I was just closing a letter to my family when I felt the crash of the explosion. It was a bursting, rending, and crashing sound, or roar of immense volume, largely metallic in character. It was succeeed by a metallic sound - probably of falling debris - a trembling and lurching motion of the vessel, then an impression of subsidence, attended by an eclipse of the electirc lights and intense darkness within the cabin.
I knew immediately that the MAINE had been blown up and that she was sinking. I hurried to the starboard cabin ports, thinking it might be neecessary for me to make my exit that way. Upon looking out I decided that I could go by the passage leading to the superstructure. I therefore took the latter route, feeling my way along and steadying myself by the bulkheads. The superstructure was filled with smoke, and it was dark. Nearing the outer entrance I met Private Anthony, the ordrely at the cabin door at the time. He ran into me and, as I remember, apologized in some fashion, and reported to me that the ship had been blown up and was sinking.
I reached the upper deck, asked a few questions of those standing about me - Lieutenant Commander Wainwright, I think, for one - then I asked the orderly for the time. He said that the exact time of the explosion was 9:40 P.M. I proceeded to the poop deck, stood on the guard rail and held on to the main rigging in order to see over the poop awning, which was baggy and covered with debris; also, in order that I might observe details in the black mass ahead. I directed the executive officer to post sentries all around the ship, but soon saw that there were no marines available, and no place forward to post them.
Not being quite clear as to the condition of things forward, I next directed the forward magazine to be flooded, if practicable, and about the same time shouted out myself for perfect silence everywhere. This was, I think, repeated by the executive officer. The surviving officers were about me at the time on the poop. I was informed that the forward magazine was already under water, and after inquiring about the after magazine was told that it was also under water, as shown by the condition below, reported by those coming from the ward room and steerage.
About this time fire broke out in the mass forward, over the central superstructure, and I inquired as to the spare ammunition in the Captain's pantry. That region was found to be subsiding very fast. At this time, I observed, among the shouts or noises apparently on shore, that faint cries were coming from the water, and I could see dimly white, floating bodies, which gave me a better knowledge of the real situation than anything else. I at once ordered all boats to be lowered, when it was reported that there were only two boats available, namely, the gig and whaleboat. Both were lowered and manned by officers and men, and by my direction they left the ship and assisted in saving the wounded jointly with other boats that had arrived on the scene from the Spanish man-of-war, and from the steamer CITY OF WASHINGTON and from other sources. Later - I cannot state precisely how long - these two boats of the MAINE returned to the starboard quarter alongside and reported that they had gathered in from the wreck all the wounded that could be found, and had transferred them to the other boats - to the ALFONSO XII, or to the CITY OF WASHINGTON.
The poop deck of the MAINE, the highest point, was by that time level with the gig's gunwale while she was afloat in the water alongside. The fire amdiships was burning fiercely, and the spare ammuniton in the pilot house was exploding in detail. We had done everything that could be done so far as I could see. Lieutenant-Commander Wainwright whispered to me that he thought the 10-inch magazine had been thrown up into the burning mass, and might explode in time. I directed him the to get everything into the boats over the stern, and this was done, although there was some little delay in curbing the extreme politeness of the officers, who wanted to help me into the boat. I directed them to go first, as a matter of course, and I followed and got into the gig. We proceeded to the steamer CITY OF WASHINGTON, and on the way I shouted to the boats to leave the vicinity of the wreck, and that there might be an explosion. I got Mr. Sylvester Scovel to translate my desire to one or two boats which were at that time somewhat nearer the fire than we we ourselves were. Having succeeded in this, I went on board of the CITY OF WASHINGTON....
Note: recounted by Captain Charles D. Sigsbee, USS MAINE, Commanding Officer.