On Tuesday, January 25, 1898, when the sun’s rays could be glimpsed behind the Fortress of the Cabin, the battleship Maine, under the command of Captain Charles D. Sigsbee, approached the Torreon de la Chorrera. In the distance, the city of Havana seemed to glow in the dim light of morning. When at last the Maine, with its uncovered cannons, made its entrance into the bay, the fishermen who prepared their accoutrements in front of the Castillo de la Fuerza looked up and saw, astonished, how the flag that fluttered on top of its main mast It was not Spanish. Not because their white and red stripes gleamed in the sun, could they identify it. They worried, though, because it was a warship. But they shrugged and continued on their own.
The Maine had sailed the day before from Key West by orders of the president McKinley for, according to the historian Kennedy Hickman, to protect the businesses and the life of the American citizens resident in Cuba. A few weeks before, mobs of followers of the deposed Valeriano Weyler had provoked unrest in Havana by raiding several newspapers that supported autonomy. This fact would not have had major consequences (the Captain General of the Island, Ramón Blanco, immediately adopted measures to restore order and punish the guilty) had it not been because Fitzhugh Lee, US Consul on the Island, described the situation of dangerous and asked Washington to send a warship to protect Americans established in Cuba.
After being received at the docks by Rear Admiral Vicente Manterola, the Maine was anchored in the center of the bay, very close to the Alfonso XII cruise ship, flagship of the Spanish Navy that was waiting for its boilers to be repaired. And although the presence of the Maine was qualified, to alleviate the political tensions between Spain and the United States, as friendly, Captain Sigsbee did not allow the sailors to go ashore and only the officers, to attend the entertainment that was offered in the city, they could do it.
Old photo of the efforts to recover lives after the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana.
At the beginning of February, considering that the permanence of the Maine in Havana was extended and that the objectives of his visit had been achieved, the Secretary of the United States Navy, John Davis Long, considered ordering his return. But the consul Lee objected and the Maine, to his misfortune, remained anchored in the center of the bay.
Source: El Nuevo Herald