Even before war broke out Assistant Naval secretary Teddy Roosevelt had sent Admiral Dewey commander of US naval forces in the western to be prepared if war came with Spain to proceed to Manila and defeat the Spanish fleet there. When war was declared Dewey received orders to proceed and destroy the Spanish fleet. Admiral Dewey commanded a squadron of six ships, including modern cruisers.
War fever had been developing against the Spanish government. The Spanish who were still colonial occupiers of Cuba and Puerto Rico were very unpopular in the Untied States. The USS Maine entered the Havana Harbor on January 25th. It was there to provide assistance to American citizens who might need it in strife torn Cuba. On the night of February 15th a massive explosion rocked the Maine quickly sinking it. 250 enlisted men and two officers died that night and 14 of the injured died later bringing the total death toll that night to 266. With tensions high suspicion fell immediately on the Spanish. A naval board of inquiry concluded that the blast was caused by a mine situated outside the ship. The board stated that “only by the explosion of a mine situated under the bottom of the ship at about frame 18, and somewhat on the port side of the ship.” The board could not determine who planted the mine.
President McKinley reported the result of the investigation to Congress and immediately there was a public outcry to go to war. The New York Herald Tribune headlined ““The Warship Maine was Split in Two by an Enemy’s Infernal Machine.” With newspapers all headlining “Remember the Maine : To Hell with Spain!” the die was cast. On April 20th the Congress passed a resolution demanding that Spain withdraw its armed forces from Cuba. Five days later the Congress passed a Declaration of War against Spain. The war was on.