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Sampson, William

Sampson, William (1840–1902), naval officer.Born in Palmyra, New York, Sampson graduated first in his class at Annapolis (1861). After service in the Civil War, he alternated between commands at sea and staff positions. Becoming superintendent of the Naval Academy (1886), he sponsored educational reforms. As an ordnance specialist, he championed technological modernization. In 1898, he headed the inquiry that erroneously attributed the sinking of the USS Maine to external causes.

Sampson became commander of the North Atlantic Squadron in March 1898. Promoted to admiral when the Spanish‐American War began (21 April), he immediately blockaded Havana. Transferring to Santiago de Cuba after a Spanish squadron under Adm. Pascual Cervera arrived there, his blockade and plans to foil a sortie by Cervera led to the complete destruction of the Spanish squadron (3 July 1898), forcing Spain to negotiate peace.

Unfortunately, Sampson had left the blockade when Cervera attempted to escape, leaving Commodore William Schley in command. This circumstance engendered a postwar controversy about credit for the victory at Santiago, which divided the navy for many years. Debilitating illness, probably Alzheimer's disease, increasingly compromised Sampson's efficiency between 1897 and his death.
[See also Caribbean and Latin America, U.S. Military Involvement in the.]


David F. Trask , The War with Spain in 1898, 1981.

David F. Trask

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