Sabotage of the USS Maine

Kellen Erskine, Guest Writer

On February 15, 1898, an explosion occurred on the USS Maine. Two hundred and sixty of the four hundred sailors on board died. Ninety-one survived, only sixteen of those were not injured at all. One of the people on board at the time of the explosion was a seventeen-year-old deckhand: me.

My name is Benjamin or Ben Saunders. I come from a long line of bookbinders but I don’t want to be a bookbinder at all. I have watched my father bind and repair books all my life and I cannot imagine a more boring existence. I’m looking for a life of adventure like I sometimes read in the books that pass through my fathers shop. Books like The Black Corsair, and Rupert of Hentzau. That is why, when I see a shiny new battleship dock in the harbor close to my home, I couldn’t resist. The only thing I can say for my impulsive decision is that my excitement took over and once I cooled down I realized that I couldn’t possibly tell my father. I had just signed on as a deckhand aboard the USS Maine! I slowly trudge over the drearily familiar cobblestones on the road to Saunder’s Bookbinding.

What will I tell father? If he finds that I just signed onto a job that will take me far away from the shop…well, let’s just say that it won’t be pretty.

I open the door to the shop slowly, trying my best to make as little noise as possible. Signing up to be a deckhand took longer than I had expected it to. Father had asked me to be back by lunchtime in order to work in the shop with him. The sun has been down for almost an hour. I feel a slight twinge of guilt, but then it disappears as quickly as it came. After all, I won’t have to deal with him soon. I will be sailing on the high seas by the end of the week.

After I get into the house I see father sitting on the chair in the corner of the shop. Fright paralyzes my muscles as my frantic thoughts zip through my head.

Why is he sitting there?

 Did he find out that I became a deckhand on the ship?

These thoughts flash through my head before I realize that my father has shown no reaction to my entrance: he is asleep.

He probably fell asleep waiting for me. Sometimes I wonder if he actually might love me, and it is instances like these that I come close to actually believing that he might…

I catch myself before any semblance of a tender thought can make it through my head.

He was just waiting up so that he could yell at me for shirking my duties.

He has never understood that I want nothing to do with the bookbinding business. On second thought, maybe he does but doesn’t care. Every time I express any dissatisfaction at the plan he has laid out for my life, he yells me into silence.

I set my jaw with newfound resolve; if he somehow finds out about my pending departure, I can’t let him coerce me into staying. The ship leaves tomorrow and I will be on it.

As I quietly slip into my bed I briefly consider telling him before I leave.

No, if I talk to him about it he may find a way to get the captain of the Maine to kick me off the crew. I will sneak out of the house onto the ship tomorrow morning.


I still have a few hours before the sun comes up. As I pack my things and get dressed, I listen intently for any sounds of movement coming from the shop where father fell asleep last night. There is not a sound, even as I sneak past him out the door he doesn’t make a peep. Since I fear that he will suddenly awake and yank me back into the shop, I begin to run.

I’m finally free from my boring fate of bookbinding, I’m going to be a sailor on a battleship!


A wooden clog digs into my back as Ambrose, another deckhand, nudges me awake. The hold of the ship is pitch-black. It is time to cook breakfast for the rest of the crew. It is also five in the morning, not that that really matters. After all, I have been woken up at five for the past two weeks while the ship and her crew have been performing military maneuvers. Ambrose and I have to wake up early in order to prepare the meals and are busy the rest of the day doing odd jobs around the ship. Just yesterday we spent all of our time not used up preparing meals to touch up the yellow paint on one of the main smokestacks. This was all because Captain Sigsbee thought the smokestack looked a little faded. I have begun to really begun to hate him, the one thing I like about him is that he brought with him a very friendly dog. The dog’s name is Peggy, Peggy the pug. He is my best friend along with the ship’s cat, black Tom. They have been my only friends on board this ship. Even Ambrose is slightly cold towards me for no apparent reason, maybe that’s just the way he is.

As I feel my way above decks, I start to get a little excited, today is the last day of military maneuvers. The Captain told us yesterday that we would be going to Cuba. I’m finally going to sail the seas, I feel like all of my dreams have come true.


The shores of Cuba are in sight, I’m told that we will dock in Havana Bay. It is four in the morning I woke up early because I wanted to get the first glance of Cuba. Finally, just as soon as I see the first flickering tendril of the rising sun, I see it. It seems to give off an exotic feeling even though I know it is made of the same materials as any other shore in the world: sand and seawater. As the sound Ambrose making breakfast drifts into my ears, I realize that only one month ago I was stuck in a bookbinding shop in Boston with a boring life ahead of me. I have learned so many knots and other useful skills on board this ship, just yesterday Ambrose taught me to swim. I learned really fast and now I can swim almost as well as him.


The Captain just delivered the heartbreaking news. Only a select few officers will be allowed to go ashore. Everyone else with stay with the ship on quarter watch. That means that a full fourth of us has to be awake and patrolling the ship at the same time. Disappointment fills my gut.

Not only do I not get to go ashore, but I even have to sit on the ship and watch the shore that I desperately want to set foot on.


This watch duty couldn’t be any worse as I strain my eyes staring into the darkness, trying to catch even a glimpse of Cuba. The only foreign nation I may ever get the chance to see. Suddenly I hear the sound of something splashing on the water, at first I thought someone had dropped something but when whatever it was kept splashing I ran over to check. It is nine o’clock so it is fairly dark right now. Even though it is really dark I can still vaguely see the silhouette of someone climbing up the side of the ship. The person is almost to the top of the ship when our eyes meet. I freeze. Suddenly he starts climbing faster than before and in no time at all he is at the top standing in front of me. Before I can even close my widely opened mouth he whips out a club and smacks me over the head and everything goes black.


Several hours later I wake up to a pounding headache.

I need to go tell the crew that someone suspicious is on board!

But right after I jump up I immediately collapse again with dizziness. Waves of pain pound through my head. Suddenly, a huge explosion rocks the ship shortly followed by another, even bigger explosion. There is a searing pain in my chest, and I am blown off the ship by the explosion.

What happened? What blew up? And what is the pain in my chest?

These thoughts rush through my head before I realize that I’m in the water and I need to swim to shore before thinking about anything else. Almost immediately after I start swimming I realize that I can’t take in a full breath and when I try the pain in my chest gets much much worse.

This pain in my chest must be shrapnel from the ship’s explosion.

The shore is so far away that I don’t even know if I can make it, after all I only learned to swim two days ago.

When I finally make it the last few feet to shore I stand up to get onto the beach so that I can rest when suddenly I feel a piercing pain in my foot. I lift my foot up to find out if my foot is okay and there is a dark reddish orange fish with it’s mouth still wrapped around the heel of my foot. From the bite, an acid like pain surges and quickly spreads. As the burning pain spreads throughout the rest of my body, my only thoughts are: Why didn’t I just become a bookbinder?



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2014, 10 April 2019.

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National Archives and Records Administration, 8 April 2019.

“Sailors, Soldiers, and Marines of the Spanish-American War.” National Archives and Records

 Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, 6 April 2019.

“The USS Maine Explodes in Cuba’s Havana Harbor.”, A&E Television Networks,

24 Nov. 2009, 16 April 2019.