On the night of February 15, 1898, City of Washington was moored in Havana harbor near the USS Maine when Maine exploded in the incident that precipitated the Spanish-American War. City of Washington suffered minor damage in the explosion, but assisted in the rescue of Maine’s crew by sending out lifeboats and providing her dining salon for use as a makeshift hospital. The efforts of City of Washington and the Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII resulted in the rescue of approximately 100 crew members from Maine.
Captain Frank Stevens and other crew members of City of Washington provided eyewitness testimony on the Maine disaster in Naval Court of Inquiry hearings which ended on March 21, 1898. The Court of Inquiry concluded that Maine was destroyed by the explosion of a submarine mine. While the Court did not place responsibility for the explosion, media and popular opinion overwhelmingly attributed it to Spain’s forces in Cuba. Shortly thereafter, Congress declared a state of War with Spain, effective April 20, 1898.
In April 1898, City of Washington was one of many civilian steamships chartered by the US Army Quartermaster Department for use as a transport ship for the invasion of Cuba. She was chartered as Transport #16 at the rate of USD$450 per day through September 1898.
In late 1898, City of Washington returned to her prior civilian duties, ferrying passengers from New York to Cuba until 1908 when the ship was retired and laid up at Brooklyn, New York. In 1911 she was purchased by Luckenbach Steamship Company of New York. Her superstructure and machinery were removed, and she went into operation as a coal barge.