City of Washington: Historical Significance

Involvement in Spanish-American War

The historical significance of the City of Washington surpasses its technological advancements due to her involvement in the Spanish-American War. In addition to being a part of the war, she witnessed and also was an aid to the key event that sparked the beginning of the war: the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine.

Illustration: Source unknown

Although the explosion of the Maine was the final event leading to the Spanish-American War, there are other circumstances which developed before the explosion of the Maine that should be noted. The United States had foreign interests in Cuba in the form of sugar and tobacco. Spain enforced high taxes on sugar and tobacco, and oppressed Cubans in the form of concentration camps. These acts hurt the Cubans, and United States investments in Cuba.

When the insurrection of Cuba occurred in 1895, the United States took actions to help the Cubans with the ulterior motive of establishing a beneficial economic foothold within Cuba. In 1896, the States took actions to help the Cubans with the ulterior motive of establishing a beneficial economic foothold within Cuba. In 1896, the U.S. Congress offered aid to Spain by forming an independent Cuba, which Spain rejected. In 1897, McKinley was elected President of the United States, knowing war with Spain was inevitable. In 1898, two occurrences within a week of each other provoked the nation to support a war with Spain. On February 9, 1898, the De Lome Letter was published in various papers. In this letter, Enrique de Lome, Spanish Minister of the U.S., wrote to a friend in Cuba labeling President McKinley "weak and a bidder of the admiration of the crowd." This offended the President and the nation.

Less then a week later, on February 15, the Maine exploded while harbored in Havana to protect American interests. The explosion was declared, in an article of the Herald by Walter Scott Meriwether, to be caused by a submarine mine. However, no documented proof exists of the submarine mine. Shouting the slogan "Remember the Maine," Congress assigned $50,000,000 to national defense in preparation for war. On April 24, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain.

Illustration: National Archives

The night the Maine exploded in Havana Harbor (February 15, 1898), the City of Washington was also moored in Havana Harbor. Moored in close proximity to the Maine, the City of Washington suffered injury to her awnings, raise and deck houses by flying debris. Immediately after the explosion, finding the Maine a disaster, the crew of the City of Washington went to aid the Maine. The first round of emergency boats lowered were destroyed by flying shrapnel. After the second round of boats reached the water, the City of Washington, and the Spanish cruiser, Alfonso XII assisted in the rescue of the crew of the Maine. The City of Washington formed a makeshift hospital from their dining salon. Even with the heroic efforts of the City of Washington and Alfonso XII, 260 officers and men were lost in this disaster.

After the explosion many investigations were carried out on the cause of the explosion of the Maine, including a court investigation in 1911. It was documented from Captain Sigsbee, captain of the Maine, that all was right, including coal, magazines, electric lights, temperatures, etc. on the night the Maine exploded. It is also documented that there was high security when visitors were allowed aboard. These reports and investigations all indicate there was no internal cause for the explosion. However, it is still debated today as to what caused the Maine to explode.

The City of Washington's involvement in war efforts against Spain did not end with this event. During the course of the Spanish-American War, the City of Washington was used as a transport ship, carrying troops to wage war against the Spaniards.

Illustration: Steamship historical Society

After the war, the City of Washington resumed regular duties under New York and Cuba Mail and Steamship Co., this time specializing in ferrying passengers from New York to Cuba until her retirement in 1908.

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Last updated: 22 October 2001
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