Military Wiki
William Thomas Sampson
William Thomas Sampson
Born (1840-02-09)February 9, 1840
Died May 6, 1902(1902-05-06) (aged 62)
Place of birth Palmyra, New York
Place of death Washington, D.C.
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1857–1902
Rank USN Rear Admiral rank insignia.jpg Rear Admiral
Commands held Alert
San Francisco
North Atlantic Station

American Civil War

Spanish–American War

William Thomas Sampson (9 February 1840 – 6 May 1902) was a United States Navy rear admiral known for his victory in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba during the Spanish-American War.


He was born in Palmyra, New York, and entered the United States Naval Academy on 24 September 1857. After graduating first in his class four years later, he served as an instructor at the Academy, teaching physics.[1] In 1864, he became the executive officer of the monitor Patapsco of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and engaged in sweeping torpedoes off Charleston, South Carolina. He survived the loss of that ironclad on 15 January 1865, when she struck a torpedo, exploded, and sank with a loss of 75 lives.

Following duty in the steam frigate Colorado on the European Station, another tour as instructor at the Naval Academy, and in the Bureau of Navigation of the Navy Department, he served in the screw sloop Congress. He then commanded the Alert, the training ship Mayflower, and the Swatara while on duty at the Naval Academy.

During the next years, he was Assistant to the Superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory, then Officer-in-Charge of the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island. On 9 September 1886, he became Superintendent of the Naval Academy. He was promoted to Captain on 9 April 1889, reported to the Mare Island Navy Yard to fit out the protected cruiser San Francisco, and assumed command when she was commissioned on 15 November 1889. He was detached in June 1892 to serve as Inspector of Ordnance in the Washington Navy Yard and was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance on 28 January 1893. He assumed command of the battleship Iowa on 15 June 1897. On 17 February 1898, he was made President of the Board of Inquiry to investigate the destruction of the Maine. On 26 March 1898, he assumed command of the North Atlantic Squadron, with the temporary rank of Rear Admiral.

Spanish–American War

Rear Admiral William T. Sampson during the Spanish-American war

Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, from p. 73 of Cannon and Camera by John C. Hemment

The United States declared war against Spain on 21 April 1898; and, eight days later, Admiral Cervera's fleet sailed from the Cape Verde Islands for an uncertain destination. Rear Admiral Sampson, in flagship New York, put to sea from Key West. Sampson's early involvement in the conflict would include his supervision of the Cuban blockade, which would last for the duration of the war, as well as the bombardment of the city of San Juan on May 12, 1898. After initially being sent to blockade Havana itself, Sampson would be given orders to intercept Admiral Cevera's squadron, but with only a vague notion of Cevera's current location, he was unable to actively pursue. Awaiting further information on Cevera's whereabouts, Sampson would sail east to San Juan, and would carry out a bombardment on May 10 that would last several days, dealing minor infrastructural damage to the city. After this preliminary bombardment Sampson would help lead a land-sea attack on San Juan, along with General William Shafter, taking the city. On July 1, following the successful invasion, Sampson would return to Cuba, reinforcing the blockades in Santiago and Cienfuegos. On May 29, Elements of Sampson's command would spot Admiral Cevera's squadron moving into Santiago harbor, and the naval presence there would be greatly increased, to prevent Cevera's escape. On the morning of 3 July 1898, Cervera's fleet came out of the harbor. Sampson was ashore at a conference with General Shafter, making plans for a coordinated attack on Santiago.[1] Rear Admiral Winfield Scott Schley was in command of the Flying Squadron in Sampson's absence and met the Spanish fleet, completely destroying every Spanish vessel in a running sea battle lasting five hours. The next day, Rear Admiral Sampson sent his famous message: "The Fleet under my command offers the nation as a Fourth of July present, the whole of Cervera's Fleet".

Sampson's message omitted any mention of Schley's leadership in the battle, leading to a controversy as to who was responsible for the victory. While Sampson also arguably played a significant role in the victory, having laid down the strategic framework and determining the favorable positions of his own forces, it was of course Schley who had actually commanded the fleet during the battle.[1] Schley appealed for a court of inquiry, which he got in 1901. In the Navy, the quarrel was so divisive that the rank-and-file identified themselves as either a "Schley man" or a "Sampson man." The court of inquiry heard testimony in support of Schley by his own men and, despite some criticism of Schley, exonerated the commander of the Flying Squadron. After the Battle of Santiago Bay, Sampson was appointed Cuban Commissioner on 20 August 1898, but resumed command of the North Atlantic Fleet in December. He became Commandant of the Boston Navy Yard in October 1899 and transferred to the Retired List on 9 February 1902. Sampson was a companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and the Military Order of Foreign Wars. He was awarded an honorary doctorate (LL.D.) by Yale University in October 1901, during celebrations for the bicentenary of the university.[2]

Rear Admiral Sampson died in Washington, D.C., a few months later and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


  • Four destroyers of the Navy have been named USS Sampson in his honor.
  • The United States Naval Academy's Sampson Hall, which houses the English and History departments, is named in his honor.
  • The United States Navy also authorized a service medal, known as the Sampson Medal, to recognize those who had served under his command during the Spanish-American War. The obverse of the medal bears Sampson's image and, thus, Sampson was one of only four Americans in history entitled to wear an official medal with their own image on it. (The others were Admiral George Dewey, General John J. Pershing and Admiral Richard E. Byrd.)
  • The former Sampson Naval Training Base, that became the Sampson Air Force Base and is now a New York State Park on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake were named in his honor. Approved by President Roosevelt in 1942, 498 buildings were constructed on 2,500 acres (10 km2) of farmland in the Finger Lakes near Palmyra, New York by 15,500 workers in 270 days so that 411,000 sailors could be trained before the facility closed in 1946. The facility was converted to the Sampson Air Force Base for the Korean War and between 1950 and 1956 over 300,000 airmen had their basic training there. Even though the facility is now the Sampson State Park known for its herd of white deer, it will return to military duty when the Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery is completed.
  • A Brooklyn, New York elementary school PS 160 was named in his honor.
  • Both the elementary and high school at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base were named in his honor.[3]
  • Detroit Public Schools has a school that bears the name William T Sampson Elementary School located at 6075 BEGOLE STREET Detroit, MI - 48210. It is no longer used and has been shuttered.


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "William Thomas Sampson". World Book. 15. Field Enterprises. 1958. 
  2. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 24 October 1901. 
  3. "Relocation". W.T. Sampson Elementary/High School. CNIC, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, USN. Retrieved 2010-01-20. 

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Francis M. Ramsay
Superintendent of United States Naval Academy
Succeeded by
Robert L. Phythian

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