Book Review: Disputed Victory: Schley, Sampson and the Spanish-American War of 1898


by Quintin Barry

Solihull, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate Publishers, 2018. Pp. 256+. Illus., maps, tables, notes, biblio., index. $49.95. ISBN: 191217491X

The Most Unseemly Battle of the Spanish-American War

In this work Barry, who has written widely in nineteenth century and naval history, such as The Road to Koniggratz, gives us one of the best overall pictures of the naval side of the Spanish-American War.

Barry covers the rise of the “New Navy" in the 1880s and 1890s, overall national policy and strategy, naval organization, ships, technology, personalities, plans, and, of course, operations, all while often offering useful critical observations. His accounts of the paper battles over strategy and planning are quite good, and his battle pieces clear and easy to follow. Barry uses this to build up to a look at the dispute that arose between Commodore Winfield Scott Schley and Rear Admiral William T. Sampson and over their roles and conduct during the Battle of Santiago (July 3, 1898). The basic issue was, who should receive credit for the American victory. When the battle began, Sampson was aboard his flagship, some miles away from the scene when the Spanish fleet sortied from Santiago Harbor. As a result, Schley, senior officer with the blockaders off Santiago was in tactical command of the fighting. Although Sampson only arrived during the final moments of the fighting, he claimed the victory, which Schley disputed. The contrasting claims were argued out by politicians and pundits, and in the end led to Sampson’s virtual disgrace for political and personal reasons.

In is account of the operations and the battle, Barry spends more time than is commonly found in accounts of the war on the Spanish side, He offers a thoughtful analysis of Spain’s options, which clearly were not as grim as is sometimes suggested, albeit that overall the U.S. was greatly superior.

Disputed Victory, volume in the Helion series “Warfare in the Victorian Age”, is an excellent account of the naval side of the war, useful even for someone unfamiliar with the events, reminding us of how personalities and politics can affect the historical record.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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