For some time prior to the visit of the Maine to Havana Harbor our consular representatives pointed out the advantages to flow from the visit of nationnl ships to the Cuban waters, in accustoming the people to the presence of our flag as the symbol of good will and of our ships in the fulfillment of the mission of protection to American interests, even though no immediate need therefor might exist.
Accordingly, on the 24th of January last, after conference with the Spanish minister, the peninsular authorities at Madrid and Havana were advised of the purpose to resume friendly naval visits at Cuban ports, and that the Maine would forthwith call at the port of Havana.
This announcement was received by the Spanish Government with appreciation of the friendly character of the visit of the Maine and with notification of intention to return the courtesy by sending Spanish ships to the principal ports of the United States. Meanwhile the Maine entered the port of Havana on the 25th of January, her arrival being marked with no special incident besides the exchange of customary salutes and ceremonial visits.
No appreciable excitement attended her stay. On the contrary,
a feeling of confidence followed the resumption of the long-interrupted
friendly intercourse. So noticeable as this immediate effect of her
visit that the Consul-general strongly urged that the presence of our ships
in Cuban waters should be kept up by retaining the Maine at Havana, or,
in the event of her recall, by sending another vessel there to take her
At forty minutes past 9 in the evening of the 15th of Februarv the Maine was destroyed by an explosion, by which the entire forward part of the ship was utterly wrecked. In this catastrophe 2 officers and 264 of her crew perished, those who were not killed outright by her explosion being penned between decks by the tangle of wreckage and drowned by the immediate sinking of the hull.
Prompt assistance was rendered by the neighboring vessels anchored in the harbor, aid being especially given by the boats of the Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII and the Ward Line steamer City of Washington, which lay not far distant. The wounded were generously cared for by the authorities of Havana, the hospitals being freely opened to them, while the earliest recovered bodies of the dead were interred by the municipality in a public cemetery in the city. Tributes of grief and sympathy were offered from all official quarters of the island.
The appalling calamity fell upon the people of our country with crushing force, and for a brief time an intense excitement prevailed, which in a community less just and self-controlled than ours might have led to hasty acts of blind resentment. This spirit, however, soon gave way to the calmer processes of reason and to the resolve to investigate the facts and await material proof before forming a judgment as to the cause, the responsibility, and, if the facts warranted, the remedy due. This course necessarily recommended itself from the outset to the Executive, for only in the light of a dispassionately ascertained certainty could it determine the nature and measure of its full duty in the matter.
The usual procedure was followed, as in all cases of casualty or disaster to national vessels of any maritime state. A naval court of inquiry was at once organized, composed of officers well qualified by rank and practical experience to discharge the onerous duty. Aided by a strong force of wreckers and divers, the court made a thorough inv6stigation on the spot, employing every available means for the impartial and exact determination of the causes of the explosion. Its operations have been conducted with the utmost deliberation and judgment, and, while independently pursued, no attainable source of information was neglected, and the fullest opportunity was allowed for a simultaneous investigation by the Spanish authorities.
The finding of the court of inquiry was reached, after twenty-three days of continuous labor, on the 21st of March instant, and, having been approved on the 22d by the commander-in-chief of the United States naval force on the North Atlantic station, was transmitted to the Executive.
Its purport is, in brief, as follows:
When the Maine arrived at Havana, she was conducted by the regular Government pilot to buoy No. 4, to which she was moored in from 5 1/2 to 6 fathoms of water.
The state of discipline on board and the condition of her magazines, boilers, coal bunkers, and storage compartments are passed in review, with the conclusion that excellent order prevailed and that no indication of any cause for an internal explosion existed in any quarter.
At 8 o'clock in the evening of February 15 everything had been reported secure, and all was quiet.
At forty minutes past 9 o'clock the vessel was sudden destroyed.
There were two distinct explosions, with a brief interval between them. The first lifted the forward part of the ship very perceptibly; the second, which was more open, prolonged, and of greater volume, is attributed by the court to the partial explosion of two or more of the forward magazines.
The evidence of the divers establishes that the after part of the ship was practically intact and sank in that condition a very few moments after the explosion. The forward part was completely demolished.
Upon the evidence of a concurrent external cause the finding of the
court is as follows:
At frame 17 the outer shell of the ship, from a point 11 1/2 feet from the middle line of the ship and 6 feet above the keel when in its normal position, has been forced up so as to be now about 4 feet above the surface of the water, therefore about 34 feet above where it would be had the ship sunk uninjured.The outside bottom plating is bent into a reversed V shape (V), the after wing of which, about 15 feet broad and 32 feet in length (from frame 17 to frame 25), is doubled back upon itself against the continuation of the same plating, extending forward.At frame 18 the vertical keel is broken in two and the flat keel bent into an angle similar to the angle formed by the outside bottom plates. This break is now about 6 feet below the surface of the water and about 30 feet above its normal position.In the opinion of the court this effect could have been produced only by the explosion of a mine situated under the bottom of the ship at about frame 18 and somewhat on the port side of the ship.The conclusions of the court are:
That the loss of the Maine was not in any respect due to fault or negligence on the part of any of the officers or members of her crew;
That the ship was destroyed by the explosion of a submarine mine, which caused the partial explosion of two or more of her forward magazines; and
That no evidence has been obtainable fixing the responsibility for the destruction of the Maine upon any person or persons.
I have directed that the finding of the court of inquiry and the views of this Government thereon be communicated to the Government of Her Majesty the Queen Regent, and I do not permit myself to doubt that the sense of justice of the Spanish nation will dictate a course of action suggested by honor and the friendly relations of the two Governments.
It will be the duty of the Executive to advise the Congress of the result, and in the meantime deliberate consideration is invoked.
(Excerpted from Presidential Messages and State Papers, Vol. VIII (New York: The Review of Reviews Company, 1917) 2952-2956.