'A Ship to Remember' is an excellent introduction to both the saga of the U.S.S. Maine and the Spanish American War as a whole. In this book, Michael Blow, gives a thorough explanation of the war from political, personal and military perspectives.
Michael Blow, grandson of a crew member of the Maine, begins his narrative with a history of the events which had created such turmoil in Cuba as to attract the attention of the American government and public. He then gives a detailed account of the destruction of the Maine on February 15, 1898. The tale of the investigations examines the theories attempting to explain the explosion and contradicts some myths which many of us have heard. The major issue was whether the Maine was destroyed by an external source, such as a mine, or whether the cause was an accidental mishap internal to the ship. Its Captain, Charles Sigsbee, and much of the American press, always insisted that his command was the victim of a mine. I remember being told in school that the Navy could have very easily determined if the explosion was internal or external, but chose to sink the Maine in deep water before an investigation was concluded. In fact, the vessel was subjected to thorough investigations by both American and Spanish authorities. The American court of inquiry of 1898 concluded that the Maine had been sunk by a mine. Further investigation in 1912 again concluded that the source of the explosion was external. Not until the 1970s did Adm. Hiram Rickover, upon review of the evidence, conclude that the cause of the explosion was internal.
Blow does a good job of analyzing the potential motives of the forces in Cuba which could have attacked the Maine by mine.
The tragedy of the Maine was used by much of the American press to incite the American public, which was already incensed by the Spanish atrocities in Cuba, to demand war. Blow does an excellent job of explaining journalistic agitations and the political maneuvers which lead up to the declaration. He makes clear President McKinley's efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the problem until forced, by political pressures, to ask for a declaration of war.
War having been declared, action first occurred in the Philippines, an unexpected theatre, . The U.S. Navy Asiatic Squadron under Adm. George Dewey had destroyed the Spanish squadron in Manila Bay, giving Dewey command of the Bay, if not the city or archipelago itself. This started the long American debate over what to do with the islands, once the conquest was completed.
With news of a favorable and stable situation in the Philippines, attention switched to the location of the Spanish fleet under Adm. Cervera which had left Cape Verde on April 29, 1898. Until sited near Santiago de Cuba on May 18, speculation about the location of the Spanish fleet was rampant. It was feared from New England to Texas and was reported as being sited as far as the North Atlantic. The fear was so universal that cottages at Newport, Rhode Island were not opened for fear of Spanish attack.
With Cervera in Santiago harbor and the American Army landed in Cuba, that island became the center of attention. The war reached a climax in early July. The American offensive against Santiago was highlighted by the charge of the Rough Riders on July 1. The military pressures against Santiago forced Cervera to attempt to run the fleet out to see against the blockading American forces on July 2. The ensuing running battle resulted in the destruction of the Spanish fleet, ending the Spanish naval threat in the Caribbean.
Toward the end of the book, Blow relates the practical problems presented by the need to return American troops home before tropical diseases accomplished what the Spanish forces had been unable to do. Ample attention is also paid to the political dilemmas in the Unites States created by the conquest of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam.
This narrative is livened by revelations of the characters and personalities of the principal personalities involved, both American and Spanish. Excitement is added to the story by the tale of the dash of the U.S.S. Oregon from the Pacific, around Cape Horn, to arrive in Cuban waters just in time to play a major role in the actions of July 2.
I was left with three major impressions of this war from 'A Ship to Remember'. One is the poor state of communications in comparison to those of today. The cable from Manila having been cut by the Spanish, Adm. Dewey was forced to send a ship back to Hong Kong to wire news of the Battle to Washington. This caused a delay of about a week in the relay of the news to Washington. The other surprise was the utter lack of knowledge about the whereabouts of Adm. Cervera. In this day of aircraft and satellite surveillance, it seems incredible that a fleet could be loose on the high seas for three weeks with its location being unknown over a range of several thousand miles, but it happened.
The second impression is of the Spanish American as a largely naval war. The battle of Manila Bay was won by the Navy. The main threat in the Caribbean was the Spanish fleet, which was hunted down and destroyed by the Navy. While the Army did conquer Cuba through its battles around Santiago, it relied on the Navy for transportation and supply.
The third impression is that this was a war in which American territory was in jeopardy. Although it now seems that it was a war limited to Spanish colonial areas, Cervera did have the potential to have attacked any on of many ports along the eastern seaboard.
When I chose this book I was hoping to obtain a general understanding of the Spanish American war. That hope has been fulfilled.
on May 19, 2008
This was a very enjoyable account about the USS Maine and the Spanish-American war in general. As the title entails a fair amount of the book details the fate of the USS Maine and discussion of the review of the causes of its destruction. It was interesting to see how much influence yellow journalism played in the war and the book is rife with examples. It gives a nice overview of the attack on the Philipines and briefly touches on its later occupation. The final naval defeat of the Spanish is given great detail from both sides, although the constant switching of viewpoints of different commanders made me grumble occasionally. The only gripe I could possibly have is that he doesn't give a larger amount of space to the land fighting in Cuba and Puerto Rico. You will get a fair account of the Cuban fight but the Puerto Rico account is the most basic of overviews, so if you are looking for a detailed account look elsewhere. The end closes with personality profiles and ship profiles which are nice but not necessary with the coverage he gives in the main text. Bottom line though it's good stuff.