Eagle Archive: Remembering the Maine, and a local Spanish American War casualty

In our great-grandparents' generation, the anniversary of the sinking of the USS Maine, under mysterious circumstances, in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, on Feb. 15, 1898, was a significant and life-changing event.

According to research by historian Jay Graybeal for the Historical Society of Carroll County, a number of local Carroll Countians participated in the Spanish-American War, which came, in part, as a result of the Maine incident.

According to Graybeal, the ship was a complete loss and 265 of her crew were dead or missing.

The results of a subsequent investigation of the Maine disaster were published in the April 2 issue of the now out-of-print Westminster Democratic Advocate newspaper. The investigations implicated Spain in the demise of the USS Maine and, as a result, pro-war feeling in the United States reached new heights.

In Carroll County, that pro-war fervor spilled over into Westminster.

Local community leader Mary B. Shellman got into the act, so to speak, in a dramatic production staged here. "Shellman portrayed Cuba with Denton Gehr as Uncle Sam and Georgia Buckingham as Columbia, to promote the cause of Cuba Libre (Free Cuba) in a play at the Westminster Odd Fellows Hall in 1898," according to Graybeal.

This year, on Feb. 15, I had the opportunity to visit the USS Maine Memorial Plat in the middle of the old Key West Cemetery. The Maine Memorial area, surrounded by an ornate wrought iron fence, was dedicated on March 15, 1900, and features "The Lone Oarsman," a moving six-foot bronze sculpture of a sailor looking out to sea for his lost shipmates.

The first ground military action of the Spanish American War occurred June 10, 1898, as Marines were sent in to establish a base at Guantánamo Bay. It was on the second day of military operations that Carroll County resident Sgt. Charles H. Smith became one of five Marines killed in that battle.

In a 1996 published account, Graybeal wrote that Smith was born near Smallwood, Carroll County, on Jan. 15, 1867. He left the county and joined the Marine Corps in 1893 after a brief stint with a Baltimore insurance firm.

Another "acting assistant surgeon," John Blair Gibbs was killed on June 11, the same night that Smith was killed. Marine Privates William Dumphy and James McColgan, along with Sgt. Smith were the some of the first U.S. casualties of the war.

"Sgt. Smith … was buried with full military honors in Deer Park Methodist Cemetery near his parent's home in Smallwood," noted Mr. Graybeal. "More than 2,000 people attended the funeral."

The Marines refer to a portion of the military actions to capture Guantánamo Bay as the "Battle for Cuzco Well," and, to this day, the battle is commemorated every year at the sprawling American Guantánamo Bay military base in Cuba

When he is not keeping warm by being a historian-snowbird in the south in February Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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