What exactly happened to the battleship Maine?

1 02 2011

Continuing my run through the history of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century America, I’ve been reading Rebirth of a Nation by Jackson Lears. It’s even better than American Colossus to my eyes since so much of it is new to me even though this is my favorite time period.

The throwaway line at the end of this sentence on p. 207 particularly startled me:

“After the battleship Maine mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898 (supposedly it was there “to protect American life and property”), the drumbeat for war became relentless, in the newspapers and Congress-even though no evidence was ever found to implicate the Spanish in the disaster, which recent historians have discovered was caused by an accidental fire in the coal room.

[emphasis added]

Having thought the cause of the Maine explosion was still undetermined, I immediately turned to the footnotes hoping to see who these “recent historians” happened to be. Lears doesn’t say. [Stupid trade books!]

Can anybody out there do Lears’ job for me, or is he jumping the gun on a definitive answer to one of history’s great mysteries?




2 responses

6 02 2011

I wandered here from Historiann’s site and was poking around your blog (good blog!). I’m not sure if anyone else answered your question elsewhere, but the answer to your question about the USS Maine is here: Hyman G. Rickover, How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed (Washington: Dept. of the Navy, Naval History Division, 1976). Rickover looked into the sinking and came to the conclusion that it was an onboard coal fire, in a bunker too close to the main boilers.

6 02 2011
Jonathan Rees

Thank you, Eleanor, for the kind words and the cite. I actually knew about that one, but Lears uses the phrase “recent historians” and technically Rickover was neither. Do you think that’s who he meant or has someone else confirmed those findings?

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