took a year-long leave of absence from the navy, from May 1892 to May 1893. On his return to the service, Surgeon Heneberger performed special duties for the navy in New York and later served at the U.S. Naval Hospital at Widow's Island, Maine. On September, 17, 1896, he was detached from his post at Widow's Island and was sent home to await new orders.

On November 1, 1896, the new orders arrived. Surgeon Lucien Heneberger was ordered to serve aboard the battleship MAINE. The MAINE was serving off the east coast of the United States, and continued to do so until late 1897. On December 11, 1897, the vessel departed from Norfolk enroute for Key West, where she arrived on December 15. The  MAINE was held at Key West to be ready to steam to Havana, Cuba should the U.S. Consul-General, Fitzhugh Lee, feel that American life and property were threatened.

Conditions seemed to improve in Cuba, and the immediate threat to American interests seemed to be decreasing. However, the United States government decided to send the  MAINE to Havana as an indication of U.S. Naval power, and to offset the German forces which were growing prominent in the area. It was a fatal move. On February 15, 1898, the MAINE exploded in Havana harbor. Surgeon Heneberger described the event as follows:

 "I was lying in my nightclothes, reading, when there came a suddensensation of an upheaving of the ship. The lights were immediatelyextinguished; and this was followed by the deep, dull boom of theexplosion.""I jumped out of bed, groping my way through the ward room to the ladderleading to the deck, and gained the roof. The captain and some of theotherofficers were already there, and were soon joined by the rest.....""It was an awful moment...that immediately followed the explosion. Thefearful groans of the anguish of the wounded, the battle for life ofthose that had been blown into the water, the tremendous excitement of the hour all went to make up a scene I can never forget."
Surgeon Heneberger abandoned ship when ordered by Captain Sigsbee. All that Heneberger could take with him was the clothing he was wearing at the time of the blast. His sword was eventually recovered from the wreck and returned to him.

In the days that followed, Heneberger was charged with looking after the American wounded in Havana until their removal to the United States could be affected. His duty in Havana ended on March 23, 1898.

Heneberger's next duty was aboard the USS ST. PAUL, an oceanliner converted to serve as an auxiliary cruiser. The vessel was commanded by the former commander of the ill-fated MAINE, Capt. Charles Sigsbee.  The vessel was active in the blockade, and on June 22, 1898, engaged the Spanish Torpedo-boat destroyer TERROR, significantly damaging the Spanish vessel.

After the war, the ST. PAUL reverted to its former capacity as an ocean liner, and Surgeon Heneberger found himself serving aboard the U.S.'s first true battleship, the USS INDIANA, BB-1. In later years, Surgeon Heneberger was in command of the Naval Hospital at Newport, Rhode Island. Heneberger retired from the navy in 1913.

Lucien Heneberger died in Washington DC, on August 3, 1919.


Clerk of the Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement: Message from the President of the United States to the Two House of Congress, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899.

Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, VA), August 4 (?)  1919 (Courtesy of Randolph Heneberger).

Heneberger Family Papers (orders, etc.) (Courtesy of Randolph Heneberger)

Mooney, James L., Ed., Department, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Washington DC: Naval Historical Center, 1981, Vol VII.

Navy Department, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1963, Vol II.

Navy Department, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1968, Vol III, reprinted 1977.

Navy Department, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1969, Vol IV.

Rockingham Register, April 1, 1898 (courtesy of Randolph Heneberger)

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