Description

    William T. Sampson 1898 Typed Letter Signed "W. T. Sampson" as Rear Admiral, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Naval Atlantic Fleet. One page, 5" x 8", aboard the U.S. Flagship New York off Santiago de Cuba, June 29, 1898, to Mr H. N. Alder of Harper's Magazine. Just days before he delivered his famous words "The Fleet under my command offers the nation as a Fourth of July present, the whole of Cervera's Fleet," Sampson writes, in full: "Sir: I think it is quite impossible to reach Mr. Hobson at the present time. General Blanco has stated that the Madrid Government refuses to exchange him, and have consistently refused to allow any communication by means of letters or otherwise with him. I think it is improbable that they would change their views in this matter at the present time. I will forward your letter to Lieutenant Blue, who is now in the Squadron. Very respectfully, W.T. Sampson, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Force, North Atlantic Station."

    The person referred to in the letter was Assistant Naval Constructor Richmond Pearson Hobson, a lieutenant on Sampson's staff on the New York. It was the early days of the Spanish-American War; the ship had arrived off Santiago and Admiral Sampson presented Hobson with an idea to sink the collier Merrimac (a coal ship) in the shallow part of the channel as an obstruction to the fleet of Spanish Admiral Cervera. Hobson took command of the Merrimac and, along with seven volunteers, left early on the morning of June 3, 1898 for what appeared to be a suicide mission. They came under heavy enemy fire but were finally successful in sinking the ship albeit not in the shallowest part of the channel. Admiral Cervera himself captured Hobson and his men as they clung to their overturned catamaran hours later. Cervera, impressed with their ingenuity and bravery, said one word to them as they came aboard his launch, "Valiente!" (valiant). The Spanish admiral sent his chief of staff, Captain Bustamente, on a tug under a flag of truce to the New York to let the U.S. fleet know that all the men were safe. They allowed the Americans to send clothing and money to the prisoners who were confined first at Morro Castle and then at Santiago de Cuba. On July 6th, after a desperate battle during which Cervera tried to escape the harbor, all eight men were returned as part of a prisoner exchange. All seven of Hobson's men were awarded the Medal of Honor in 1899 but, because officers at that time were not eligible for that recognition, Hobson had to wait until 1933 to receive the award from President Roosevelt after Congress voted a special dispensation. This letter was written during the time of Hobson's imprisonment when his release seemed a faint possibility. Fine condition with original mailing folds.


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    Auction Dates
    February, 2008
    21st-22nd Thursday-Friday
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