Spanish-American War: ‘Remember the Maine!’
On Feb. 15, 1898, the American battleship Maine was anchored in Havana Harbor, Cuba. At 9:40 p.m. an explosion ripped though the vessel, killing 260 of the men aboard. The source of the explosion remains a mystery to this day, but at the time many Americans believed that it was caused by a Spanish mine. "Remember the Maine!" became a rallying cry for those seeking a war with Spain.
Americans had been turning against Spain since 1895, when a revolution broke out on the island of Cuba, a Spanish colony. Americans sympathized with the Cuban struggle against Spain, and many Americans sent money and guns to aid the rebels. In order to crush the rebellion Spain resorted to harsh measures. To prevent Cubans from giving aid to the rebellion, villagers were rounded up and placed in fortified areas. The reconcentrados, as they were called, suffered from a lack of food and poor hygienic conditions. Thousands of Cubans died of disease and starvation.
Article continues after this newspaper image from the Feb. 16, 1898, issue of the Age-Herald (Birmingham, Alabama)
Americans were horrified by stories of Cuban suffering and Spanish atrocities, their passions inflamed by sensationalist stories published by such newspaper owners as William Randolph Hearst. When the Maine exploded, many Americans were eager for war. After Spain rejected an ultimatum to leave Cuba, Congress declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898.
The United States quickly went on the attack. In the Philippines the U.S. Navy, under command of George Dewey, destroyed the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay. In Cuba, troops fought the Spanish at El Canay and Las Guasimas before laying siege to the city of Santiago. The brief war lasted just 14 weeks. Though only 345 Americans died in battle, another 2,565 died from malaria, dysentery, and other diseases. Cuba gained its freedom from Spain, and the United States took possession of the former Spanish colonies of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. The latter possession led America right into another war: the Philippine-American War.
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