Havana, February 15.The noise of a terrible explosion startled Havana at ten o'clock to-night. It was soon learned by the people who flocked to the water-front, whence the sound proceeded, that the explosion had occurred on the United States battle-ship Maine in the harbor. Definite particulars are not as yet ascertainable, but it seems certain that many persons on board the Maine were killed and wounded, and possibly the ship is so badly injured that she can not be saved. From the Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII boats were at once dispatched to the site of the Maine to render assistance. No explanation of the explosion is obtainable at this time. Whether one of the ship's magazines blew up, or bombs were placed beside her and set off by Spaniards is not known. Because of the excitement in the city the military authorities ordered troops to quarters, and the streets were filled with jostling crowds of excited citizens and soldiers.
Havana, February 16.2 A. M.By a miracle Captain Sigsbee and most of the officers of the Maine were taken off in safety, but one hundred of the crew, it is believed, were killed.2 Many of the survivors were taken off by the boats of the Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII. At this moment the hull of the ship is burning, the flames illuminating the harbor and making a striking scene for thousands gathered on the water-front. It is apparent to observers on shore that the vessel is sinking rapidly to the bottom of the bay. The entire city is panic stricken.
Washington, February 16.4 A. M. Secretary Long has received this telegram from Captain Sigsbee:
"Maine blown up in Havana Harbor 9:40 P. M. and destroyed. Many wounded and doubtless more killed and drowned. Wounded and others on board Spanish man-of-war and Ward Line steamer. Send lighthouse-tenders from Key West for crew and few pieces of equipment still above water. No one had other clothes than then upon him. Public opinion should be suspended till further report. All officers believed to be saved. Jenkins and Merritt not yet accounted for. Many Spanish officers, including representatives of General Blanco, now with me, and express sympathy.
Havana, February 16.4 P. M.Witnesses of the explosion that destroyed the Maine say that at the moment of concussion a vast mass was seen to rise to a great height. In the sudden and blinding light no one seems to have been able to discern the nature of this mass or whether it rose from beside the battleship or inside it. Up to this time there are reported 251 killed and 99 wounded. Immediately after the report small boats hurrying to the spot from all sides picked up twenty-eight wounded men struggling in the water. Of them six were on the point of succumbing when pulled in. They were taken on board the City of Washington and cared for. Not one of the wounded in the military hospital has died up to this hour, but the condition of several is precarious. The Mascotte will take to Key West some of the injured who are in condition to be moved. American vessels are expected at any moment to arrive for the purpose of rendering any assistance possible.
From the nature of the disaster and the testimony of the survivors it appears that the line of greatest force of the explosion was a little forward of amidships. It is there that the worst damage was done. The chief officers were either well aft or ashore. Thus they escaped unhurt. The seamen and marines by their position were forced to bear the brunt of the disaster, and the frightful mortality was almost wholly confined to them. One of the junior officers should have been on duty on the forward deck, and it may have been thus that Lieutenant Jenkins, who is missing, lost his life. It is also probable that Engineer Merritt, another missing man, was below on duty and went down with the ship. Lieutenant-Commander Wainwright, who was at first reported lost, is safe.
Five of the crew immediately after the explosion ran to the main ammunition storage-room with the idea that they might save that from explosion. None of them has since been heard of. It is almost certain that they went to the bottom, ready at their posts for duty. Captain Sigsbee, perfectly cool throughout all the excitement which followed the explosion, gave directions for looking after the sinking battle-ship and caring for the wounded.
The great battle-ship, it is thought, will be a total loss. Captain Sigsbee himself acknowledged as much. Directly after the explosion she took fire and burned so fiercely that it was only by exercising great haste that the survivors were able to escape from the ship. Altho there was great confusion on the ship after the explosion, perfect discipline was maintained. All reports agree on this point. Captain Sigsbee himself was largely responsible for this state of affairs.
It was between 9:45 and 10 o'clock last night that the explosion occurred. Captain Sigsbee was below at the time, but with the report of the explosion he rushed up on deck in his shirt-sleeves. Thus attired he gave his orders. Efforts were at first made to save the vessel, but when Captain Sigsbee realized the extent of the damage done and that many casualties had occurred, he bent all his energies to assuring the safety of his men. The report was heard in the city, and crowds immediately flocked to the harbor-front. Flames at that time were bursting from the battle-ship. The greatest excitement prevailed among those on shore.
