On the night of 15 February 1898, USS Maine inexplicably exploded and sank to the bottom of Havana Harbor. The battleship had been sent to Cuba to "show the flag" in the midst of a worsening revolutionary situation that threatened the safety of U.S. citizens there. The cause of the explosion has never been determined though many theories have been offered, but at the time Spain was blamed, and this incendiary event touched off the Spanish-American War.
f the Spanish were indeed the perpetrators of this tragic event, subsequent events would indicate that they might well have hoped that one of the 266 killed in the explosion had been Maine's executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Richard Wainwright.
Once war was declared, Wainwright was given command of USS Gloucester, formerly tycoon J. P. Morgan's wooden yacht, Corsair. The former pleasure craft was hardly a formidable warship, displacing a mere 786 tons and armed with an array of 6-pounder and 3-pounder guns. But that would not prevent her from playing a significant role in one of the major sea battles of the war.