One night I was searching online for anything I could find about Crosman when, about three in the morning, I stumbled upon this article:
[Henrietta Crosman is] the niece of Alexander Crosman, who was Admiral Dewey's clasmate at Annapolis. This uncle of hers immediately ranked the present Admiral of the navy, but he was eaten by sharks in Panama waters in the late sixties while trying to save the lives of two sailors.
-The New York Times, February 9, 1902
A dispatch received from the U.S. Consul at Jamaica confirms the report of the drowning of Captain Alexander T. Crossman, commanding steamer Kansas, but gives no detail.
-Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, April 29, 1872
I have two great stories that always capture the attention of any audience I'm speaking to. The first is the story of the Empire Club game that was broken up by Union troops in 1861 and the other is the story of Alex Crosman's death. The interesting thing is that the best version of both stories are not true. You can't beat a story about a guy eaten by sharks or a ball game broken up by Union troops, right after the fall of Fort Sumter, because they suspected the players were Confederate sympathizers. But now, when I tell either story, I have to end it with the statement, made with a bit of a smile, that it's not exactly true.
But there's a difference between telling yarns to entertain a crowd and the work of chronicling history. To that end, when seriously discussing the death of Alexander Crosman, we now have to take into account something that I posted the other day:
...Alexander Foster Crosman, naval officer, born in St. Louis, Missouri, 11 June 1838; died in Greytown, Nicaragua, 12 April 1872...He was commissioned commander in 1870, ordered to the command of the isthmus surveying expedition in January 1872, and was drowned in the harbor of Greytown.
-Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography
What else do we know?
[The Kansas] departed New York Harbor 29 November  for Cuba and arrived Havana [in] December. The gunboat left that port 25 February 1872 to obtain supplies and await Comdr. A.F. Grossman who headed another Nicaragua-surveying expedition. She was employed gathering data on potential interoceanic canal routes until returning to Key West 13 July.
-History of the Kansas (Naval HIstory & Heritage.mil)
So, how did Crosman die?
I don't think there is any real evidence supporting the idea that he was eaten by sharks. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he drowned while in command of the Kansas, most likely in the harbor at Greytown, Nicaragua, in April of 1872. Combine the Bangor newspaper, the Appleton book and the history of the Kansas and it seems rather conclusive. It's a substantially less interesting death than the shark tale but that's what the evidence tells us.
However, don't be surprised if you hear me tell the shark tale again. I'll do it with a wink and a smile and, in the end, I'll acknowledge that it's just a tale but it's a story that I can't give up.