Captain Sigsbee did not leave his sinking ship till every man had been taken off, and he remained in a boat in the neighborhood as long as there was any hope of saving any of the men who were in the water. He says he has not the slightest idea what caused the accident. He was thrown from his bed3 by the explosion, and his head was slightly bruised, but otherwise he received no injury. The first thing he did was to go on deck and order the flooding of the large quantity of guncotton on board. The order was promptly carried out, and it is certain that no damage was done.
Lieutenant-Commander Wainwright was also in his room when the explosion occurred. He speaks in the highest terms of the coolness with which Sigsbee and the other officers faced the terrible situation. No sooner had two or three of the officers appeared on deck than an order was given to lower the boats. Four of them were immediately lowered and three were filled with men, but the fourth boat was swamped before it could be utilized. When the explosion occurred Lieutenant Blandin had charge of the deck.
A large part of the crew were in their quarters, and they were not able to get out, but went down with the ship, which sank bow first about 2,000 feet from Fort Atares. Captain Sigsbee, in all his comments to-day, has been very careful not to accuse any one of causing the explosion. All he will say is that a careful investigation will be made, and it will probably determine whether interior or exterior causes produced the disaster.
Washington, February 16.Washington is in a state of painful excitement to-night. The city has been all day a hotbed of startling reports and sensational rumors. Public business in Congress and in the executive departments was almost at a standstill because of the awful disaster in the harbor of Havana. Officially the nation is in mourning, and social events scheduled to take place at the White House have been indefinitely postponed. No such appalling events of the sea has occurred since her Majesty's battle-ship Victoria was sunk a few years ago by her sister-ship, the Camperdown, in the Mediterranean. The commanding officer went down with the ship, and 22 officers and 336 sailors with him.4
Technically the Maine was in the harbor of Havana on a mission of peace to a friendly government. As a matter of fact, she was there for the purpose of protecting the lives and property of American citizens threatened by the repeated riotous demonstrations of Spaniards enflamed against the people of the United States because of their sympathy with the people of Cuba, who are struggling to be free. The vessel was blown up in the dead of night by some unseen force in some inexplicable manner. That is all that is known now and probably all that will be known until the board of inquiry,5 appointed to-day, makes its investigation and submits a report.
In the meantime theories are thick as autumn leaves. Few of the higher officials of the administration and of the leaders in the Senate and House are willing to admit that they see the evidence of Spanish treachery in this tragedy that has followed a long chain of dramatic incidents connected with the controversy between Spain and the United States over the Cuban question. In their hearts there is grave fear and dark suspicion. But the consequences of fastening the guilt upon Spain would be so serious and the retaliation so prompt and severe that they hesitate to make public the existence of their misgivings. President McKinley, therefore, has allowed the impression to go abroad that he believes the calamity for which the nation mourns to be due to an inscrutable act of Providence, and his words are reechoed by his Secretary of the Navy and other Cabinet advisers. They would be only too glad if they felt their utterance to be sincere. They desire, above all things, to have the American public suspend judgment until the facts can be ascertained.
The nature of the explosion that wrecked the Maine long remained undetermined. Soon after it occurred, what is known as the Sampson board of inquiry reported in favor of an explosion from the outside. From that day the wrecked battle-ship lay in the water at Havana until 1911, when the work of taking her away began, and another board, called the Vreeland board, made a special examination of the wreck. This board rendered its report to the Secretary of the Navy on December 7th, when Secretary Meyer made the following statement as to the conclusions contained in it:
"The board finds that the injuries to the bottom of the Maine were caused by the explosion of a charge of a low form of explosive exterior to the ship between frames 28 and 31, strake B, port side. This resulted in igniting and exploding the contents of the six-inch reserve magazine, A-14-M, said contents including a large quantity of black powder. The more or less complete explosion of the contents of the remaining forward magazine followed. The magazine explosions resulted in the destruction of the vessel."
