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Sampson, William Thomas

William Thomas Sampson, 1840–1902, American naval officer, b. Palmyra, N.Y. After serving with Union naval forces in the Civil War, he saw varied naval service and was (1886–90) superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. As chief of the bureau of ordnance (1893–97), he made important changes in naval gunnery. Sampson was president of the board of inquiry on the destruction of the Maine in Havana harbor. With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War (1898), he was made commander of the N Atlantic squadron. He commanded the blockade of Cuba and the attack on San Juan. Although he was not present for most of the battle of Santiago de Cuba, where the Spanish fleet was destroyed, he claimed credit for the victory, since he had laid down the general instructions for the attack; his claim was contested by Winfield Scott Schley, who actually commanded in the engagement. Public opinion favored Schley, and Sampson never received due recognition for his part in the victory. In 1899 he attained the rank of rear admiral and from then until his death commanded the Boston navy yard.

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