William Vanaman: Spanish-American War


A letter from Capt. William Sherman Vanaman to his family

"If the U.S. don’t fight over this, the whole country ought to be blown up ..."

Captain Wm. Sherman Vanaman to his family, writing his first-person account of the sinking of the USS Maine. Vanaman's schooner was anchored in Havana Harbor at the time of the explosion.

AT SEA Feb 18, 1898

Dear Mother, Son and Daughter:

I am 300 miles from Havana, on my way to Sabine Pass and it is 9 P.M. and the vessel is rolling merrily along. We have come 300 miles in thirty-six hours.

I am in my underwear and socks and with all windows and doors open. The thermometer registers eighty-five. Wish you were all here.

But I expect to see some warm times around the island of Cuba before I come North again. I expect there is great excitement there, about the Blowing up of the Maine, and I expect to hear that War is declared, when I arrive – there was not a man in Havana that I talked with but what believe the Spanish did it.

I was laying close to the MAINE, anchored, when it happened at ten P.M., and the night before I spent the evening with some of the Officers and some other Captains at the Hotel Inglatasa.

As soon as I got on deck the night of the explosion, I thought it was the Spanish War ship, at first. I had just gone to bed, but I got out our boat and before I got to the wreck, I knew it was the MAINE.

The Officers would not let the Spanish ship’s boats assist them. I was there when the Capt. left and a great many were in their night clothes and bodies were floating all around in pieces. One was towed ashore had both legs blown off at the hips and one was blown over into the city.

There wasn’t an American or Englishman there, but what wanted to fight. The TORPEDO struck forward. That is what every one believes that did it. There was a Spanish War Ship laying as close to the Maine, as from our house to the woods, down the road, and we heard the bugler calling to quarters fifteen minutes before the explosion.

If the U.S. don’t fight over this, the whole country ought to be blown up. I could not write much in Havana, as all letters had to be examined and what I received there had been opened.

I am in hopes of being able to carry supplies to the U.S. army in Spanish territory inside of three months. One American is as good as five Spaniards, in a fight.

I hope you are feeling better and all at home are well. I often think of you all and would like to be more with you, but I can make more money in this trade, and you know that is what I am going for. When the U.S. gets Cuba, I will bring you all out here.

I see by my bill of Health there were 70 cases and 40 deaths from Yellow fever and 124 cases and 54 deaths from Small Pox, while I was in Havana, so I expect to be quarantined for a week.

My cargo is all ready for me at Sabine Pass, Texas. I received word from the shippers in Havana.

Tell Father I would like to see him and have a game of cards,

Answer this to Progresso, Mexico care of U.S. Consul. I had $1,300.00 freight to Havana in U.S. Gold, and got $1,850.00 in U.S. Gold to Mexico. I do not know yet where I shall go from there. Will be guided now by what happens at Washington.

With love, your son Wm. Sherman Vanaman

P.S. Did you receive the $100.00?

P.S. When I was home, you asked me about Capt. Mariness’s Daughters. I didn’t give you a direct answer, but just to tease. If you have ever had any thoughts about my marrying again, I will tell you I never saw but one woman I wanted. I was fortunate enough to get her and no one but myself knows what I lost, when she passed away. I have never for a moment forgotten her, and never saw one to take her place.


I will send you some money from Mexico, and would like the Children’s photo, when you get a chance and feel well enough to take them in the City. Yours also, if you think enough of me to give me one.


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