2 The final count showed that 266 officers and men had lost their lives in consequence of the explosion.
3 Captain Sigsbee was not in bed at the time, but was sitting at a table in the admiral's cabin.
4 The date of this disaster was June 22, 1893.
5 The Sampson Board, which reported that the explosion had come from outside.
The Boston and Concord were sent to reconnoiter Port Subio, I having been informed that the enemy intended to take position there. A thorough search of the port was made by the Boston and Concord, but the Spanish fleet was not found, altho from a letter afterward found in the arsenal, it appears that it had been their intention to go there.
Entered the Boca Grande, or south channel, at 11:30 P. M., steaming in column at distance at 8 knots. After half the squadron had passed, a battery on the south side of the channel opened fire, none of the shots taking effect. The Boston and McCulloch returned the fire. The squadron proceeded across the bay at slow speed, and arrived off Manila at daybreak, and was fired upon at 5:15 A. M. by three batteries at Manila, and two at Cavite, and by the Spanish fleet anchored in an approximately east and west line across the mouth of Bakor Bay, with their left in shoal water in Canacao Bay.
The squadron then proceeded to the attack, the flagship Olympia, under my personal direction, leading, followed at distance by the Baltimore, Raleigh, Petrel, Concord, and Boston, in the order named, which formation was maintained throughout the action. The squadron opened fire at 5:41 A. M. While advancing to the attack, two mines were exploded ahead of the flagship, too far to be effective. The squadron maintained a continuance and precise fire at ranges varying from 5,000 to 2,000 yards, countermarching in a line approximately parallel to that of the Spanish fleet. The enemy's fire was vigorous, but generally ineffective.
Early in the engagement two launches put out toward the Olympia with the apparent intention of using torpedoes. One was sunk and the other disabled by our fire and beached before an opportunity occurred to fire torpedoes. At 7 A. M. the Spanish, flagship Reina Christina made a desperate attempt to leave the line and come out to engage at short range, but was received with such galling fire, the entire battery of the Olympia being concentrated upon her, that she was barely able to return to the shelter of the point. The fires started in her by our shell at this time were not extinguished until she sank.
At 7:35 A. M., it having been erroneously reported to me that only 15 rounds per gun remained for the 5-inch rapid-fire battery, I ceased firing and withdrew the squadron for consultation and a redistribution of ammunition, if necessary. The three batteries at Manila had kept up a continuous fire from the beginning of the engagement, which fire was not returned by this squadron. The first of these batteries was situated on the south mole head at the entrance to the Pasig River, the second on the south bastion of the walled city of Manila, and the third at Malate, about one-half mile farther south. At this point I sent a message to the Governor-General to the effect that if the batteries did not cease firing the city would be shelled. This had the effect of silencing them.
At 11:16 A. M., finding that the report of scarcity of ammunition was incorrect, I returned with the squadron to the attack. By this time the flagship and almost the entire Spanish fleet were in flames, and at 12:30 P. M., the squadron ceased firing, the batteries being silenced and the ships sunk, burned, and deserted.
I am happy to report that the damage done to the squadron under my command was inconsiderable. There were none killed, and only 7 men in the squadron very slightly wounded. Several of the vessels were struck and even penetrated, but the damage was of the slightest, and the squadron is in as good condition now as before the battle.
Since the blowing up of the Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, matters leading to war with Spain had moved rapidly. An ultimatum was finally sent to Spain on April 20th, in which April 23d was made the last date on which a satisfactory reply would be received. This was virtually a declaration of war, altho the formal declarations were not made until April 24th and April 25th. The first gun in the war came from the United States ship Nashville, which fired across the bows of a Spanish merchantman named Buena Ventura. On April 27th three vessels of the navy under command of Admiral Sampson bombarded Matanzas, Cuba.
Admiral Dewey, then a commodore in Chinese waters, commanding the Asiatic squadron, was at once ordered "to proceed to the Philippine Islands; commence operations at once against Spanish fleet; capture vessels or destroy." He entered the Harbor of Manila on April 30th, under cover of darkness, having as his ships the Olympia, Baltimore, Raleigh, Boston, Concord, Petrel, Hugh McCulloch, and two colliers, comprizing altogether 113 guns and 1,678 men. The Spanish fleet of ten ships was armed with 120 guns and had 1,796 men, and was supported by land batteries.